Need for dialogue on Kashmir, a nuclear tinderbox?

During his visit, the president-elect of the United Nations’ General Assembly said `India-Pakistan should resolve Kashmir mutually, will assist only if asked’. Earlier, the International Crisis Group, and United State’s Institute of Peace (USIP) stressed the need for a dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Despite India’s cartographic annexation of Jammu and Kashmir, the state remains a disputed territory, a veritable nuclear flashpoint. The USIP recommended Parvez Musharraf’s formula to break the ice. This formula should have been palatable to India, being a plagiarism of former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Maybe, But, India rejected it.

India is reluctant to talk to Pakistan eyeball-to-eyeball. Nor is it amenable to third-party mediation. What do India’s own foreign secretaries call for?

Foreign secretary Jagat S. Mehta: Mehta understood India’s abhorrence to the word ‘plebiscite’. So he presented some proposals to serve as requirements for evolving a solution after a period of ten years. His proposals are contained in his article “Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s” Some points of his quasi-solution are: (a) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. (b) Conversion of the Loc into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…” (c) Immediate demilitarization of the Loc to a depth of five to ten miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a “cold freeze”) for an agreed period. Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press, New York pp. 225-228).

Shyam Saran: India’s former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations. He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot-dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Similarly, demarcation of Sir Creek maritime boundary was unnecessarily delayed. Saran tells ` if we accepted the Pakistani alignment, with the east bank of the creek as the boundary, then Pakistan would get only 40 per cent of the triangle. If our alignment according to the Thalweg principle was accepted, Pakistan would get 60 per cent. There was a keen interest in Pakistan to follow this approach but we were unable to explore this further when the Siachen deal fell through. Pakistan was no longer interested in a stand-alone Sir Creek agreement’ (Thalweg principle places the dividing line mid-channel in the river).

Foreign Secretary and national-security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon: He ruled out `a military solution’ as option to settle India-Pakistan disputes. Menon said so while participating in a panel discussion alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and academic Steve Coll and US journalist and author Peter Bergen. His remarks are an affront to civilian hawks and its army chief’s gung-ho statements.

Foreign secretary JN Dixit: As quoted in Victoria Schofield’s book Kashmir in the Crossfire, he says ‘it is no use splitting legal hair. Everybody who has a sense of history knows that legality only has relevance up to the threshold of transcending political realities. And especially in inter-state relations… so to quibble about points of law and hope that by proving a legal point you can reverse the process of history is living in a somewhat contrived utopia. It won’t work.’

Foreign secretary: Krishnan Srinivasan: In an article, he outlines ‘Lessons for Kashmir from the Kuriles’ (The Hindu dated January 7, 2019). Srinivasan points out ‘Russia has for long been Japan’s hypothetical enemy’. But, the two countries are no longer at daggers with regard to the Kurile Islands dispute.

After Mr Putin’s visit to Japan in 2016, both leaders embarked on some joint undertakings on the islands without delving into entrenched legal position. They agreed to joint field surveys, joint economic activities and three levels of supervision. The cooperation covers marine species and aquaculture, greenhouse strawberry and vegetable cultivation, tourism, wind power generation, the reduction and disposal of garbage.

The cooperation, despite US reservations, is amazing. Moscow fears: (a) Tokyo amending Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which disallows Japan from maintaining or using a military force to settle international disputes, (b) Japan is among the world’s biggest spenders on defence. It plays host to American bases and missile systems and plans to spend $240 billion up to 2024 on cruise missiles, missile interceptors, fighter jets and aircraft carriers.

Both Japan and Russia are pursuing greater collaboration, despite US displeasure at Japan’s accommodating attitude towards Russia. Srinivasan observes ‘although no two international problems are analogous, there are important lessons to be drawn from the manner in which traditionally hostile neighbours can identify common interests and explore unorthodox avenues along which to proceed in search of innovative solutions to apparently insoluble disputes. This requires strong leadership and bold imagination. Neither India nor Pakistan lacks either attribute’.

Price India paid for inflexibility: Several times in history, India had to shun inflexibility and beg for mediation. India herself rushed to the United Nations for help against `raiders’ (Akbar Khan, Raiders in Kashmir). In 1962, battered by Chinese troops at North Eastern Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh), New Delhi rushed to US President John F. Kennedy for “two squadrons of B-47 bombers” and “12 squadrons of supersonic fighters manned by American crew” (Herald, Karachi, March 1, 2019).

Unable to remove Pakistani fighters from Kargil heights, including Tiger Hill, India again approached the United States with a muffled request for help during the Kargil crisis: Renowned journalist Barkha Dutt, in her book, This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Line says: “The former Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Misra during an interview to NDTV revealed that a letter given to President Clinton by PM Vajpayee [in Kargil quandary] had hinted that India was contemplating crossing the Line of Control as well as using nuclear weapons if Pakistan did not pull out the fighters from Kargil.” This is also quoted in Foreign Policy (July 31, 2016). And, yet, India celebrates Kargil Victory each year.

Conclusion: India’s bellicose policy is contrary to advise by India’s own foreign secretaries. India unilaterally included the disputed Kashmir state and Nepalese and Chinese territory into Indian maps. In Dogra footsteps, it heavily militarised Kashmir state to stifle dissent. To stifle the Kashmiri’s fighting spirit, the Dogra (1846-1947) punished even Kashmiri children who played with fork-slings (ghulail in Urdu) and stones (Muhammad Yousaf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, vol. 1, p. 50). Under the Dogra rule, the Kashmiri were treated no better than beasts of burden. The reign of terror by Indian forces (now estimated at about nine lac regulars and security personnel) who replaced the maharajah’s constabulary on October 27, 1947 is no less gruesome (abductions, custodial deaths, rapes, and pellet shelling)

But, neither India nor the Dogra could gag the Kashmir’s fighting spirit. The struggle for freedom goes on. Even if India wins a nuclear war, the victory would be pyrrhic. Peace not war with neighbours is the way out.

Bio-page

Mr Amjed Jaaved is editor of the monthly magazine, The Consul. He has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession.