Dialogue: Test and Verify

Greater Kashmir 28th october  

                                                                                                                                                                              The Russian proverb: “Trust, but verify” does not apply when it comes to India- Kashmir or India -Pakistan dialogue

Kashmir’s history is replete with subjugation of its people, broken promises and outright deceit by the outsiders, and political intrigue and quackery by its own leaders.  On one hand, it has been subject to religio-cultural and nationalistic chauvinism (Akhand Bharat) of the likes of Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and Advani, and on the other hand, it has suffered from the ill-conceived humanistic and secular romanticism of the likes of Abdullahs, and the political opportunism of the likes of Bakshis, and the Muftis.

 For decades now, some of its own have treated Kashmir like a fiefdom. It has been kicked around by outsiders– individuals, groups and nations– like an ideological soccer ball; this, often to achieve their devious and dubious personal, religious, cultural and geostrategic agendas. Intriguingly, to this entire unfolding of the tormenting drama of destiny, a Kashmiri’s response has been a stoic resignation with an underlying resilience and hope.

Innumerable examples exist of how the treacherous confluence of naiveté of its own leaders and the deceit by outsiders has prolonged the agony of Kashmir’s hapless inhabitants. The most glaring of these is how differently Pandit Nehru and late Sheikh Sahib perceived the nature of relationship between India and Kashmir. When Pandit Nehru charmed late Abdullah into throwing his weight behind accession with the Union of India, he promised him a special position for Kashmir– sovereignty of its people, special autonomy within the Indian union, and the right to self-determination etcetera. Not the least did the Kashmiri leader suspect that Nehru had exactly opposite on his mind when Sheikh Abdullah chanted “Tu Mun Shudi,  Mun tu Shudam’’. (I am yours and you are mine).

 Far from what Sheikh Abdullah was made to believe, Nehru’s vision of plebiscite in Kashmir was not to allow Kashmiris choose their political destination but the public ratification of the accession document signed by the Maharaj. The role of the UN was only to facilitate the fairness of the process of ratification of accession with India. (Read Demystifying Kashmir by Navnita Behra,  2006). Thus, Nehru had perhaps murmured back to Sheikh “Tu Mun Shudi”, period. The foxy Nehru allowed late Sheikh Sahib to remain comfortable in his state of secular and democratic trance, and in his aversion to any suggestion of accession to the ‘moth eaten Pakistan’. This suggestion, he was encouraged to state ad nauseam, was incompatible with the Kashmiri ethos. Nehru worked diligently to ensure the death of Kashmiri nationalism, in a manner similar to elsewhere in India. This, as the later events have shown, was only temporary. The enduring nature of Kashmiri nationalistic sentiment, soon was to fool even the likes of Nehru.

More than Nehru’s deft handling of the situation, however, it was Abdullah’s naiveté that helped India to realize her objectives in Kashmir.  Nehru promised Abdullah a trip along the shining walkway of special position within India; Abdullah trusted but failed to verify. As ill luck would have it for India, no sooner did Abdullah realize the mischief, this short- lived bonhomie between these architects of Kashmir’s tragedy ended on a bitter note never to be sweetened again.  Scarce ever did they meet afterwards without disputation because of their newly discovered mutual distrust, and their dislike for each other’s insolence and unreliability.

The only ‘sovereignty and autonomy’ Sheikh Sahib ever received was the sovereignty and the autonomy of an Indian prison cell– facing charges of treason against the Indian union. Sheik’s own protégé — late Bakhshi, replaced him and helped accomplish for India what Sheikh had unsuccessfully resisted. While Nehru did not live long to teach Abdullah the lesson of  a  ‘final- solution’, his progeny accomplished the feat by dealing a more telling blow to the egoistic persona of Sheikh Abdullah in 1975. While Nehru denied Sheikh Sahib his promised walk along the shining path of secular and democratic boulevard, late Indira Gandhi saw him off at the non-luminous exit leading to his ultimate political demise. Sheikh Sahib never recovered since destiny did not allow him another chance to learn his lesson, and died a failed political leader– disappointed for his trust in the verbal promises without verification, and for his ultimate powerlessness before the foxy Indian leadership.


 The  lessons, however,  were not lost on the  Kashmiris who have  learnt to be ‘equal opportunity’  disbelievers, and have developed an uncanny ability  to see through the political chicanery of  the leaders in Srinagar, New Delhi, Islamabad and  beyond, with regard to the ‘peace process’ in Kashmir. Having been bitten several times, the Kashmiris are suspicious and distrustful of any overtures from New Delhi. They are beyond what the age-old adage: “Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice shame on me!” can capture. Kashmiris have been fooled several times.

Make no mistake about it; India has changed neither its mission nor its objectives in Kashmir. It has merely rearranged its mission statement, and adjusted its priorities through what P. Chidambaram recently called a “strategic shift”.  Do not be fooled by the rhetoric of international diplomatic pressure either. Mere political and diplomatic pressure, important as it is, is no guarantee that the Indians will follow through the promises they may hold out in any potential agreements.

Remember too, this time around, we will be dealing with another State on the Kashmir’s western border whose people have a deep rooted– and justifiable– interest in Kashmir.  The political charlatans at the helm in Islamabad will have no compunction in mortgaging Kashmir’s future to retain or grab power. Contrary to common belief, and in spite of their pretences, the two nuclear neighbors will be soon exchanging notes on how to chocolate- coat the bitter peanuts and sell those to Kashmiris. If the Kashmiris do not want to be fooled yet again, let there be no conniving and co-opting leaders in the resistance camp to facilitate this sugar- coating.

  During the last 60 years, there have been several political agreements, umpteen high profile diplomatic declarations and tones of international pressure to resolve the Kashmir issue. What has been missing in all but one of these mutual agreements is the legal framework within which these agreements were to operate. Indus water treaty is by far the only international agreement between India and Pakistan that has had the semblance of legal enforceability. Because of this, this also is the only agreement that has ensured that the two nations follow through in action what they had agreed to on paper. When any of the two parties has feigned a bellyache (as in a pupil’s school avoidance syndrome), the World Bank arbitration has, often successfully, administered the required dose of medication.

Are we, then, suggesting that there should be no dialogue? No, far from it. Dialogue is the only way to move forward. Those who will benefit the most from the dialogue process and its outcome are the Kashmiris themselves. However, remember Santayana’s Law of Repetitive Consequences “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it”. Do not trust the Indians: When they offer something– or anything– test them, and incessantly verify even at the cost be being seen as obstructive. Do not count solely on political statements, cosmetic confidence building measures or on non-binding agreements. Do not even count on verbal guarantees by the selfish international players of any ilk or stature. Sign all or any agreements only within the internationally accepted legal framework for dispute resolution that is enforceable and verifiable. Leave political personalities out of the negotiating process.

To accomplish this, involve national or international legal luminaries, social scientists and diplomats in the negotiation process. They will examine the contours and the substance of the peace process, and the design and the structure of any potential agreements. Above all, when you hit the insurmountable intransigence by the Indians, (which we guarantee you will), defer the decision to people. After all, people are the final arbiters of their destiny– not their representatives however popular and knowledgeable they are.

Do not get carried away by” Jo Karega, So Karega” slogans.  Such slogans are scripted in New Delhi, and the few mesmerized and unsuspecting followers chant them to the detriment of us all. Institutionalize the dialogue process by emphasizing its three dimensions, as proposed by scholars of the ‘concept of legalization’ of political agreements. These are:  Obligation, Precision and Delegation. Briefly, by following these  cardinal principles of successful peace agreements, make the Indians sign the undertakings that legally oblige them under international law to honour their commitments, and introduce clauses that specify the cost of failure to do so. Ensure precise and unambiguous definition of the rules of dispute settlement and the conduct they demand from each party. Lastly, make provisions in the agreement for delegation of authority to third parties (such as tribunals) in interpretation or application of agreements, or for arbitration in case of discord on matters pertinent to final resolution.

The fact that after sixty one years of accords and agreements between the Kashmiri and the Indian leaders on one hand, and between Pakistan and India on the other, we are entering into yet another dialogue process is a sufficiently sad commentary on how this futile exercise has failed to deliver in the past. The common thread to all these failures has been that these were secretive accords and agreements signed by leaders without putting in place the legal mechanism to ensure implementation and accountability, and without reference to the people.  The basis of these agreements was the ‘political trust’ and the ‘personal rapport’ between individuals without any provisions to test and legally verify or enforce the clauses of the agreements. After six decades of bloodshed, there is no room for politics of trust between Kashmir and India. The only way forward for the Kashmiris is to test and verify. Unless, of course, you want to repeat history and face its unrelenting wrath.