A lot has been written in Pakistani media about the backchannel talks between India and Pakistan in which among other issues Jammu and Kashmir, is being discussed as well. Indian side is silent, so we don’t know exactly what is being talked about and at what level, but it signals that these talks can lead to end of hostilities between the two countries and at the same time bring some relief to Kashmir. The Indo-Pak hostilities always cause consternation in Jammu and Kashmir.
In what form that relief would come to Kashmir is not known as yet, because there are stated positions and to expect that the two sides would relent on their rigid stand is unthinkable at the moment. There is one area where Kashmir can get middle-of-the-road relief. That can also help assuage ego of the two countries without either side losing anything. What will be that, it is not clear as yet. But the hope cannot be given up.
India has announced that all its decisions of August 5, 2019, were final and that is the ultimate solution of the problem. Going by that definition, there was no need to talk to Pakistan.
And if Indo-Pak talks were focused only on the reiteration of the ceasefire commitment that was made in a joint statement on February 25, 2021, that as such, is not the ceasefire signalling an end to some conventional war. The theatre of the exchange of gun fire and mortar shelling in which both sides were losing soldiers and civilians was Line of Control that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The LoC cannot be moved out to a separate map from that of Jammu and Kashmir. It is rooted in the history of the place and the conflict that India and Pakistan have with each other. The ceasefire line of 1949 was converted into Line of Control in 1972, in two different stages of the India-Pakistan history.
It is imperative to look at the current landscape of Jammu and Kashmir to see how best possible this place can get the relief out of these talks. Here, it becomes imperative to revisit some of the fundamentals of the August 5, 2019.
The August 5 is a combination of so many things;
( 1) abolition of special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370
(a) Doing away with the separate constitution, separate flag of the state and depriving the state legislature (as and when it would be constituted) of its powers to prevent the application of the Central laws into Jammu and Kashmir
(b) State was divided into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh
(c) The permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir lost their exclusive rights to access to the immovable property, jobs and scholarships.
(d) Central laws have been extended to J&K UT
Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that August 5 was just about the loss of the special status. It was loss of the statehood. That can be easily granted to Jammu and Kashmir as that would help India to snatch one of the major talking points of Pakistan.
Among other things, as reports in Pakistani media suggested that the negotiators on Pakistani side were also talking of the restoration of the statehood.
Pakistani press quoting official sources had reported “officials now acknowledge that Pakistan’s primary interest at this initial stage is that Kashmir gets back its statehood and India agrees not to bring about any demographic changes in the disputed territory. Both governments have agreed not to involve any third party in this initiative for now.”
It makes very clear that Pakistan has recognised the ground realities and accepted that India has made special status of Jammu and Kashmir as a non-negotiable issue. Therefore, it would be better to talk about what is acceptable to Delhi. There is not much of the issue involved in granting the statehood to J&K, except for that Delhi would not like to include Ladakh in it as was the case in pre-August 5, 2019 era. The Centre is committed to, and it has reiterated at several times that it would restore the statehood to J&K at an “appropriate time.” The delay in search of an appropriate time has its costs. Already Pakistan has put this particular subject on the table.
Frankly speaking, why should India leave this issue to the backchannel talks with Pakistan, when it is a decision that Delhi can take on its own. The decision of making J&K as a Union Territory was that of Delhi’s, and Delhi, I am saying at the risk of repeating, is committed to grant the statehood to it; why should Pakistan be allowed to make this as an issue of the talks.
It is different from re-enacting ceasefire agreement on border because there was an exchange of fire from both sides and there could not have been a unilateral step. It had to be reciprocal.
India should take this step on its own.