Srinagar : Have India and Pakistan decided to freeze the Kashmir dispute for 10 years and move ahead on improving relations with each other? A hot debate is doing the rounds in Jammu and Kashmir these days, with the common man saying peace and the unique Kashmiri identity should be prime considerations in any such move.
Media reports carried in some local and national newspapers recently suggest that through backchannel diplomacy the two countries have decided to freeze the contentious Kashmir issue for a decade.
Even the separatist camp is agog with rumours that there could be some truth in these reports.
“How can the dispute be relegated to the backburner? It is the main dispute between India and Pakistan since its causes are rooted in history. Forward movement would always be dicey unless the political aspirations of Kashmiris are met,” said a senior separatist leader who did not want to be named.
Hardline senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has reacted to news reports saying, “India has always believed in delaying tactics while dealing with the reality of Kashmir.”
Most mainstream politicians have reacted on expected lines.
“Once relations and confidence levels between the two countries improve, a solution to the Kashmir problem would automatically filter out. As long as the Kashmir problem holds India-Pakistan relations hostage, there would be no solution,” said a senior leader of the ruling National Conference.
India maintains that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of its territory, but Pakistan disputes the claim. India has for years accused Pakistan of fomenting insurgency in the state. The two countries have fought two wars over Kashmir and came to the brink of another in 1999 in Kargil.
The common man, however, wants peace guarantees for any bilateral understanding between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.
“The most important thing is guaranteeing peace in Kashmir till the two countries agree on a negotiated settlement. We must not continue to stew in our own soup while India and Pakistan decide on trade and commerce,” said Nazir Ahmad Mir, 42, a resident of north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
People in Srinagar city, especially those living in the old city areas, react more emotionally to the prospect of the Kashmir problem being frozen for a while.
“What about the thousands of people who died here? Peace would evade India and Pakistan as long as Kashmir remains in the lurch,” said Zahoor Ahmad, 34, a resident of Aali Kadal old city locality.
Younger generations who do not have a baggage of the past to carry on their shoulders believe anything that gives Kashmiris a sense of pride and belonging would be fine.
“Why can’t India and Pakistan agree in principle that we as Kashmiris have a distinct identity of our own? If our identity is recognised and protected both by India and Pakistan, then there should be no problem,” said Sohail Ahmed, 22, a college student.
“But the big question is peace should be guaranteed till such time as the two countries reach a settlement that is endorsed by us.”
Bashir Manzar, a local newspaper editor, said: “Interestingly, the prospect of Kashmir losing centrestage to trade and commerce in India-Pakistan relations would not suit many who have made the Kashmir issue a lucrative industry during the last two decades.”