Kanwal Sibal

Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary of India and former envoy to the US and Russia

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BW Businessworld

India, Pakistan & Hurriyat

If the Hurriyat is a marginal force, as these very critics claim, then why does India have to worry too much about what we do to further marginalise them.

We took a risk in re-engaging Nawaz Sharif at Ufa because the signals from Pakistan have not been positive. Sharif’s own rhetoric has been aggressive on Kashmir. Firings on the LOC have been heightening tensions. The Gurdaspur and Udhampur attacks confirmed that Pakistan will continue to use the weapon of terrorism against us.
The collapse of NSA-level talks was therefore not surprising. The diplomatic battle over the side responsible for calling them off was unfortunate. The blame lay with the Pakistani government, not ours. We rightly rejected Pakistan’s attempt, pushed by political bigots at home, to change the agenda agreed at Ufa by including Kashmir. Sartaj Aziz’s insistence on meeting the separatists in Delhi was a calculated provocation. The ploy was to politically deflate the present government by making it reverse its earlier position on such contacts, and if not, to cancel the talks. In either case, they thought they would score points by making us appear rigid, boost the relevance of the Hurriyat, and give sections of our own public opinion ammunition to attack the government.
The usual arguments are being made by votaries of unconditional talks with Pakistan: We have no alternative but to talk; we lost an opportunity to confront Pakistan with evidence of its involvement in terrorism; making a 20-year-old practice of meeting the Hurriyat was self-defeating, and so on. These arguments lack an objective appreciation of hard facts. Sharif agreed at Ufa that the NSAs would only discuss issues connected with terrorism. By rejecting Pakistan’s subsequent efforts to include Kashmir we were not being rigid. Pakistan has a record of violating agreements and of being duplicitous even with its friends. We had no obligation to bend to Pakistani demands. The NSA-level talks had to proceed on agreed terms, not those that Pakistan wanted to impose.
Actually, any discussion on terrorism would have inevitably included Kashmir. But Pakistan’s anti-Indian die-hards want Kashmir to be discussed in the political context, not that of terrorism. India, however, wants a proper atmosphere to be created before any such discussion, an approach that Sharif upheld at Ufa by agreeing to talks on terror at the NSA level, followed by those between the DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers, and the two DGMOs aimed at stabilising the LOC. 
The decision to release fishermen in 15 days, facilitating religious tourism, and ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples, were clearly intended as measures to create a congenial ground for “discussing all outstanding issues”.
Pakistan’s insistence on the Hurriyat meeting has to be properly understood. Pakistan contests India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and wants self-determination there, a position backed by the Hurriyat. Both play their part in promoting political instability in Kashmir. Instead of breaking the political alliance between the two, we have allowed it to be politically nurtured. Legitimising the separatist sentiment in J&K conjointly with a country determined to destabilise Kashmir through violence cannot be in our interest.
If the argument is that the Hurriyat is a marginal force in J&K and should be ignored, and that such meetings have not given Pakistan any notable ground advantage in J&K so far, then why are the Pakistanis bent on meeting its leaders even at the risk of wrecking the India-Pakistan dialogue? If Pakistan says that the people of Kashmir have to be consulted, then why don’t they seek meetings with all political forces in J&K? Why is the Speaker of the elected J&K Assembly persona non grata in Pakistan? For the Pakistanis, only the Hurriyat with its separatist agenda represents the people of Kashmir, which we have not been contesting robustly until now.
Pakistan’s specious argument, supported by some in India, that because they have been meeting the Hurriyat for 20 years the practice must continue. Why we must perpetuate past mistakes is not explained. The government has been criticised by domestic critics for painting itself into a corner by saying no to such contacts, which means that we have imposed an unworkable condition on ourselves and will have to yield sooner or later on this issue. Why this should be the case is not explained. If the Hurriyat is a marginal force, as these very critics claim, then why does India have to worry too much about what we do to further marginalise them? Actually, the government has wanted to free itself from the political straitjacket of the past and come out the corner in which it had placed itself.
It is a poorly judged view that we have lost an opportunity to confront Sartaj Aziz with evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism and have set back our anti-terror agenda as a result. What more was needed than the Mumbai terror attacks, Ajmal Kasab’s capture and Headley’s confessions to prove Pakistan’s complicity? Yet, Pakistan has not only not changed its ways, it is now aggressively accusing us of promoting terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi, and even of complicity in the Peshawar school attack in league with the Taliban! 
The Pakistanis have a counter to every accusation we make, and whatever evidence we give them will never be sufficient. Pakistan will be deterred not by any evidence we produce but by the costs that we could impose on it in return. 
The author is a former foreign secretary of India and former envoy to the US and Russia
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 21-09-2015)

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