Kashmir Heaves A Sigh Of Relief After Indo-Pak Talks
3 July 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: People of Jammu and Kashmir heaved a sigh of relief after the conclusion of the Foreign Secretary level talks in New Delhi. The most important part of the two-day talks which ended on June 28 was that it was held at all and that too in a 'very constructive and positive atmosphere' as described by the Indian spokesman. And, as stated by Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar, there is now no need for third party mediation to resolve the Kashmir issue with India as talks between the two countries on it were on. What is of great concern to the people of Jammu and Kashmir is that every time there is an initiative for a dialogue between India and Pakistan, there is violence in the State. It has been happening ever since the Agra Summit. In June people of Jammu and Kashmir were keeping their fingers crossed. As feared, the first salvo came when tourists were attacked in Pahalgam. It was soon followed by the kidnapping of a young engineer working for the IRCON, 30-year-old Sudhir Kumar Pundir and his 20-year-old brother Sanjay. They were forcibly taken away from a railway construction site at Avantipura. There was a ransom demand for fifty lakh rupees, which was turned down. . After being kept hostage for three days Sudhir Kumar and his brother were brutally killed on June 26. . Elsewhere, on the same day in Surankot in Jammu region, eleven people were killed and nine injured by suspected Lashkar-e-Tayyeba terrorists who entered Dehalali Dhok village and opened indiscriminate fire on two houses which belonged to members of the Village Defence Committee. It was supposed to be the response of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba for the cooperation of the Village Defence Committees during operation Sarp Vinash last year. These violent incidents were perhaps designed to influence the course of the Foreign Secretary parleys. Considering the background in which the talks were held, India and Pakistan can look back with some satisfaction at the progress made. They discussed 'peace and security' including the Confidence Building Measures and 'Jammu and Kashmir'. What is going to be discussed a great deal is the sentence in the Joint Statement which says that the Foreign Secretaries 'reiterated their commitment to the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and their determination to implement the Simla Agreement in letter and spirit.' The Joint Statement also expresses the hope that the 'dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir to the satisfaction of both sides. They held detailed exchange of views on Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to continue the sustained and serious dialogue to find a peaceful negotiated final settlement.' There will be considerable discussion on the inclusion of the 'United Nations' in the Joint Statement as also the reference to the 'Simla Agreement'. One has to accept that there is no reference to a 'plebiscite'. The reference to the Simla Agreement and the absence of any reference to the Lahore Declaration will also be debating points in New Delhi between the National Democratic Alliance and the ruling coalition. It is worth recalling that the Simla Agreement, which was duly ratified by the two Governments in 1972 itself, the two countries undertook to resolve all differences bilaterally and peacefully. Pakistan, through its commitments enshrined in this Agreement, accepted the need to shift the J & K issue from the United Nations to the bilateral plane. The decision of the two Governments to set up hot lines between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries- in addition to the one that exists between the Director Generals of Military Operations -and the restoration of the Consulates in Karachi and Mumbai are indicative of the progress made during the talks. So also the decision to release captured fishermen and civilian prisoners. Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar tried to unify the All Party Hurriyat Conference, but without much success. Pakistan considers the Hurriyat Conference led by S.A. Geelani to be the 'real' Hurriyat. Neither the present leader of the Hurriyat, Moulvi Abbas Ansari nor Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were in a mood to join Syed Ali Shah Geelani in his Hurriyat. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been projected as the leader of the united Hurriyat, but he has been receiving threats. As he said: 'Somebody within the rank and file is targeting me and my family…. They are people who do not want the peace process to move ahead. ' Mirwaiz Umar Farooq mentioned the fatal attack on his uncle Moulvi Farooq on May 29 during his meeting with Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar in New Delhi. During the Foreign Secretary level talks there were references that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will be consulted at some stage. There was also no progress in the proposal to start a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. The bus link is to be discussed at technical level talks, which were cancelled and have not been rescheduled. While the talks have been seen as a positive step forward in India, the reaction in Pakistan has been lukewarm. As the Nation (June 29) said: 'No one expected history to be made in New Delhi in the Pakistan-India talksbetween the two Foreign Secretaries, but the resulting joint statement is so vague that it can be described in all fairness as something of a letdown'. But the positive aspect is, as the Nation said, 'This is the first time since Shimla that representatives of both countries at this level were to address the Kashmir issue. Apparently, they did, but under the slogan of 'quiet diplomacy'. They did not say anything more substantial that that the two countries would settle the Kashmir issue by negotiations.' The Foreign Secretary level talks will be resumed in August. One only hopes there will not be a spurt in violence in August again. It is just as well that Defence MinisterPranab Mukherjee has visited Jammu and Kashmir and made it clear that there will be no reduction in thestrength of Security Forces in the State.