Indo-Pak relations have a ‘tortured history’. For past sixty three years these have swung between optimism and despondency. There has been more of despair and very less of hope. Three days after when the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries are holding two-day talks for second time in four months in Islamabad the question that persistently bothers me is that if this exercise was also going to generate zero progress.
I am skeptical about the outcome of these talks. My skepticism is not based on the belief that Pakistan was on a weak wicket for the challenges of terrorism and sectarianism it is confronted with or its threatened borders. Given the history of challenges this country has braved since its birth, it seems that it is “resilient enough” to steer out of the whirlpools of crisis it is caught up in the wake of US war against Taliban and its allies.
My disbelief is grounded in the history of relations of the two countries. ‘The roots of antagonism between the two countries are traced to the contention between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League.’ ‘More than anything else’ as put by Shahid Amin author of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy –A Reappraisal, ‘in the aftermath of Independence, it was the Kashmir dispute which was to create special bitterness in the bilateral relations between the two countries.’ It would be belying and misrepresenting the historical realities not to agree that Kashmir has remained the crux of the difficulties between the two countries. In fact the birth of Kashmir problem along with the birth of two countries as independent dominion has been most unfortunate thing that could have happened to South Asian region.
In this column many times in the past I have stated dialogue between India and Pakistan for final settlement of this strategically located state started much before the dispute found its way to the United Nations Security Council. To make my point, as to what makes me pessimistic about the outcome of the current phase of dialogue at various levels it would be appropriate to recap history of dialogue between the two countries.
The airlifting of army from New Delhi for Srinagar on October 27 set into motion a whole chain of developments including the question of accession of the state. In the words of Prof. Robert G Wirsing, the question of accession “became overnight a matter of India-Pakistan relations”. History of the dispute suggests that while the fight between Indian soldiers and Sudans and Afridis was still going in the outskirts of Srinagar a consensus between India and Pakistan about holding of a plebiscite for determining the future of the state had already emerged. In the words of Aliaster Lamb, “Thus when Kashmir war broke out the plebiscite was already established as the official Indian solution to this order of problem.” Nehru had made India’s policy on this count amply clear to Prime Minister Atlee through a telegram. New Delhi proposition of deciding future of Jammu and Kashmir was endorsed by Governor General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 28 October 1947. This was followed by lots of parleys between the two countries.
“From October 28 to December 1947 there took place a series of India-Pakistan discussions over Kashmir question.’ The meetings took place at official and political levels. On 8 November 1947 a meeting between two very senior officials, V.P. Menon and Chaudary Muhammad Ali took place and a detailed scheme for holding plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir was worked out. Lamb tells us that this had with apparent approval of Indian Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel. How to arrange a plebiscite in the state this engaged the attention of India and Pakistan leaders. Notwithstanding Pandit Jawaharlal’s “reservations” about foreign intervention the two countries debated and discussed the employment of British officers or the United Nations for the purpose.
On 1 January 1948, India brought the Kashmir issue to the attention of the United Nations. India’s representative at U.N. Mr. P.P. Pilli lodged a complaint under article 35 of United Nations charter. Historians both in India and outside call referring of the issue as colossal blunder. M.J. Akbar called it as “most serious error”. “Had this issue been settled on the battlefield, the world would have forgotten it” Writes Prof. Wirsing, “But it was not decided in the battlefield; instead, it was placed on the agenda of the United Nations.” The United Nations to the disappointment of Indian delegations adopted resolutions guaranteeing right to self-determination to the people of the state. It also devised mechanism that would enable people of the State to exercise this right.
Debates over these resolutions continued and from time to time many other resolutions were passed in the august body strengthening the resolutions passed in 1948 and 1949. It was not only inside the august house that Kashmir was debated and discussed but efforts were made to find out alternative solutions. The United Nations appointed from 1950 to 1958 appointed three Commissions for finding out a solution of Kashmir problem. On 12 April Sir Owen Dixon appointed as UN representative for India and Pakistan. In April 1951 Dr. Frank P Grham and on 12 Feb 1957 Security Council authorized Mr. Gunnar Jarring, President of the Security Council to hold talks between India and Pakistan on demilitarization and holding of talks. These commissions failed to resolve the dispute.
The failure of these commissions in resolving Kashmir did not stop India and Pakistan talking about resolving the Kashmir. Prime Minister of India and Prime Minister of Pakistan met in July in Karachi. Then another meeting was held between them in August 1953 at New Delhi. This meeting was seen a step forward and in this meeting appointment of Plebiscite Administrator by end of 1954 was agreed upon and an expert committee was appointed for the purpose but it no agreement was signed.
Former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Abdul Sattar in his recent book “Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2009 (Oxford 20100 writes that the only serious India and Pakistan dialogue took place after Sino-Indian border clash in 1962. Six rounds were held. ‘At first side, the Indian side appeared open to discussions of the idea of partitioning on the basis of presumed wishes of its people, but it back tracked as soon as Chinese forces withdrew to the pre-war lines.’ Since 1962 the India and Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir has been a story ‘forward movement and back-tracking.’
It is equally true that the two countries never resumed dialogue for resolving of Kashmir on their own but after nudging by the United States or other Western powers.
The history of failures of dialogue between the two countries has convinced the opinion makers and political leaders alike in the state that Islamabad and New Delhi were not competent enough to resolve Kashmir problem at their own and there was a need for third party mediation. Looking at the resumed dialogue in the backdrop of history of procrastinations, stalemates and failures and huge baggage of irritations and controversies still persisting it seems this phase of dialogue is programmed to fail.
Many Kashmir leaders for over past fifty years have been calling for third party mediation with their eyes fixed at Washington. The United States Kashmir after 1962 has never been consistent to borrow a phrase from Thomas Friedman it has been ‘unimaginative and politically wimpy’ and in the post 9/11 scenario its priorities in the region have totally changed. It has been off and on prodding the two countries to resume their dialogue for resolving their differences but it is not interested in increasing scope of its role beyond this or mediating resolution of Kashmir problem. The question arises that if Washington’s dithering in playing an intensive role in the resolution of Kashmir would be yielding a greater role to China in strategically sensitive issues like Kashmir.
It is now more than obvious that after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan the role of China in the region will increase but what remains to be seen that if Beijing gears up for the new role history is going to cast on it by roping in India and Pakistan two Key players of South Asia.