Sections of the Indian media have already started a screaming-pitch assault over the proposed meeting between leaders of the Kashmiri pro-freedom camp and Pakistan’s NSA, Sartaj Aziz, ahead of the latter’s talks with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on August 23. So far – at least till the time of this edit being written – there have been no indications from New Delhi that it will do a repeat of its hasty action of calling off Foreign Secretary-level talks in 2014, after Hurriyat leaders met the Pakistan High Commissioner. In fact, some reports have, encouragingly, suggested the NSA talks will go ahead, while other reports suggest – even as some senior leaders of the BJP urge the government to call off the NSA talks – that New Delhi is mulling retaliatory steps. All of this, simply, indicates how India has been seeking to draw the contours of talks even before any talks are held. In 2014, an Indian MEA spokesperson had, in an interview, suggested that meeting Hurriyat leaders was a “new red line” New Delhi was drawing on engagement with Pakistan. Given all the facts of the Kashmir dispute – from UN resolutions to the history of the insurgency – it seems plain obstructionism to arbitrarily decide on ‘new red lines’. This is not how disputes are settled. Disputes are settled when one sits across the table with former enemies and what is to be discussed is not defined by only one side.
So, it would be a welcome, though not a celebratory, event if New Delhi goes ahead with the NSA-level talks. After all, such meetings between Kashmir’s pro-freedom camp and Pakistan’s representatives have been a norm, till New Delhi, egged on by a jingoistic media, decided on ‘new red lines’. Also remember that the pro-freedom camp hasn’t been quite pleased when Islamabad seemed to be veering from an expected course. After the dropping of the ‘K-word’ during the Nawaz Sharif-Narendra Modi talks in Russia, Hurriyat leaders had boycotted the Pakistan High Commission’s Eid function in July.
Then, Pakistan stuck to its guns by not inviting the J&K assembly speaker to a Commonwealth Parliamentary Union, with India cancelling attendance in protest. So, overall, this has been a diplomatic cat-and-mouse before any talks begin. But the whole issue falls back on one single point: the relevance of the pro-freedom camp and, even larger than that, the actual aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Leaving out, or bypassing, the latter will ensure all talks come to naught, and peace continues to elude our part of the world.