The first challenge, as we know, is for Kashmir to get to the table. The second and equally important challenge is the ability of any agreement on Kashmir to be acceptable to the broad spectrum of the people of Jammu & Kashmiris in the Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir & Gilgit Baltistan.
Kashmir was at the table, at least in name, when late Prime Minister Nehru had an agreement with Sheikh Abdullah which is known as the “1952 Delhi Agreement.” One may disagree with the political philosophy of Sheikh Abdullah but the fact remains that he was the most charismatic leader that Kashmir has ever produced. But even that powerful leader could not sell this agreement to the people of Kashmir. In fact the Sheikh later tried to distance himself from it and eventually was arrested. Kashmiris are still fighting for their rights.
India and Pakistan have had many agreements, like Tashkent, Simla, Lahore, etc. They failed because they didn’t offer a seat at the table to the primary party, i.e. the Kashmiri leadership. Likewise, India and the mainstream Kashmiri leadership have had multiple accords, like the Abdullah – Nehru Agreement of 1952; the Indira – Sheikh Accord of 1974; the Farooq – Rajiv Accord; the Mufti Sayyid and Modi Agreement, etc. They also failed because they sought to bypass another party, i.e., Pakistan. Therefore, it is quite logical that the talks must be tripartite with India, Pakistan and those who represent the true voice of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Real negotiations, not parlor games, are the key to resolving the conflict. The logistics of tripartite talks can be open to discussion but the principle cannot.
The demand of the people of Kashmir that the Kashmiri leadership should be included in the talks is not based on passion alone but on important principles long acknowledged by the international community. Yet they have been contaminated with this long history of failed talks and agreements that have not resolved the issue and that do not even meet the very minimum requirement of those principles.
Aside from the matter of being included in the talks, the question of who represents the people of Jammu & Kashmir, what voice is heard, takes on the greatest significance.
India and Pakistan should realize that they can impose any solution upon the people of Kashmir; the Kashmiri mainstream leadership can sign any accord with India; but the question arises, are they going to be able to sell these agreements to the people as was attempted by Sheikh Abdullah?
The fact is that the relationship between India and the mainstream so-called Kashmir government, the principal negotiator in all previous attempts, is wrought with obstacles. The interests of the people are not represented. The financial links, the political pressures, the undue political influence certain figures enjoy within the current and past Kashmir administrations who regurgitate New Delhi policies and ambitions, the ever-present and intimidating military presence and what is threatened if you don’t go along, and the careers at stake all inevitably taint the process. Decisions are being made on the basis of politics and power by remote and unattached absentee landlords instead of by real Kashmiris involved in real issues that have long been fundamental to the whole question.
Those who have held privileged positions in Kashmir’s “official” leadership while all this has been going on have at best been muted in their response, have not demanded that India be held accountable, and have not demanded an authentic negotiation process that resolves real problems. They are like mothers who, when their babies cry, do not try to understand why they are crying. They simply shove a pacifier in its mouth. They have not stood up for their compatriots in their hour of need. They have not stood up for Kashmir.
The people of Jammu & Kashmir have their own leaders who do not participate in government decision-making. They are on the streets struggling for the cause, under house arrest, or in jail, because they have had the courage to speak out for basic human and civil rights that the international community has long recognized. After almost seventy years of attempts by India to silence that collective voice, what has that accomplished?
The policy of India to assume proprietary rights over Kashmir and treat it as a disobedient stepchild who must be whipped into submission has characterized its relationship with Kashmir, through the presence of hundreds of thousands of troops and paramilitary on Kashmiri soil, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the suppression and prosecution of those who talk about “azadi,” and a constant reign of terror in which tens of thousands of innocents have been imprisoned, tortured, raped and disappeared in secret mass graves.
The repression of Kashmir’s soul has not diminished the pain or the need for India to meet those face to face who have had nothing but a boot to the belly and a cane to the back.
It’s not about jobs or education or even money; it’s about freedom and respect for the sovereign right of a people to choose their own way of life, their own leaders, and their own politics without interference from outsiders. The people of Jammu & Kashmir, irrespective of their religious background and regional affiliations, were given the right by the United Nations to decide the future status of Kashmir. That is a principle that was agreed by both India and Pakistan and endorsed by the world community. Perhaps India may pretend that it can preempt that option unilaterally, but the people have not forgotten.
President Obama has quit talking about Kashmir, believing perhaps that U.S. business ties with India have greater priority than ruffling any feathers. In 2014, the U.S. edged out Russia to become India’s largest arms supplier. Between 2011 and 2014, India imported $13.9 billion in weapons from the U.S. But President Obama still has an opportunity to walk and talk straight to India and Pakistan to help set a stage for the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The priorities of world peace are much greater than selling a few more missiles to a country which threatens the international peace and security.