Ripeness theory and conflict resolution in Kashmir

Let us map the political landscape of the region to assess as to how the time has arrived to address the festering wound

The fresh breeze of cold in Kashmir has provided me an enabling environment to float an idea that there is probably a ripe moment to resolve the Kashmir conflict. I am arguing with some of my friends that major stakeholders to conflict resolution in Kashmir have a ripe moment to seize provided they catch the bull by horns and resolve the conflict.

There are of course serious differences as far as timing is concerned. Be that as it may I have a feeling that we are today fairly in a far more comfortable position to resolve Kashmir than we were at any time in recent history. The burden of my argument is that theory of ripeness applies to conflict resolution in Kashmir. The post Thimpu peace initiative needs to be taken forward with all seriousness not only to make it what Mani Shankar Ayer says uninterrupted but uninterruptible as well.

Conflict resolution expert William Zartman, pioneer of the theory of ripeness, lays out the basic concept of ripeness in a book chapter “Ripeness: The hurting stalemate and beyond’’. Zartman contends “Parties resolve their conflict only when they are ready to do so when alternative, usually unilateral means of achieving a satisfactory result are blocked and the parties feel that they are in an uncomfortable and costly predicament. At that ripe moment, they grab on to proposals that usually have been in the air for a long time and that only now appears attractive. ‘The concept of a ripe moment centres on the parties perception of a mutually hurting stalemate, optimally associated with an impending past or recently avoided catastrophe. The existence of a ripe moment largely flows from the subjective expression of pain, impasse and inability to bear the cost of the conflict. However, mutually hurting stalemate may not induce the parties to begin negotiations if there are no mutually enticing opportunities to back it up”.

Within this theoretical context, the ripeness of the Kashmir conflict will be analyzed. There are some powerful voices that have emanated from the political landscape of India and Pakistan which must factor in an enabling environment needed for resolving the conflict. The voices from within Kashmir are no less insignificant. More important than the agreed outcome of foreign secretary level talks at Thimpu is the sort of flexibility seen in politically orthodox constituencies. Speaking at the 10th anniversary of South Asia Free Media Association former Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha stated: India should adopt an asymmetrical approach without insisting on reciprocity from other countries. India is a large country and needs to show generosity. ‘His words carry significance because he represents BJP–the party responsible for vitiating the atmosphere post Sharm el-Sheikh and insisting on making the talks with Pakistan terrorism-centric. Speaking at what some people refer to as the self-introspection seminar organized by Hurriyat recently former chairperson of the conglomerate Prof Abdul Gani Bhat stated “if you want to free the people of Kashmir from sentimentalism bordering on insanity, you have to speak the truth. Here I am letting it out’’. In his view most high profile leaders were killed in Kashmir by our own people. There are many who may not agree with such an assessment of the Hurriyat leader. Even otherwise truth is an authoritative concept. But important to note is that seminars being organised by Hurriyat over a period of time have definitely helped in activating the public sphere. Many of the so-called untouchable issues are now in the public domain for wider debate and discussion. Similarly, across the border not once but on several occasions Pakistan home minister was candid to accept that if extremism is not contained inside Pakistan it has potential to spill over to other neighbouring countries. In the backdrop of above discussion let us map the political landscape of the region to assess as to how the ripe moment has arrived to resolve the conflict.

First, realising the dangers of protracted conflict in the region, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has once again reiterated that sub-continent would not realise its full potential for development unless the relations between India and Pakistan turned normal. Earlier the Foreign Minister S M Krishna also stated that peace is imperative for India’s growth. In the aftermath of Mumbai attacks investors confidence got shaken as the financial capital came under attack. Global Peace Index report in 2010 that examines relationship between economics, peace and business found India at 128th position in a group of 149 countries, six ranks below than its 2009 position. It is tragic that in spite of India being the largest democracy, 310 of the country’s 636 districts are currently afflicted by chronic subversion. Almost 223 districts across twenty states register Maoists activity. While the army chief may tell us that Indian army continues to be professional there are some strategic experts who of late have raised the alarm bells on how Indian army is gradually coming out of the Nehruian mould. They base their opinion on how the security establishment in Kashmir is very often vetoing the decisions of the political establishment. The burden of my argument is that prolonged conflict over Kashmir has deeper implications for both democracy and secular nationalism in India. The political and strategic elite in India will have to understand that one cannot aspire for a big power status with small power mentality.

Second, it was during General Musharraf’s time that Pakistan crafted a political strategy to deal with issues crucial to sustainable peace with India. At that time both countries agreed to end the sufferings of Kashmiris. There were of course problems with General’s formulations. We were recently informed by a retired Pakistan foreign secretary who is also very active in track two diplomacy that all people were not on board on Musharraf’s roadmap. He said that public opinion was not elicited. He, however, argued that it is not good for one government to disown the work of the other. Former diplomat Ashraf Jahangir Qazi and many other have a feeling that younger generation Pakistanis have little inclination to make Kashmir an issue beyond a point. The phrase that Pakistan is the frontline state against terrorism has an adverse impact on investment climate in the country. Pakistan economy suffers from stagflation i.e. stagnation and inflation. In 2010 almost 10,000 people got killed in Pakistan in violent incidents compared to 7123 in Afghanistan. Reputed Pakistan economist Shahid Javid Burki opines that Pakistan’s objective should be to develop a stake for India in it economy and stability. Pakistan’s strategic priority should be development. It augers well for peace process that on 10th February the two  national dailies the Hindustan Times  and The Nation reported about Thimpu talks that a compromise has been reached on addressing full  indo-Pak agenda. New Delhi also believes that Pakistan army is on board. The two sides have also agreed to take a middle path on a number of issues. Further, Pakistan soil and Siyast is averse to any third party mediation particularly USA and hence the argument made earlier that there is a ripe moment for resolving conflicts.

Third in Kashmir there is broad convergence of ideas and perspectives on how in a non-violent fashion and through incremental approach Kashmir can and should be negotiated. Mirwaiz Umar stated so often that if New Delhi walks one step towards the solution they will walk two. He also exhorted militants to support the peace process as 1500 strikes in last seventeen years have not seen India vacating Kashmir. Prof A G Bhat called on National Conference and People’s Democratic Party to work with separatist organisations to mutually hammer out a joint settlement and present it to both India and Pakistan. From the above discussion what becomes clear is that it is the ripe moment but the political leadership at all places has to learn to take bold decisions. Equally essential is to fight the vested interest operating in various forms and at various levels. One may conclude with what Toni Morrison wisely wrote in his novel ‘Beloved’ that you and I got more yesterday and today than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.

Author teaches Political Science at the University of Kashmir and can be mailed at