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In a speech that was marked more by careful calculation than any overt passion, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf allowed himself a purple passage to describe his nation’s relationship with Kashmir. As he put it with emphasis, ‘‘Kashmir runs in our blood.’’ It was, according to him, the first of three problems that have beset Pakistan historically. Incidentally, the second problem he highlighted involved ‘‘political disputes at the international level concerning Muslims’’, adding that ‘‘we must stop interfering in the affairs of others’’. The irony of the second being just a variation of the first seems to have escaped Musharraf. In many ways, Kashmir is ‘‘a political dispute at the international level’’, but Musharraf does not make a general call to his people to stop interfering in its affairs.

But let us put that aspect aside and examine what he does promise. ‘‘No organisation,’’ he said, ‘‘will be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir.’’ This, at least, is a very real beginning which India must respond with caution, certainly, but also in a positive spirit. After all, changing the past to secure the future is all about grabbing opportunities inherent in the present. Obduracy and a tunnel vision can never move mountains, and mountains must indeed move if a solution is to be found to an issue that has blighted the subcontinent for half a century and more and set it back severely in terms of development and human welfare. India, on its part, has gone on record to state that if it is convinced of the General’s sincerity in rolling back terrorism in Kashmir it would take two steps for every one step that Pakistan embarks upon. Now that the words have been pronounced it is time for both nations to walk the talk — which, of course, is always the toughest part of an enterprise of this kind.

While things hopefully evolve towards an early dialogue with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, the Vajpayee government must — quite regardless of the outcome of what happens between India and Pakistan — begin its homework about getting J&K on track in a year that should witness assembly elections in the state. Prime Minister Vajpayee is not unaware of the urgency of the task of ushering in real democracy in J&K. Not only did he promise free and fair elections in his Red Fort address, he returned to that theme in his New Year musings, underlining the need to search for a ‘‘lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions’’. This implies looking at measures that will improve the quality of life for the people of the state in significant ways and resuming the rather disjointed and half-hearted project of talking to the representatives of the Kashmiri people. Those who present themselves as the leaders of the local people must also discard the mental straitjackets that they have long sported and explore every avenue that would eventually lead to reconciliation and progress.
Published in Kashmir Live of Indian Express