Kashmir can be best resolved through talks with separatists, Pakistan, but the China factor looms large

New Delhi needs to be extremely cautious to ensure it doesn't unwittingly follow the roadmap the China-Pakistan axis has charted out with regards to Kashmir. While moving towards talks with Pakistan on one hand and with separatists within Kashmir on the other, the government must first figure out the desired endgame of the Sino-Pak axis, and what steps the duo has charted together as a lead-up to it.

It has been obvious for years that street rage in the Valley and Pakistan's renewed desire to wrest Kashmir from India have both been harnessed to China's determination to weaken India.

File image of security personnel in Kashmir. PTI

File image of security personnel in Kashmir. PTI

There is a historical continuity to this. Even Sheikh Abdullah acknowledged to his biographer that Britain's great game to take control of Gilgit lurked in the background of Kashmir's uprising in 1931. But since 2008, Kashmir has again become a vital battleground, as the world's two most populous countries deal with the 21st century.

Having ignored the connections between this triad of threats to national security and integrity (China, Pakitan and Kashmiri street rage) for far too long, the government must work overtime to absorb the big picture now. Their starting point should be that the endgame for both Pakistan and for Kashmiri separatists involves China.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti astutely acknowledged this after meeting Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday. "Outside forces are involved in this fight, and now China is also intervening," she said.

On the other hand, Lashkar-e-Taiba's chief spokesman in Pakistan had already stated explicitly that China is the dominant power in the subcontinent and should be involved in negotiations.

While criticising China for blocking the United Nations from listing Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed as a "terrorist", policymakers failed to understand that LeT is now a knight not just a pawn in China's complex gambit against India.

Vajpayee's policy

Offering to talk with Pakistan and separatist leaders is a fine principle. It was a fine idea when Atal Bihari Vajpayee made it the basis of his approach to the Kashmir problem while he was prime minister. He stuck steadfastly to this approach despite a series of rejections, betrayals and false starts — until two narrow escapes at the hands of terrorist assassins convinced Parvez Musharraf to come on board. Both leaders were really committed to resolve the issue then. Even a range of separatists, except Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were happy.

But sadly, Vajpayee did not remain in office for long thereafter, and the process petered out by 2007.

It would have been an even idea if Modi had come into office with this agenda. With a strong majority, the RSS' backing, and the BJP firmly under his thumb, Modi was in a much stronger position to accomplish this than Vajpayee had been.

At this stage, the government has done well to bring the Opposition on board. The BJP's alliance partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the PDP, has already done remarkable groundwork to bring the most recalcitrant "separatists" around. There is also talk of the interlocutors of the party being rewarded with public positions, and some tainted aides being dropped.

Most Kashmiris were surprised when a statement from Geelani paved the way for the extension of GST to Jammu and Kashmir. Over the past couple of days, Geelani and two other leading separatist leaders have issued statements calling for an end to all bloodshed.

If that trio now backs talks (the well-informed in Srinagar say they have agreed), it can only mean that Pakistan has given them the green signal. Those in the know claim that the leading militant groups too are on board — another indicator of Pakistani approval.

But the extraordinary murkiness of the situation should make all those who are charting a way forward very cautious about rocks, reefs, or fog — not to mention icebergs.

Updated Date: Jul 16, 2017 08:22 AM

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