IT IS still too early to say whether the 'dialogue' the Indian government has opened with the leaders in occupied Kashmir will help ease the crisis in that strife-stricken state. The initial response to the Indian announcement on April 5 was not very positive. That is understandable given the scepticism the Kashmiris feel about New Delhi's approach to this problem. But now that K.C. Pant, the deputy chairman of the planning commission who has been assigned the job of negotiating, has begun extending invitations, one hopes that this initiative will not be scuttled prematurely by any party. True, there are some limitations in this approach. Pakistan has not been included in the dialogue. The agenda of the talks has not been specifically defined. Nearly everyone in any way connected with Kashmir has been invited which could make the negotiations quite unwieldy.
But there are some positive signs which give rise to hope that if approached with an open mind, the talks could prove meaningful. By offering to make the dialogue unconditional, New Delhi has not laid down a restrictive framework. In other words, issues which go beyond the Indian constitution can be raised and discussed. The broad agenda of the talks which is "peace and how it may be attained in the troubled state" should allow plenty of scope for the Hurriyat leaders to discuss the issue of the future political status of Kashmir. Moreover, if some agreement can be reached with the militant groups on how to halt the violence and institute a mutually acceptable ceasefire, the level of violence in the state could be lowered. With that, India's main demand about "cross-border terrorism" being stopped before it will enter into negotiations with Pakistan would have been met.
Since India has let it be known that it is willing to talk with the APHC and also the organizations engaged in militancy in Kashmir but are desirous of peace, one assumes that the groups most actively relevant to Kashmir's present crisis will be included in the negotiations. The fact is that the struggle in Kashmir has reached an impasse. If India can no longer suppress the unrest by recourse to arms, it is also beyond the Mujahideen's capacity to achieve a military solution. In other words, in the absence of a breakthrough on the political front, the violence with the attendant loss of life in Kashmir will continue indefinitely with no movement towards a settlement. Common sense, therefore, demands that a political dialogue be opened. Even though the format it has adopted is not exactly what Islamabad and the Kashmiris might have wanted, it should still be given a try in the present circumstances. If handled skilfully, this could ultimately open the door for the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.
This article was published in Pakistan newspaper Dawn, in its April 17, 2001 edition. There is hope everywhere. A hope that something might evolve, some devine force makes all involved parties think rationally.