The Kashmir issue has cast a long shadow on the history of free India. It has not only caused wars between India and Pakistan, but it also remains the one real impediment to normal relations between the two countries.
Ever since he took over as prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been experimenting with various peace initiatives. The latest one is perhaps the most vital to subcontinental politics. It has given an impetus to the hope for sustainable peace in the region, despite some cynicism regarding its outcome in the light of the failure of previous peace moves. Thus, everyone concerned must learn from the past and fashion the new initiative on the basis of that experience. For the stakes this time are very high.
Yet another failure will only hamper the prospects of peace and become a setback to moderate elements, and thus strengthen the divisive forces in Kashmir.
There are several reasons why a dialogue is an absolute necessity at this juncture. There is a large constituency for peace in Kashmir today, which believes in pragmatism and is aware of the dangers posed by the extremists and the religious bigots. There is also a limit to military manoeuvres, which prove counter-productive beyond a point, since they alienate the masses. Two, the real strength of India lies in its pacifism. Any deviation from this core value and India runs the risk of turning into a military state.
Lessons from history
Three, the violence in Kashmir has not only divided local society, it is also one reason for the growing communalization of Indian society as a whole. Besides, only a meaningful dialogue can break the link between violence and political issues.
Last but not the least, the ongoing violence has caused pain and suffering to the Kashmiris and also led to the diminishing of the distinction between justice and revenge, compassion and reaction. This degeneration of human values must be arrested by a process of reconciliation and rapprochement.
But the mere offer of a dialogue is not enough — New Delhi must nurture the peace process with care. Such peace initiatives failed in the past because they were high on gestures and low in substance.
Besides, they could not allay the suspicion and cynicism on both sides. Then there was a lack of coherence within the bureaucracy as well as among the highest political leadership. Looking for short-term benefits and trying to score brownie points at the international level have proved counter-productive.
The onus of a successful dialogue rests equally (if not more) with the Hurriyat leadership. It must come out of its shell and lead from the front — all the while keeping an open mind. As a representative of Kashmiri interests, the Hurriyat must give the peace process a sense of purpose and direction. For the Hurriyat — which has little option but to work for an honourable peace — this is a real test of grit and determination, as also of acumen.
The conflict in Kashmir has added to the bitterness between India and Pakistan. It has kept on hold development in the whole of the subcontinent. Precarious resources are being spent on a mad arms race. But the real key to peace in the region lies with the Kashmiri leadership. This is evident in New Delhi’s effort to involve Srinagar too in the current peace initiative.
One problem with the peace process might be the difficult relationship between New Delhi and Srinagar. If this relationship is straightened out, maybe the Kashmiris will be able to gather the courage to tell both the nations to stop fighting on their behalf, since it is they who are the worst sufferers . For that to happen, it is essential to first provide the Kashmiri people with a real sense of achievement and re-establish their honour and dignity.
But this process must first be preceded by calling to a halt any further divisions on the basis of religion and regions. What is needed now is a conflict resolution mechanism that ensures a win-win situation for everyone concerned.