Exploring peace options for Kashmir

Posted on | april 19, 2011 | No Comments

There is a general perception among the South Asians that peace has been held hostage in the region due to the continued animosity between India and Pakistan. History suggests that no matter much the consensus for peace and development gains momentum in the region, the Kashmir question vitiates the atmosphere of the subcontinent. The two countries are unable to find an amicable solution and the issue that remains deadlocked even about 60 years of its inception.

The quest for peace in South Asia makes it imperative to explore options for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. This is to reduce tension at various levels; first between India and Pakistan, second, between the Indian Union and the state of Jammu and Kashmir and third between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the people i.e. common man in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The executive summery is to suggest that India, Pakistan and along with a broad spectrum of people of Jammu and Kashmir should make a joint declaration to make the flashpoint the ‘Kashmir valley’ a “Zone of Peace.” Then India and Pakistan should thrash out the issues they disagree and after that bring on board the people of Jammu and Kashmir to shape the contours of governance. Such move alone can find an amicable solution to this long standing problem.

Since independence, India and Pakistan, several times, have entered into armed conflict over Kashmir. The first was in 1948 when armed raiders swooped upon the Valley from the Pakistani side, but India somehow managed to push them back. The matter was referred to the UN, and it resulted in a ceasefire, and the establishment of the Line of Control that exists today. The second was a full scale war in 1965 that resulted in ceasefire and the Tashkent pact. The third was the 1971 war though fought in eastern front but enflamed the borders across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir continues to mount in the decades following 1971. Its Kashmir issue played a major role for the two countries o become nuclear weapon States in 1998. In post nuclear scenario, the Kargil skirmishes in 1999 was a major confrontation between the two countries. The Kashmir problem also started an era of terror attack and the attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, brought the two countries once the brink of war. The Mumbai terror attack in 2008 too owes its origin to the Kashmir problem.

Even as India and Pakistan confronted each other over the years over Kashmir, they also held discussions at the level of Heads of Government and Foreign Secretary level to address the Kashmir problem. In 1965, Kashmir issue figured prominently during the Ayub Khan–Lal Bahadur Shastri talks at Tashkent. According India’s foreign office, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi talked about Kashmir issue at the Shimla conference in 1972. Then Rajiv Gandhi-Benazir Bhutto, I.K Gujral- Nawaz Sharif and A.B Vajpayee-Nawaz Sharif held talks on Kashmir issue.

The Agra summit held in 2001 between Indian Prime Minister A.B Vajpayee and Pakistan President, Pervez Musharaf was the last effort made to resolve differences over Kashmir issue.

The history of the India and Pakistan foreign Secretary level talks over Kashmir is longer and suffice would be to say that two sides have held more than eight rounds of talks and one in Islamabad in February 1999, resulted in the idea of a composite and comprehensive dialogue. Its highlight was the two sides agreed to remain engaged in parleys on a rotation basis, even while agreeing to disagree on several issues. The Kargil incursion in May 1999 derailed this dialogue process and the terror attack on Parliament on December 13th 2001, prolonged the break. The talks resumed once again in 2003 to be snapped in 2008, due to terror attack on Mumbai.

The Mohali world cup semifinal cricket match between India and Pakistan in March 2011 is believed to have provided momentum for the resumption of India Pakistan dialogue but it remains to be seem whether it will be composite and comprehensive.

The factor in the India- Pakistan dialogue towards the resolution of Kashmir problem is the lack of seriousness and consistent leadership in both the countries to carry forward the dialogue process. Talks on Kashmir could not be sustained as L.B Shastri died immediately after the Tashkent pact. Z.A Bhutto was ousted after signing the Shimla agreement. Rajiv Gandhi died and Benazir Bhutto was replaced. Gujral’s government fell even before the Indo-Pak dialogue could begin. Nawaz Sharif was removed soon after Vajpayee took the historic bus ride to Lahore.

The slow progress on the issue of the resolution of Kashmir is attributed to the absence of a similar minded leadership on the both sides of the divide. It is also blamed that even after sixty years or so the two countries have not been evolved a mechanism on which the dialogue could be sustained irrespective of the individuals heading the government.

The Indian position is that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Union of India. The periodic elections held in state have given it the right of territorial sovereignty over the province of Jammu and Kashmir. India holds the view that the citizen of Jammu and Kashmir, by participating in the electoral process, has accepted India’s sovereignty. Indian view is that the areas in control of Pakistan and those acceded to China alone is a matter of dispute and a resolution to that has to be found.

Also India do not subscribe to the idea of plebiscite under the relevant UN resolution, saying it requires vacation of the area controlled by Pakistan and China and wants these two countries to vacate the area a pre requisite for a plebiscite. India also rejects Pakistan’s attempts to internationalize Kashmir dispute as a nuclear flash-point, saying there is no linkage between nuclear confidence-building measures and the Kashmir situation. India on the contrary accuses Pakistan of abetting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, and wants international community to help it in its war of terror. India insists that cross-border infiltration must first end, for any meaningful talks to resume.

Pakistan’s position on Kashmir is that it’s an unfinished agenda of the Partition of India in 1947. It does not subscribe to its integration with India that was signed as instrument of accession by the Princely ruler of that state, citing the case of the Princely state of Hyderabad and Junagarh whose rulers signed the instrument accession in favor of Pakistan. India integrated the two states to its Union on the claim they are contagious regions had majority Hindu population. On the similar ground Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir. Pakistan insists on a plebiscite under UN supervision, as India did to amalgamate Junagarh in 1948.

Pakistan also likes to internationalize the Kashmir issue as the conflict has all the potential to burst into nuclear flames. Pakistan as harps that since bilateralism has not served any purpose so far, third-party mediation is essential to adjudicate in this matter. It continues to appeals to the international community to get actively involved in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistan denies India’s charges of instigating terrorism and says, has done all it can to stop infiltration across LOC, and any stray incidents are beyond its control. It suggests that international observers to be stationed along the LOC to verify India’s allegations. Pakistan reiterates it only provide moral and diplomatic support to the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their struggle for freedom. Pakistan insists that the ‘uprising’ in Jammu and Kashmir is indigenous, and more as a result of ‘repression’ by the Indian security forces.

The story of the engagement of the Union of India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir and that of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is another interesting tale. India’s approach to Jammu and Kashmir is two fold; first integration, governance and development. Second, to curb militancy, maintain law and order and check separatism.

India has adopted various steps for the integration of the State. First it did away with the ‘special flag’ and the nomenclature of Prime Minister was changed to Chief Minister, when the Shiekh Abdullah’s Government was dismissed in 1953. Thereafter, India dismissed Pakistan’s claim of Kashmir being a territorial dispute and rejected its plea of plebiscite. The Indian Parliament also passed a resolution that Kashmir is the core of India’s nationhood and demanded vacation of the areas which Pakistan holds as Azad Kashmir.

As part of the integration process, an accord was signed between Indira Gandhi and Shiekh Abdullah in 1975 which mooted greater autonomy for the State. This was further reinforced by the Rajiv Gandhi – Farooq Abdullah accord of 1986. However, the autonomy proposal, which was unanimously approved by the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislature in 2002, was summarily rejected by the Indian Parliament.

Currently, New Delhi’s position is to consider devolution of power for the State under the federal structure of the Indian constitution. India wants to open talks with the dissenting voices in Jammu and Kashmir but within its constitutional framework. India has appointed several Kashmir committees to co-opt the Kashmiri separatist forces into the political mainstream but so far has been unable to make any headway

As far as people of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, they have been trying to find the solution to the problem through both peaceful and non peaceful means. Their main voice is through the All Party Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of several political parties. The Hurriyat has rejected the proposal for talks within the framework of Indian constitution. It wants tripartite talks involving India and Pakistan and the voices representing the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In first stage Hurriyat wants the negotiations to be held between the voices of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India. It suggests that once a settlement is reached between then and the Union of India and the Pakistan can be brought on board for a joint deceleration.

Some efforts have been made in this direction by the BJP led NDA government headed by A B Vajapayee that had hinted at readiness to hold talks with the conglomerate. However, such promises remain mere promise and no tangible talks ever started. The Congress led UPA government now its second term has kept this proposal afloat. Like its predecessor, it has appointed Kashmir committee that’s making regular holiday trips to Kashmir in an effort to kick start the dialogue process, but nothing has happened so far. Meanwhile, there consensus eludes the conglomerate on the issue of talking with the government of India. The parties are divided n their goals that range from independence, to greater autonomy, to plebiscite, to merger with Pakistan.

The charade of peace talks between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and government of India bred separatism in the state and has taken a militant since 1989. There are several militant groups which are waging, an ‘armed rebellion’ against the Indian state. India sees the militancy as being perpetrated from across the border and says it has been waging a lonely battle against a war on terror. New Deli is appealing to the international community to put pressure on Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism.

India also treats militancy as a law and order problem and has stationed a large number of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. The abnormally large number of security forces has made the Kashmir valley an open prison, causing much concern to human rights activists.

In an effort to seek peace in the year 2000, India took cognizance of the growing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and recognized Hizbul Mujahideen as the dominant militant group in the valley. This group and the Union Government decided on a ceasefire, and agreed to negotiate on the issues involved. The talks could not make any headway as the militant group insisted on certain preconditions, unacceptable to India. However, the recognition of militant groups and the beginning of negotiations with them underscored the point that peace cannot be achieved by sidelining the militant groups in the state.

India realizes that economic discontentment has created conditions that breed militancy and is giving full cooperation to the State Government to accelerate the developmental process. It feels by ding so, the general frustration among the disgruntled youth may be relieved. However, in spite of India’s best efforts terror related violence continues unabated in Jammu and Kashmir. Official figures say more than 38,000 lives have been lost since 1989 when the militancy related violence began; the separatist groups put the toll to over 100,000.

It’s a fact that in spite of a democratically-elected Government, political dissent and militancy are twin features in Jammu and Kashmir. It is felt that an agreement between India and Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir on some peace model has to be worked out to bring peace in that beleaguered state.

Another interesting observation is Kashmir finds an important place in the jingoistic nationalism that’s heard during the electoral process in the Indian mainland. The perception of common Indians towards Kashmir is being colored by communal-thinking. Come every election, the talk of abrogation of article 370 of the federal constitution, which gives special concessions to Jammu and Kashmir, gains crescendo. Politicians rake up the Kashmir issue to gain electoral mileage.

Separatism in Kashmir is played up as a bid for further scissoring India. Some even attempt to inject a sense of fear in the Muslim minority that they would be purged in case if Kashmir is sliced out of India. Politicians claim that Kashmir is integral part of India and they link it to India’s commitment to secularism.

The politics over Kashmir in Indian mainland may provide political dividends for those who press such views, but it further vitiates the communal atmosphere in the country and provides fuel to the separatist forces in Kashmir. Further, the periodic communal clashes and the targeting Muslim minorities in India, have repercussions in Kashmir. The blind eye that the Indian Government turns towards perpetrators of riots after riots against the Muslims, gives Kashmiri militants a handle to carry out mayhem against the minorities in their state. The purging of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley is often seen as a reflection of the anti-minority politics being played in rest of India.

The solution to this could be a self imposed election- related political moratorium on raking up the Kashmir issue during electioneering in Indian mainland. It will not only bridge inter-community relations in Kashmir but also ease the communal pressure on the Indian Muslims. In the long run it may help the cause of peace in the sub-continent.

In the chequered history of India and Pakistan, there have been several attempts being made to solve the Kashmir issue, but none has shown any results so far. The history suggests that both India and Pakistan do not want to forfeit their claim over Kashmir. It is also seen that neither war, nor sweet talks, have resolved the Kashmir issue. Meanwhile, both countries becoming nuclear weapons countries have further vitiated the problem.

The voices of sanity suggest that the only way to solve the problem is to reject the hardened stand and look for a course that may be accepted to both the countries as well as people of Kashmir. This could be done by converting the troubled region into a “zone of peace.” As a first measure all the three parties, India, Pakistan and voices from Kashmir, should make a joint declaration that they would not breach the security of this “special zone,” till they resolved all their outstanding differences.

As a follow, India should consider reducing the number of force deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. It can even consider deploying women security force in the populated areas of the state to build a climate of peace. Indian women security forces have successfully assisted the UN forces manning the theaters of conflict in Africa like Sierra Leone and Rwanda. If such efforts are being made in Kashmir as well, it will go a long way in the restoration of peace.

Adding to the credibility to such idea is the perception that the creation of the ‘special zone’ will not only reduces tension between India and Pakistan but also provides a model to other separatists groups operating elsewhere in India. The concept of ‘special zone’ also funnels the idea of the integration of the entire region, into a greater confederation of South Asian States. This would not only remove the irritants between India and Pakistan, but also between India and other neighboring countries. It also fulfills the democratic aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Now, again fresh initiatives are being made to create an atmosphere of peace. The buzz word is the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. It is only a matter of time the two countries start talking again. However, will they address such a knotty issue like Kashmir that remains to be seen? It is common wisdom that there is no easy solution to the Kashmir problem.

The starting point could be the two countries along with the people of Jammu and Kashmir should agree to a formula that may convert the entire region into a zone of peace. The concept of special zone seems to be the best bet to address such a case. This exercise may give a direction to the resolution of the problem and as the time elapse, the problem may finds its way to play itself out.

The fingers, however, remain crossed will the two countries approach the Kashmir issue in such framework? This will be something interesting to watch if and when serious dialogue between India and Pakistan resumes.

AUTHOR: Mujtaba Syed
URL: http://www.groundreport.com/
E-MAIL: syedalimujtaba [at] yahoo.com

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