Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an indirect reference to Pakistan while mentioning how New Delhi resolved its disputes with Bangladesh through talks. Modi said various disputes with that country, including a territorial one was sorted since his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government took over. Without naming Pakistan, Modi said, “We presented an example before the world that by talking, issues can be resolved with neighbouring countries. (But) some neighbours do not understand this. Now, how can we change our neighbours? They will also understand, some day they will also understand.” It is a statement that seeks to dehistoricise India’s engagement with Pakistan, particularly about the core dispute between the neighbours over Kashmir. In the first place Kashmir is not just a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, it is simultaneously an issue of self-determination and sovereignty for a people as well.
India and Pakistan have had hundreds of rounds of talks over Kashmir ever since the two gained freedom from the British. A look at the history of that now-on and now-off engagement has shown that those talks have primarily been held for the sake of talking as New Delhi refuses to acknowledge in the first place that a dispute exists. If talking between claimant nation states for resolving disputes is sought to be undertaken for the purposes of formalising status quo, then that premise is self-defeating and that notion, and its history, makes Modi’s statement in Brussels farcical. While that farcical notion has already had too long a life, New Delhi in the meanwhile has at best transformed Kashmir into the world’s most militarised zone holding the territory under the jackboot. Talks between the opposing parties cannot succeed without a clear acknowledgement of all aspects of a dispute by both, even if such an acknowledgement initially appears as a disadvantage to one of the parties. Without applying that principle talking remains just that – talking.
New Delhi’s approach to talks over Kashmir has been the same on both the tracks; with Pakistan as well as with the people of Kashmir. That history is well known and doesn’t change with Modi’s statement in Brussels. Following unprecedented unrest and bloodshed in the year 2010, New Delhi in a rare moment appeared open to seriously talking with the resistance leadership in Kashmir. An all-party parliamentary delegation was sent to Srinagar. But finally that appeared to be a tactic to buy time and take control back militarily. The dispute over Kashmir can be resolved only when New Delhi and Islamabad take their militaries out of the equation. That takes sincerity and statesmanship, not just disingenuous statements.