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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 23, May 29, 2010

A Feasible Solution to the Kashmir Imbroglio

Co-sovereignty of India and Pakistan over the Autonomous Valley

Tuesday 1 June 2010, by Syed Shahabuddin

The heart of the Kashmir Dispute is the triple claim on the sovereignty over the state by India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. This continuing conflict has cast its shadow not only on the main protagonists or even the sub-continent as a whole but the global balance of power due to its non-emergence as a pole of the multipolar world under construction. The multipolar world cannot be limited to the USA, Russia, Europe and China; it has to take into account the Indian subcontinent and the Arab world, apart from major states like Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa. All these will emerge in due course but the Indian subcontinent has been deprived of its key position primarily because of the conflict between India and Pakistan. If the subcontinent had not been partitioned, it would have become a legitimate pole of the new world. Partition cannot be undone but despite its plus points, the main obstacle in the recognition of India’s status as a great power is the conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir.

At the dawn of independence, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir like the Nizam of Hyderabad dreamt of independence. The Nizam’s dream ended with the police action, primarily because Hyderabad had no access to the sea nor a common border with Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir was invaded by Pakistan, though they had signed a standstill agreement, because the state had a border with Pakistan. When Pakistan invaded the state, it was living in a twilight zone. In any case, it was not a part of India. So, the Pakistani invasion could not be internationalised. Subsequently the Maharaja sought and got military assistance from India, after signing the instrument of accession. In any event, while India saved the state from the invasion of Pakistan, it decided not to push Pakistan out but let it occupy a part of the state under ceasefire. The ceasefire line, with some modification in 1965, has acquired permanency with the passage of time. The south-western strip, which is called Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the major region of Gilgit-Baltistan to its north, now called Northern Areas, have been in Pakistani hands. The south-western strip has ethnic and cultural affinity with Punjab. India has consolidated itself in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.

For 60 years India and Pakistan have been negotiating for settlement of the dispute. India itself internationalised it by taking the dispute to the United Nations. For all practical purposes, the UN Resolution, providing for a plebiscite under the UN after demilitarisation and withdrawal of troops beginning with Pakistan, is dead and cannot be revived. Even Pakistan itself has given it up, though from time to time it formally revives the idea of a referendum under UN auspices.

Pakistan again tried invasion in 1965 thinking that politically the Kashmiri people had developed anti-Indian sentiments and they were likely to welcome Pakistan with open arms. But it was repulsed by India. Then Pakistan tried insurgency, giving military training to some Kashmiri youth, who had crossed the ceasefire line directly or through Pakistan based and ISI supported terrorist organistions. The people of the Valley began chanting the slogan of ‘Azadi’ in late 1980s but the slogan coupled with insurgency could not achieve for Pakistan what military invasions had denied. Now insurgency has died out for all practical purposes, perhaps out of frustration and fatigue. But the Valley remains tense more or less under military occupation, thus keeping alive the siege complex and anti-Indian sentiments.

From all points of view the Valley of Kashmir is the real apple of discord. It is only 16,000 sq kms in area (seven per cent of the State) and it has 43 per cent of its population of 10 million. It is nearly 90 per cent Muslim. The Valley has not only a religious but linguistic, cultural homogeneity, geographical and historical identity, which time cannot erase. The real issue, therefore is the future of the Valley. No other region of the State, Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK, Ladakh and Jammu and even Mirpur-Rajouri west of Chenab are as well-defined geographically. Nor have they always been a part of the state because historically the contours of the state have been changing from era to era. Today Kashmiris demand not only independence for the Valley but also dream of dominance over other regions as a historical legacy of the artificial unity brought by the Dogras and the British, while both the Dogra Maharaja and British have gone forever.

Whatever the aspirations of the Kashmiris in the Valley, neither India nor Pakistan can afford to permit a small independent state within the subcontinent, which is strategically situated and can easily become an arena of conspiracy and intervention by the great powers. In any case, Kashmiris cannot gain independence against the common will of India and Pakistan.

India claims the whole of the state as it existed under the Maharaja on August 15, 1947, after the British paramountcy had lapsed, but it knows that it does not have a very strong case because the Maharaja did not accede to India before the Pakistani raiders had nearly reached Srinagar. Secondly, instead of clearing the whole of the state, India signed a ceasefire agreement with Pakistan. What is worse is that it has many times discreetly, and later even publicly, proposed conversion of the ceasefire line into an inter-national border. In any case, it cannot take PoK by force, without waging a war against Pakistan which would involve many other states including big powers. India has also compromised its claim by literally conceding the occupation of 50,000 sq kms of the state in Ladakh—Aksai Chin—to China. It is indeed amazing that neither the political establishment nor the civil society of India which want PoK never say a word about the China occupied Kashmir (CoK)!

To win over the people of the Valley India has showered not only economic favours but also given political concessions. But the Kashmiris claim that the autonomy promised under Article 370 and the Delhi Agreement of 1950 has been substantially eroded, India maintains an over-whelming military presence in the Valley which has often given rise to situations of civil conflict. But it goes to its credit that it has never waged a war against the people of Kashmir, using tanks or aircrafts, as Russia did to subdue Chechnya. Instead of demolishing cities and towns, India has used its resources to develop the Valley in many ways. India has held elections in the State but except in 1977 and 2004 their legitimacy was questioned and the Kashmiris did not accept them as a substitute for the referendum. The people of the Valley are not with India; neither are they for Pakistan as in their ethnic memory they have not forgotten the rule of the Afghan Governors under the Mughals. Pakistani terrorist organisations may propagate the ideas of Islamic solidarity and the ideology of jihad to ‘liberate’ Kashmir but Kashmiris see Pakistan as the land of increasing religious sectarianism and tribal terrorism which violates their concept of Sufi Islam. Pakistan appears to the Kashmiris as a divided nation, unstable and chaotic. How can they willfully go into a tottering house and become yet another province of a disintegrating state?

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Like India, Pakistan also claims the whole of the state as on August 15, 1947, but never seriously. The rulers as well as the people know their limits. They cannot force India out nor can they ever throw China out of Aksai Chin. Pakistan cannot reconcile the Buddhists nor can it pacify the Hindus of Jammu to become loyal citizens of Pakistan. Even its occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan as the Northern Areas has been questioned by the PoK leaders. The only areas which it occupies with confidence have cultural and linguistic affinity with Punjab, the area west of the Chenab River. This does not include the people living on the bank of the Jhelum who speak Kashmiri and look upon themselves as Kashmiris.

India and Pakistan have engaged in competitive diplomacy but never come to grips with the real issue of the Kashmir Valley. History will record that the persistence of the discord over the Valley had a negative effect in complicating and even delaying the settlement of other bilateral issues like extension and formalisation of the ceasefire line in Gilgit, the delimitation of border in the Sir Creek and the demarcation of maritime boundary in the Arabian Sea.

Pakistan has not only been encouraging terrorism and funding terrorist organisations operating in the State, those organisations have extended their activities to some other parts of India, for example, the terrorist invasion of Mumbai in November 2008. But it has failed to achieve its strategic objective.

Pakistani terrorism has, however, given birth to the menace of Hindu terrorism in India. Pakistan has tried to subvert the loyalty of the Muslim Indians; there also it has failed. On the other hand, Pakistan is today unable to defend its heartland against non-stop sectarian and tribal violence, or halting the increasing use by the USA of Pakistani territory and air space for military operations in Afghanistan. This has generated antipathies in Pakistan and a sense of helplessness. The Kashmiri youth are no longer crossing the ceasefire line for training in Pakistan. Indeed those who had gone wish to come back and lead normal lives, despite the enormous loss of life and limb suffered by the people.

So, just as India cannot dislodge Pakistan from PoK, Pakistan cannot take over India-administered Kashmir by force. Bilateral dialogue and CBMs have failed to resolve the Kashmir question. Unless it focuses on the future of the Valley, it will not lead to any meaningful progress:

From time to time, India faces ugly situations in the Valley. Development is attractive but it will not help since only a small part of the resources reach the people. Moreover development largely helps the elite who stand to benefit from the dispute, so long as India keeps its coffers open. India’s objective has to be to win over the people or find a solution which satisfies them.

No one has calculated the total political and economic loss to India, Pakistan and the State due to the continuing stalemate. It is indeed impossible to calculate the cost to India of keeping the Valley. On the other hand, for the Kashmiris of the Valley, independence even without the whole state has a meaning as they have the historical memory to realise that for a thousand years or so Kashmir has not even been a regional kingdom.

The recent meeting of the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan and the agreement to resume bilateral dialogue has engendered a new wave of optimism in both countries, particularly among those who have been involved in unofficial dialogue. This optimism will soon peter out unless the two countries deal seriously with the future of the Valley and evolve a formula which satisfies, to the extent possible, the natural urge of the Kashmiris and the aspiration of Pakistan which has made enormous investment for the last 60 years in taking Kashmir from Indian hands. Merely new confidence building exercises will fail to impact as a substitute for a real change. Obviously since India today has the Valley in its hands, the logic of settlement will inevitably mean some concession by India to Pakistan and to the people of the Valley. The future waits for India and Pakistan.

If the Musharraf proposals of 2006 reflect the outline of a possible agreement, they deserve to be further explored and refined. It may be possible to work out a non-sovereign but internationally recognised status for the Valley which would give complete internal autonomy to the people, with Pakistan and India sharing co-sovereignty, with a place of honour at the top of the pyramid, sharing the economic cost of development and of its defence against other powers should the need arise.

Such an arrangement, even if it does not meet the Kashmiri aspirations in full, will greatly benefit them as they will have two countries to trade with as well as to educate their children in. It will also mean demilitarisation and neutralisation of the territory in normal situations.

The rest of the state of J& K can be divided not on religious lines but in accordance with geography. Ladakh and Jammu will largely remain with India; the Northern Areas will be part of Pakistan but with a clear border between the two countries. The marginal areas in the Jhelum valley in the hands of Pakistan and on the west of Chenab in the hands of India will have to change hands.

Can such a settlement be sold to the people of India and Pakistan? Yes, a strong and enlightened leadership can. Primarily it would mean that India stays in the Valley but Pakistan also comes in and Kashmiris enjoy freedom without independence. A settlement shall catalyse not only the development of the region but accelerate the pace of development of the two countries to reach unprecedented heights. Tension between India and Pakistan shall go down and generate good neighbourly relations. Trade, educational and cultural exchange will spurt, as Pakistan discards its theory of bleeding India through insurgency and terrorism. India and Pakistan will join hands for the defence of the subcontinent against outsiders. They may gradually scale down their armed forces; even their nuclear stockpiles.

The United States of South Asia will eventually take shape with both India and Pakistan pushing in the same direction with the benefit of the experience of the European Union behind them and other states in the SAARC region will follow the lead given by them.

At the end of the day, while India does not fully give the Valley but Pakistan also enters it, the Valley is really handed over to its people to govern. The existing map shall give place to a new map showing India and Pakistan and also the Valley, not as independent but under the umbrella of India and Pakistan with the people of India and Pakistan enjoying unrestricted acces to the Valley and vice versa.

The proposal sounds idealistic but the idea
is feasible and possible of realisation, if the people of the two countries just add up the enormous cost of Kashmiri conflict over the last 60 years and of continuing mutual hostility over the next 60!


The author, a retired IFS officer and an erstwhile Member of Parliament, is the Convenor of the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee and
Editor of Muslim India. He can be contacted at: syedshahabuddinexmp@gmail.com

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