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Solving the Kashmir Conundrum

Authors: Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, and Author, No Exit from Pakistan Siddiq Wahid, Vice-Chancellor, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Jammu and Kashmir Prem Shankar Jha, Author and Columnist Zia Mian, Program on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Interviewer(s): Jayshree Bajoria
October 15, 2010

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Indian-administered Kashmir has been rocked for months by near-daily clashes between Indian security forces and stone-throwing, pro-independence Kashmiri youth. Last month, the government in New Delhi announced an eight-point plan (HindustanTimes) to address the violence, but many in Kashmir remain skeptical (CSMonitor) of the central government. While in New York for the UN General Assembly, Pakistani officials called for international and U.S. intervention in Indian-administered Kashmir, though India says it will not welcome third-party intervention.

Four experts answer the question: What is the best way to solve the Kashmir dispute? CFR's Dan Markey rules out any overt role by Washington. He and Indian expert Prem Shankar Jha say the main points agreed on by former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2007 remain the best solution to a sustainable peace. Pakistan expert Zia Mian suggests freedom of mobility across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir may be first step toward building confidence. Kashmiri expert Siddiq Wahid says New Delhi and Srinagar will have to take the first steps toward resolving the political dispute, closely followed by the inclusion of Pakistan.

Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, and Author, No Exit from Pakistan

The United States would surely benefit from peace in Kashmir. Longstanding U.S. strategic and humanitarian goals would be served.

But that doesn't mean that Washington has the capacity to engineer a constructive settlement.

The sooner Americans understand that reality, the better. Indeed, the single best way to torpedo President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to India [in November] would be for him to raise the Kashmir issue. Public U.S. pressure would create a counterproductive political environment for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has repeatedly demonstrated a firm commitment to peace in Kashmir and reduced tensions with neighboring Pakistan, facing down hawks within his party and without.

Those Pakistanis who might like the United States to take a more active role on the Kashmir issue should be careful what they wish for. Washington--following New Delhi's line--would almost certainly be willing to accept a ratification of the territorial status quo.

"Those Pakistanis who might like the United States to take a more active role on the Kashmir issue should be careful what they wish for. Washington--following New Delhi's line--would almost certainly be willing to accept a ratification of the territorial status quo."

Washington's bargaining position in the diplomatic dispute between India and Pakistan is further constrained by the fact that it has so many other irons in each fire. Kashmir is hardly the highest U.S. priority with New Delhi or with Islamabad, and it shouldn't be.

Adding to this challenge, the wellsprings of the latest surge of violence in Kashmir are not limited to the regional dispute between India and Pakistan. A new generation of Kashmiri firebrands is finding its voice. India has not yet found a way to respond to this generation's particular capacity for popular mobilization and ruthless intimidation.

Over the past several years, Indian leaders in Kashmir and in New Delhi failed to capitalize on a period of relative calm. They are now paying the price: the Kashmir Valley condemned to another cycle of violence, arrests, and bloodshed. But the contours of a path to peace--democratic representation within India's federal state, "softer" Kashmiri borders, economic development, and a broader normalization between India and Pakistan--will remain the same. Unfortunately, it appears that this will only be relearned the hard way.

Siddiq Wahid, Vice-Chancellor, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Jammu and Kashmir

The Kashmir dispute has become increasingly layered and fragmented with territorial, legal, and political dimensions. This summer marked the third continuous summer of passionate, resolute, and unarmed protests. The response of the security forces has resulted in 110 civilian deaths since June. It has been a full-blown crisis, and New Delhi has been visibly at a loss on how to deal with it.

But crises are opportunities. It was an opportunity for New Delhi to begin its dialogue with Srinagar while preparing the ground for a comprehensive dialogue with all stakeholders. Instead, New Delhi took almost four months to respond to the crisis--and when it did, it unveiled an "eight- point package" which barely addressed the problem in Kashmir while tiptoeing around the problem of Kashmir. Predictably it has made no headway.

To make a beginning, the first step will have to be taken between New Delhi and Srinagar, the epicenter of this near-intractable dispute, closely followed by the inclusion of Pakistan. They must all agree to four points:

  • Talks must begin without conditions.
  • They will eventually involve the state's [Jammu and Kashmir] other constituent parts.
  • The dialogue should be transparent, without prejudice to reasonable confidentiality.
  • The talks must address the political dispute and not be subsumed by economic and social issues.

"One obstacle in attempts to solve the Kashmir conundrum has been a lack of agreement on the definition of the problem."

One obstacle in attempts to solve the Kashmir conundrum has been a lack of agreement on the definition of the problem. Historically, India has unrealistically denied there is a dispute; Pakistan has hankered after Kashmir as proof of the efficacy of the two-nation theory; and the peoples of the state [Jammu and Kashmir] have not only been divided, fragmented, and alienated but also ignored. These positions have to be jettisoned and the peoples of the state [Jammu and Kashmir] be involved substantively and comprehensively in any talks about their future.

It is a long road, but attempts to leap-frog over its complexities will end in failure. Witness the two major efforts to solve the dispute in the 1972 Simla Agreement (PDF) (between India and Pakistan) and the 1975 Accord (between the Indian prime minister and the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir). Both failed; the former because the peoples of Kashmir were ignored, and the latter because Pakistan was excluded. It is time to draw lessons from history.

Prem Shankar Jha, Author and Columnist

Pakistan's claim to Kashmir is based upon religion. India's is based upon its ruler's accession to it in 1947. Neither country has tried to ascertain what the Kashmiris want. Kashmiri aspirations stem from one little-understood consequence of the partition of British India: In 1947, when India and Pakistan gained their freedom, Kashmiris lost theirs. They lost the freedom to live, travel, study, and do business in any part of the subcontinent. And they got nothing in return. Both Pakistan and India gave their parts of Kashmir autonomy bordering on independence in theory, but denied them even a semblance of democratic freedom in practice. Kashmiris, therefore, have felt doubly betrayed.

"Kashmiri aspirations stem from one little-understood consequence of the partition of British India: In 1947, when India and Pakistan gained their freedom, Kashmiris lost theirs."

This feeling is shared by Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control. Their demand for freedom is therefore not so much a demand for separation from the two countries as a demand for the restoration of their lost freedoms, and the democratic rights they were promised but never wholly given. The reason why the Delhi Framework agreement of April 2005 between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf came so close to success was that it, almost by accident, recognized this fundamental need and tried to find ways of meeting it.

The four points on which the two heads of government came to an agreement (following a series of negotiations) in March 2007 were:

  • There should be no change in the overall territorial jurisdiction of the two countries.
  • The border between the two parts of Kashmir should be softened progressively until, for Kashmiris, it disappears altogether.
  • The ethnic heterogeneity of both parts of Kashmir should be recognized and accommodated by devolving legislative and executive powers to each of the constituent regions in both parts of Kashmir.
  • A joint council should be created for the whole of Kashmir that would legislate or advise upon all matters of common concern, such as the utilization of its hydel resources, the construction of roads, and the harmonization of tax and other laws.

The fall of Musharraf, the ensuing turmoil in Pakistan, and the upsurge of unrest and violence in Indian Kashmir have forced both governments to shelve these initiatives. But when they decide to pick up the threads again, this will be the only way forward.

Zia Mian, Program on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

"You can't get there from here" may seem an unhelpful answer to the question of what ought to be done to settle the six-decade old dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. But it reflects the fact that finding a just and peaceful settlement, the kind most likely to endure, requires the active participation of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control--as well as Pakistanis and Indians--and that is currently impossible. Many Kashmiris in Indian-held Kashmir feel besieged and occupied, and there is no democracy to speak of in Pakistani-held Kashmir. In India, nationalists dominate the debate, while in Pakistan it is the army; people in each country hear only one side of the story.

"[F]inding a just and peaceful settlement, the kind most likely to endure, requires the active participation of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control--as well as Pakistanis and Indians--and that is currently impossible."

A way forward in Kashmir is possible--only as part of an improving Pakistan-India relationship. In the six decades since their independence from colonial rule, India and Pakistan have drifted further apart. Formal partition was only the beginning, the actual separation between the people of India and Pakistan has been a slow process spread over several decades, driven by wars and crises, nationalist politicians and religious movements. They have partitioned and dragged Kashmir along with them.

Few people in India and Pakistan can or care to remember that things were very different in the early years after independence. Initially there were no passports and no visas. People could easily travel to the other side of the new border; some lived in one country and worked in the other. Films from one country were freely shown in the other country; songs were aired on national radio without regard to nationality; newspapers, magazines and books were freely available.

A first step to building trust and confidence between Pakistan and India and across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir would be to let people travel between the two countries without visa restrictions. Freedom to move, complemented by a freedom to meet, organize, and mobilize across borders would allow civil society and political activists to begin the first real dialogue in sixty years among and between Pakistanis, Indians, and Kashmiris about their common future. In time, they might find a way to live together.

 

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