The recent remark of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that New Delhi was ready for talks with the separatist camp in Kashmir might have generated a lot of interest and hope, but there are many who remain guarded in their expectation of a breakthrough in the foreseeable future.
“Any offer for talks especially from the BJP government is a very good sign. But I feel it is too late to expect anything because of the developments that are going to take place in India as well as Pakistan,” said the political analyst Happymon Jacob, referring to the upcoming elections in the two countries.
While Pakistan is set to witness the polls from July onwards this year, there are media reports suggesting that the Modi government may declare an early election before they are scheduled to take place in April-May next year. Traditionally both the countries have avoided taking a major policy decision in an election year, lest they be seen as weak and timid. “Therefore the offer of talks and serious engagements may not be possible at all,” said Jacob who teaches at JNU, New Delhi.
According to him there were “other equations” that have to be factored in to analyse whether things could be expected to move in the direction of talks.
“The government (of India) will not like to be seen conceding anything on Kashmir during elections times. The equation between civilian government and military in Pakistan at this point of time is another important factor. So I think it will be difficult to have all these variables taken care of and then go for talks,” explained Jacob.
At present Indo-Pak relations are in a state of complete stagnation. The relations between the two sides fell apart after Rajnath Singh cut short his visit to Pakistan, where he had gone to attend the SAARC meeting in August 2016. India said the host country’s establishment was ‘hostile’ and it was not going to put up with ‘undiplomatic’ treatment.
“Though it (dialogue) is a process which, if at all happens, will evolve over period of time but expecting any breakthrough in relations between India and Pakistan vis-à-vis Kashmir at this point of time will be immature,” said a political analyst from Kashmir.
On Monday Pakistan announced that the former chief justice Nasirul Mulk would act as caretaker Prime Minister till elections are over. It will be towards the end of this year only that the new regime in Islamabad can be expected to settle down.
By that time the government of India will have gone into a poll mood, leaving little chance for any kind of engagement between the arch rivals. “Don’t expect things to starting moving before end of 2019, if at all relations don’t deteriorate further between the two sides,” said the political analyst.
The JK government spokesperson Naeem Akhter though sounds very optimistic and feels there is a big change in New Delhi policy towards Kashmir.
“This talk offer is as real as we in J&K want it to be. There is a strategic change (in Delhi policy). We must take note of it and seize this opportunity to take J&K out of uncertainty,” said Akhter. At the same time though he cautions against undue expectations from the talks. “What is important is that there is willingness to start building peace process. This process can take off and actually results in something tangible if people of J&K and other stakeholders look at it with a positive mind. We have to come out of rejectionist mode and stop putting conditions. I don’t think anybody is in a position to put conditions,” said Akhter in an apparent reference to separatists, one of the key players as far as talks were concerned.
On Sunday the senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in his reaction to Rajnath’s statement said if New Delhi was serious it must first accept Kashmir as a dispute. “Unless there is some seriousness in talks there is no fun,” Geelani said addressing a seminar at his Hyderpora residence where he continues to be under house arrest.
On Tuesday ‘Joint Resistance Leadership’ comprising of Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik met to discuss what has come to called “talks offer.” After a one-hour meeting the trio issued a statement saying they were ready to enter dialogue process only if New Delhi put an end to ambiguity. They referred to what they called as contradicting statements made by external affairs minister Shushma Sawraj and BJP President Amit Shah on talks and ceasefire.
Akhter however said if anybody from J&K strikes a “hawkish note” this time it can be interpreted only as not interested in peace. “There is already election mood across country but Modi government has struck a very humanistic approach on Kashmir and without caring for the electoral gains, he has offered to move offered on Kashmir,” said Akhter. “That is important, but how long it will sustain depend on response from other side,” said Akhter.
The fate of dialogue offer will also depend on whether India will participate in the upcoming SAARC summit that is being hosted by Pakistan. So far the media reports have suggested that New Delhi was likely to sit out of the meeting. “If Mr Modi goes to Pakistan for SARRC meeting and if some development takes place then we can expect a forward movement on the issue. Much will also depend on the stand that New Delhi takes,” said Jacob.