Three days before the results banished the UPA to political obscurity, Satinder K Lambah, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s back-channel pointsperson on Kashmir with Pakistan, made a speech in University of Kashmir that went largely unnoticed. The topic: ‘Discussion between India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir – A historical perspective.’ He catalogued the various attempts for a settlement of Kashmir which has brought India and Pakistan to three formal wars and a covert war that Pakistan still wages.
The choice of Institute of Kashmir Studies was as curious as the timing. Was it an effort to put a particular stamp on a process that had been ongoing for more than 10 years? Lambah, who missed out on becoming foreign secretary to Chokila Iyer, is notoriously tight-lipped, the kind of diplomat who thinks twice before saying nothing. Legend has it that Lambah may have met his Pakistani counterparts well over a couple of dozen times in the time that he has been special envoy in third countries. In his speech, he held what is now widely regarded as the Musharraf line to be his personal preference, Musharraf who was once our Enemy Number One: any solution to Jammu and Kashmir must stabilise the border as it exists today; everything else flowed from there. People, trade, culture, commerce would thereafter freely move across the border; it envisaged similar self-governing bodies for the “internal management’’ for all areas within both sides of Kashmir; and as the arrangement became durable, the armies on both sides would become irrelevant. What he said now sounds unexceptional. It was considered heresy once.
Some of it, once you get down to the details, might sound as if it were out of some political fantasy novel, yet consider: For nine years, buses have plied between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, a distance of a little over 100 km; people travel without passports; trade also has made a modest appearance. Naturally, there have been hiccups, but by and large the pattern holds, though, sadly, the process benefits only some Kashmiris. Many believed that Musharraf could do it: solve the Kashmir thing. If the army backed a solution, the broad contours of which have been known and discussed at length, the better the chances of it going down well. Many believed it was well within sight. One of the pre-conditions was supposed to be tranquil borders which meant no firing, shooting, or export of terrorists. Musharraf imposed a ceasefire, unilaterally, that lasted quite a while. Then he went away into a state of permanent disgrace. The entire Pakistan process, for all practical purposes, is in pause mode. Argument is, if we have lived with this for so many decades, we can continue to do so indefinitely. Yet, circumstances have not been conducive to take things forward. Siachen, solution to which is within sight, is also in pause mode; as is a solution to Sir Creek. We have been talking about solving Kashmir for a decade on the quiet. How much longer should this go on before affirming what has been discussed in private in public? Will Narendra Modi pick up where Vajpayee left? Will Modi be able to deliver what all our previous Prime Ministers have not been able to?
Sudarshan is most recently author of Adrift