Peace is a hope-laden word. Unfortunately, it has little meaning and even lesser content in the Indo-Pakistan context. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refuses to acknowledge this reality.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

On a visit to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Prime Minister said that if Pakistan showed sincerity and good faith, India would not be found wanting. He also expressed the Union government’s willingness to talk to anyone with meaningful ideas to promote peace in J&K.

These good wishes crash against facts on the ground.

India’s readiness to engage with Pakistan is well known and is part of the country’s stand. It does not require prime ministerial endorsement. It does, however, require Pakistani commitment to peace and its willingness to forsake atavistic claims on J&K. There is no sign of that even as Pakistan faces an existential threat. Instead, it blames India for all its woes. As to persons with meaningful ideas on J&K, there are few who have them and fewer yet who can translate them into something useful. It is a situation that is reminiscent of what India has faced in many lawless provinces before (Punjab comes to one’s mind): The Centre gropes for a person or a group that it can deal with. That search has almost always proved futile. It has only worked (for example, in Mizoram) when there exists a leadership that is committed to the people of the state in question. J&K today only knows of secessionists who believe Pakistan and paradise are coterminous.

It would, of course, be uncharitable to suggest that the Prime Minister acts on cues. But perhaps it is a mere coincidence that his statement comes less than a day after US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told Dawn television in an interview: “We are hopeful that there will be a resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India, because I think the threat that Pakistan faces is a threat that could destabilize the entire region.“

The Kashmir of today requires different handling: an effective division of labour between the state and the Union governments. The Omar Abdullah administration needs help: Far from carrying on the urgent task of economic rebuilding of the province, its energy has been sapped in dealing with secessionists. The Centre can step in with an economic package that it can help implement. At the same time, both governments need to crack down on secessionists. Unless both tasks are carried out simultaneously, Kashmir will not click.

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