KASHMIR AND THE REGIONAL JIGSAW PUZZLE FOR PEACE
M. Yusuf Buch
Former Senior Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General
November 14, 2011
Mr. Chairman, Fellow Panelists: First of all, I wish to express my deep appreciation to the conveners of this Forum for selecting its theme and inviting me to speak on it. Though diverse conferences are being held with diverse orientations and from diverse motives on the subject we are dealing with, I still regard it a great misfortune for the country and people known as Kashmir that they should still be so little understood, their plight heard about with apathy and their story easily forgotten or subsumed under other topics. Ruled as the world is by certain dominant elements and the policies and postures issuing from their entanglements, it is hard to keep international attention focused on a people and their situation in the light, not of power strategies but of undying principles of peace and justice, the principles that were enshrined in the United Nations Charter. In the present case, a people were first turned into a dispute and then the dispute was consigned to oblivion.
Why do I say that Kashmir is so little understood? Well, it is painful to notice that many commentators on the subject, some with good intentions, do not know, or do not care to bear in mind, the vital distinction between “Kashmir” and the “State of Jammu and Kashmir”. The former is an entity, known as the Vale of Kashmir or the Kashmir Valley and by its own inhabitants as “Kasheer”, which has sustained an independent existence and settled continuity over centuries and whose individuality as defined by its terrain, its customs, its language, its literature and its memory has been historically established and recognized. The latter, by contrast, was a product of a sale deed conducted by British colonialism in mid- nineteenth century which, by sheer logic, should have disappeared with the end of that colonialism. The fact that, even though the erstwhile State has now decomposed, the Indian government still feels compelled to retain that outmoded term exposes some of the artificial contrivance in its attempted inclusion of the territory involved. What was called the State is a conglomeration of at least six different ethnic zones, not all of which feel, or could possibly feel, the same pull towards either affiliation with Pakistan or India or independence. No sane Pakistani has ever envisioned one of these zones, say Kathua as part of Pakistan; by the same token, no sane Indian would wish to include several others of these alien zones, say Gilgit, in India, unless it were for the insane design of gobbling Pakistan. It follows that what is being talked about, as the “Kashmir dispute” has never had any existence in reality for large parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood in 1947. What, however, has not been settled, what is very much the heart of the matter, what is, indeed, the cause of the death and depredation of the last more than six decades, Is the conflict over the status and future of Kashmir as historically known.
This point may strike some as either academic or elementary. It is neither; in fact, ignoring it would doom any effort to resolve the tragic conflict on a basis of just principle. Some consequences of disregarding it, although only in thinking, have already become apparent. One of these is the suggestion that partitioning the State of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control be the basis of a settlement of the dispute. This suggestion may have some attraction for the ignorant and the unwary as well as for those who wish to settle the dispute on India’s terms in a disguised form. First, as the Line of Control does not run through Kashmir—the Vale falls entirely on one side of it—the suggestion seeks to gift the territory in dispute lock, stock and barrel to India and to dismiss the respective claims of either Pakistan or Kashmir with an air of third party impartiality. Second, it purports to partition a mythical entity, the State of Jammu and Kashmir, while it seals the fate of an actual living people, the people of Kashmir. Third, it is obviously mistaken about the Line of Control. This Line does not represent any kind of provisional border negotiated at any point between India and Pakistan; on the contrary, it is but a glorified term conferred on the line demarcated in 1949. That line, truthfully described as what it was– a cease-fire line– was drawn under the aegis of the United Nations Commission, preparatory to the withdrawal of forces by the parties and the holding of the plebiscite jointly agreed by them. It was meant to keep the fighting stopped while the parties proceeded to further steps towards conclusive peace. Pakistan accepted the revised, pretentious and patently misleading term–the Line of Control– when it had suffered a shattering military defeat in 1971 and sought the evacuation by India of some newly occupied territory and the release of some 80,000 war prisoners. Despite this change not in substance but in nomenclature accepted under huge duress, the accompanying agreement did not even by faint implication foreclose a definitive settlement or grant permanence to the newly described line. I remember a distinguished Kashmiri leader, the late Abdul Ghani Lone, remarking that the first thing a liberated Kashmir would do would be to efface this line of iniquity which has erected a wall between parent and offspring, sibling and sibling. Most people in the Valley look upon the Line of Control as the line of conflict; few can imagine that any peace-loving person or group or state would wish to perpetuate it.
In any biography of the Kashmir dispute, one of the milestones mentioned is the recommendation made by the Security Council for a settlement on the basis of the will of the people as impartially ascertained through a plebiscite under the control of the United Nations. This is, of course, as it should be but there is the danger of the fact being obscured that the Security Council did not pull this recommendation out of thin air nor was it inspired by the idealistic promptings of either the Council or the leadership of the world power. If it were so, India would have been within her rights to question why the formula was held to be sacrosanct and immune from repudiation. But the proposition was squarely based on what the contestants themselves –both of them– demanded separately; the only thing the Council supplied was the mechanism of setting the stage for, and organizing, the required plebiscite.
It is a unique characteristic of the Kashmir dispute that it is one on which the parties have recorded their voluntary agreement on both the principle and the lines of the desired settlement. This happened more than once, first, spontaneously in official exchanges between the parties; second, when India approached the Security Council and Pakistan followed; third, when the Council appointed a Commission which adopted two resolutions and the parties conveyed their acceptance of them in writing. The dispute erupted into a major conflict only when one of the parties, India, reneged on that agreement.
The official exchanges I mentioned are categorical, not twisted by if’s and but’s on either side. The assurances solemnly given by India are numerous. I may cite just three of them here.
One, on the same day that India marched her troops into Kashmir, 27 October 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India and the originator of her Kashmir project, sent this message to the Prime Minister of Pakistan:
“I should like to make it clear that (the) question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the State to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or State must be decided in accordance with (the) wishes of the people and we adhere to this view”.
Four days later, he sent the following telegram to the same addressee:
“Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision regarding the future of this State to the people of the State is not merely a promise to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world”.
That these messages to Pakistan did not reflect only the stance adopted for foreign consumption was made clear by the broadcast to the nation Mr. Nehru made on 2 November 1947:
“We have declared the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it”.
Yes, sixty four tumultuous years have passed since these words were spoken. But however distant, even surrealistic, they may sound to some in the different foreign offices today, they remain indelibly inscribed on Kashmiri consciousness today. Furthermore, consciences are not extinct in a country as intellectually alive as India which are deeply touched by these pronouncements. Yes, more than six decades have elapsed, since that agreement was formulated. But international agreements do not lapse with the passage of time anymore than do national constitutions or laws ; if they did, all life would be quicksand. Nor do they become obsolete because they have been dishonoured. If the agreement on Kashmir looks to have been lost in a welter of current preoccupations, it is not beyond retrieval. The key to dependable peace in South Asia, to ending the untold suffering directly or indirectly caused by the Kashmir conflict in that most populous region, lies in retrieving it.
This is so because nothing will serve as a substitute for the principle it embodied: the decision of a people’s status and future in accordance with their will impartially ascertained.
A note both of caution and clarity is necessary here. To retrieve the agreement on Kashmir does not mean mindlessly adhering to every period and comma in it; it does not exclude taking cognisance jointly of the changes that have occurred and making suitable amendments by mutual acceptance. The resolutions of the Security Council and the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan were based on the concept of Jammu and Kashmir as an internally homogenous entity. It was not a concept the Council or the Commission itself invented; it was one that both India and Pakistan had adopted implicitly, though some half-expressed idea of parts of the State splitting off from it were in the air. Time has disclosed that the concept had little correspondence to reality. Instead of a single plebiscite deciding the future of all the ethnic zones on a ‘one-size-suits-all’ basis, a way has to be found to enable each zone to express its will independently of other zones . This is not as complicated as it may sound to those unacquainted with the composition of the disputed territory; the eventual result of the plan will be as simple as that of the course of action envisioned in 1949. But it will be sounder in popular acceptance.
A plan exists with this revised orientation but its success, as that of any alternative, requires six conditions, all easily procurable. One, it should transparently adhere to the fundamental principle of self-determination. Two, it should not rest on unstated understandings which any party can claim not to have shared and hence repudiate. Three, it should take utmost care not to admit the influence or domination of any zone over another. Four, by itself, it should neither foreclose nor promote any particular preference by any zone. Five, rather than trying to finesse the issue of sovereignty as the effort by General Musharraf did which ended in smoke, it should recognise that the fundamental question is the right of any party or of none to station a single soldier in the territory of the former State without the invitation or consent of its inhabitants. Six, it should not try to take advantage of Pakistan’s present difficulties and try to read her out of the Kashmir equation.
In this context, a few necessary considerations seem to be at present confused or lost sight of. Pakistan’s relationship with Kashmir, deeply rooted in history and culture and social relations, has been consecrated by the blood of thousands and the sacrifice of vast treasure. Indeed, it was only some sordid intrigue under the last British viceroyalty that Kashmir was split from Pakistan; had matters taken a just and natural course, Kashmir, minus a part of Jammu, would have been as much a part of Pakistan as Punjab or Sindh. In this respect, Kashmir’s cause is Pakistan’s own cause. However, should pressure be brought on Pakistan to cease her advocacy and support, the Kashmir issue will not evaporate but become matter for unpredictable non-state actors to handle.
At the present stage, whatever the real impulse and intent of the U.S. policy is, the prevailing public impression regards it as governed by the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India, with the latter as a counterweight to China. If this relationship is, as President Obama has lyrically called it, “the defining partnership of the 21st century”, then those in charge of its conduct on either side cannot remain heedless of the voices of sanity and reason emanating from India itself. Let me quote a few:
“If we are the largest democracy on the planet then how can we hang on to a people who have no desire to be part of India?……Why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with us? The answer is machismo. …. Is the future of India to be held hostage to a population less than half the size of the population of Delhi?…..If you believe in democracy , then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do. And even if you don’t, surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives and our honour as a nation”: Mr. Vir Sanghevi in Hindustan Times 8/16/08.
“On August 15, India celebrated independence from the British Raj. But Kashmir staged a bandh demanding independence from India. A day symbolizing the end of colonialism in India became a day symbolizing Indian colonialism in the Valley….After six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever”: Mr. S.S. Aiyer in Times of India 8/17/08
“The people of Kashmir have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers in the most densely militarized zone in the world…(Their) non-violent mass protest against military occupation is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression, in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been ‘disappeared’, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured and humiliated….The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all….. India needs azaadi from Kashmir as much as, if not more than, Kashmir needs azaadi from India”: Arundhati Roy in The Guardian 8/22/08
“…Kashmiri Muslims suffer every day the misery and degradation of a full-fledged military occupation…A new generation of politicized Kashmiris has now risen; the world is again likely to ignore them–until some of them turn into terrorists with Qaida links ….A survey by Doctors Without Borders in 2005 found Muslim women in Kashmir, prey to the Indian troops and paramilitaries, suffered some of the most pervasive sexual violence in the world”. Pankaj Mishra in the New York Times 8/26/08.
It is painful but necessary for retaining a sense of reality to get a glimpse or two into the school for unrelenting sadism that is maintained by the Indian military occupation in Kashmir. Here is one we get from an account prepared by an Indian humanist of distinction (I am abbreviating it):
“ A mother, (when) reportedly asked to watch her daughter’s rape by army personnel, begged for her release. They refused. She pleaded that she could not watch, asking to be sent out of the room or be killed. We were told that the soldier pointed s gun to her forehead, stating he would grant her wish and shot her before they proceeded to rape her daughter”. Dr. Angana Chatterji in Daily Etalaat 7/9/2000.
Reportedly, the State Department has labelled the violence and repression as “an internal Indian matter”. A knowledgeable American analyst, Robert Grenier in Al Jazeera of 7/14/10 calls this posture “craven”. When one contrasts it with the legitimate interest with human rights in Arab States evinced and acted upon by the US, then one loses all faith in protestations of moral concern underlying American policies and attitudes. Then, as a Kashmir-born, I feel acutely distressed. As an American, I feel simply outraged. That it should happen during the presidency of Barack Obama beggars belief.
This paper was presented at the ‘Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’ Washington, D.C. at a seminar, entitled, “Kashmir and the Regional Jigsaw Puzzle for Peace” organized by AMA Foundation.