Kashmir is Our ‘Core Concern’


Islamabad needs to worry about Kabul, while New Delhi should address Kashmiri demands

Prem Shankar Jha
Senior journalist

SM KRISHNA has shown a courage and sagacity that is rare in Indian politics. Not only has he refused to be drawn into a slanging match with Shah Mehmood Qureshi, but he has done what no political leader has done, to my knowledge, in recent years — take on the powerful Indian bureaucracy in public and put the blame for the failure of the talks on the timing of Home Secretary GK Pillai’s revelation of the ISI’s hand in the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

By accepting a large part of the blame, Krishna has reopened the way for the resumption of talks between the two nations. But what can they talk about now? Coming on top of Ajmal Kasab’s confession, and David Headley’s admissions to the FBI, and to India’s NIA, the evidence of continuing ISI complicity with the Taliban has ripped the veil of ambivalence off the face of the Pakistan state. They show that even under Pervez Musharraf the Pakistan army never stopped, and never intended to stop, using terrorism against India.

The sharp resurgence of separatist sentiment in Kashmir has also blighted the prospect of peace talks between the two countries. It has made it next to impossible for any civilian government in Islamabad to pick up the threads of the Manmohan–Musharraf backchannel negotiations from where they were dropped in 2007. The premise on which these were being held was Musharraf’s realisation that while Kashmiris wanted azadi, they did not want to become a part of Pakistan. This made it possible for both nations to look for a formula that met the substance of Kashmiri demands without any formal change of borders. Today, the rising tide of anger in Kashmir has swept the moderates away. Therefore, it has become extremely difficult for any Pakistani government to explain to its own people why it is still prepared to discuss issues such as the quantum of autonomy, and inter-Kashmir co-ordination of policies, when so many Kashmiris are willing to die rather than stay in the Indian union on any terms.

Must we remain content with talking about talks till the Americans and NATO start pulling out of Afghanistan, Pakistan faces the full backlash of the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s victory, and tries to save itself by redirecting attention to Kashmir?

The answer is that the path to peace is still not entirely blocked, but it will require both countries to abandon the composite dialogue and address each others’ core concerns straightaway. This requires honest rethinking because Pakistan’s core concern is not Kashmir but its undemarcated and unaccepted border with Afghanistan. No Afghan government has ever accepted the Durand Line. Thus Pakistan’s central concern, especially after the secession of Bangladesh is the stabilisiation of its western border. To do this, it has felt it necessary to have a government in Kabul over which it has a measure of control. This is what fuels its paranoid allergy to India’s current influence in Afghanistan.

Must we remain content with talking about talks till the Americans and NATO start pulling out of Afghanistan?

Kashmir is India’s, not Pakistan’s core concern. It is the only Muslim majority part of the country. In 1947, its dominant political party, the National Conference, chose not to join Pakistan because it felt that Kashmiris had a better chance of preserving their composite culture within a federal, democratic India. But India has not been able to live up to its promise because Pakistan has not allowed New Delhi to ever fully relax its hold on Kashmir. The one thing that Delhi is able to afford less and less with every passing year is a communal backlash on Muslims in India because of what might happen in Kashmir.

Peace and stability in South Asia will only come when the two countries understand and respect each other’s core concerns, and agree to address them jointly. The time for doing this is running out.


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