Late on Saturday night as Pakistan called off the blighted NSA-level talks, India had reason to smile to itself. It is quietly achieving an unexpected success in its tempestuous relationship with its neighbour, one far more important than getting back an international criminal who is four months away from his 60th birthday.
India is finally cutting the crowd out of its relationship with Pakistan.
For nearly three decades, while calling Kashmir a strictly bilateral issue, India allowed separatists like SAS Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and Bilal Lone to be the ever-present third party. In statements like “settlement of Kashmir issue must be in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people”, it was assumed for decades that the Hurriyat represented the “wishes of the Kashmiri people”.
It does not.
Wishes of a region where more than 75 per cent voters turned out in the bone-chilling December of 2014 are certainly not represented by separatists, some of them former militants who carry the taint of murder, intimidation and a clockwork-precise ethnic cleansing of Pandits.
August 18, 2014, changed all that. India called off foreign secretary-level talks after the Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit met separatists. It will probably go down in history as one of the most crucial turning points in India’s diplomacy.
So far, the Modi government has been consistent in that tough and pivotal stance that it took. Hurriyat leaders coming to Delhi to meet Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz on Sunday are being detained on arrival and quietly taken elsewhere. Shabir Shah and Bilal Lone have been whisked off from the airport.
It helped the Modi government to have a PDP-BJP government in J&K. PDP played the good cop by allowing the trouble-mongers to travel, quelling the possibility of local resentment and ensuring that separatists don’t whip up street anger by playing victim.
The detentions in the Capital have been low-key, the blow somewhat blunted by the 800-odd kilometres between Delhi and Srinagar.
There have so far been no street protests or violence in Kashmir over India’s decision not to let the separatists meet the Pakistani NSA. Some keyboard warriors from the Valley have been dismayed and vocal. But then, armchair pundits are usually the last to know when their currency has lost its appeal and acceptance on the ground.
Separatists remain the poster boys of only this lot and the mainstream Indian media, which plays on loop for hours images of Pakistani flag being unfurled by leaders who often can’t even draw a hundred people to their rallies or protests.
Moreover, a separatist like Bilal Lone, for instance, is known to avoid arrests and supporters in his base, Kupwara, are unlikely to cause trouble. Detention of Geelani or Mirwaiz may trigger some protests and stone-throwing, but dealing with such nuisance is a small price to pay for a long battle in which the state must relentlessly squeeze the space for separatism.
It is wedding season in Kashmir, and houses of the brides and grooms are being cleaned before the celebrations in a ritual called livun. The tradition of getting rid of unwanted elements could well save even of the most embittered relationships.