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Mainstream Vol. XLVI No 26

Practical Steps to Peace in Kashmir

Sunday 15 June 2008, by Neenu Rishi Chanchal



Crafting Peace in Kashmir: Through a Realist Lens by Verghese Koithara; Sage Publications, New Delhi.

This edited volume examines the India-Pakistan conflict in depth, and comparative analyses with conflicts as observed in Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka as well as the Israel-Palestinian hostilities have been presented to provide an analytical backdrop through a realist’s lens.

Koithara, in his well-researched book, argues that the dominant prevailing view about the Kashmir conflict is essentially non-resolvable for reasons of history, emotions and the stakes involved. The current difficulty in resolving the conflict is the presence within it of two separate tussles with a large dysfunctional interface. One is the power-political, territorial and ideological competition between India and Pakistan. The other flows from the relationship between Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir centered on the extent of autonomy that the State should enjoy. This, in turn, has made it even more difficult for India to show flexibility with regard to either.

This book contains 10 chapters. Chapter 1, ‘The India-Pakistan Conflict’ centred on Kashmir, has many narratives. There is contestation not only of the cause and the course of development of the conflict, but also of the reasons why it is eluding a settlement. It is important to view the history of this conflict from a neutral, realistic standpoint. This chapter makes an effort to highlight key events and linkages from a distanced viewpoint. Chapter 2, ‘The Problem of Kashmir Discontented’, presents brief realistic overviews of the way the two parts of the conflict have evolved in parallel. The contest in Kashmir is not just between India and Pakistan. There is an important third party—the large number of discontented people in the State. In Pakistan, there is an exaggerated idea of the ‘Islamisation’ potential of Jammu aid Kashmir. In India, there is a marked ‘belittling of the political estrangement’ and a wishful belief that economic largesse and administrative efficiencies can fix the problem. Above all, the taking to arms by a large number of Kashmiri youth in the late 1980s is attributed in India almost entirely to Pakistani machinations.

CHAPTER 3, titled ‘Conflict Drivers’, looks at the factors that fuel the conflict. The author makes a brief survey of the literature that reflects the biased understanding of the conflict widely prevalent in both the countries and among the discontented in Jammu and Kashmir, which not only diverge considerably from one another but also from the objective reality. It then looks at the ‘deep feelings of insecurity’, primarily in Pakistan, but also in India and the matter of ‘political exploitation of religions feelings’ in both the countries. This is followed by an examination of two factors that are specific to Pakistan—the country’s deeply problematic political system and the Pakistan Army. The belief that ‘for two to win, the other must lose’ has become a major problem. Chapter 4, ‘Nuclear Danger’, examines the impact that the acquisition of nuclear weapons has had on it. In this chapter, the structure of the two arsenals, the way they are managed, the implications of their opacity, the asymmetric nuclear strategies of the two sides, the risks that are being run, and the possible consequences of coercive risk-taking in Jammu and Kashmir are examined.

Chapter 5, ‘Kashmir and the Outside World’, considers the way outsiders have influenced its evolution and are likely to influence it in the future. Chapter 6, ‘Insights from Northern Ireland’, Chapter 7, ‘Pointers from Sri Lanka’, and Chapter 8, ‘Reflections on the Ireland-Palestinian Conflict’, look at these conflicts in order to gain a better understanding of the way peace processes can move forward or run aground.

Chapter 9, ‘Moving from Conflict to Peace’, looks at some key issues involved in the peace process. Peace covers a wide spectrum. Peacemaking calls for a strategy. Not only must a peace strategy be well crafted, it has to be developed and implemented in a more inclusive fashion than a war strategy. The broad contours of the approach have to be widely debated in public in each country and a rough consensus needs to emerge. The matter of negotiations is also relevant. There are different views on the best way to create a peace path. Some advocate a ‘step-by-step approach’ dealing with issues in their ascending order of contention.

Finally, there is a role that external parties might play in using a conflict and nudging it towards peace, that is, ‘at the peripheral level’.

Verghese Koithara concludes that:

No non-capitulatory peace process has succeeded without the parties going through an exercise in strategic re-thinking, and coming to the mutual conclusion that achieving a settlement is both desirable and feasible. Peacemaking requires rational, unemotional calculation of costs, and working for medium and long-term benefits. A shared understanding of the true bottom-lines and non-agreement alternatives of both sides is essential. A peace process needs perseverance; it cannot be an on-off process. Protracted conflicts have rarely been settled with a few rounds of negotiations. Nor have they been settled with negotiation stretching interminably. Finally, without a solution zone being jointly identified before public talks begin, success is very unlikely.

The last chapter, captioned ‘Creating a Peace Path in Kashmir’, examines the peacemaking opportunities. For Pakistan, the rhetoric is ‘Kashmir runs in our veins’ and for India it is ‘Kashmir is the core of our nationhood’. Such kind of rhetoric makes it difficult to move towards peace without mutual help. Thus, to pursue peace, India advocates “freezing the status quo” and Pakistan advocates a solution that takes into an account the ‘disputed’ nature of “Kashmir’s accession to India”. In operational terms this means projecting the following: India and Pakistan should put Kashmir aside and improve relations in other areas, while giving equal priority to Kashmir-centred political dialogue. Without the two governments preparing themselves and their peoples for psychologically painful shifts away from long-held positions (Pakistan’s on the LoC and India’s on autonomy), a realistic peace path cannot be fashioned.

The reviewer is an M. Phil student in the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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