Kashmir: Setting the Stage for Re-engagement

The Tenth International Kashmir Peace Conference was recently held at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC. It addressed substantive issues, priorities and concerns of India and Pakistan while exploring the regional and international dimensions of the long festering Kashmir dispute. The conference which brought together delegates from India, Pakistan and Kashmir, as well as representatives of the Obama administration in Washington, DC was geared towards supporting a composite dialogue between the contentious neighbors to set the stage for re-engagement. In addressing the Kashmir issue with definite intentions of facilitating the dispute, academics and diplomats analyzed the demographic factors as well as the military actions and territorial ambitions of both India and Pakistan.

 

The Kashmiri’s are perhaps one of the most unfortunate people in the world. The recent history of this valley is that of despair; its five million inhabitants are continually subjected to martial activity and civil oppression. The government of India controls the biggest territorial portion of this valley in violation of its international commitments and against the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The question of political control in this valley has resulted in full-scale wars in the region as well as countless skirmishes and cross-border shelling incidents that take place to this day. The ineffectiveness of UN along with the willingness of the superpowers to continue with the status-quo in Kashmir has led to the continued oppression of the locals at the hands of the Indian Army. Diplomatic attempts to resolve the issue have also remained largely unsuccessful. In 1965, war broke out between Pakistan and India; solely because of the tensions created by the Kashmir issue. The UN stepped in, and with the diplomatic efforts of the superpowers, a peace resulted in the “Tashkent Declaration” in 1966 which forced both nations back to their demarcated lines. This declaration provided a platform to both nations to address this issue, which has never been employed to its fullest extent given the skewed policies of both these countries on the issue.

 

For Pakistan and India, Kashmir is less a fight over strategic grounds and resources as it is over competing visions of nationalism and state building. In India’s case, Kashmir is a perfect testament to its secular claims, a Muslim majority area “choosing to live and prosper” within a Hindu majority area. For Pakistan, it is the direct opposite; impossibility of secularism in the subcontinent, the main reason for the partition of India advocated by Iqbal and Jinnah, supplemented by the denial of the basic right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own destiny.

 

In recent times the two prime reasons for Pakistan’s desire to manage Kashmir have come to stand out above all others; the development of hydroelectric power and the protection of water sources for irrigation in the Punjab and Sindh. Pakistan can expand industrial development through utilization of Kashmir’s hydroelectric potential. The government of Pakistan is also aware that no army can ravage land as thoroughly as could India by shutting off Pakistan’s water supply therefore control over Kashmir is vital to Pakistan’s economic existence. This is especially true in the light of Pakistan’s efforts to develop new irrigation areas along the Indus that would divert wasted water from the Indus to the canal systems in the Punjab – a project which would be affected when India’s projects are completed.

 

Pakistan has also pressed its need to annex Kashmir for strategic reasons as without Kashmir, Pakistan becomes so vulnerable militarily that it can never adequately defend its Western border. Apparently, this argument hinges on the premise that should India control Kashmir, there would no longer be natural defense lines between the two countries, such as those which the ‘Sutlej’ and ‘Ravi’ Rivers function as.

 

Internal factors in India have also compounded the situation and have intensified the conflict. These include institutional failures of the Indian government in the valley; the rise of nationalist and Hindu-fundamentalist political parties in India, the politicization of the civil services and judiciary and the reliance on the military to restore public order in Kashmir. The increasingly centralized governments of Kashmir since 1970 resulted in the conflicts between the centre and the emerging elites in different parts of India and thus, since 1980, a new wave of democratic movements and political awareness has been spearheaded by parties like “Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front” and the “Hizbul Mujahideen.” Led by young Kashmiri’s disenchanted by the Indian government, the increased ignorance given to this has lead to a massive tension in Jammu Kashmir that has propelled the issue to unprecedented heights in the past two decades.

 

After a long and difficcult time period of 62 years, Pakistan and India must recognize that the dispute has brought nothing but immesnse suffering to the Kashmiri’s, and now the time has come for both nations to understand that a composite dialogue is the only possible and plausible solution to this intricate situation. This will open diplomatic space to revise and reinforce the peace process.

 

In recent times Pakistan has maintained the stance that the country does not believe in the strategic or political utility of arming and training militants to fight against Indian authority in Kashmir and has been advocating UN mandated resolutions regarding Kashmir. Hence India must seize to perceive Pakistan’s efforts with suspicion and mistrust. India’s policies must be revised and re-examined to adopt a realistic approach predicated on long term improvements. Unless the issue is addressed through serious negotiations, relations between the two countries will remain susceptible as animosity might crop up and lead to dangerous confontation.

 

India and Pakistan must focus on sending diplomatic and non-governmental leaders, members of the media and the academic world to address the barriers and challenges that are preventing India and Pakistan from reconciling their differences and attaining a permanent peace. It is imperative for both countries to forge a partnership to create an enabling environment to secure the lives of the Kashmiri people and quell the threat of militancy in the region. Efforts should be premised on bringing together policy-makers and strategic analysts from both sides to explore ways to maximize the benefits for India and Pakistan while minimizing the plight of the Kashmiri people. For the attainment of peace that is sustainable, confidence building measures must be pursued. Mutual assurances must be given to cripple the potential of hostility between the estranged neighbors. This would prevent dialogue from being derailed and would also create a climate of peace in Kashmir, breaking the deadlock that has caused incomputable damage to all parties involved in this heart rending dispute.

 

 

 

 

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