Kashmir conflict is elephant in the room: Khar on South Asia integration, trade potential

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Davos: Describing the Kashmir issue as “the elephant in the room”, Pakistan minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Tuesday said any efforts to integrate South Asia and boost trade would be futile without resolving the “70-year-old dispute”.
Her remarks came at a session on ‘Strategic outlook on South Asia’ at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022, in replies to suggestions about boosting ties and facilitating people’s movement across borders while keeping aside the differences between India and Pakistan.
India has been maintaining that terror and talks cannot take place together and for any normalisation in ties, Pakistan needs to stop terror activities against India. India has also been consistently rejecting Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir issue and has been demanding that Pakistan should move out of the territory occupied by it.
Reacting to a remark by a panellist that India was more worried about China than Pakistan now, Khar said, “I look at China obviously as an immediate neighbour and also as part of a broader region that we all belong to. At the same time, I would not celebrate India’s antagonism towards China, pretty much in the same way that I would not celebrate anyone’s antagonism towards anyone else at all.”
On the Kashmir issue, Khar, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said, “… I did not want to go into all of that as it is an economic debate but it is the elephant in the room and you cannot ignore it.”
She claimed that her party when in power earlier had made lot of efforts to normalise ties with India, including her visit to India in 2011, inking of a visa agreement as well as opening up of trade.
The minister said she and her party had decided to do so despite knowing it will take a lot of political hit due to what all had happened after 1965, when no government of any type in Pakistan thought it was wise to normalise trade relations with India, because there was a very high political cost, until and unless there was a resolution to the Kashmir conflict.
“Still, we went ahead and said no, let’s try to normalise it, first of all, because we are human beings who are very similar in every way, culturally, we look alike, the way we speak, we eat similar food and we are pretty much very similar. But we have this huge divide on the basis of inherited disputes,” she said.
The minister further said for decades, the two countries kept on adding to the basket of their differences rather than reducing the problems they inherited in Partition.
“We still thought, let’s try to normalise the relations and then we can move towards resolving the dispute in a peaceful and a normal environment,” she added.
Khar further said unfortunately, events of the last 2-3 years that have happened in Kashmir, legally, cannot be looked at any other way.
“That is almost conflagrating an already difficult situation,” she said.
Khar further said she was born after 1971 and the current foreign minister of Pakistan was born even much later.
“We are a young generation that has not inherited the memories of the Partition and memories of war. We can go ahead but when you start piling on the problems, then you are discouraging those who want to move ahead. We host the largest population of poverty and then we keep congratulating ourselves on little successes,” she said.
Khar admitted that there was potential to move forward but one cannot be delusional about the reality.
“So, let’s start the journey of showing some movement on recognising what the problem is. Normalising would obviously be the way forward, but if you start adding to the problems and your intentions are rightfully doubted,” she said.
Asked why trade cannot be normalised as that would benefit both the countries, she said, “After saying everything, you (India) did August 5” — referring to the Indian government’s decision in 2019 to scrap the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir.
Khar said the message one sees on the other side is that a country that is much larger will suddenly feel that it (India) can send jets into your country and then it can take up an issue that is already unresolved despite a United Nations Security Council resolution and do something against bilateral commitments and commitments to the international community and UNSC.
“Then you as a smaller state, start feeling that you are living in the neighbourhood of a rogue state. And not only that, you may underestimate the rights of Kashmiri people, the international law has provided them those rights… we don’t have the right to be dismissive about it.
“So what you are propagating as a way forward, that is what exactly we did. But it is important that once we start a journey we don’t put problems there,” she said.
Asked what single step could be taken to boost trade in South Asia, she said, “As someone who happily went to India and signed the visa agreement, opened trade with India and had to roll back everything, the 70-year-old answer is let’s resolve the Kashmir conflict.”
“B, unless the elephant in the room disappears and we are able to look at each other as normal people and not one who are impeded by situations that can conflagrate anytime…”.


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