‘Windows of Opportunity’

It is a question that nudges me to think.  If the United States and other big powers remain bogged down with the emerging scenario in the Arab World for many more months to come does it mean that issues confronting South Asia will get eclipsed?  Does that mean that there would be no headway towards the resolution of the Kashmir problem?  The problem   is not now only   a major stumbling block in the relations between India and Pakistan but for escalating Sino-India border tension has assumed centrality in the relations of three nuclear powers of the region. And there are sufficient pointers that suggest vulnerability of this region and it posing a threat to global peace.

It may be early to predict where will the Middle East protest movement end and what would be its geo-strategic consequences. It would be presumptuous to claim that the United States and other Western powers will be sucked into the developing scenario in Arab World the way they got into Iraq and Afghanistan. “And if, for the moment, in the words of Olivier Roy “Western powers are applauding the process of democratization, they are nonetheless obsessed by the need to maintain stability – that is to say, the strategic status quo: a cold peace between Israel and the Arab world, and the attempt to build a united front in order to isolate Iran.”   But seen in right perspective the struggle in the Arab world for democracy or the revolt against dictators and autocrats is not posing the same threat to global peace as the confrontation between three nuclear powers in South Asian region. While looking for an answer for the question if the developments in Arab World will cast a looming shadow on the threatening situation developing in South Asian region, I was reminded of the debate that took place during last week of January amongst eminent British, American and South Asian scholars and experts in the Royal United Service Institute at London.  In the emerging scenario these discussion have become more relevant and need to be talked in detail.

Besides India, Pakistan and Kashmiri experts those who participated in these discussion were The Rev Prof. Richard Bonney, Professor Emeritus and Professorial Research Fellow, South Asia Security a RUSI, Dr. Robert Bradnock, Associate Fellow Chatham House and visiting Senior Research Fellow at Kings College, Jonathan S. Paris, London based security specialist, Senior Fellow with Atlantic Council of the United States South Asia Centre and Alex Neil, Head of South Asia desk at RUSI. The question that engaged the attention of these eminent experts was    how ‘dynamic of global strategic situation was changing’ and where did Kashmir fit in this change. Looking at this question in a historical perspective Dr. Robert Bradnock held the view that ‘South Asia may see itself central but it has not been that so to the world just twenty years back or so at the end of the cold war period. While stating that during the cold war the CIA map   illustrated a different conception of the world and in that world Kashmir fitted ‘extremely uneasily’. And in ‘a polarized cold war world with India and Pakistan identifying for their own interest with themselves differently Bradnock held the view that “Kashmir indeed   was on the frontier of this cold war dispute, it was on its boundary of it, it was not central to it but it was tiny bit of it but none the less it of course was drawn into it and the regional players India and Pakistan saw their own   geo-strategic interest in it.” Mr. Bradnock tried to look at the question how status of Kashmir had changed in the post-cold war situation in what he termed as ‘wider region’ that includes China. He held the view that in the post cold war situation fundamentals have changed. During cold war ‘  US never saw India as a potential partner or a major player because India refused to be drawn into western powers but Pakistan in contrast for its own reasons was interested in joining western alliance and saw its  interest through its western alliance eyes but now India is on the other side of the fence.” In the changed post-cold war situation India has much more close with USA than Pakistan. Holding Soviet occupation of Afghanistan responsible for introducing ‘global violence on a new scale’ he saw that   violence coming through Afghanistan still persisting and the ‘ramifications 1980’s cold war continuing to engage whole region including Kashmir. Though Bradnock blamed China for causing violence in the region during 1960 by attacking India but important question that he posed was that if China’s interest in the region where they were in sixties or they have gone beyond. He asked what was China’s interest in the region as a whole and why it has put Kashmir central to its interest and there was need for understanding dynamics of this emerging phenomenon in the region. Quoting from his study conducted through Chatham House, he was of the opinion that ninety percent of people of Jammu and Kashmir do not approve of status quo and overwhelming majority does not see militancy   desired way for resolving Kashmir dispute and they believe diplomacy can pay the dividends and international facilitation can immensely help. Looking for global engagement in this dispute Bradnock concluded that resolution of this important problem was important to the whole world as a whole. His assertions were largely endorsed by Prof. Nazir Ahmed Shawl of Justice Foundation and Executive Director Kashmir Centre, London during his intervention he called for a ‘constructive, ice breaking and result oriented dialogue amongst all the parties as status quo was not acceptable to people of the state.

 Kashmir offers a ‘window of opportunity’ and it was right time to seize  this opportunity was not only the view of Mr. Bradnock’s and  Mr. Alex Neil  but same views were articulated by  Prof. Richard Bonney. Stating that there were two schools of thought:  ‘pessimists and optimists’ about resolution of Kashmir in India and Pakistan, quoting from interviews of former India and Pakistan military officers who have held responsible position   conducted in connection with a forthcoming book he said that notwithstanding pessimists   there are people in both the countries who understand urgency of resolving the dispute in view of Nuclearization of the region and   also agree to ‘some kind of independence for people of Jammu and Kashmir’.
Establishing from the official statistics provided by Indian government that there was a substantial fall in deaths and the level of violence had almost come to naught and ‘Kashmir was more peaceable region and same could not be said about Afghanistan and Pakistan Prof. Bonney pleaded that this was an opportune time for resolving this issue. Disapproving the claims made by some Indian  officials that the level of violence in the state had come down because ‘forces’ had contained it and there was now no need of settling the Kashmir dispute he called for “Indian national government” for making a ‘move’ in right earnest. Sharing her fears about non resolution of Kashmir, Prof. Angana Chatterji said that if world does not take cognizance of Kashmir problem it could again take a violent turn. She held the view that majority of Kashmiri want ‘first to secure a good faith agreement with Islamabad and New Delh regarding the right of Kashmiris to determine the course of their future, set a time frame, and define interim conditions necessary to proceed.’ “Settlement of Kashmir dispute is achievable if pragmatic and realistic strategy is    established to help set a stage to put the Kashmir issue on the road to a settlement.

There is no international dispute, which is not complex. If there is an interest in a settlement, the complexity becomes a motivating factor. If there is no interest, then it becomes an instrument of passivity and inaction”,  Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director of Kashmir American Council who was on the panel of the last session of the conference was not alone in making these remarks but there seemed a broader consensus in the conference on urgency of resolving the sixty three year old problem. He sounded path breaking in stating that ‘ Since, we are concerned at this time with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, I believe it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in controversies about the most desirable solution of the Kashmir problem. Any attempt to do so amounts to playing into hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is not acceptable to the people of Kashmir’.

The US and West may remain engaged with Arab World for many more months but India and Pakistan need not to wait for prod from these powers for entering into a dialogue; instead they need to get down to job of finding a solution to this problem.