THE road to peace in South Asia runs through Kashmir. This was the gist of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s message while speaking to a foreign newswire on Friday. “If there is a road map [on Kashmir], then, yes, we will talk”, the PM told Reuters while discussing Pakistan-India relations. Mr Khan added that if India was willing to revert to the status quo ante, before it moved to rescind the held region’s autonomous status in 2019, bilateral parleys could move forward. He also mentioned that Pakistan desired a “civilised” relationship with its eastern neighbour while observing that trade was the best path towards normalisation and poverty reduction in the subcontinent.
The prime minister was absolutely correct when he said in the aforementioned interview that India’s move in held Kashmir was “illegal, against international law and United Nations resolutions”. Pakistan has rightly raised the Kashmir issue in world capitals and international forums to highlight India’s brutality in the disputed region and give a voice to the oppressed Kashmiris, particularly after New Delhi rescinded the region’s special status. These efforts to give moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris should continue with full vigour until a just solution acceptable to the people of the occupied region emerges.
However, setting preconditions for talks with India may be counterproductive. The Pakistan-India relationship is an incredibly complicated one, and it is only through sustained dialogue that decades of mistrust and scepticism can give way to accommodation. Practically, we have witnessed in the recent past that quiet behind-the-scenes dialogue has paid dividends in avoiding a fresh conflagration in the subcontinent. Both states once again had come close to war in the aftermath of India’s 2019 Balakot misadventure.
However, today it has emerged that backchannel talks have been continuing — some say with the blessing of certain common friends — and a concrete example of the effectiveness of talks emerged earlier this year, after both states agreed to respect the 2003 ceasefire along the LoC, after numerous deadly exchanges. The peace process currently might be moving forward at a glacial pace, but in the Pakistan-India context, even talks about talks are better than bombastic rhetoric. Therefore, Pakistan’s emphasis on resolving the Kashmir question must continue and indeed be among the top agenda items in discussions with India. Yet flexibility and not insisting on preconditions may help carry the peace process forward and, in fact, work in favour of resolving the Kashmir imbroglio.
Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2021