In a letter addressing to the Indian PM as “Modi Sahab”, Prime Minister Imran Khan had suggested a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries to resume the stalled dialogue process at the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meeting.
Among the many issues he categorically mentioned the issue of Jammu and Kashmir dispute as an important subject that will be included in the talks but to the surprise of the international community, New Delhi cancelled the scheduled meeting with Pakistan between the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi in New York, proving that the normalization of relations is not a priority for India.
The calling off of the planned foreign ministers meeting in New York has been attributed by India to the killing of three special police officers in Kashmir by ‘Pakistan-based entities’. Though these trivial events have had been contributing to the fizzling out of the bilateral dialogue process, in reality, the relationship is beholden to the strategic deadlock over Kashmir.
As India is poised to take a major leap with big power ambitions it needs to transcend regional challenges and thus, cannot afford to evade the dialogue process. Hence, India must grant Pakistan some concessions rather than pursuing a strategic isolationist approach as Pakistan no longer considers itself to be a weak state, being armed with a sizeable nuclear arsenal and a battle-hardened army.
PM Modi must follow the Kashmir policy that was well crafted by his political mentor, the Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee’s endorsement of the dialogue process on Kashmir issue must be revived by PM Modi to craft a tangible Pakistan policy. He must relinquish pursuing a Muscular policy to settle the Kashmir crisis. New Delhi must be wise enough to recognize its own role in creating the alienation and trauma among the Kashmiris.
The hard-line Doval doctrine on Kashmir must be abjured, rather Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s soft line approach on Kashmir Policy must be endorsed and encouraged by the government. PM Modi must be concerned about the fact that India is losing the faith of Kashmiris in the midst of brutal military operations in the valley.
Alienation and simmering discontent among Kashmiris remain un-addressed both by the Kashmiri leadership and the Government in New Delhi, consequently, the separatist movement has shifted its narrative from being anti-government to Anti-India. Thus, the muscular policies by the New Delhi frustrated the valley so much so that Azadi has been a common slogan in the protests.
Therefore, Prime Minister Modi must make genuine efforts in the line of Vajpayee and his predecessor Dr. Manmohan Singh to bring the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders to the table for talks that may lead to the sharp decline in militancy-related casualties. Even the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) imposed on Valley needs to be relaxed in order to undertake confidence-building measures.
On the other, New Delhi must revive backchannel discussions and direct dialogues with the APHC leadership about the questions of Political representations or else constant separatist movement in the valley will continue to contribute to poor relations with Pakistan. Mistrust between the two sides over Kashmir still persists and the Blame game continues to hit the headlines. Public Opinion and paranoia on either side may create a major roadblock for the sustainable dialogue.
While, Pakistan must rein in cross-border militant activities emanating from its soil and clamp down on the anti-India militants, whereas, India must also create a momentum for the peace talks. However, India’s big brotherly attitude in the region might create more trust deficit with Islamabad. New Delhi must give up building the narrative of an Incorrigible Pakistan in order to engage constructively.
The PM Modi led BJP govt must recall that even after six months of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Zardari met on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit held in Russia and broke the deadlock when they had agreed to re-start talks at foreign secretary level. Hence, the much-spirited Neighbourhood first policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intensify the bonhomie with immediate neighbors accompanied by the composite dialogue since 2014 has to be revived to avoid episodic diplomatic fiascos with Pakistan.
A robust Neighbourhood policy should involve Track II talks as well. An aggressive Track-II was pursued by Dr. Manmohan Singh in his tenure by appointing Amb Satinder Lambah to drive a persistent backchannel diplomacy, as a result, Lambah-Aziz blueprint on Kashmir brought both countries closer to the resolution of the Kashmir crisis. Today, the credibility of Delhi in the valley is at the lowest. At this point, Kashmir needs a healing touch, not a surgery.
Therefore, Both New Delhi and Islamabad must promote a mutual bilateralism to resolve the Kashmir deadlock. India should take advantage of the changing dynamics of Pakistan’s civil-military relationship since Prime Minister Imran Khan shares candid relations with the Army. As India’s legendary peace activist Balraj Puri in his book Kashmir: Towards insurgency prophesied ‘’ No Kashmir policy can succeed without taking into account the political and psychological urges of the people’’.
The Kashmir conundrum today is a major contributing factor to India’s Pakistan policy. Whilst, General elections are nearing in India, Prime Minister Modi faces tremendous pressure from the opposition parties and an undercurrent among common citizens on various domestic issues which might send the complicated project of undertaking a comprehensive Pakistan policy to the cold storage for now. Both the countries are also aware of great power rivalry in the region.
So, normalisation of relations will have larger geostrategic ramifications for the region as well. Therefore, crafting a Kashmir policy is at the core of India’s Pakistan Policy, so long as Kashmir remains a zone of geopolitical Chaos between two countries, normalisation of bilateral relationship will remain a distant dream.
Subhajit Naskar is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata and an Alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.