Setting up a self-goal

Dredging up PoK could disrupt gains in the bilateral engagement, constrict space for Pak leadership

Of all the ways in which the UPA undercuts its own foreign policy, this one is special. A proposal being seriously considered by the home ministry — as reported in this paper — envisions reserving seats in Parliament for legislators from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This would take an amendment to Article 81 of the Constitution. It would follow the principle already being observed in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, where 24 out of 111 seats are meant for PoK members, and are kept empty — apparently as a symbolic claim to the territory occupied by Pakistan. It is also a wrongheaded idea, one that dredges up bilateral issues that remain unresolved but which have receded in urgency, opening up spaces for bilateral engagement. In the present context, it could damage any progress that two successive Indian prime ministers have sought to make with Pakistan.

It is no secret that India and Pakistan have looking-glass versions of the Kashmir issue and that there has been no closure, in spite of the disputes being raked up over and over again. A parliamentary resolution in February 1994 placed on record India's position on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. But these contending claims over Kashmir, which consumed the relationship between India and Pakistan in the past, blocking movement on all other fronts, have receded from the dialogue in recent times, and no longer figure in international assessments of the region, which is to India's advantage. To make aggressive gestures on Kashmir now is not only to needlessly renew hostility, but also to constrict space for Pakistan's political leadership in the most counter-productive way.

This comes at a moment when the prime ministers of India and Pakistan have taken great risks to bolster the bilateral engagement. A peaceful equilibrium with Pakistan has been one of Manmohan Singh's points of emphasis, from his first term. He outmanoeuvred his own party to reach out to Pakistan in Sharm el-Sheikh, keeping up the momentum later in Thimphu and Male, despite strong domestic opposition to his policy. The conversation has moved to concerns like terrorism. The PM has stressed on economic integration, for sports and cultural exchanges, and a more robust engagement between the two governments, one that carries on despite other sources of friction. The home ministry's proposal directly contradicts this calibrated and nuanced policy.

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