Such recourse would be legally correct and as per the existing conventions. It will also conform to the principles of Independence in 1947; and it will qualify the oft-repeated policy held by officials on both sides. Such a course will also pose the least political risk to either side on the domestic front. It is this safety of a kosher political stance that a talk of a ‘third option’ to officialdom on either side becomes akin to waving a red flag at a bull. There are other reasons too of such revulsion.
The difficulty though is that time has marched on since 1947, and the Kashmiris have proven to be an irrepressible lot. They have also developed a home-grown sentiment of azaadi (independence) of their own during the course, and have sacrificed at least some 100,000 men and women in the cause. And, though no one has asked them to elaborate on their philosophy of independence – for fear of discovering an unpalatable truth – chances are their independence doesn’t only mean being away from the Indians who occupy the more substantive part of Kashmir; their call for independence into a separate state of their own means keeping away from both India and Pakistan. They are also unlikely to give it up as their most preferred option because of the blood and suffering invested into their cause. The problems with this approach are also multifarious and will need elaboration.
Since neither Pakistan nor India are likely to give up the part of Kashmir under them, and an independent Kashmir in the midst of South Asia may become a destabilising tectonic tumult with serious strategic reverberations – geopolitically unsustainable for an already tenuous region – the third option is to find a via-media to the two/three stark choices above.
The chance of an agreed solution between India and Pakistan is more likely to develop around the creation of an autonomous Kashmir region which satisfies the strategic sensitivities of the two principals and ‘somewhat’ gives meaning to the aspirations of the Kashmiris. Such an autonomous region will consist of the ‘separable’ parts of the larger territories of Jammu and Kashmir that may not constitute the dream boundaries of the Kashmiris but will be sufficient to give them a sense of self rule under the joint protection of both India and Pakistan. This too needs elaboration.
A proposal on the above lines has been toyed around under various formulations between India and Pakistan, including the more recent four-point formula by Musharraf, but clearly a lot will need to be done politically before such consensus can be achieved between the two. The two sides will need to paradigmatically move from a confrontational to a cooperative approach in dispute resolution; that seems hugely impossible in prevalent circumstances. The extended advantage for taking this route to the resolution of the dispute is for both sides to continue to retain their strategic control of the resources like the water and power heads that lie in these territories.
Can both countries breach that barrier of distrust to begin to jointly own and preserve and share what in time will become critical resource for their sustenance? Though such a solution seems to be the most practical way forward out of a complex and intricate political legacy, India will resort to such recourse only as a last option. This emerges from a recently acquired belief system that suggests that India may have other options to exercise before acceding to such fait accompli.
The fourth possible solution is what is famously touted as the ‘status quo’ option – formalising the LoC as a permanent border. This may appear the easiest but is the unlikeliest for the political cost it may bring to the leadership on both sides. Just a few years back the Indians would have jumped onto any such mention. But not now; under Modi their designs are different, and with a different set of tools they hope to romp home with the same results without the feared cost.
A more detailed analysis of each option beckons.
Despite the acute divergence in the relative power potentials of both India and Pakistan, neither is likely to give up on their part of the Kashmir to the other. The three-and-a-half wars fought between the two have failed to resolve the dispute militarily – and there is little by way of a significant operational gain that can be made in the more difficult reaches of the Kashmir region that can give either side a roll-over momentum of physical occupation. Incremental gains are of little significance to yield a military solution. Also, under a nuclear overhang, conventional military application lies in the bygone era. Use of the military is thus neither an option, nor can it deliver a solution on Kashmir. A political process then remains the only option to seek a resolution of the dispute.
Autonomy, more than independence, is a realistic and workable goal. Over the years, both sides have fragmented their respective parts of Kashmir to suit their own strategic, political and administrative ends. India holds an acute sensitivity to Ladakh in the north-east for its proximity to Tibet, a disputed region between China and India over which the two fought a war in 1962, and will hold on to it for strategic relevance in any final solution on Kashmir.
Jammu in the south of Kashmir is not only an administrative division of the larger Jammu and Kashmir region, it also has a unique demographic identity with a Hindu majority. Its separation from any arrangement for a territorially autonomous Kashmir is a likely possibility. Thus what will be available for a territorial concession will only be the larger Valley region of J&K. What the Kashmiris will lose in a compromised territorial concession must be compensated to them with assured, legally constituted and fully supported autonomy.
Similarly, the Pakistani part of Kashmir has also seen an administrative division, with Gilgit-Baltistan a separate entity. For its contiguity with China in the north-east and the routes joining the two neighbours that run through the G-B region, for Pakistan the sensitivity of G-B is high. Pakistan too will, therefore, only put up a truncated Kashmir for a territorial solution.
When formalisation of the status quo first began to be mentioned by some Pakistani commentators as a possible option, given that other choices on the table were either unattainable or needed resolute political will – difficult to come by under weak political dispensations – the Indian strategic community quickly moved to a tactical rebuff from an initially excited disbelief on the offer (which had always been India’s dream option towards the resolution). Instead, they now say all of Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. Without such tactical game-playing South Asia would not be the ‘tinderbox’ that it is.
But why doesn’t India move forward on the probable solutions to the problem?
There has been a lot of talk of the possibility of the dilution of Article 370 of the Indian constitution and the abolition of the special status of Kashmir opening the way to Kashmir’s inclusion into India as a regular territory enabling it to be governed by the same laws that govern the rest of India. Currently, as per the article India’s domain in Kashmir is only restricted to Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance. How much of it is actually true is another matter; and whether Article 370 has now been reduced to only a skeleton can be a perpetual debate. But even if symbolic, tampering with Article 370 will constitute a strategic shift in India’s Kashmir policy.
A few speed-breakers are usually counted by those who wish to blink away the possibility of India’s resort to abolishing Article 370. One, the state assembly must – by a simple majority – recommend to the centre in Delhi to abrogate the article; Modi is currently engaged in an effort to muster that majority in the ongoing state elections in J&K. Called Mission 44, he may find himself just short and will be in need of a willing partner in a coalition willing to carry the burden.
Two, even after such a resolution is recommended by the state assembly, Modi in the centre will need a two-thirds majority to cause the change in the constitution. He doesn’t yet have such majority; the Rajya Sabha still needs to be reformulated reflecting changes in the Lower House. This will come by at its own time.
Were Modi to even achieve majority on his own in Kashmir (unlikely), he will be slow to wring the changes. Many in India feel that an abrupt abrogation will only mean showing the match to tinder. That remains true in a state like Kashmir, heavily sensitised and invested with the commitment to their sense of destiny. However, a gradual weaning based around political and economic deliverance remains a potent possibility.
We have got to remember: diluting the status of Kashmir will not be an instantaneous step, rather a series of deliberate small steps spread over a period of ten years under Modi (the next five are assumed – perhaps correctly) aimed at preparing grounds in Kashmir, in India, in the region especially with Pakistan, and in the world where such dilution will become a happily accepted fait accompli.
The pain of this process of studied integration of Kashmir will be acutely felt in Kashmir and in Pakistan – as the two most affected parties to the issue. In Kashmir first: a combination of governance, delivery, raised stakes, compromising the more vocal voices through inducement of both political and economic benefit, and the usual arm-twisting and use of force where nothing else works will mean that there will be a gradual numbing of the sensitivity to this ultimate consequence resulting in the intended dilution.
Add to it the gradual demographic moderation of the ‘others’ majority as well as a frequent interaction brought about by changes in laws that have prohibited non-residents to acquire property and land, as well as the travel through the Muslim-majority Valley for frequent religious pilgrimages paving way for a deliberately ingrained acquiescence of the other. This will be a socio-political plank of Modi’s strategy focusing on Kashmir.
For Pakistan, Modi’s policy on Kashmir will be a mix of many things. A deliberate denigration and distancing from Pakistan invoking our record with home-grown terror, especially Mumbai and Herat; a planned rebuff of any Pakistani attempt to resume dialogue on the model of the Composite Dialogue, since revoked unilaterally by India, and elevating the dialogue even in modified structures as a special favour to Pakistan by India; talks of punitive military measures aimed at retribution of Pakistan’s claimed excesses towards India; a denial of Kashmir as a possible subject of discussion between the two; and a host of red-lines now being popularly pronounced that Pakistan must adhere to, to establish its credentials of good behaviour to earn favour and respect from India. Trade, once an Indian obsession, is now a grant of goodwill by India, as is India’s benevolence in offering a handshake or even recognition of presence at international interactions with our political leadership.
These are tough times for South Asia, and Indian interlocutors of significant access in the Indian establishment never tire of mentioning to their Pakistani counterparts that it will never now be business as usual. Deciphered, it really means: ‘we decide how things move from here-on; and, you Pakistan will have to conform to a given code of behaviour to qualify for India’s attention’. At a recent gathering of such serious-minded representatives from both sides, after having discussed a host of issues that belabour relations, the Indian members of the meet refused to agree to include any aspect of the discussion on Kashmir in the joint resolution. Such disposition is becoming an established norm between India and Pakistan. What is implicit is always a strong undercurrent questioning even the need to discuss Kashmir.
Cumulatively and in an integrated strategy, from a dispute Kashmir is being relegated to an issue, soon to be entirely diluted and then eliminated under a well-thought-out electoral, political and societal process. It will creep in slowly and create its own immunity to the changes that will keep getting manifested in the psyche of all partners to the process. How will, or should, Pakistan react to such slow inducement of acquiescence?
The following seems the more likely response by Pakistan, unless things really change at the top end: Pakistan will continue to be lured by the romance of improving relations with India as a long-held strategic dream of changing the paradigm in South Asia. Implicit in such desire is the drive that seeks to relegate the India factor in Pakistani military’s calculus, in turn removing the endowed eminence to the army as a saviour against such predominant threat. Both remain falsely premised. But while the play of attempting normalisation enacts itself according to the Indian design, Pakistan’s political and military establishment may simply be too slow to register the subtlety that may seem innocuous but will portent major reformation of the issues, especially on Kashmir. By holding Pakistan off, India is simply gaining the critical liberty of action to implement the elements of policy that will accrue to it the desired policy objectives. Kashmir is heading that way.
The prognosis of a possible Pakistani response? If Pakistan’s political and diplomatic response is either wanting, or delayed, or non-existent, the inevitability of the dispute falling into the lap of the military to respond will be the only default eventuality. A military that may have waited earlier on the sidelines will be forced to react to an Indian ploy that may be far too advanced in implementation.
Under unfavourable circumstances the army may be forced to find recourse in traditional responses. Will that mean 1989 all over again; or another skirmish or war? No one can tell. Indian cleverness with policy arrayed against Pakistani military may slide into another geopolitical degeneration with attendant consequences. Instead, political prudence through engagement and cooperative recourse to seek mutually beneficial resolution to the problem can bring us stability and peace in South Asia. It is time to bring in greater sincerity and avoid clever policy plays. The alternates are clearly disastrous.
The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff.