Kashmir at the core

SPEAKING at the UN General Assembly session on Friday was a Nawaz Sharif different to the one who had earned much flak from the hawks in Pakistan for his India vision of a few years ago.

He was then an opposition leader who wanted to present himself as a moderate Pakistani politician. Now he is a prime minister who must represent his state’s interests which are made up of much more than a politician’s wishes.

Pakistan and India are back at a place from where they have to build from scratch. And if internal Pakistani dynamics, such as Mr Sharif’s tenuous ties with the security establishment, have contributed to the responses today, India’s desire, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to act as an ‘emerging superpower’ has also deterred dialogue between the two countries.

Last month’s cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks by New Delhi, which deplored Pakistan’s contacts with leaders from India-held Kashmir, had heralded the suspension.

In fact, the ground was being prepared for that eventuality and recent engagement between the two countries, when not cold, has been too heated. There were far too many incidents of firing on the Pakistan-India frontier if we are to cite just one significant reason for the deterioration in ties — and the gifts the two prime ministers exchanged were too bereft of substance to be of any long-term value.

Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir is based on a solid principle. The emphasis has varied, but Kashmir has been very much there influencing attitudes at the talks even when it was being kept out for the sake of confidence-building.

On its part, New Delhi has also stuck to its guns over the disputed territory. Consequently, dialogue, which is always the best way forward and which in this case was kept going not least by the efforts of international powers, has been under constant threat. The basic reason for this engagement in recent times was that in a changed world, Pakistan and India could not continue their hostile ways if they hoped to keep pace with economic development.

For many on this side of the border, the increasing insistence by Mr Modi’s India to dictate is rooted in the belief that India today is economically powerful enough for international players to side with it — tacitly and openly.

That would mean greater pressure on Pakistan which has an image problem and a host of economic problems to deal with. But this formula disregards the fact that Islamabad cannot ignore or compromise on Kashmir. There is no denying that Kashmir is a central issue, but the only way it can be dealt with is by including the Kashmiris in the discussion — rather than using them to sustain nationalistic refrains. That fact must not be lost sight of.–Dawn

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