There is an air of optimism about the Kashmir talks to be held during Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's forthcoming visit to Delhi. While media hype about Indo-Pakistan interactions are not unusual there is a difference this time in terms of steps taken by the two governments which would justify some degree of optimism.
The ceasefire on the Line of Control for about a year has held satisfactorily and both sides acknowledge positive results flowing from it. India admits that terrorist infiltration from Pak occupied territory has come down significantly and in turn has ordered a cut in armed forces stationed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Above all, General Pervez Musharraf has accepted that a plebiscite under the United Nations is no longer practical and has come up with certain proposals to be debated primarily, in Pakistan and also in India. He would come forward with his conclusions derived from the debate among the media and experts for further discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their summit.
After an initial reaction by the Indian official spokesman that General Musharraf's proposals had not been officially and formally proposed the Indian foreign minister has now indicated that the proposals can be discussed during the Pakistani prime minister's visit.
Meanwhile most of the opinions expressed in Pakistan on the proposals have been negative.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting the Kashmir valley on November 17 and 18. There are expectations that he would initiate some steps to trigger off intra-Kashmir consultations as well as expedite dialogue with the separatist elements. If all these factors are taken into account we arrive at the following logical conclusions: Musharraf's proposals are only at a preliminary stage of debate in Pakistan and the Government of India will have to wait for the debate in Pakistan to lead to certain firm conclusions to enable General Musharraf to discuss them with Prime Minister Singh. That may need more than one summit level meeting.
The first indications are the proposals do not have at this stage the support of mainstream political parties. India cannot afford to neglect this aspect. Though Z A Bhutto concluded the Simla Pact General Zia tried to water it down and Benazir Bhutto unleashed the proxy war in 1989 in violation of the Simla Pact.=
Secondly, if intra-Kashmiri and inter-Kashmiri discussions get initiated in India that will call for reciprocal steps in Pakistan. Since both Pakistan and US and European Union insist on consultations with the people of Jammu & Kashmir, consultations with people's representatives in the area of J&K under occupation of Pakistan is a necessity. While in India, elections have been held and people's representatives are readily available to be consulted, the same is not the case in Pakistan. So Pakistan will have to take steps to introduce democracy in the northern areas and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
All parties of the former princely state of J&K are united in demanding that their views should be taken into account while Delhi and Islamabad discuss the final disposition of J&K.
Therefore, the stage that has been reached at present which itself gives rise to optimism is the tacit agreement that the issue of J&K cannot be solved by bleeding India through a thousand cuts as the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence wing appears to have persuaded the Pakistani governments to believe but only through discussions without holding out threats of violence.
Secondly, there cannot be a magical overnight solution between two leaderships. There is now realisation that time deadlines cannot be demanded to solve the problem but there has to be sustained dialogue between the two sides. Thirdly, the peoples of two sides of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir must have representative governments based on free and fair elections to give expression to their views on their aspirations.
India has responded to the Pakistani gesture of reducing cross-border terrorism by agreeing to cut down on its forces in Kashmir. India also has conducted the first round in the composite dialogue involving the issue of Jammu & Kashmir.
Lastly, the outside powers who complicated the issue of J&K for Cold War reasons have now declared that they would not attempt to mediate on the issue in the absence of India accepting their mediatory role. That is not likely to happen since the Kashmir problem was created by Britain to subserve its cold war interests and US and other Western powers went along with the British lead.
Lastly, after trying out the bogey of Kashmir being a nuclear flash point even Pakistanis now realise that too much focus on nuclear flashpoint bogey is counter-productive after having been exposed as the largest proliferator in the world.
Therefore, the present circumstances are auspicious to sustain a patient and pragmatic dialogue on the Kashmir issue between the two countries without interested third party intervention, without the Damocles' sword of terrorism hanging overhead and without the bogey of nuclear flashpoint being flaunted.