In the hullabaloo surrounding the impending change of government, it is strange that Kashmir should seize attention. But it undoubtedly has, with the plea of the prime minister’s special envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan that the delineation of the Line of Control as the border between India and Pakistan may help resolve the Kashmir problem. The LoC has been the site as much of recent military skirmishes as political wrangling. So it is not surprising that Satinder K. Lambah’s comment has grabbed eyeballs. It is possible that Mr Lambah may have sought to draw attention to the accomplishments of the United Progressive Alliance government, but his harping back to the Pervez Musharraf-Manmohan Singh formula of a “soft border” serves more as a reminder of the momentum lost than gained in India-Pakistan ties, a factor that has also botched the settlement of the Kashmir issue. It is important to remember that what impeded the steady advance on Kashmir and bilateral issues was not so much the challenge posed by cross-border terrorism as the compulsions of domestic politics, as election-time governments in both the countries sought to adopt a hard line to prevent the Opposition from raking in political gains. Thus, while Pakistan held back its grant of most-favoured-nation status to India, India reneged on liberalizing the visa regime, thereby scotching the chances of bonhomie.
It is good that Kashmir has bobbed up on the national radar at a time a Bharatiya Janata Party-led dispensation is supposed to claim the mantle at the Centre. Peace on the LoC is as crucial at a time of the larger changes in Afghanistan as a settlement of Kashmir’s constitutional status. The BJP had created a ruckus on both issues in the run-up to the elections. The party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has often talked of reviving the momentum set by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in bilateral relations. Unless he and the party revise their revanchist attitude on Kashmir, India may never get the ball rolling again.