- India is itself partly responsible for the Hurriyat blowback
Pakistan created an abnormal situation by asking its high commissioner to meet the Hurriyat leaders despite the Indian foreign secretary's "advice" against such a move. Advice like this is not given normally to a foreign envoy unless an issue of high political sensitivity to the host government is involved. But, if given, the expectation is that it will be accepted. A foreign envoy has to maintain a functional relationship with his host government that can be seriously impaired if a confrontational choice is made. After all, the advice to the high commissioner was against meeting a category of Indian citizens on Indian soil — a request that did not abridge his country's sovereignty on its own territory. So, it is aberrant of the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson to raise the issue of Pakistan's "sovereignty" in this context.
Pakistan cannot argue that it has a sovereign right to override India's sovereignty on Indian soil, and therefore its envoy can act as he chooses in the exercise of that sovereignty. Pakistan considers Jammu and Kashmir as "disputed" territory and does not recognize India's sovereignty over it. Following this logic, the high commissioner could insist on going to Srinagar and meet the Hurriyat there without the permission of the government. He had the option of protesting against the Indian "advice", drawing attention to the occurrence of such meetings earlier and the political debit for Pakistan in case he failed to meet the Hurriyat before the foreign-secretary-level talks. He could have made his protest public, but he was diplomatically obliged to respect the political advice of the Foreign Office. By failing to adopt this sensible course, the Pakistan high commissioner has grossly violated diplomatic norms. Worse, he escalated matters and graduated from rejecting the Indian advice to showing contempt for it by having a second round of meetings with the separatists. He then decided to be triply offensive by declaring to the press that what he did was helpful to "peace".
Such conduct cannot be overlooked. It is one thing to cancel the foreign-secretary-level talks, but it is another to specifically deal with the violation of diplomatic norms by the Pakistan high commissioner and lay down the rules for the future applicable to other embassies in India too, whose meetings with Hurriyat leaders give the latter political relevance and stature. It is normal for foreign diplomats to meet Opposition leaders, but not secessionists. The fact that the government itself may open channels to them is not a reason for foreign missions to do so. The government does not interfere in its own internal affairs by negotiating with insurgents or separatists, representatives of foreign countries do so by engaging them. A good case, therefore, exists for expelling the Pakistan high commissioner, or, at least, placing curbs on the functioning of the mission. The government may not want to go beyond the cancellation of foreign-secretary-level talks at this stage to avoid being accused of over-reacting — a charge already being levied against the government by those in India who refuse to give up hope of befriending Pakistan through forbearance and generosity. It may not also want to prematurely bury Narendra Modi's ambition to strengthen ties with neighbours and reinvigorate SAARC.
We are ourselves responsible, in part, for the blowback on the Hurriyat issue. The rationale of allowing Pakistanis to hobnob with the secessionists under the nose of our government has not been clear. To believe that this would assist in finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue would have been quixotic. Surely, when Pakistanis talk to the Hurriyat, it is not to encourage them to politically reconcile with Delhi, cease their disruptive activities, participate in the elections to establish their political credentials and seek redress for their grievances through the democratic process. The secessionists no doubt give to the Pakistanis self-serving versions of internal developments in J&K, get closed-door instructions on political strategies to pursue to keep the Valley on the boil, and, no doubt, tie up arrangements for fund transfers. We generously facilitate contacts between ISI operatives in the Pakistani mission and their tools in the Valley.
If there is an obscure purpose in allowing this interaction between Pakistanis bent on making mischief in Kashmir and the Hurriyat equally committed to this goal, is there evidence of that objective being met all these years? The Hurriyat continues to foment anti-Indian sentiments in the Valley and pursue its communal agenda. If keeping these elements in play prevents more radical elements from taking over, and, in that sense, they are a lesser evil to be tolerated, then this strategy has failed.
The Pakistani argument that there was nothing objectionable in the high commissioner entertaining the Hurriyat leadership because such meetings have occurred regularly in the past and India has tolerated them is specious. It is true that India has made only weak noises of disapproval when such meetings have occurred earlier, or even scoffed at them as if they were inconsequential. The Hurriyat, we claimed, had little political standing, with their writ not going beyond their immediate parishes. We even let their leaders travel to Pakistan and to conferences of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with insouciance.
If this was a show of confidence that the internal situation in J&K was completely under our control and the busybody Hurriyat was a minor nuisance, then we were ignoring ground realities — not so much as regards the Hurriyat, but the perturbing change in the religious tenor of the Valley away from Sufism to more radical Sunni ideologies linked to Saudi Arabia. In any case, we are not obliged to perpetuate past errors. Pakistan's contacts with the Hurriyat are not covered by common law, in that as this practice has continued for years it has become a right. It is entirely up to us to decide when we decide not to overlook contacts between an external enemy and an internal one.
Those in India who have criticized the government's decision to cancel foreign-secretary-level talks as an over-reaction to a trivial issue ignore some vital aspects. If meetings with the Hurriyat are so unimportant intrinsically because this group is a declining force, then why should meeting them be so important for the Pakistanis, to the point that meeting them is considered more crucial than having a dialogue with India? The Hurriyat contests India's sovereignty over J&K and wants a solution in consultation with the wishes of the people in accordance with UN resolutions — a traditional Pakistani position now being more forcefully re-asserted by Nawaz Sharif.
By allowing the Kashmiri separatists to meet the Pakistani leaders in New Delhi, we acknowledge that Pakistan has a legitimate political role in the Valley, conceding, in the process, extra-territorial rights to Pakistan in J&K. We also help boost Pakistan's propaganda about resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir embodied by the Hurriyat, undermining, as a consequence, the government and mainstream parties in Kashmir, who are made to appear lacking in popular legitimacy despite periodic elections. That a country deeply involved in terrorism in J&K is also allowed to have political consultations with a section of the Kashmiris is difficult to understand. It is good that this ridiculous state of affairs is sought to be ended now.
The author is former foreign secretary of India email@example.com