Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Disentangling the K-knot

Was there a need for Shaukat Aziz to put his foot down?

Going by the positive outcome of the recently concluded Indo-Pak talks on trading across the LoC, there wasn't any. The Pakistan Premier had clearly indicated that any development in bilateral trade would depend on India's willingness to resolve Kashmir. "Our trade relations with India are restricted due to the overall paradigm of our relations," Aziz had told a South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) delegation. The nuclear-armed neighbours are close to a pact on trans-Kashmir trade and a new bus service, possibly before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Islamabad.

Trade will take place between PoK and Jammu and Kashmir via the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route from July 2006. Quite contrary to the views of establishment, the media in Islamabad has hailed the news. "This is good news on more than one count. Given the entrenched political positions of India and Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute, it is important to innovate," says the Daily Times. The two sides are still working out on the list of items to be traded and also on the modalities of the agreement. As a necessary condition of forward movement (of peace talks), the need of the hour is to "push the political factor in the background, in other words, to fudge or circumvent the issue of political sovereignty," says the paper.

The paper calls for trilateral talks in order to give a further thrust to resolving the Kashmir issue.
Achieving this "requires economic and trade input, which starts integrating the economies along historical and geographical lines and begins to dilute the question of political sovereignty, explains Daily Times. New Delhi has time and again stressed that disentangling the Kashmir knot requires more Confidence building measures, better people-to-people contacts and trade relations.
Islamabad, however, believes that before making any new beginnings, the bone of contention should be broken. A few leaders in Islamabad have stressed that all CBMs and talks fail if they don't solve the primary issue between the two neighbours - Kashmir.

In a very cutting remark to this school of thought, the paper says, "Those in Pakistan who think that the process must yield Kashmir to Pakistan as a political entity in toto and if that is not the case then all negotiations are useless -- need to review their positions in light of ground realities in the region and beyond". While the high profile political strategists in Pakistan continue to harp the same old tune of "slow progress in peace talks", the Daily Times begs to differ. "…In recent times Kashmir, the most intractable issue between India and Pakistan, has, statistically and even qualitatively, generated more progress that other relatively minority issues," clarifies the paper.
The paper articulately drives home the point that the two sides need to be patient. "…An issue that has generated such heat over nearly 60 years and conditioned responses on both sides cannot be expected to be resolved overnight." And this, Mr Aziz as well as his Indian counterpart, need to take into account.

(Written for HT on May 08, 2006)

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