NEW DELHI — The Kashmir problem defies solution. Three recent developments have even compounded the impasse.

Kashmir’s State Assembly passed a resolution for autonomy, which calls for a status that Kashmir enjoyed before 1953, when the central government at New Delhi had a say only in matters pertaining to the state’s defense, foreign affairs and communications. In the course of time, these powers were eroded, partly through legislation.

Days after the assembly resolution, New Delhi opened its line of communication with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, a political conglomerate of organizations, mostly seeking an independent Kashmir.

But what followed was far more significant. The Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, a large group of extremists committed to the disputed state’s merger with Pakistan, announced a conditional ceasefire. The Hezb-ul said that it would not fight the Indian security forces for a few weeks, when it would start talking to New Delhi, but along with Pakistan.

No to Islamabad

The extremists felt that the Kashmir mess could not be sorted out without this tripartite discussion, and certainly within the ambit of India’s Constitution. And the ceasefire broke down on Tuesday evening precisely because New Delhi, while responding favorably to the cessation of hostilities, said a firm no to Islamabad’s involvement, at least for the time being, and to the talks with the Hezb-ul being held outside the parameters of the constitution.

India is clear that Kashmir is an integral part of the country, and its constitution provides no scope for any doubt on this score. Obviously Pakistan has no part to play here.

The average Kashmiri is not for a union with Pakistan. Given the state of affairs there, he or she realizes the folly of suggesting Pakistani involvement.

But Kashmiris are also disinclined to lead the same life they has been leading for decades. They want the atrocities and humiliation heaped on them by New Delhi to stop. Whether they are calling for autonomy or freedom, the fact is that Kashmiris are willing to stay within the union, provided it gives them greater flexibility to decide their affairs.

Indeed, it is about time that New Delhi made a serious attempt to cultivate a sense of confidence in Kashmiris. They must neither be viewed as militants nor separatists. The decade-old turmoil — during which India’s soldiers raped women and brutalized men in the state, often driving them into the arms of criminals, trained and armed by Islamabad — has left a bitter taste in the mouth.

The question now, is New Delhi finally ready to win back Kashmiris with a policy that will be sensitive to their feelings?

Saboteurs everywhere

Unfortunately, even if New Delhi has Kashmir’s genuine welfare at heart, there are any number of disruptive elements out to sabotage this.

Soon after the Hezb-ul announced its ceasefire, more than 100 innocent pilgrims (on their way to the holy shrine of Amarnath in Kashmir) and poor migrant laborers were massacred in seven different parts of the state in the course of a few hours.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba, a terror machine with its headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan, and largely made up of Afghans, was reportedly behind the blood and gore.

Besides the Lashkar, there are about a dozen rebel outfits in Kashmir. Except for the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, the rest are driven by foreign mercenaries. Even the somewhat sane Hezb-ul has to follow Islamabad’s directives because many of its members live in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and two of its important training centers are in that country.

While the Hezb-ul is eager to work toward a solution that could give it a semblance of respectability and a role in the state’s electoral process, Islamabad will probably not allow this to happen. The reason is amply clear.

Kashmir is too precious for Pakistan to let go. It is not just a question of prestige and status within the country, but a peg for the government of the day to hang on — indeed, more precisely, an excuse for seeking financial and arms aid.

This is precisely why India must, sooner or later, get across the table with Islamabad for a more lasting peace on the border and in Kashmir. The urgency of rapprochement over the issue cannot be ignored at this critical juncture when both powers have gone nuclear.

But, of course, New Delhi is perfectly justified in asking Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism before resuming the dialogue. Most of the civilized world will agree on this point.

Yet, no accord can be meaningful unless it preserves the unity and integrity of the Indian union, and, ultimately, meets the aspirations of the Kashmiris.

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