The short one-to-one meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held in New Delhi on Sunday has been termed by both participants “fruitful”. When the news about Mr Zardari’s private visit to Ajmer, India, to pay homage to Khawaja Moeenuddin Chishti Gharibnawaz was first reported in the Pakistani media, the Indian press indicated that Dr Singh would simply ignore it. Soon, however, it appeared, New Delhi had second thoughts about the political mileage associated with the event and mutual consultations between the two countries resulted in the meeting and reception by the Indian Prime Minister in honour of the visiting guest.

In such a hurriedly planned encounter it was futile to expect anything of substance to come out it. And that is precisely what happened, though it was claimed that all contentious issues between Pakistan and India came under discussion. Yet, meeting of the leaders whose countries have deep differences over vital issues intimately affecting both of them might, in some cases, serve as something of an icebreaker. With India, however, it is a different ball game. On the core issue of Kashmir, which for Pakistan is a matter of life and death, India’s position has hardened over the years evident from the counsel it once gave to the Pakistani delegation at bilateral talks in New Delhi. It asked them to ‘forget about Kashmir’. Unfortunately, India’s big economic strides have so attracted the world community to exploit its expanding market that it is now safely at distance from its obligations towards the Kashmiri people. They were promised a free and fair plebiscite under UN supervision in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions that were proposed and accepted by India. Instead, it is guilty of the worst possible human rights violations committed on the Kashmiris demanding freedom from India and the democratic right  to decide their own future. Not only has Pakistan a legitimate right in the disputed state’s solution, but it is also gravely concerned at the Indian security forces’ atrocities perpetrated to suppress the freedom struggle. India’s forcible occupation has become an existential threat to Pakistan, as it tries to tie a noose round Pakistan’s neck, diverting the waters of rivers which belong to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty and whose headwaters lie in India-held Kashmir.

Thus, at best the Zardari-Singh meeting by conveying a message to the world that the two countries were moving towards normalisation, displayed political mileage. In fact, Dr Singh made Mr Zardari commit to making efforts towards that end. Though, undoubtedly, neighbours should have, at the minimum, normal relations between them to ensure peace, but not to the neglect of disputes of such basic nature as Kashmir. It was for this reason that a large number of Pakistanis raised their eyebrows when the news of the President’s visit broke. Under no circumstances, should we give up our principled stand on Kashmir. At the same time, we must accelerate our diplomatic efforts to convince the world, including of course India, that the disputed state is a leftover issue of Partition and Pakistan would not rest unless its people have enjoyed their birthright to decide their future.