Is Pakistan now lowering the bar on Kashmir?

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s latest offer of dialogue with India is an indication of further lowering of the bar on Kashmir as the former cricketer now seeks a “roadmap” instead of actual restoration of Article 370, which was a demand earlier.

Khan’s eyebrow raising interview on 4 June marked a new low in Islamabad’s traditional position on Kashmir as he said that his country is ready to restart talks with India if New Delhi provides a roadmap towards restoring the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

His statement comes barely days after he had said that Pakistan would hold talks with nuclear neighbour India only after the special status of the erstwhile state is restored.

Pakistan’s insistence on seeking the restoration of Article 370, an element of India’s constitution, is itself the change in its traditional policy as it had mainly focused on severing Kashmir from India and redrawing the Line of Control (LoC).

“If Pakistan revives its relations with India (without the latter restoring the status of Kashmir), it will be similar to turning our back on the Kashmiris,” the former cricketer turned politician had previously said.

In 2019, New Delhi withdrew Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten its grip over the territory, sparking outrage in Pakistan and leading to the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.

“If there is a roadmap, then, yes, we will talk,” Khan told Reuters this week at his official residence in Islamabad.

Previously, Khan and his government have held that India would have to first reverse its 2019 steps for any normalisation process to begin.

“Even if they give us a roadmap, that these are the steps that we will take to basically undo what they did, which is illegal, against international law and United Nations resolutions… then that is acceptable,” Khan said.

The Pakistan premier’s comments bear significance as they come after Indian Army chief’s visit to the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. Guns on the LoC have fallen silent as two nations earlier this year decided to ceasefire.

General Naravane, the army chief, on Thursday said there was no room to lower the guard and any troop reduction in Jammu and Kashmir was subject to improvement in the ground situation.

“There have been decades of mistrust with Pakistan. If ceasefire violations continue, we are alert. We cannot in any way reduce alert and preparedness [in J-K],” Gen. Naravane said, during an interaction with selected TV channels in Srinagar.

That Khan chose to lower the age-old hostile rhetoric despite the army chief’s mistrust comment, Kashmiris on social media were left surprised and angry.

“Meanwhile Imran Khan negotiating with a tea seller for a cup of tea,” a Twitter user responded to the news item. Others termed Khan’s offer as a surrender. “India provided a promise of plebiscite 70 years ago. Rest is history. #geoeconomic surrender,” wrote another Twitter user.

However, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf party president’s comments haven’t come out of the blue. In February, India and Pakistan agreed to “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors”

A joint statement said, “This was agreed between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMO) of both countries during discussions over the established hotline.”

It further added that in the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence. The last time the two nations had agreed to a ceasefire was way back in 2003.

Soon after the announcement, Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Bajwa signalled a potentially radical shift in how it has traditionally viewed relations with India in a speech which set out a vision of regional economic integration for the betterment of both countries and for South Asia — with the only ask that New Delhi create a “conducive environment” in Kashmir for the resumption of a dialogue towards peace between the two countries.

“We feel it is time to bury the past and move forward,” Bajwa had said while addressing a gathering of scholars and experts discussing national security issues at a seminar in the capital, Islamabad.

“But … our neighbour (India) will have to create a conducive environment, particularly in Kashmir,” he had said.

In Kashmir, Bajwa’s comments had been taken with a pinch of salt, with locals and analysts feeling that the two countries were up to something without consulting Kashmiris.
Among those to react was Tehreek-i-Hurriyat – a pro-Pakistan party in Kashmir, which was until recently led by senior most leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

As per the letter issued by Geelani’s outfit, the pact between India and Pakistan was described as “disturbing as it is surprising.” The letter also took a strong objection to Pakistan not mentioning New Delhi’s unilateral decision to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s limited-autonomy on 5 August 2019.

The peace between India and Pakistan would not stop the bloodshed and New Delhi’s impositions upon Kashmir, they said in the letter. “The pact, therefore, does not reflect the interests of Kashmiri people.”

However, Pakistan had strongly reacted to Kashmiri leader’s letter, Pakistan’s Special Committee of the Parliament on Kashmir had said that questioning the recent peace initiative between India and Pakistan “would only serve the cause of Hindutva regime.”
The Kashmir Committee made a strong response to the letter and said doubting the recent reiteration of the ceasefire agreement was serving “the cause of Hindutva regime”.

“No one can ever betray the Kashmir cause. The ceasefire agreement is a bid to help save Kashmiris living on both sides of the LoC. Anyone dubbing it a sellout would only serve the cause of the Hindutva regime. Period,” the committee, headed by Shehryar Afridi, wrote on Twitter after a user tweeted a copy of the letter. The tweet was issued from the committee’s verified Twitter account.

However, later the committee clarified the tweet and said it was misunderstood. While it remains to be seen whether or not Pakistan will issue a clarification to Khan’s statement is something only that time will tell.

Time seems to have passed to something different leading to change in the Khan’s stand, who had earlier said that his country will talk to India only after article-370’s revocation is reversed. Now, only seeking assurance in the form of a roadmap is something that has caused concern and anxiety among many stakeholders of the decades-long conflict.

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