WHY is Kashmir still important for us? Leave aside history, religion and the many other links, Pakistan as a legal party to the dispute has an obligation to uphold and promote the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. If it walks away from this obligation it diminishes itself as a nation.

Certainly, we have even greater obligations to our own people who have been blithely ignored and we are, accordingly, diminished both geographically and morally. We have already paid a large enough price for supporting the rights of our Kashmiri brethren. We are also overwhelmed by other issues that threaten to sink us. Accordingly, it is sometimes suggested, if we improve our relations with India the Kashmir dispute will somehow resolve itself. After all, it is an imperfect world, and we will continue to say all the right things in support of Kashmiri rights!

However, a country undermines its raison d’être if either it cannot provide minimally acceptable governance to its own people, or is derelict with regard to the internationally acknowledged rights of a people, for the effective support of which it assumed legal responsibility.

This is no argument for adventurism or minimising engagement with India. It is an argument for statesmanship, policy formulation and public communication and education of the very highest order to deal with an extremely complex and entrenched set of issues and attitudes. Given the state of our governance and our unspeakable politics today, is there any chance of this happening?


Coordinating our negotiating position with Kashmiri opinion, especially in the Valley, is essential.


Whatever the chances, we should seek to improve the quality and range of our cooperation with India and improve the prospect of moving it from a policy stance that precludes progress towards a mutually acceptable Kashmir settlement to one that opens up possibilities for it. Some argue that the 2004-2007 ‘backchannel’ talks achieved precisely this.

Indeed, progress was made. Our foreign minister at the time claimed an “interim” agreement, based on the territorial status quo, de-militarisation, a “soft LOC” and limited sovereignty over Kashmir for each of the parties, was just a signature away. This agreement may have provided a framework for future negotiations. But at the time it was “a submarine that could not surface” because public opinion was completely unprepared for the concessions and deviations from formal positions involved.

Musharraf’s proposal in December 2003 “to set aside the UN resolutions on Kashmir” did not help either since they provide the legal basis for Pakistan’s status as an interlocutor and rejecting India’s claim that Kashmir acceded to it.

Coordinating our negotiating position with Kash­miri opinion, especially in the Valley, is essential. So is ensuring our stance stays within the framework of UN resolutions. Accordingly, bringing Kashmiri representatives (not just from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference) into a “tripartite” arrangement for a negotiated solution must become a policy priority. A backchannel option should only be used for troubleshooting whenever an impasse develops.

Pakistan should also present its case on the basis of Article 257 of its Constitution which concedes the essence of the third option in a way that is compatible with existing UN resolutions. Even if a compromise settlement with India is the best we can hope for, it will be important for the Pakistani and Kashmiri negotiating positions to be consistent with UN resolutions during the negotiating process. Meanwhile, it will be important to extend the full benefits of Article 257 to Azad Kashmir which currently enjoys less autonomy than India-held Kashmir. This will also have a positive impact on opinion in the Valley.

Narendra Modi seeks to bring about a “paradigm shift” aimed at altogether excluding Pakistan from a Kashmir settlement. The reasons cited for the cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks were indicative of this shift. Modi is moving towards dismantling Article 370 of the Indian constitution which accorded “special status” to IHK on its fraudulent “accession” to India.

For this purpose, he is employing a “3P” (Prakash, Paryavaran, Paryatan ie energy, environment and tourism) development strategy combined with the infamous black laws to obtain a BJP-led majority — or 44 seats in an 87-member IHK assembly.

This could result in IHK having its first ever BJP chief minister, and facilitate a “trifurcation” policy that would, according to some reports, provide union territory status to Ladakh, separate Jammu from the Valley, and enable the Pandits who fled the Valley to return to their homes. The path to significant investment and demographic engineering could open up. The majority of the residents of the Valley would increasingly be confronted with the grim choice of resistance or resignation.

Talks with Pakistan on Kashmir would then be confined to ensuring “respect for the LoC” in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the implementation of trans-LoC confidence-building measures to consolidate the status quo. There would be no joint mechanisms, no limitation on Indian sovereignty over IHK and no role for the UN resolutions. Modi seems to believe this is the way to confront Pakistan with a fait accompli and make its acceptance a condition for structured dialogue, including sterile exchanges on Kashmir, culminating in a triumphant visit to Pakistan to seal the deal.

The soft option for Pakistan is to lose its cool in the face of Indian obduracy and lose the game, as has repeatedly happened. The honest option is to accept there is no short-term solution to Kashmir and violent short cuts have only led to frustration, isolation and blowbacks that weaken our national fabric. For leaders to suggest otherwise is to lie to the people.

However daunting the prospect, we must put in place the building blocks for a successful longer-term strategy for a mutually acceptable settlement. This must entail movement on all sides and, as a first step, improving the human rights situation in IHK. This should provide the thrust of the prime minister’s brief for a one-to-one meeting with Modi in New York. Despite many mutual misgivings, the development of a personal relationship based on mutual confidence and trust should be a priority for both leaders.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.