What is the way forward?

The news item carried by some sections of the press that India and Pakistan were actively considering imposing a ten year moratorium on the Kashmir issue should come as no big surprise as there were many pointers and clues last year. In an article titled ‘the Great Game’, (Rising Kashmir, 5 September 2011) this author had commented that, “The whole scheme of things in Kashmir seems to be getting more and more curious with each passing day.”

So, the reports of negotiations between Islamabad and New Delhi on ‘freezing’ the Kashmir issue may have some substance. This proposal may seem outrageous but if one examines it dispassionately, it does have some wisdom. Take the present situation. Hurriyat says it won’t talk with New Delhi till the latter agrees that Kashmir is a disputed territory. New Delhi refuses to oblige. New Delhi insists that talks can only be held within the ‘framework’ of the Indian Constitution. The Hurriyat says there will be no talks ‘within the Indian Constitution’. Hurriyat says that New Delhi must first implement the five-point agenda to ‘prepare the ground for negotiations.’ New Delhi insists upon negotiations without any pre-conditions. So, with neither side willing to relent, the Kashmir issue has unfortunately remained frozen in time!

When Mirwaiz says, “We will not enter into any dialogue till India, Pakistan and Kashmiris sit together to find an amicable solution of the vexed Kashmir issue,” he highlights two important aspects- the first, that the issue is ‘vexed’ and the second, that the solution should be amicable. Before we examine these two ingredients which are essential for an enduring and peaceful solution, it would be necessary to clarify that the arguments put forth are not aimed at discrediting or blaming any party to this dispute. They are but mere observations which may help provide an alternative.
The UN resolution on Kashmir is clear, so why is the Kashmir issue ‘vexed’? This resolution imposed an immediate ceasefire and called on Pakistan to withdraw all military presence. The resolution stated that Pakistan would have no say in Jammu and Kashmir politics. India would retain a minimum military presence and "the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations." Yet, this unambiguous and specific resolution became ‘vexed’ when Pakistan refused to withdraw its military presence from Kashmir. This gave India a ‘legally correct’ excuse for not implementing the plebiscite citing that Pakistan’s ‘occupation’ of a portion of Kashmir precluded “a free and impartial plebiscite” which the UN resolution envisaged.

Having ‘liberated’ portions of Kashmir and got a favourable UN resolution, Pakistan became so complacent that it did not comprehend the import of India’s diplomacy. Based on the instrument of accession, it incorporated Article 370 into its constitution, specifying that except for Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Communications, (matters specified in the instrument of accession) the Indian Parliament needs the State Government’s concurrence for applying all other laws. It also debarred Indian citizens from other states and women from Jammu & Kashmir who marry men from other states from purchasing land or property in Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan on the other hand, permitted non-Kashmiris to acquire landed property in Pakistan administered Kashmir and settle down there, unwittingly giving India yet another excuse for claiming that a “free and impartial plebiscite” was now no longer tenable since non Kashmiris had become permanent residents of Pakistan administered Kashmir. Here again,  the crafty diplomatic ‘logic’ of India seems to have prevailed as USA that had supported the UN resolution for over four decades, suddenly chose to downgrade  this international issue into a ‘neighbourly discord’, which in its wisdom required no foreign intervention.     

Next is the issue of finding an ‘amicable solution’. Unfortunately, for the parties involved, it is emotions and not pragmatism which has shaped opinions for resolving Kashmir. For both India and Pakistan, it has become a matter of national ‘pride’ which has resulted in three full scale wars as well as the Kargil conflict. So much blood has been shed for this piece of land and such frenzied public opinion has been generated both in India and Pakistan that no government in either country can survive if it scales down its stated position on Kashmir. Neither can Hurriyat hope to survive if it makes any ‘dilution’ in its stance. So, with the dice loaded so heavily against all sides, the scope of reaching any ‘amicable’ resolution that is acceptable to all is extremely remote. Then, what is the way forward?

One thing is certain – with the present positions adopted by India, Pakistan and Hurriyat, any scope of arriving at an ‘amicable’ solution though theoretically feasible, is practically impossible. India sees Kashmir is its integral part and letting it go to Pakistan wouldn’t be good for New Delhi politically. For Pakistan, Kashmir remains the ‘unfinished agenda’ of partition and forsaking it would be sacrilegious. So, what is the solution? An independent Kashmir perhaps, but even this option is unlikely to be accepted. For India, an ‘independent’ Kashmir would herald the fragmentation of the country, while Pakistan has made it amply clear that since this (‘third option’) is not outlined in the UN resolution, it is no option at all!

There is an old saying that ‘when elephants fight, the grass underneath invariably gets trampled’. And this is what is happening to Kashmir. We have tried our best- we have experienced the impotency of the UN resolution, inability of Pakistan to militarily ‘liberate’ Kashmir, the failure of the ‘gun culture’ as well as the futility of mass agitations and stone pelting. Unfortunately, though we have consistently suffered, we have not learnt because of our stubbornness. While there is nothing wrong in harbouring dreams and desires, reality cannot be wished away. The reality is harsh- while we may have been made to believe that we are the ones who will decide the future, we must not forget that we are merely the grass beneath two warring elephants!

India and Pakistan now appear to be seriously concentrating on mending their fences. In according India the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status, Pakistan has demonstrated its resolve not to let the ‘K’ issue impede bilateral ties anymore. New Delhi too seems to be playing ball. While announcing that one of the recently arrested Kashmiri youth had been trained by the Lashkar- e- Toiba in Pakistan, it has strangely refrained from its routine accusations that Pakistan is allowing its soil to be used for terrorist activities directed against India. Instead, it has found it more convenient to divert public attention by demonizing the Hurriyat (G) Chairman SAS Geelani , merely for having purportedly giving this youth a letter of recommendation for a visa to Pakistan!    

The declaration by the Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Yasin Malik that, “freezing of the Kashmir issue was not acceptable to the people of the state,” is understandable as the proposal smacks of betrayal and intrigue. However, in today’s world, commerce and not morality influences foreign policy. So it would be naïve to expect Pakistan to continue foregoing the benefits accruing out of normalised relations with India solely for its principled stand on Kashmir. So, let us consider this proposal as yet another way through which the ‘K’ issue can be addressed and resolved.

Improvement in bilateral relations between India and Pakistan is crucial for arriving at any enduring solution to the Kashmir issue. And through this is proposal, both nations will be able to come closure while continuing to maintain their respective stands on Kashmir. And who knows? This could well pave the way towards resolving Kashmir- after all, there is a distinct possibility that once the two elephants (India and Pakistan) decide not to fight, the grass beneath (Kashmir) will be at least spared the agony of being trampled upon and thus flourish!

Author resides at New Delhi and can be mailed at niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com