Amid calls for substantive political measures to cool tempers in Kashmir, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's visit to Pakistan is largely seen as New Delhi's softening of stand toward the estranged neighbor.
Pakistan too lost no time in reciprocating the 'olive branch' by blocking a Srinagar-bound relief convoy, which was seen off by Hafiz Saeed on Tuesday, near Chakoti in Pakistan administered Kashmir. On both sides, the hawks have slammed their respective governments for hurting the public sentiment. This makes the move even more significant, raising hopes of an unwritten policy of engagement.
Even as the expectations from Rajnath's attending meeting of interior minister of SAARC countires remain moderated people in the blood-soaked Kashmir Valley exhibit mixed feelings of hope and despair. Many in India and Pakistan believe Hafiz Saeed's intervention in Pakistan's foreign policy vis-a-vis Kashmir unrest is a symbolic pressure that Nawaz Sahrif would like to use in order to mellow down India's belligerent posturing. "That would help him convince New Delhi for a visible reach out to the affected Kashmiris, " said an analyst.
In Kashmir, the concept of dialogue or political engagement has received a beating ever since BJP assumed power in New Delhi. Keen observers, however, view Rajnath's visit to Pakistan at the peak of Kashmir's anti-India stir as both opportunity and challenge. "It's clear that Rajnath was not supposed to have a bilateral meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. But many things happen during such visits. If Pakistan has succeeded to convince Rajnath of a détente regarding Kashmir, Delhi will give out positive signals on his return. But if both sides end up exchanging accusations New Delhi will resort to harsh measures to deal with the situation in Kashmir," an ace analyst said, insisting not to be quoted by name.
Rajnath's visit to Pakistan has assumed more significance in the backdrop of Bangladesh's posturing. Dhaka has registered protest against Pakistan's alleged role in exporting terror into neighborhood. The country sent a home ministry official instead of its home minister. Comparatively India has been more loudmouthed about the issue Bangladesh cited for its protest. Not so long ago, India would off scheduled talks with Pakistan merely for Hurriyat leaders' tea-talk with Pakistani envoy Abdul Basit in New Delhi.
Kashmir watchers say the epic protest movement in Kashmir has not been lost on Delhi's policy makers. "But they want to come via Islamabad. That would make things easier for Delhi and we might here right noises in near future."
India's engagement with Pakistan has often initiated Delhi's political engagement with Srinagar. The only worry within Kashmir's resistance circles is the ever elusive consensus regarding a two-way engagement, which the moderates in Hurriyat would in past describe as "trilateral", meaning talks with India and Pakistan at different levels. But Syed Ali Geelani and Asiya Andrabi and the militant leadership based at Muzaffarabad has long been wary of any such engagement.
"We have already forwarded a proposal to international community. Government of India need to recognize Kashmir as disputed territory and acknowledge the right of self-determination of people living here. Other things will follow. Military laws have to go, prisoners have be released and the police chase has to stop. Hurriyat leaders should be given political space. That would set a conducive atmosphere for talks," a top Hurriyat leader told Greater Kashmir.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti recently said the "thing in people's mind has to be addressed." The fresh phase of uprising has already defined the "thing in mind". Even if Pakistan and India agree upon a sketch of talks, the peace in Kashmir will largely depend on contents and tone of the offer.