Calm the LoC, talk Kashmir

Despite the fiasco of the NSA-level talks, reports suggest that heads of the border guards of India and Pakistan – the BSF and Rangers, respectively —  are scheduled to meet in September. Given the levels of attrition witnessed along the LoC and the international border (IB) in recent times, and the untold misery of hapless civilians caught in the crossfire on both sides, it makes eminent sense to go ahead with this meeting. Both sides must try and work out measures to restore the ceasefire which had held for long, and allowed civilians living close to the firing line a semblance of normal life. It should be clear that while the NSA-talks fiasco underlined the basic differences between India and Pakistan and the unresolved Kashmir dispute, a simple sense of humanity – assuming that is still a consideration – for civilian lives should dictate a cessation of hostilities.
Yet, it is also clear that as long as talks on Kashmir, with Kashmiris as primary stakeholders, are not envisaged and held, there will not be real peace between India and Pakistan or within Kashmir itself. A ceasefire along the LoC and IB is welcome, but it should still be seen for what it is: a mere instrumentality when it comes to the larger issue of resolving the Kashmir dispute. Here, the onus lies on New Delhi, as it has for long. The NSA talks were cancelled, simply, because the Modi regime decided to press ahead with so-called, newly-invented ‘red lines’ on Pakistani officials meeting Kashmir’s pro-freedom leaders. This was meant, obviously, to signal that New Delhi feels it can dictate terms and is comfortable with the largely military ‘solution’ to issues in Kashmir. This is neither realistic nor tenable in the long run.
What we are witnessing — despite the overwhelming Indian military presence in Kashmir, and all the paraphernalia of enforcing the idea of peace, normalcy and democracy – is actually a new phase of armed insurgency. Levels of overt violence, including encounters between militants and Indian forces, are increasing. Every other report suggests that a new generation of youth is joining militant ranks, even as it remains sheer obduracy to wish away the deep alienation Kashmiris feel for India. In sum, the dependence on the military paradigm, even if hostilities come down on the LoC, ensures that violence remains a factor. Sooner or later, New Delhi has to realise that there is no alternative but to talk, seriously and sans conditions, on Kashmir.