Speaking in the Lok Sabha on April 21, 2003, about his just-concluded visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spelt out his perspective on the way to deal with the complex issues concerning the State. He spoke of major economic projects in areas such as the development of road and rail infrastructure and promoting employment for the youth.

Referring to relations with Pakistan he said: “We have extended our hand of friendship to Pakistan. Let us see how Pakistan responds. Stopping cross-border infiltration and destruction of terrorist infrastructure can open the door for talks. Talks can take place on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir.” He asserted: “The gun can solve no problems. Issues can be guided by the three principles of insaniyat (humanism), jamhooriyat (democracy) and kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s legacy of amity).”

Paying the price

Vajpayee’s words came after the military face-off with Pakistan following the (December 2001) attack on Parliament had ended, in October 2002. Back channel talks with Pakistan were under way, resulting in a ceasefire across the Line of Control in November 2003. In January 2004, India agreed to resume dialogue with Pakistan, following an assurance from President Pervez Musharraf that “territory under Pakistan’s control” would not be used for terrorism against India. Dialogue was resumed only after this categorical assurance.

While Pakistan broadly abided by this assurance as long as Musharraf was president, terrorism resumed in 2008, with an attack on our embassy in Kabul, followed by the 26/11 strike (in Mumbai). We ignored Vajpayee’s preconditions for dialogue and paid a heavy price. We have now asserted that dialogue with Pakistan and terrorism cannot proceed side by side. Efforts are under way for a “dialogue” with “Kashmiris”.

But this dialogue has to be inclusive. It is not meant just to accommodate the “aspirations” of the people of the Kashmir Valley, who constitute some 52 per cent of the population, while residing in around 16 per cent of the territory of J&K. Those representing the people of Jammu, Kargil and Ladakh, including from communities such as the Gujjars and Bakarwals, have to be included in any comprehensive dialogue. While the security situation has to be managed with firmness, it is time to frankly state that the essence of kashmiriyat is tolerance and respect for pluralism. Those calling for Nizam-e-Mustafa while hiding behind stone-pelting children and lobbing grenades at security forces, are not believers in kashmiriyat . They are cowards and have to be dealt with accordingly.

Regional cooperation

Should New Delhi talk to the separatist Hurriyat Conference? It has to be remembered that terrorists linked to the ISI, assassinated the two tallest leaders in the Hurriyat — Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone. Those now in the Hurriyat are either Islamist extremists such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is ideologically Pakistani, or those like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is not likely to oppose Pakistani fiats.

In any case, the Hurriyat leaders are known to be in “continuous touch” with security agencies on both sides of the Line of Control. While the security situation has to be managed judiciously but firmly, it is also time to assert that the essence of kashmiriyat is respect for pluralism and diversity. It is imperative to continue efforts to develop a broad consensus between major political parties in both New Delhi and Srinagar, on measures to move ahead.

With Pakistan launching a worldwide campaign against India, the time has also come to turn the screws diplomatically on Pakistan, which has been the main stumbling block in promoting cooperation in South Asia, on issues of connectivity, economic integration and terrorism. India has been bypassing Pakistani objections by working with its eastern Saarc neighbours, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, to promote road and rail connectivity, and even energy corridors, by interlinking energy grids.

We should work with these neighbours to promote a sub-regional economic union excluding Pakistan, given its disinclination to abide by the provisions of the Saarc Free Trade Agreement in its trade with India. Bangladesh has expressed interest in moving towards an economic union, while lamenting Pakistan’s negativism on issues of regional integration which Saarc heads of government agreed to at the Kathmandu summit in 2003.

Pakistan’s negativism was also evident in its categorical rejection of India’s offer of orbiting a Saarc satellite for the benefit of all Saarc countries. India is going ahead with this proposal. Bangladesh and Afghanistan downgraded their presence at recent meetings of Saarc home and finance ministers in Islamabad. India joined Bangladesh and Afghanistan, downgrading its participation at the August meeting of Saarc finance ministers. Pakistan is now regarded as a state sponsor of terrorism by three Saarc countries — Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan. It would be appropriate if the three countries held close consultations on issues such as participation at the highest level in the Islamabad Saarc summit. What better way to globally expose Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism?

The Durand Line

We should, meanwhile, continue functional cooperation across the entire spectrum of Saarc activities, by maintaining contacts at the official level while participating selectively in ministerial meetings as long as Pakistan holds the chairmanship of Saarc. There are other forums such as Bimstec which should be utilised more vigorously for strengthening South Asian economic cooperation, given Pakistan’s role as a spoiler in Saarc.

The time has also now come for India to review its unquestioning acceptance of the Durand Line, imposed on Afghanistan by an expansionist British Empire in 1893. No Afghan ruler, including Mullah Omar, has accepted the Durand Line as the international border with Pakistan.

Pashtuns have traditionally held that their homeland extends to Attock, on the banks of the Indus. There have recently been clashes along the Durand Line when Afghans resisted Pakistani moves to give it the trappings of an international border.

Is any national interest served by continuing to show the Durand Line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in India’s official maps? Is it not time to internationally acknowledge that India regards the Durand Line as a disputed border? We would be respecting the memory of one of our greatest freedom fighters, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, by doing so.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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