(India and Pakistan have now strong and stable governments. The leaders in both countries claim to be people friendly. There cannot be a better opportunity than this to solve the most intractable problem of Kashmir!)
The recent elections have thrown up Narendra Modi as the uncontested leader of the 1.3 billion people of India. He has shown that he has total hold on the majority of the Indian population. He has also shown that he enjoys the support of the Army. That gives him the power to take any decision for the country which would have the total backing of the people. Already during his earlier tenure he took some revolutionary decisions. No doubt the present election was won on heightened religious sentiments and emotions, yet he has not given up mobilizing the corporate and industrial sector to enable him to redeem the earlier goals. On the other side of the border Imran Khan enjoys almost the same status even though to a lesser extent as regards general popularity because of his failure to deliver the economic promises. However, he enjoys the complete trust and support of the army. Any decision taken by him would stand. The combination of these two leaders without any self-interest presents an ideal opportunity to sort out all the problems in various fields between these two countries including the most intractable problem of Kashmir.
Kashmir has become a real bleeding tragedy over last few decades. It has been turned into a virtual whipping boy by the two sub-continental neighbours who have been using it to settle their scores at the cost of the local people. Kashmiris have become guinea pigs for testing the two political ideologies. The vested interests especially from abroad have made the problem so complicated that the two immediate contenders are unable to move forward on any practical solution. The worst sufferers are the unfortunate residents of this disputed land whose future hangs in a balance. In fact, right from 1947 when the sub-continent was divided by the departing British the wound of Kashmir was engineered by them to keep the entire sub-continent bleeding and looking towards the west for healing the wounds. The entire exercise was to keep a hold on the colony they had to quit after 200 years because of their own collapse caused by the Second World War. Divide and rule has been their policy from the earlier times. Napoleon had called the British a nation of shopkeepers which they have proved to be everywhere! For the sub-continent their main merchandise after their departure has been the lethal arms of all types!
This artificially created problem has eaten away the precious resources of both the countries. The money which was urgently needed for ameliorating the lot of the majority of population on both sides has been channelized into weapons of destruction including those of mass destruction. The only gainers have been the beneficiaries of conflict on the two sides. On the occasion of the declaration of the results of the Indian Parliamentary elections Imran Khan greeted Narendra Modi for this tremendous victory. The two leaders spoke and expressed the desire to start a dialogue for peace. The History has afforded them a brilliant opportunity which they must seize in the interests of peace and progress not only for the sub-continent but for entire South Asia.
However, for any constructive and meaningful dialogue the basic requirement is to create a conducive atmosphere. The immediate first step they can take is to open the sub-continent’s “Berlin Wall” which has completely isolated the two populations from each other. Why can’t India and Pakistan have soft borders like the European Union the members of which in earlier times destroyed each other through destructive world wars! The populations on two sides have same sentiments, same basic problems and virtually common culture. The people who have been travelling to two sides have felt at home in each country. The lifting of barriers and allowing totally free exchange of people, ideas and goods can bring a revolution to the sub-continent. The same holds good for the two artificially divided parts of Kashmir. This had been witnessed at the time of starting the Line of Control Bus and Cross LOC Trade, both of which have recently been stopped.
The part which has suffered most because of this bleeding tragedy is Kashmir. Before the start of any dialogue the situation here too will have to be eased out. Violence on all sides has to be ended. Opportunity for expressing any ideas freely has to be provided. Dialogue with all stakeholders has to be initiated for the ultimate resolution of the problem. Apart from violence, the entire area has been suffering from lack of effective governance involving responsive and effective administration. This aspect too needs to be looked into. The ideas may seem utopian in the prevailing circumstances. However, if the ultimate peace is to be the goal, these need to be put into practice. There is no better opportunity than the present time to do that!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir