Ahmad Ali Naqvi/Farah Adeed |
The Kashmir issue in South Asia is the oldest and the most explosive one. The British Empire is the architect of the long-standing conflict between the two nuclear rivals. Scholars, policymakers, diplomats, and politicians in a quest to bring peace and stability in South Asia attempted to find out an ‘acceptable’ solution to deal with the Kashmir issue. However, due to strategic complexities, political expediencies, and increasingly changing regional and global dynamics, Kashmir remained the biggest challenge to the peacebuilding process in South Asia.
There are some commonly proposed solutions to resolve the festering Kashmir issue; a) a plebiscite, let Kashmiris decide whether they wish to join Pakistan or India; b) LoC be accepted as an international border between Pakistan and India; c) let Kashmir be an independent state; d) Chenab Formula, Muslim majority areas on the right of the Chenab River should be annexed with Pakistan and rest of the part be given to India; e) let the Valley be placed under the UN Trusteeship Council for administration for at least 10 years.
The UN, Kashmiris, and Pakistan have been in favor of a plebiscite but India always refused to accept it. According to an article, published in The New York Times on April 13, 1964: “A plebiscite has been proposed by the United Nations and is urged by Pakistan; but after first agreeing to it India now rejects it for fear that the predominantly Moslem population would opt for Pakistan, thereby setting a precedent for the possible breakup of all India on communal grounds.”
Kashmir: a flashpoint between two nuclear states?
As a matter of fact, the issue was relatively less complex in the beginning; however, due to various internal, regional, and global geopolitical and socio-economic changes, it turned from bad to worse. Before we propose any solution to ‘resolve’ or ‘manage’ the “flashpoint” that could lead to a nuclear exchange, four factors need to be carefully dissected to understand how Kashmir became a complex and dangerous conflict in the history of South Asia. These four factors are helpful to comprehend an intriguing question; how did the Kashmir issue get complex and dangerous?
First, there have been sheer lack of political will and diplomatic efforts on the part of Pakistan and India to introduce sustainable Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to effectively address and manage the Kashmir issue. Although Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, and Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee attempted to bury the painful past and lay the foundation of a new era of Pak-India relations, yet they failed to materialize their ideas. There could be various reasons ranging from structural to cultural and institutional behind their inability to bring two immediate neighbors to the negotiating tables. One obvious reason was leaders’ exclusive focus on resolving the conflict, and not to manage it.
Failure to adequately and timely address the issue led to complications that now seem to be out of control of the two states. Complexity of the issue had reduced its chances to be resolved and increased its potential dangers.
Second, we do not find Stephen P. Cohen’s understanding of what Kashmir means to Indians and Pakistanis, appropriate. Professor Cohen was an eminent American political scientist and a professor of security studies who wrote extensively on South Asia. He believed that people in Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Bombay, view Kashmir nothing more than “New Delhi’s obsession”. Similarly, he noted that Pakistanis in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Hyderabad (Sindh) see Kashmir “as a secondary issue” and “relations with Islamabad and the Punjab come first”. After several years, his qualitative assessment of public opinion on both sides of the border stands challenged on many grounds. Apart from the strategic interests of both states, Kashmir plays an important role in the national identities of Pakistan and India.
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Moreover, the growing authoritarian tendencies in India do not spare any space for a peaceful settlement of the issue. In a recent book What Happened to Governance in Kashmir? Aijaz Ashraf Wani, Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, argues that New Delhi’s Kashmir policy is driven by Hindutva pressures. Professor Wani notes: “Being a Muslim majority state and the one where the Muslims fought against the Princely order headed by a Hindu, pressurising the government to be uncompromising towards Kashmiri Muslims satisfies the psychological states of the Hindutva forces. Their emotional involvement in seeing Kashmiri Muslims oppressed is fuelled by the ‘disloyal’ Kashmiri Muslims who are supported by the neighbouring Muslim country—the traditional enemy.”
On the contrary, Pakistan’s tilt to a participatory political system does not allow its leaders to be in a position to offer any concession to India on Kashmir. Pakistanis have an emotional association with the Kashmir Muslims and any attempt to resolve it on the Indian terms likely to create a serious legitimacy crisis for the party in power in Islamabad.
The young generation of Kashmiris demand a right to express their political will. They want to have a say to decide about their future. India’s reluctance to let Kashmiris “exercise their choice over its political future” is “the root cause of Kashmir problem; from this has stemmed the politics of azadi which is the dominant note of the political aspirations of Kashmiris,” notes Professor Wani.
These changed and increasingly changing internal dynamics of the parties involved complicate the matter, and demand even more comprehensive mechanisms to be understood and managed.
Third, states operate, as per their socio-economic strengths, within a given geopolitical context. The context in the field of International Relations is as fluid and evolving as culture is in Sociology. In the case of Kashmir, the regional context has remarkably been changed in recent times. The rise of China and India in the post-Cold War era and the continuation of tantalizing Afghan conflict have considerably altered regional dynamics causing complexity to Kashmir. So over time, it has turned to be regional rather than a bilateral conflict.
Interestingly, India occupies Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley, which China and Pakistan refuse to accept; China occupies Aksai Chin and parts of Ladakh, which India refuses to accept; Pakistan occupies Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, (including 750 sq m ceded by China) which India refuses to accept. “China is,” notes Naeem Sarfarz, a prominent columnist and former naval officer, “as much a part of the Kashmir dispute as India and Pakistan”.
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India sees the rise of China and its deepening ties with Pakistan as a threat to its national interests in Kashmir. This was, among others, a factor that led India to end the autonomy of Kashmir and change the status quo unilaterally. However, the vicious cycle of conflict has only exacerbated the conflict in recent months.
Lastly, there is a change in the international perspective on Kashmir. In the post-Cold War era, American scholars feared a nuclear war between Pakistan and India. The prediction led to a scenario where “a great deal of diplomatic activity” took place. For the first time, argues Professor Cohen, Americans directly addressed the Kashmir issue. Most importantly, the traditional American position on Kashmir was also altered. For the first time, the US categorically declared Kashmir as a disputed territory. “In the past,” notes Professor Cohen, “the US had never publicly challenged the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to India, only its wisdom”.
Moreover, now the US views China as its competitor and intends to contain it in Asia. Arguably, no other state was more suited to help the US than India because of its soft power and idea geography. The ensuing India-US nexus and the counter alliance of China involving BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) states, especially Pakistan’s tilt to China, invited global powers’ involvement in regional conflicts from the South China Sea to Kashmir. Therefore, Kashmir, due to the US Indo-Pacific policy, has become a new conflict fault-line. A recent shift in China’s Kashmir policy and key US support to India on its conflict in eastern Laddakh standoff, are clear indications of global powers increasing interest in the issue.
Is there any way forward?
Keeping into consideration the changed nature of the conflict, there seems to be a dire need of an out-of-box solution to manage it. We maintain that any serious debate on the solution to the Kashmir issue may rest on two factors:
One, unlike Prof Cohen, we argue that Kashmir is no longer a bilateral issue between the two states i.e., Pakistan and India. We are also well-aware of the fact that the issue is academically not comparable here but the process of the solution to Kashmir has to be on the regional approach pattern being adopted in Afghanistan. The regional and global powers have to push the competing parties for negotiations and the ultimate solution to this problem. For this to happen, there has to be a common will of global powers on the issue. Considering the escalation of conflict between the US and China, this condition is less likely in the near future.
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Two, Pakistan and India have to focus on conflict management, at least in the initial phase, instead of expecting a resolution (by coercion or diplomatic means). Considering the interests of both states, the history of the conflict, and the role of the external actors, the resolution of Kashmir issue will be bumpy-road which requires a realistic appraisal and assessment on both sides. The contemporary regional and global dynamics are not ideal for the solution of Kashmir issue, however, the best that states can do is not let it escalate. With honest intentions, there may be some efforts to introduce CBMs but we note, with great caution, that this is unlikely to happen under a Modi-led India.
Ahmad Ali Naqvi is a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of the Punjab, Lahore-Pakistan. Farah Adeed is working as an Assistant Editor with Global Village Space (GVS). The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.