THE directors general-level border talks between India and Pakistan concluded on Sept 12 with a fair measure of success. The director general of India’s Border Security Force, D.K. Pathak and the director general of Pakistan Rangers Maj-Gen Umar Farooq Burki signed a Joint Record of Discussions and also agreements on some new confidence-building measures.
Significantly, they decided to initiate new CBMs through regular exchange of sporting and cultural troupes. Splendid. But why confine this admirable venture to the border guards alone? Is civil society on both sides to be bottled up and deprived of the benefits of such exchanges?
There is little realisation of the fact that the best way to ensure peace along the Line of Control in Kashmir, the Working Boundary and indeed, within Kashmir itself is to throw open the doors and windows and allow free exchange of ideas, the arts and sport between the two parts of Kashmir. The yearning for unity is not confined to the Valley. On a visit to Pakistan this writer was touched by the warmth with which Jammuites on both sides greeted one another. The founder-editor of the Jammu daily Kashmir Times, Ved Bhasin, was lionised and for good reason. He fearlessly denounced repression and violations of human rights in the Valley in the high noon of militancy.
To ensure peace, a free exchange of ideas must be allowed.
His daughter Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, who edits the paper and occasionally contributes to periodicals in Pakistan, has bravely kept up that fine tradition.
A couple of years back or so, the Srinagar daily Greater Kashmir opened a bureau in Muzaffarabad. Recently, a group of journalists from Indian Kashmir visited Pakistani Kashmir. The intra-Kashmir journalists workshop, held in the last week of August, was jointly sponsored by the Kashmir Initiative Group, the Kashmir Institute of International Relations and the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms.
This was the first such meeting in the nearly seven decades after Kashmir was divided arbitrarily by a line based on the results of a bloody conflict.
Prime Minister Chaudhury Abdul Majid said: “We welcome any measure aimed at connecting the divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir.” Reportedly, a memorandum of understanding will be signed “to build a permanent bridge” to have “a news pool for joint use of content”.
Initially, only apolitical content will be shared. Given the state of things, this is a very realistic and sensible limitation. Even the Charter of the Council of Europe (1950) excluded defence and foreign affairs from the Council’s ambit of discourse initially.
Indian Kashmir must reciprocate and satisfy the urges of the people.
S. Iftikhar Gilani, a veteran Kashmiri journalist who is New Delhi bureau chief of the daily DNA was one of the journalists who participated in the workshop. Known for his integrity and perception, his article in DNA (Sept 3), entitled ‘Across the barbed wire’, makes poignant reading. “Upon reaching my own part of the land, I was filled not only with joy, but also inexplicable pain. I was acutely conscious that I was in a part of my own divided state which is as much linked to my culture, civilisation and language as is Srinagar.”
In this, he reflected the pain which the people feel today. Will the PDP-BJP coalition headed by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed do anything to ease their pain?
The PDP’s election manifesto of 2014, entitled An inspirational agenda solemnly promised to “mark borders irrelevant” and to “complete connectivity”. The ‘agenda of the alliance’ with the BJP promises to “support and strengthen the approach and initiatives” taken by the BJP regime at the centre “to normalise the relationship with Pakistan”.
Even in March 2015, when this was written, there was no sign of such steps. However, the agenda explicitly bound “the coalition government” to take CBMs “such as enhancing people-to-people contact on both sides of the LoC, encouraging civil society exchanges, taking travel, commerce, trade and business across the LoC to the next level and opening new routes across all the three regions to enhancing connectivity”.
It remains to be seen what steps Mufti takes to fulfil these promises. He has done nothing to remove the existing crippling hurdles on LoC trade.
His finance minister Dr Haseeb Drabu, who wrote those two documents, reportedly and fixed the deal, pointed out in the past the need for proper banking systems, agreement on currency, functioning telecommunications facilities and a mechanism for the resolution of disputes.
None of this can be established now; for, his chief Mufti follows New Delhi’s diktat. The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, once sensibly proposed a dual currency in Kashmir. The trio has lived up to those famous lines. A merciful providence fashioned us hollow/In order that we can our principles swallow.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2015