Red lines over Kashmir | By Ershad Mahmud

Jammu and Kashmir map. Insight on Kashmir

The recent ceasefire between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) has kindled a ray of hope in the midst of despair after a long lull but it can still not break the talk gridlock unless sincere and consistent efforts are made.

The military leadership of both countries has shown immense courage and statesmanship by negotiating a truce and ensuring the cessation of hostilities along the LoC. Now, it is the responsibility of the political leadership to consolidate the decision of the ceasefire by giving it political legitimacy and making a transition to dispute resolution.

The dramatic announcement of the ceasefire has set the ball rolling for further tangible progress on all major disputes including Jammu and Kashmir which has marred the last seven decades for both nations. So far, the ceasefire announcement appears to be merely a tactical move by both governments. No roadmap has been envisaged because neither backchannel nor diplomatic conversation between Islamabad and New Delhi has resumed yet.

Pakistan’s thinking has witnessed a remarkable change in approach – from geo-strategic to geo-economic – during the last few years. Pakistan’s priorities revolve around peace, connectivity and economic development these days. Supporting the peace process in Afghanistan and facilitating the US-Taliban dialogue leading to a historic agreement is a clear manifestation of Pakistan’s new approach towards its neighbours. Pakistan fully recognizes the significance of peace in Afghanistan to turn it into a geo-economic hub.

This approach has the potential to help the entire region benefit from the significant geographical location of Pakistan and make fast economic progress. This transition and transformation of strategy is not a sign of weakness but a sign of prudence and judiciousness. In this background, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has extended a hand of cooperation to India during the last couple of weeks. Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa have unanimously stated that Pakistan wants to write a new chapter in the history of bilateral relations.

However, due to the conflict in Kashmir, Pakistan’s relations with India could not fully normalize despite many periodical dialogues and summit level talks. A fair assessment is required to understand Pakistan’s redlines over Kashmir. To my understanding, Pakistan is desperate to find out an honourable and peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute. There is no possibility of accepting the current status quo or post-August 5, 2019 developments as a fait accompli.

The nearly 15 million Kashmiris living in Indian-held-Kashmir, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan cannot imagine Pakistan making an effort to improve its relations with India without their involvement for an appropriate resolution of the Kashmir issue. No government in Pakistan can make peace with India unless Kashmir is a part of the larger package. Many Indian commentators overlook this compulsion and jump to the wrong conclusion.

If India restores the statehood status of Occupied J&K, it can act as a catalyst to resume a full-fledged dialogue process leading to further meaningful conversations over Kashmir, with various Kashmiri stakeholders. Likewise, a new law ensuring that no demographic change will happen in Kashmir can go down well across Pakistan.

Pakistan seems ready to become a facilitator to change the course of history by resolving the Kashmir issue, provided the BJP government shows the required flexibility and adopts a workable political approach. Therefore, some tangible steps are required to create an environment conducive to peace in Indian-held Kashmir – such as introducing a zero-tolerance policy for human rights violations by state actors. Political space for dissenting voices is also required so that a process of negotiation of ideas can begin instead of the roar of stones and pellet guns in the streets of the Kashmir Valley.

To achieve lasting peace in the region, both countries will have to go beyond the tactical truce to a strategic one. Finally, no peace process or ceasefire between the two governments can sustain unless the people are involved and made a partner in the process. Thus, a transparent and inclusive process is required wherein different stakeholders get involved and support the process. The involvement and support of the people is a key ingredient of any successful negotiation. Therefore, a bottom-up approach is vital to be adopted instead of the top-down one.

It should not be overlooked that running a peace process is a hard task and requires endurance and statesmanship. However, historians Wallensteen and Sollenberg record that 56 wars came to an end in the 1989-2000 period. They note that 22 conflicts were ended by peace agreements and 34 by ceasefire or other methods. Hence, the citizens of India and Pakistan should not lose hope and keep trying.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: ershad.mahmud@gmail. com

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