Power politics and Kashmir

The contrast between the two countries could hardly have been more eye-catching. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was jeered at by his countrymen in New York, the Indian diaspora in the US hosted a gala to welcome their premier on his maiden trip to the world city. 

Of course, there is much more to the India-Pakistan comparison. One is a stable polity and a rising economic power promising tremendous opportunities for investment and job generation; the other is marred by endemic political instability and a fragile economy. The one is wooed by the world at large; the other is suspected by friends and foes alike. 

Little wonder then that New Delhi’s opinion on a matter of international importance – its merits and demerits aside – carries far more weight across the globe than that of Islamabad. A case in point is the six-decade long problem of Kashmir. 

The jihadis’ penchant for liberating the Indian controlled Kashmir apart, three courses are open to settle the issue. One, India agrees to give effect to the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. Two, the issue is resolved bilaterally between the two countries. Three, third party mediation or intervention makes New Delhi and Islamabad thrash the issue out.

Likewise, possible Kashmir solutions include: (a) giving Kashmiris the right to opt for Pakistan or India in accordance with the UNSC resolutions; (b) creating an independent Kashmir; (c) dividing the state between India and Pakistan permanently, which means turning the current de facto situation into a de jure one; and (d) making the two parts of Kashmir fully autonomous with the two countries jointly controlling their defence and foreign affairs. 

In fact, solution (d) is a variant of solution (c), for any measure of autonomy conferred on Kashmir by India and Pakistan can be taken away by them in the name of defending the state against foreign aggression or conducting its foreign relations – so sweeping is the scope of these two subjects. 

Kashmir already has a ‘special autonomous’ status within the Indian union. Article 370 of the constitution of India provides that, except for defence, foreign affairs, communications and ancillary matters (as specified in the state’s Instrument of Accession with India), parliament needs the Kashmir government’s concurrence for applying all other laws in the state. Again, these exceptions are so wide in scope that they have scaled down Kashmir’s special autonomous status. 

Since Kashmir also borders China, it has tremendous strategic significance and thus it can hardly remain autonomous no matter what the basic law of the land may promise. Partly for this reason, the independent Kashmir option is also not palatable for India. Nor does it find favour with Pakistan. Thus we are left with options (a) and (c) – the one advocated by Pakistan; the other by India.

As per the UNSC resolutions, the accession of Kashmir to India or Pakistan has to be decided through a plebiscite. However, since the mid-1950s, India has been opposing a plebiscite in Kashmir on two grounds: one, the Constituent Assembly of the Indian-controlled Kashmir ratified the state’s accession to New Delhi in 1954. 

Two, Pakistan’s defence alliance with the US upset the military balance in the region making it necessary for India not to demilitarise Kashmir – an essential condition for holding the plebiscite. In 1957, India formally declared the state to be its irrevocable part. Since then New Delhi treats Kashmir’s accession as a past and closed transaction.

Save for a brief period during the Musharraf era (1999-2008), Pakistan has consistently called for implementation of UNSC resolutions. The latest renewal of the call was made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) last month. This prompted, the very next day on the same forum, his Indian counterpart to state in so many words that the UN was not the right forum to discuss Kashmir. 

As for the UN, its capability to address any issue depends on the willingness of the permanent members of the SC – and they are not interested in having the Kashmir plebiscite staged. Hence, as in the past, it’s highly unlikely that Islamabad’s position on Kashmir will get any buyers.

India is willing to discuss Kashmir but only bilaterally. That said, for New Delhi bilateral discussion of Kashmir does not entail agreeing to separation of the territory from India including conceding the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir. 

Instead, the discussion entails Pakistan’s ‘occupation’ of a part of Kashmir and its ‘support’ to the insurgency in the state. Hence, neither multilaterally nor bilaterally does India seem well-disposed to entertaining any proposal that may draw Kashmir out of its control. 

In such a scenario, third party mediation, as advocated by Islamabad from time to time can’t be viable either for at least two reasons. One, mediation is undertaken with the consent of the parties to a dispute and India has consistently ruled out such an exercise on Kashmir. Mediation without consent becomes intervention and Washington or any other power is neither willing nor capable of coercing India into addressing the Kashmir problem.

Two, since India has been successful in convincing the world that the insurgency in Kashmir is an offshoot of Islamic militancy and that state as well as non-state actors from Pakistan are involved in cross-border infiltrations, mediation may end up attaching greater weight to the Indian position and concerns than those of Pakistan. The major powers have their own interests, which may not coincide with those of Islamabad.

Notwithstanding that, Pakistan continues to raise the Kashmir issue at all available forums. In case any Pakistani leader is suspected of not making a ‘strong’ pitch on Kashmir, they come in for severe criticism. Late Benazir Bhutto faced such criticism several times and a few months back it was the turn of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. 

By the same token, Indian leaders are wont to rebutting Pakistan’s Kashmir stance whenever and wherever it is possible. When to powerful players on either side making any ‘concessions’ on an issue is an act of high treason, a solution is hard to come by.

The logical outcome of the Kashmir stalemate is two-fold: One, it has made progress on other issues, such as trade and the overall Pak-India detente impossible. Here are two instances. The efforts made by the previous and present Pakistan governments to normalise trade with India were opposed mainly on the ground that a Kashmir settlement must precede any such venture. And recently, India withdrew from the scheduled foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan, because the latter’s high commissioner in New Delhi met with a delegation of the Kashmir resistance movement. 

Two, both countries continue to allocate a big chunk of their resources to military spending – thus giving a short shrift to human resource development and perpetuating endemic poverty.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail.com 

-The News-