For more than seventy years, the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India has been a constant source of tension and conflict, leading to three wars and several skirmishes along the Ceasefire Line/Line of Control (LOC) where Pakistani and Indian troops remain in eyeball to eyeball confrontation. After the 1998 nuclear tests by India and then Pakistan, Kashmir became a nuclear flashpoint, correctly termed by then U.S. President Clinton as “the most dangerous place on earth”. In February 2019, Pakistan and India came close to a conflict once again after a suicide attack on Indian troops in Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) which was averted only due to the prevailing nuclear deterrence between them. Spurning Pakistan’s repeated offers of dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute, most recently by Prime Minister Imran Khan after his election last year, the government of Indian Prime Minister Modi has instead pursued brazenly belligerent and hostile policies – not just towards Pakistan but against the Kashmiri people as well. While threatening Pakistan with “surgical strikes” and even invasion of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Modi’s government has violated India’s own constitution by abrogating Article 370 granting ostensible autonomy to IOJ&K; imposed a months’ long lockdown in the Valley which is still in effect, exacerbated repression against defenseless people through 900,000 troops and committed massive violations of human rights including torture, rape, extra-judicial killings and incommunicado detentions. In this dismal situation, it is valid to ask if there is a way forward to resolve the Kashmir dispute and normalize Pakistan-India relations.
The Kashmir Dispute in Perspective
The Kashmir dispute has been termed as the “disputed legacy” of partition or as the “unfinished agenda” of partition. With regard to accession of the Princely States, the Indian government of Prime Minister Nehru advocated the principle of demographic composition and geographic contiguity and not the choice of the ruler. On this basis India occupied Hyderabad and Junagadh but was not willing to accept the same principle with regard to Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. This Indian duplicity was greatly facilitated by the insidious role of Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and first Governor-General of India, who arbitrarily changed the Radcliffe Award on the partition of Punjab province, giving Gurdaspur district to India, thereby ensuring a land route to Kashmir for India.
Within months thereafter Indian troops invaded Kashmir and coerced the Maharaja to sign a fraudulent instrument of accession despite the popular uprising in favour of joining Pakistan. The hostilities that followed led to intervention by the UN when Nehru took the dispute to the international body for a solution. After intense deliberations, the UN called for a plebiscite or referendum, enabling the Kashmiri people to exercise their right to self-determination to accede to either Pakistan or India. At first, India accepted this UN decision but soon when it became clear to Nehru that a referendum would not be in India’s favour, he resiled from this commitment.
Since then every Indian government has opposed a plebiscite in Kashmir. Instead, India has claimed Kashmir to be its “integral part”, using political chicanery and brute military force to sustain its illegal occupation of parts of Kashmir under its control. At first, behind the façade of autonomy, Indian governments propped up pro-Indian Kashmiri leaders through rigged elections but even these were frequently dismissed and replaced by central rule. Following yet another rigged election in 1989, an unprecedented popular uprising erupted in 1990 which still continues despite the massive use of force and repression by Indian troops and widespread violations of human rights. The Modi government has taken this repression to even greater depths of brutality – with indiscriminate killing, maiming and torturing of defenseless, unarmed protestors, including women and children. His efforts are also to destroy even the last vestiges of Kashmiri identity, by enabling non-Kashmiris to buy property and settle in IOJ&K in order to change the Muslim majority demography of the region. These measures have been wholly rejected by the Kashmiris, even those who have been pro-India. Consequently, according to objective Indians, Modi’s policies have ensured that “India has already lost Kashmir”.
The Root Cause
The Kashmir dispute is widely viewed as the root cause of the tensions between Pakistan and India. In reality, however, this dispute is the symptom and not the cause of these tensions. The root cause is the persistent Indian ambition of imposing its hegemony over the region, especially over its immediate smaller and weaker neighbours. Therefore, since independence, successive Indian governments have pursued this ambitious goal in their relations with neighbouring countries. Accordingly, all differences with reighbours must be settled on India’s terms. Not surprisingly, India occupied Sikkim and reduced Bhutan to the status of a protectorate. It absorbed parts of Nepal and treats it as a client state. It stoked Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka to enforce Indian clout over the country. To weaken Pakistan, it invaded East Pakistan and supported the creation of Bangladesh. Even with the much larger China, Indian leaders since Nehru have pursued territorial claims based on British colonial dispensations, leading to the 1962 Indo-China War. But, despite Indian policies, Pakistan is still powerful enough to resist Indian dictation and intimidation with the result that it cannot be compelled to accept the India “solution” regarding Kashmir.
While over the past seven decades, Pakistan and India have engaged in talks to “resolve” disputes such as Kashmir and others such as Siachen, Sir Creek, Baglihar Dam, Kishanganga Dam, Wullar Barrage and others, but the fact remains that these talks have remained sterile. On Kashmir, the Indian position at best is that the Line of Control or Ceasefire Line should be converted into an international border – that is permanent separation of the Kashmiri people against their will. At worst, the Indian “solution” is to occupy Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Actually, India has engaged with Pakistan over Kashmir only when it has suited New Delhi, such as when it has been under external pressure – immediately after partition, during the 1962 Sino-Indian hostilities, following the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, and after the 1998 nuclear tests. But throughout these talks, there has never been any sign of flexibility or acceptance of a compromise by the Indians on Kashmir. Instead, the Indians have used these talks as a charade – a smokescreen behind which they have continued their repression in IOJ&K.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., India has also used the bogey of terrorism to vilify and discredit the Kashmiri struggle while also accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism. This has been the standard Indian position, especially after the dubious attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, allegedly by Kashmiri militants – a charge that has now been exposed by the recent arrest of an Indian official accused of instigating the Parliament attack.
The only opportunity of a breakthrough is believed to have emerged during the Musharraf-Vajpayee talks in the mid 2000s when travel restrictions on Kashmiris on both sides of the LOC were relaxed and it is claimed that this opening could have led to a solution based on “soft borders” and maximum autonomy. However, leaderships on both sides changed and this opportunity was lost.
Now, since Modi has become Prime Minister, he is pursuing RSS inspired fascist policies, not only against Kashmiri Muslims but also against 200 million Indian Muslims. At the same time, Modi and his cronies continue to accuse Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism, threatening “surgical strikes”, occupying AJK and rejecting all Pakistani offers for dialogue. Such belligerence has been encouraged by the Indian alliance with the U.S. and its allies against China, owing to which Indian atrocities and aggressiveness are being tolerated by these countries.
Is There a Way Forward?
In view of this dismal history, it is difficult to be optimistic about the future. Still a counter argument can be made on the basis of several reasons owing to which a change may occur in the Indian position eventually over the long term.
First, Modi’s policies have pushed the Kashmiris in IOJ&K to the wall. Their alienation with India is now total and complete. Even previously pro-Indian Kashmiris are now opposed to India and would protect their Kashmiri identity and interests. Without the cooperation of their Kashmiri “quislings”, India would find it impossible to retain IOJ&K in the long run.
Second, the Kashmiri freedom struggle since 1990 has acquired even greater support than before from the people. Despite the presence of 900,000 troops in the Valley, India has failed to defeat the freedom movement. With Modi’s intensified repression, the will to fight back and overthrow the yoke of occupation has increased.
Third, change in the status of IOJ&K has affected not only the Valley but also Jammu and Ladakh where the people are now opposed to outsiders taking over their properties and businesses. They, therefore, also have a vested interest in rejecting the policies being imposed from Delhi.
Fourth, the continued Indian lockdown in IOJ&K, now over 5 months, underscores that not only is the situation out of Indian control but also the recognition that once the lockdown is lifted there will be a popular massive uprising. Such a situation cannot continue indefinitely. Statements about normalcy and threats about increased punishments by Indian leaders are more a sign of their weakness than strength.
Fifth, the political, economic and social costs of maintaining the Indian occupation, already very high, will grow still further. The Indian economy, presently under severe strain, would be further stretched beyond its limits.
Sixth, so far the Indian people, especially the Muslims, had acquiesced in Modi’s brutal handling of Kashmir, but with rising concerns over the citizenship laws, there is an upsurge among the Muslims and secular Indians against the Modi government. Official discrimination and targeting of Muslims will give rise to a backlash among 200 million Indian Muslims with clear implications for the Kashmiri people. Modi, therefore, faces a double-edged problem of his own making – uprising in IOJ&K and among Indian Muslims all over the country.
Seventh, so far Modi has benefited from India’s strategic alliance with the West, but public outcry against his moves in IOJ&K and Indian Muslims is rising. The western media, human rights groups, parliamentarians and even governments are beginning to criticize his policies, calling for efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute and for an end to discriminatory policies. The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, including the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have also expressed concern over these developments.
Eighth, changing the status of IOJ&K has not only affected Pakistan but China as well since part of Ladakh is claimed by China and is a source of the dispute with India. For this reason, China has been in the forefront of raising the Kashmir dispute in the Security Council, already on three occasions since the Indian government changed the status of Kashmir. This has increased tensions between India and China.
Ninth, in addition to the deteriorating situation in IOJ&K and the widespread protests around the country, the Indian economy is in recession with a decreasing growth rate and increasing poverty. Foreign direct investment is also decreasing due to investor concerns over the developments in the country. In such a situation it is quite possible that Modi’s BJP government may in future face increasing political opposition and social unrest and may even be voted out of power in the next elections. The next government may perhaps try to rectify the damage caused by Modi and seek a political solution to the Kashmir dispute, opening up the possibility of a substantive dialogue with Pakistan.
Tenth, and most importantly, the existence of credible nuclear deterrence between Pakistan and India has neutralized India’s conventional weapons numerical superiority and with it India’s ability to impose its hegemony over Pakistan. Consequently, India cannot coerce Pakistan into accepting an Indian solution on Kashmir. It has to eventually find a compromise to settle this dispute.
Admittedly, the foregoing factors are part of an ongoing process which would take time to compel a change in Indian policy on Kashmir. Moreover, there is the possibility that future Indian leaders may lack the will and capability to change course. That said, it is also true that Indian hold over IOJ&K has never been as tenuous and fragile as it is now. Furthermore, India has never faced the kind of public reaction as is currently underway against the BJP’s discriminatory policy towards its Muslim citizens.
This situation presents both challenges and opportunities for Pakistan. As for the challenges, especially in the short to medium term, there is the increasing danger that a beleaguered Modi may lash out at Pakistan to divert attention from his domestic troubles. Apart from rejecting any dialogue with Pakistan, the Indians are already making bellicose statements against Pakistan and have increased violations across the LOC. They may also resort to implementing their threats about surgical strikes and may conduct a false flag operation to “justify” another Balakot type attack on Pakistan. Indian use of excessive force against the Kashmiris and against Indian Muslims could add further fuel to the fire. While the existence of nuclear deterrence would prevent the outbreak of war, limited or minor clashes below the nuclear threshold could still take place. The Indians could also intensify their terrorist or sub-conventional warfare tactics against Pakistan which are already underway. In response, Pakistan needs to ensure that its defense capabilities are geared to neutralize any of these aggressive options that India may pursue.
In terms of opportunities, the prevailing situation calls for more proactive Pakistani efforts to project the legitimate Kashmiri freedom struggle and stress the growing need for a political solution. It must pursue these efforts through sustained bilateral outreach as well as through all relevant multilateral forums such as the UN, EU, OIC and the Human Rights Council. It must also reach out to parliamentarians, think tanks, academics and the media. A concentrated effort must be made with human rights groups as well such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among others.
A key objective, especially within the UN system, must be to highlight the legitimacy of the Kashmiri struggle for the right to self-determination as well as for freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. These are accepted principles of the UN Charter and International Law.
Projection of the Kashmiri struggle as a legitimate cause would also be critical to change the negative Indian narrative which portrays the Kashmiri movement as “terrorism”.
At the same time, Pakistan must extend maximum support to the Kashmiri struggle – not just politically, morally and diplomatically but also materially.
A sustained national policy on Kashmir would be able to take advantage of the unprecedented factors in play for an eventual change in Indian policies to evolve a solution of the Kashmir dispute. It would take time and effort to overcome the challenges and exploit the opportunities. Consequently, over the long term, there is a strong possibility that a workable solution can be found.
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan.
E-mail: [email protected]
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