It is good news that India and Pakistan have decided to resume talks to resolve disputes. It is a right step in the right direction, and both leaders should be commended for this. Whatever the outcome of this first round of talks, both governments should agree to continue the process of negotiations.
Whereas it is good that both countries are starting negotiations to resolve disputes, but it is important that disputes are discussed in their right perspectives. There are some issues which must be, discussed and solved bilaterally between India and Pakistan; but there are other issues over which they have no legal or moral jurisdiction, and they have no right to take decision about these issues.
Of course I am referring to the Kashmir Dispute. No doubt India and Pakistan are parties to the dispute mainly because of their (de-facto occupation of the State. Both countries can provide many reasons to justify their occupation, and can come up with different terms to 'legalise' their occupation. But it must be, understood that the Kashmiri people are the main party, and they are also the suffering party- it is they who should decide the future of Kashmir.
The role of India and Pakistan is to create such conditions that the people of Kashmir (entire State of Jammu and Kashmir) can express their free will without any undue force, oppression and coercion, either from outside or within the State. Options open to the Kashmiri people should not be limited to the accession to India and Pakistan.
It is becoming apparent that in the future, talks between India and Pakistan, Kashmir would be on the agenda, of course it would be lower down on their list of priorities. And it is quite possible that during this round of talks they may not discuss the Kashmir dispute. The fact that they have agreed to talk on Kashmir, shows that the Kashmir dispute is not resolved, and that it needs to be solved and solved quickly.
We don't know if Kashmir dispute is going to be discussed during these talks or not, but we are sure that the Siachin Glacier would be discussed as an agenda item. It must be remembered that Siachin Glacier is also part of Kashmir, and it looks illogical to take one area of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and discuss it as a separate agenda item, and ignore, the main dispute which is to determine the future Status of Kashmir. It is understandable that both India and Pakistan are fighting a war over the control of the Siachin Glacier, and they are incurring huge costs because of this. A strategy must be worked out that these hostilities must stop, but it must be a part of overall solution of the Kashmir dispute.
To agree to discuss Siachin Glacier as a separate agenda item shows that India and Pakistan do not consider it as a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which historically is not true. Siachin Glacier is situated in the area which is known as Gilgit and Baltistan which is legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It looks that both governments have decided to divide Kashmir without giving the people the right to determine their future according to internationally recognised right of self determination. This attitude is like refusing to discuss the problems faced by Rawalpindi city, but agreeing to discuss and solve the problems in Raja Bazaar which is part of Rawalpindi.
If India and Pakistan are sincere in solving their problems and wish to begin a new era of peace and stability in the region, then they must solve the Kashmir dispute first. It is mainly because of the Kashmir dispute they are keeping large armies and piling stocks of most destructive weapons, which they can not afford to do. In both India and Pakistan there are millions of people who are living below the poverty line, and do not even have access to clean water and basic education. Both India and Pakistan are Third World countries with huge social and economic problems. They do not have sufficient resources to feed their people and provide basic social and health care; yet they are determined to spend a huge amount of money on arms.
If the Kashmir dispute can be resolved according to wishes of the Kashmiri people, then India and Pakistan do not need to keep large armies, and these resources could be channeled to complete social and welfare programmes.
There are powerful forces on both sides of the border who would like the status quo to continue because it serves their purpose. Their interest is that animosity and atmosphere of mistrust and warfare continues so that their personal interest flourishes, of course at the expense of peace and stability in the region. The people who are at the helm of affairs in India and Pakistan must realise that this state of affair is not conducive to friendly relations which must be established in order to have peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
India and Pakistan must enter the new century as friends not foes. They must learn to live like good neighbours and co-operate with each other to make the Indian sub-continent a safe and prosperous place. Together they can be a force to reckon with, a force which can help to determine the course of history in years to come. If they fail to resolve their problems and continue with the policy of animosity and hatred, then the only thing we can give to our next generation is destruction, misery and suffering.
Director, Institute of Kashmir Affairs