In 2007, the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously talked of a time when people in India would be able to have “breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul”. His words carried conviction at the time. They were backed up by the then five year long process of dialogue between India and Pakistan which seemed close to pulling off a solution to festering Kashmir dispute between them. The two nations had worked out a settlement formula known as four point proposals whereby Kashmir was due to be settled without either country having to cede the territory under its occupation. The formula set out a four step incremental process for Kashmir resolution. The steps were: identification of the regions in Kashmir for the settlement, demilitarization, self governance and a joint management or a consultative mechanism between India and Pakistan on the state. The proposals envisaged a Kashmir solution without any territorial re-adjustment of the state and as such were a drastic climbdown from Islamabad’s traditional stand on the state.
But the then Pakistan president General Parvez Musharraf’s sudden exit from power following lawyers’ agitation aborted the process. The Mumbai attack that followed it further estranged the neighbours.
Ever since the fresh efforts to resume the process haven’t succeeded. Every attempt at engagement has been put paid by a major terrorist attack in India by militants based in Pakistan. In 2015, the prime minister Narendra Modi’s fledgling dialogue with Islamabad was cut short by an attack on Indian airforce base in Pathankot.
After his takeover as Pakistan Prime Minister in 2018, Imran Khan tried hard to engage India but this time Modi wasn’t interested. He chose rather to unilaterally integrate Kashmir into India, aggravating the conflict over the state. Now, as the two countries, both nuclear armed, stare at a fresh prolonged stand-off over the state after the revocation of the Article 370, one can’t but rue the lost opportunity of Manmohan-Musharraf peace process.
The process even now serves as a reminder that if both nations pursue the talks with sincerity and a sense of purpose, there is every hope that the issues as intractable as Kashmir could be resolved to the satisfaction of all its parties. The governments in New Delhi and Islamabad need to build upon the legacy of dialogue and reconciliation of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Musharraf to create a framework for Kashmir solution. We need such a process again but this time to be taken to its logical conclusion. Pakistan PM Imran Khan seems willing to tread the path but New Delhi seems disinclined to respond as of now. Here’s hoping the Modi 2.0 does engage in dialogue with Islamabad and work for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of their issues, including that of Kashmir.