The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The elections in Jammu and Kashmir, a dialogue with the Kashmiri secessionists and an improvement in India-Pakistan ties are three analytically separate issues. Conflating them can only add to the prevailing confusion about Kashmir.

The nomination process for the Jammu and Kashmir legislative elections is already under way. In all likelihood, the elections will be free and fair. The percentage of polling is expected to be somewhat higher than what it was in the last elections. There is also a good chance that the international community will be satisfied by the efforts made by India to conduct proper polls.

In the run up to the elections, Pakistan is not expected to induce large scale violence directly in the state. The 2,000-odd militants who are already in place in Jammu and Kashmir may, however, indulge in sporadic acts of terrorism both to thwart the poll process and to demonstrate their presence. Still, the National Conference seems poised to emerge as the single largest party in the elections.

The election, however, would be of little consequence in settling the Kashmir issue. What matters is whether or not India wants to initiate a serious dialogue on Kashmir. If such a dialogue does take place, then conducting fresh elections, which could be much more inclusive, for example, may even be a pre-condition for its success.

As of now, both New Delhi and the Hurriyat do not seem serious about initiating a dialogue. The prime minister has apparently expressed a desire to speak to the Kashmiri leaders. However, one has this on the authority of the maverick politician, Ram Jethmalani, whose voluntary efforts enjoy no official legitimacy. The prime minister’s office has said no such thing. Jethmalani had also said that the deputy prime minister wanted to talk to the Kashmiri leaders. But L.K. Advani has since refuted this. The net result is that there is no formal invitation to the Kashmiri leaders from the government.

As for the Hurriyat, its chairman, Abdul Ghani Bhat, seems quite confused. At a time when he ought to be testing the sincerity of New Delhi about a dialogue on Kashmir, he has chosen to publicly declare that the Hurriyat is undecided about meeting Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, Bhat has said that he was preparing to hold talks with the self-styled Kashmir committee of Jethmalani, but only because it was an “unofficial” effort.

There are any number of non-governmental organizations in India which have an interest in the Kashmir issue. Will the Hurriyat talk to all of them because they are “unofficial” or should it be holding a meaningful dialogue with New Delhi’s official representatives' The confusion surrounding Jethmalani’s acceptability (or the lack of it) as a mediator to those in New Delhi may suit him very well. But it cannot suit the Hurriyat.

On the other hand, there are so many people claiming to represent New Delhi that the Kashmiri leadership may be forgiven for wondering who they should talk to. The proliferation of negotiators or mediators on Kashmir only reflects the confusion that prevails in the government. This confusion is the direct result of the PMO and the home ministry not seeing eye-to-eye on Kashmir. Thus there are four negotiators on Kashmir as of now. Three of them are official — A.S. Dulat of the PMO, K.C. Pant of the planning commission and former law minister, Arun Jaitley. The efforts of Dulat to put together a third front of moderate secessionists who would participate in the elections have been completely negated by political mishandling of the events of the last two months and the brutal assassination of Abdul Gani Lone.

Pant’s efforts have been marked by a certain laziness from the very beginning and a remarkable lack of original thinking. Jaitley has been brought into the process so late that he can do precious little. And of Jethmalani’s unguided forays into Kashmir, the less said the better.

New Delhi is also confused about who it should talk to in Kashmir. The basic problem is that the Kashmiris do not have an independent leadership. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference is controlled by Pakistan. Farooq Abdullah is quite right when he says that unless “Uncle Musharraf” tells them to participate in the polls, they cannot do so. But Abdullah himself is loyal only to his own family and at best to the regime in New Delhi. It is not surprising, therefore, that New Delhi has had to choose the lesser of the two evils.

However, there cannot be any doubt that the Kashmir issue will have to be settled in the next few years. But settling the Kashmir issue is quite different from resolving it in India’s interests. That would happen only when the Kashmiris tell Pakistan to stop interfering in their relationship with India; when they refuse to severe their social, cultural and economic ties with India. But this is not a solution that the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be working towards.

The lines of the settlement, as far as the BJP is concerned, have been clearly defined in the demand for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir by its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The BJP has already formed an electoral alliance with the Jammu State Morcha set up by the RSS to further this demand. The trifurcation demand is likely to be seen by Pakistan as a prelude to handing over the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley to it.

Only the BJP, with its loud and excessive nationalist rhetoric is in a position to take decisions which, in normal times, might have been dubbed anti-national. For example, the BJP despite being a votary of self-reliance or swadeshi has successfully given a free run to multinational corporations in the Indian economy, sold the public sector on the cheap and hitched Indian foreign policy to the American vision of the world. It is the only political party which can hand over the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. If it can tell the Gujarati Muslims to go to Pakistan, what is the harm, from its point of view, if the Kashmiri Muslims voluntarily want go to Pakistan' The BJP’s only problem is that the rest of the country is not ready for this or the grave communal consequences that might follow.

However, a dialogue with Pakistan will have to start sometime after October. The armed forces of the two countries cannot stay on the borders for ever — and the prospects of war at this stage are extremely limited. So a face-saver — the initiation of a dialogue — would be required for the two armies to withdraw to their peace time locations.

How quickly this can be done would depend upon the outcome of the general election in Pakistan. If after the October elections, General Pervez Musharraf feels secure, then the dialogue would begin soon. If, however, the results increase his insecurities, then the dialogue might get delayed.

All the same, it would be foolhardy to think that settling the Kashmir issue would necessarily result in better ties with Pakistan. Islamabad would continue to be inimical to India because of what it perceives to be New Delhi’s hegemonic designs in the region.

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