By Massoda BanoIndependent-Bangladesh
July 9, 2001
The picture looks too rosy. The recent statements made by India and Pakistan's top government official about the forthcoming summit are exceptionally positive. Pakistan is repeatedly saying that it is going with an open mind and a strong will to initiate a successful peace dialogue, while India is making announcements of extending a warm and intimate welcome where apart from a grand official reception to befit President of any nation, General Musharraf might be taken to A B Vajpayee's village near Agra for the planned day long discussions as a sign of good will.
At one level it is becoming suspiciously sweet. From having extremely tense relations since Kargil and take over of the General Pervez Musharraf government, the pendulum has suddenly swayed completely the other side where all seems a bit too good to be true.
While one strongly hopes that the suspicions are wrong and these efforts are genuine attempts from both sides to build peace in the region and not just statements to please the international community, it still remains difficult to see how despite best of intentions would any significant progress be made at the forthcoming summit when the core issue for discussion from Pakistan's side remains Kashmir.
Whether it was General Musharraf's comments in Face the Nation show or recent statements from Foreign Minster Abdul Sattar, the government is repeatedly ensuring the public that Kashmir will indeed be the main focus of discussion at the summit.
While, there can simply be no disagreement with the fact that without settling the Kashmir issue there are no prospects of reaching long term peace in the region, it is also a reality that to start the negotiations with the mindset that only a significant shift in India's Kashmir policy will lead to any other collaboration between the two countries is unlikely to yield any fruitful outcomes.
Let us all be clear about some facts about Kashmir. It is a fact that Kashmir is a disputed territory and acknowledged as such by the United Nations. It is also a fact that Kashmiris have faced extreme human rights violations by the Indian forces from brutal killings of innocent Kashmiris to rape of Kashmiri women.
It is also true that the international community has not given these violations their due attention and have historically not used their clout with India to get the Kashmir issue resolved. It is also true that most Pakistanis feel a close affinity with the Kashmiri people and opine that Pakistan should actively fight the Kashmir case.
But, while all these facts make it important for Pakistan to keep Kashmir talks at the top of the agenda there are some other facts that need to be considered too. And these are that Kashmir is an extremely touchy subject for Indian population too. Having participated in various Track II initiatives one knows that even when you talk to most liberal, educated, and pro-peace Indians, majority of them have very fixed notions about Kashmir.
They might criticise their governments on wrong visa policy towards Pakistan, for breeding hate deliberately between the two countries, but when it comes to Kashmir, most of them simply end up supporting their government stand. Most of them see Kashmir as an integral part of India and the Kashmiris as creating unnecessarily demands.
An incident at the recent such peace initiative that I attended highlights this fact. At the end of over a ten-day conference where participants from all over South Asia had gathered to discuss various means of attaining peace in the region, an entertainment evening was organised. Someone in the group came up with an idea that representatives from each country should together sing their national anthem. There was also a participant from occupied Kashmir participating in the conference. When Indian participants' turn came to sing their national anthem the Indian group expected this Kashmiri boy to sing along with them. He, however, did not join the group because the Kashmiris refuse to acknowledge the Indian anthem as their national anthem.
This led to a disastrous situation. Suddenly, these young Indian girls who over the past ten days had taken active interest in the peace discussions went red in anger and gave a real shouting to the Kashmiri boy at the end of the show saying how dare he not sing Indian's national anthem when he is travelling on an Indian passport.
And it was not just the young crowd that reacted like that. The senior Indian scholar who was one of the speakers at the conference, advocating peace in the region approached this boy and insisted how wrong he was in not joining the group. Of course, one must acknowledge that out of the group of eight Indians, two did try to calm the rest down and said that the boy has the right to make his own choices but the fact remains that in the mind of majority of Indians Kashmir remains an integral part of India.
All of this is to show that to reach a solution on Kashmir is not easy. In fact, it is simply impossible till the Indian and Pakistan public first build some trust on each other. And this won't happen till there is greater social interaction between the two nations, more trade ties are formed, and more economic interdependence developed on each other.
The idea is not at all to forget Kashmir but to be realistic and pragmatic about the whole situation. A long-term solution to Kashmir dispute will only come with better understanding between the people of India and Pakistan and not just with occasional talks of the top government officials of the two sides.
This most importantly requires ease in visa restrictions so that there is easy flow of people across the border, and building strong economic links as increased economic interdependence acts as a good deterrence against conflicts.
These two should be the key objectives of the coming summit with the view that they are critical steps towards finding solution to the heart of the problem, which is Kashmir.