With India and Pakistan engaging in small talk, holding hands and contemplating (maybe) a discussion of their differences over Kashmir, there is an exigent need for Kashmiris to weigh in carefully and review again any opportunities to participate in such discussions as proprietors of their own nation. Most importantly, who will represent them at the negotiating table?
There is an urgent need now for Kashmiris to press upon India and Pakistan the importance of approaching this issue constructively rather than like some game of chess at a local parlor. The foolhardiness of repeating the same gambit over and over again eventually becomes costly as well as unsuccessful. The opportunity for real change is at hand.
The first challenge, as we know, is for Kashmir to get to the table. The second and equally important challenge is the ability of any agreement on Kashmir to be acceptable to the broad spectrum of the people of Jammu & Kashmiris in the Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir & Gilgit Baltistan.
Kashmir was at the table, at least in name, when late Prime Minister Nehru had an agreement with Sheikh Abdullah which is known as the 1952 Delhi Agreement. One may disagree with the political philosophy of Sheikh Abdullah but the fact remains that he was the most charismatic leader that Kashmir has ever produced. But even that powerful leader could not sell this agreement to the people of Kashmir. In fact the Sheikh later tried to distance himself from it and eventually was arrested. Kashmiris are still fighting for their rights.
India and Pakistan have had many agreements, like Tashkent, Simla, Lahore, etc. They failed because they didnt offer a seat at the table to the primary party, i.e. the Kashmiri leadership. Likewise, India and the mainstream Kashmiri leadership have had multiple accords, like the Abdullah Nehru Agreement of 1952; the Indira Sheikh Accord of 1974; the Farooq Rajiv Accord; the Mufti Sayyid and Modi Agreement, etc. They also failed because they sought to bypass another party, i.e., Pakistan. Therefore, it is quite logical that the talks must be tripartite with India, Pakistan and those who represent the true voice of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Real negotiations, not parlor games, are the key to resolving the conflict. The logistics of tripartite talks can be open to discussion but the principle cannot.
The demand of the people of Kashmir that the Kashmiri leadership should be included in the talks is not based on passion alone but on important principles long acknowledged by the international community. Yet they have been contaminated with this long history of failed talks and agreements that have not resolved the issue and that do not even meet the very minimum requirement of those principles. So much political posturing; so absent of real intent.
Its interesting how problematic it is for the parties to agree that Kashmiris themselves have a stake in any talks about their future. In what kind of democratic process would this not be of prime consideration? The moral, legal and historical foundations for such a principle have been frequently raised by not only by Kashmiris but the world community, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and still stand. Yet they are continually ignored.
Aside from the matter of being included in the talks, the question of who represents the people of Jammu & Kashmir, what voice is heard, takes on the greatest significance.
India and Pakistan should realize that they can impose any solution upon the people of Kashmir; the Kashmiri mainstream leadership can sign any accord with India; but the question arises, are they going to be able to sell these agreements to the people as was attempted by Sheikh Abdullah? The answer is big NO.
The fact is that the relationship between India and the mainstream so-called Kashmir government, the principal negotiator in all previous attempts, is wrought with obstacles. The interests of the people are not represented. The financial links, the political pressures, the undue political influence certain figures enjoy within the current and past Kashmir administrations who regurgitate New Delhi policies and ambitions, the ever-present and intimidating military presence and what is threatened if you dont go along, and the careers at stake all inevitably taint the process. Decisions are being made on the basis of politics and power by remote and unattached absentee landlords instead of by real Kashmiris involved in real issues that have long been fundamental to the whole question. Theres no getting down to the real nitty gritty of what is festering. When you cant speak out about a desire for freedom or independence, thats like a boil that just gets bigger and bigger. Perhaps history itself speaks the loudest. What has Kashmir been saying for all these years?
Those who have held privileged positions in Kashmirs official leadership while all this has been going on have at best been muted in their response, have not demanded that India be held accountable, and have not demanded an authentic negotiation process that resolves real problems. They are like mothers who, when their babies cry, do not try to understand why they are crying. They simply shove a pacifier in its mouth. They have not stood up for their compatriots in their hour of need. They have not stood up for Kashmir. They lack sufficient credibility and trust to shoulder the task of representing Kashmirs true interests.
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