Pakistan has reportedly denied visa to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Naeem Akhtar who was scheduled to visit Islamabad as part of a track-II delegation from India.
The Hindu Newspaper, quoting unnamed Pakistan High Commission officials, has reported that "Hurriyat is the true representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir" and the visa was denied to Mr. Akhtar to "reiterate this stand".
In other words, Mr. Akhtar was not given a visa to go to Pakistan because Islamabad now prefers to deal with the Hurriyat rather than the PDP! Even if one were to accept that, purely for the sake of argument, does this mean that Pakistan would not allow leaders of political parties who they do not 'recognise' to enter into its territory?
And how on earth is it Pakistan's business to recognize or derecognize Indian political parties? In any case, Mr. Akthar was not visiting Pakistan as a representative of PDP to do some formal negotiations with the Pakistan government: he was going to be there in his personal capacity to participate in a 'track-II' meeting!
What explains Islamabad's Volte-face vis-à-vis the PDP? In fact, this is not the first time that Pakistan has denied visa to PDP leaders. In December 2009, another senior PDP leader was denied visa to visit Islamabad for a track-II conference. But let's also not be under the impression that Pakistan has always been anti-PDP.
Indeed, some years ago, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti had visited Pakistan to participate in a major Pugwash track-II meeting and was warmly received by the PPP leader Asif Zardari who even held a joint press briefing outside his home in Islamabad with Ms. Mufti. So what explains this new twist given that the PDP even has a reputation of being a 'soft-separatist' party in the Valley?
The one likely explanation then is the ongoing negotiations between PDP and BJP in forming the next government in J&K. While there is a great deal of opposition in Kashmir to such an alliance, for right or wrong reasons, the simple fact is that who forms the government in J&K or who doesn't is none of Pakistan's business: its entirely the business of the people of J&K, the representatives who they have elected and the parties they belong to.
For a long time, Islamabad argued that elections in J&K are not free and fair, and that was not entirely incorrect, as was argued by many Indians themselves; but its high time Islamabad realized that the elections in J&K are no more stage-managed by New Delhi.
It's also a bad foreign policy move by Pakistan at a time when the Modi government in New Delhi has finally gotten off its diplomatic high horse, unilaterally and without pre-conditions, and is making overtures towards Pakistan by announcing the upcoming visit of the country's Foreign Secretary to Islamabad.
During his visit to Islamabad, S. Jaishankar will most likely discuss the modalities of future engagements between the two countries. By following an archaic and idiotic policy on Kashmir, Pakistan stands to damage the potential benefits from the new initiative undertaken by New Delhi, unless, of course, Islamabad is not keen on the dialogue anymore.
I fail to understand as to what Islamabad stands to gain by alienating PDP. After all, PDP leadership got its coalition partner BJP to get off its high pedestal and start talking to Islamabad.
PDP also continuous to swear by the Musharraff formula and is vocal about the fact that it is important to not only strengthen the intra-Kashmir CBMs but also engage Pakistan on the Kashmir question. If so, why is Islamabad in a hurry to alienate such a party?
Even if Hurriyat (which one?) is the only actor that Islamabad recognizes in Kashmir, there is no need to alienate the others. In the end, if Islamabad hopes to have a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue, it will not be able to do so without taking on board the opinions of those who have been elected by the people of the state.
If the denial of visa to PDP leaders is part of a well-thought out strategy by Islamabad, then it clearly means that Pakistan's Kashmir policy is undergoing radical changes. They are now courting the separatists in Kashmir, ignoring the voice and opinion of the moderate pro-India parties in Kashmir.
This is a radical shift from the policy that it followed till a few years ago and is indicative of Pakistan's future Kashmir policy. For sure, Modi government's thoughtless Pakistan policy and the abrupt disruption of Foreign Secretary level talks late last year have undoubtedly contributed to this.
It also shows that the Pakistan Army is not too pleased with the relative stability in Kashmir and the tie up between PDP and BJP – there is perhaps a feeling that it is losing the plot in Kashmir.
If so, this zero-sum game that Pakistan is preparing to play in Kashmir is going to be counterproductive for its own interests both in the Valley and vis-à-vis India.
The Indo-Pak rapprochement that we may be witnessing may not last very long, this time thanks to Islamabad's antics. Another round of Indo-Pak shadow games over Kashmir will be disastrous for Kashmiris, for sure.