Hammond’s Reality Check on Kashmir

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British foreign secretary Philip Hammond on his recent visit to Pakistan said that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute should not be a pre-condition for resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue. “Settling the Kashmir issue should not be a precondition for starting the dialogue process,” Hammond told reporters during a joint press conference with Pakistan prime minister’s advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz. Hammond’s statement was roundly slammed in Pakistan and Kashmir, where separatists have expressed shock over this drastic shift in British position on Kashmir. It effectively means that the country which has a primary role in creating Kashmir dispute no longer thinks its resolution should be the condition for dialogue between India and Pakistan. As if the past 68 years and the attendant conflict, instability and bloodshed wasn’t enough of a reason to prioritize resolution of Kashmir issue. More so, when this is the most sensible course to take if the objective is a peaceful South Asia, liberated from the baggage of partition. But British foreign secretary by his statement has legitimized the perpetuation of the status quo, and instead urged the two countries to possibly pursue normal relations through enhanced people to people contact and bilateral trade.  And which would be good if it was easy to sustain it without resolution of Kashmir.

Having said that, Hammond may have only driven home a harsh reality about Kashmir and told us something that we don’t tell each other.   And which is that the dispute is fiendishly complex and nowhere near resolution in the foreseeable future. New Delhi’s current policy on Kashmir starkly underlines this unenviable state of affairs. The fact is New Delhi can’t care less. It is not bothered about a fresh uprising in Valley– the previous UPA government challenged people to start one by hanging Afzal Guru. It doesn’t give a damn about Hurriyat factions- come what may, it won’t talk to them unless they make an abject surrender and agree to its terms. New Delhi is also no longer afraid of militancy: if local youth are joining militancy, so what. In fact, security establishment almost craves for “a manageable level of militancy in Kashmir that keeps them in business and in command”.

And as for as Pakistan as a party to the dispute is concerned, the country, bogged down in its own sectarian  and terror mess and pre-occupied with the war in Afghanistan, has long lost the bargaining power it had, say when Taliban was in power in Kabul. Besides, the current geo-political situation and a Pakistan hemmed in by its internal security challenges severely circumscribes the scope for a full-fledged militant struggle in Kashmir. This, however, doesn’t rule out an autonomous armed struggle with a conspicuous presence sustained by local youth and an input of foreign militants. And  which again would not be to the advantage of Kashmir.  

This likely scenario hardly makes Kashmir a sufficient political or security challenge for New Delhi to pay serious attention to. And this also explains why from an existential crisis through nineties threatening India’s integrity, Kashmir traversing the descriptions of a dispute,  a problem and an issue is now little more than an irritant for New Delhi. India’s growing economy and the rising international profile has further helped turn the international attention away from the long running conflict and rendered it almost an internal problem. And it is time that all political and social groups in Valley take this reality on board while chalking out future strategy.

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