DEALING WITH THE KASHMIR PROBLEM

by

Lt Gen Ashok Joshi (Retd)



No one denies that there is a problem in Kashmir, or more correctly, there are several problems in Kashmir. But beyond that, there is no agreement about what is the nature of the Kashmir problem, what can possibly be done to resolve it, and by whom. Objectively, on ground -

There is grave violence and disturbance. It is particularly rampant in the Vale of Kashmir (VAK), which is located in the Indian Kashmir, although violence also spills over into other areas of Jammu and Kashmir (J & k). There is a separatist movement in the VAK, but violence is mainly attributable to armed foreign nationals including mercenaries. In the Indian part of J & K, there is a functional and operative democracy, although democratic institutions show signs of strain due to endemic violence. In Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), feudal order and authoritarian rule continues. Democracy and rule of law are concepts that have little or no relevance in POK. POK is better integrated with Pakistan, than the Indian J & K with the rest of India. Although there is some demand for an independent J &K, which in effect would mean separation of POK from Pakistan, there is no visible ground swell in support. In comparison with the more developed parts of either India or Pakistan, POK as well as Indian J & K are underdeveloped.

Indian and Pak armies - and other paramilitary forces-are ranged against each other along the Line of Control (LOC). There are frequent exchanges of fire, attempted intrusions and counter-intrusions, of which the Kargil battle in the summer of 1999 was only the last major eruption.

India and Pakistan have vowed not to yield to force, from across the LOC, and extend the conflict, if doing so is likely to prove advantageous. India is committed to limit the conflict to the conventional warfare, whereas, Pakistan has emphasized that it would not shy away from the use of nuclear weapons, if such a need arises.

The Kashmir problem cannot possibly be considered out of the Indo-Pak context. Even if it could be, no solution to the problem would emerge unless both India and Pakistan agree upon and whole-heartedly accept the solution. The solution must also be acceptable to the majority of populations most affected by the solution. It is tempting to substitute 'people of J & K' in place of 'majority of population etc'. But, firstly, it would mean putting the clock back to October 1947, when the then princely state of J & K constituted a single political unit. No time machine can take us back to that point of time. And, secondly, it would exclude the populations of India and Pakistan.

It is very tempting, at this point of time, to ignore the past, and look towards the future in the hope that in ignoring the past, no more than animosity and bitterness would be consigned to the dustbin of history. There have been three major conflicts between India and Pakistan, in either genesis or resolution of which J & K has played a dominant role. Those apart, there have been half dozen or more crises in Indo-Pak relations, which could be traced directly to disputes over J & K. A new beginning certainly needs to be made; a new approach needs to be adopted. But that can only be done after taking into reckoning the historical roots of the problem, as well as the present situation.

The partition of the Indian sub-continent-now styled South Asia-is a wound that refuses to heal. This happens because the international border created by the British in 1947 was so arbitrary that it cut across continuities of geography, culture, and economy. India looks upon the partition of the sub-continent-as a fait accompli, something that has to be accepted, rather than celebrated. Pakistan looks upon partition as a vindication of an unstoppable historical process that needs to be carried forward.

Pakistan was created on the basis of the two-nation theory the pivotal concept of which was that the Muslims of the sub-continent constituted a separate 'nation' and, on that basis, had a natural right to form a nation state of their own. Further, that Muslim political identity had such a predominantly religious dimension that it could and would subsume all others - culture, language, ethnicity, and the rest. This construct, highly contrived and emotion-driven, did not yield, and has not yielded, the kind of material that it takes to form a modern, progressive, and stable nation- state. The basic assumption of the two-nation theory was found to be false in 1971 when Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. Forces of Bengali culture, language, and ethnicity overcame the comparatively weaker forces that held together the two wings of Pakistani till then. Pakistan came into being not so much on the basis of religion, but by renouncing and even denouncing anything and everything that would link it to the rest of the sub-continent in terms of history, culture, or languages. It is for this reason that History that is taught in Pakistan begins in 1947. What existed before was a dark period. This mindset feeds on the notion that continuities that link Pakistan to the sub-continent either do not exist, or if they do, they need to be done away with, or replaced with others that would link Pakistan with the Arab world. Paradoxical though it may seem on the face of it, what had linked the two wings of Pakistan were not only religion but also parts of India which separated them. But for the continuities that stretched across the length and breadth of the sub-continent, Pakistan could not have emerged as a nation-state with two wings that were separated from each other by more than a thousand kilometers. If the religion of the majority were to be the only determinant of the Pak nation-state, Pakistan would have to be much larger than what it was, even before Bangladesh separated from it.

As far as Pakistan is concerned Bangladesh, by separating from Pakistan, is on its way to strengthening its links with the sub -continent. What Pak fears most is the dominant culture of the sub-continent, rather than conquest or subjugation by India. In the eyes of the Pak ruling elite, democratic polity and liberal economic policies are likely to make Pakistan even more vulnerable to the influences from across the Indo-Pak border. Demands for autonomy, which democratic polity in India can live and deal with, may lead to separatism in Pakistan, on the basis of ethnicity and languages. After all, the two-nation theory is contingent on resisting the will of the majority by other means when it cannot be resisted by democratic means. 'Direct-action' in aid of the demand for Pakistan was aimed at defeating the democratic process. Pakistani polity looks upon dissent, or demands for autonomy as separatism, which in Pak psyche is no more than a whisker away from high treason. As far as Pakistani elite is conc erned, the modern and liberal influences of our times enhance the threats of fragmentation, and eventual absorption and assimilation of Pakistan by the sub-continent. But the reality being what it is, the vivisection of the sub-continent has yielded two nation-states that must either coexist, and nurture closeness and interdependence, of the kind that Canada and the US have, or else be at loggerheads forever.

Pakistan was created out of Muslim-majority areas of the sub-continent, and therefore, the Pak mind-set directly links the extent of Muslim majority with security. Cleansing Pakistan of minorities has always been high on Pak agenda. The possibility of retention of a sizeable number of Hindus in Pakistan, who could be used as hostages - and a source of leverage - to protect the interests of Muslims in India was deliberated upon by makers of Pakistan, and then discarded. It was considered much safer to rid Pakistan of Hindus. Pak, having abjured close relationship with India, has settled for the other option, viz confrontation. It would appear that Pakistan as a nation-state feels reassured of its integrity, and security, only when threatened - when in a state of siege. The elite in Pakistan looks upon fragmentation of India as the final solution. Generous help and active assistance to disgruntled elements in India, so that they may pursue their separatist demands with vigour, is to be interpreted in th is context. No leader is likely to survive in Pakistan were he to sign a no-war pact with India. Mr. Nawaz Sharif has been dislodged for attempting much less. In Pakistan, signing a no-war pact with India is likely to be viewed as capitulation to India. An on going war, or Jehad with India, has a close fit with the spirit that created, and which now sustains, Pakistan. Kashmir with its contiguous Muslim-majority-areas that lend themselves, in Pak psyche, to integration with Pakistan has always been looked upon as the unfinished agenda of Partition, something with which to motivate the new nation-state to continue the Jehad. And it has worked, up to a point. The greatest scientific and foreign policy 'achievements' of Pakistan spring from hostility to and confrontation with India. Pak decided to opt for the bomb and friendship with China with a view to sustaining its hostility to India. It is not as if Pakistani elite is unaware that more Muslims live in India than in Pakistan. But their concerns do not go beyond Muslim-m ajority-areas that are contiguous to Pakistan.

In contrast, Indian aspirations with regard to J & k do not go much beyond converting the LOC into the international border between India and Pakistan. Of course, India is likely to change its formal position that the whole of J & K rightfully belongs to India only after securing a promise from Pakistan that it accepts the Indian proposal of partitioning J & K along the LOC and sign a no-war pact. India seeks a status quo, in physical terms, and is willing to legitimize Pak conquest of J & K with a view to eliminating a cause of Indo-Pak friction. But in so doing, India has a point to prove: that India can accommodate in its polity Muslim majority areas. It will not concede them to Pakistan, under the guise of self-determination.

The Kashmir problem is real and cries out for resolution. But in so far as Pakistan is concerned the resolution of Kashmir problem in any manner other than that of merger with Pakistan is unacceptable. Pak would either have merger, or continuation of Jehad with India. If Pakistan were to succeed in obtaining possession of Kashmir, it would feel satisfied on two counts: vindication of the two-nation-theory, or the raison d' etre for Pakistan, and continued confrontation with India. Both suit the Pak purpose perfectly. The Kashmir problem presents a 'win-win' choice to Pakistan. It is highly unlikely that it would make any effort to 'settle' the problem with India at present. India and some others can talk about the Shimla accord. One could almost say that if there had been no Kashmir problem, Pak could not have carried on for last fifty years, the way it has. It would have invented something similar.

The Kashmir problem is unlikely to be resolved without the resolution of the larger Indo-Pak problem. And this resolution is unlikely to come about in a cathartic event like the pulling down of the Berlin Wall. It is likely to come about gradually. In a much broader context, the problem is one of evolving a polity for the sub-continent that addresses the concerns of majorities and minorities both. It must address the concerns of the individual without overlooking the interest of communities. It must create room for the local preferences without jeopardizing the larger economic and security interests. In short, it must look after the interest of the sub-continent without disregarding the interests of the constituent units. Such an exercise was attempted on different planes during the freedom-struggle of India. But it was doomed to fail because the British were intent on balancing a huge Hindu majority by throwing their weight on the side of the minorities. Starting with separate electorates, they creat ed and nurtured 'political' minorities on the basis of religion or castes. Such minorities were bound to go against the main stream, that is give up forever their option of being a part of the majority. The national movement, on the other hand, seemed to mistake 'Union' for 'strength' possibly because it feared fractionalization of the sub-continent. There is a feeling that the leadership of Muslim majority provinces of the undivided India were surprised when they secured Pakistan. They would have settled for far less.

This is a good time to work on the Kashmir problem by redefining it. An abiding solution must be sought, but there should be no turning away from the ground reality.

The problem could be redefined as under:


  1. As far as smaller nations of the sub-continent are concerned -
    How to coexist with a large neighbour like India without seeking confrontation or active hostility. Pakistan, and many a smaller nation of the sub-continent, fears that it will be reduced to being a satellite of India, unless it asserts itself, with or without outside help, and exploits Indian vulnerability in whatever manner that it can.


  2. As far as peoples of Kashmir are concerned -
    How to define Kashmiri identity in political terms while avoiding confrontation both with India and Pakistan. Kashmiris fear that India and Pakistan both are not sensitive to aspirations and fears of Kashmiris.


  3. As far as India is concerned -
    How to seek political accommodation with Muslim majority areas of the sub-continent with a view to dispelling their fear of cultural, and eventually, of economic, and political absorption by 'Hindu' India, on the one hand. And, on the other hand, how to create political and economic space in the sub-continent which will be conducive to fulfilling aspirations of all sections of the sub-continent.


  4. As far as 'out-side' powers are concerned --
    How to avoid the temptation to intervene in Kashmir with a view to furthering own geopolitical interests.



The best beginning is for India and Pakistan to agree to 'freeze' the Kashmir problem for a decade, and during that time, build democratic institutions on their own sides of the LOC. In the current atmosphere, this suggestion for the resolution of the problem is no better than the suggestion to bell the cat. Till things improve materially, India must go it alone and do what it can unilaterally. It should begin by strengthening the democratic institutions in the Indian Kashmir. Care should be taken to ensure that the people of VAK do not impose their preferences on the people of Ladakh and Jammu sub-regions of J & K.

Models for granting sub-regional and regional autonomy must be quickly evolved, by democratic means, and then implemented without loss of time.

India should make use of the best available technological means to address the problem of identity of individuals. 'Smart' identity cards that enable monitoring of movements and purchases must be issued to every citizen of J & K. These cards must also confer some tangible benefits on the holders so that there is also an incentive to obtain and carry them. Since terrorists use common people as their shield and cover, verifiable and foolproof identity documents would prove most useful and eventually cost effective in countering terrorism. These cards could also contain 'invisible' data that helps those engaged in counter-insurgency. India must hold the LOC more effectively, and for this purpose, if greater strength is required, it should be deployed on the LOC, and in depth. Creating a crisis in J & K is a part of Pak strategy. Avoiding such crises is a method of negating a major component of that strategy. Additional raisings and expenditure will not be without corresponding burden on Pak; proportionally, it would hurt Pak more, and act as a disincentive.

Greater integration of J & K with the rest of India needs to be interpreted not so much in terms of elimination of this or that article of the Constitution, but by greater interaction at individual and non-governmental level. Incentives and security guarantees should see the return of Pundits to the VAK, no matter how long it takes. Cultural, economic and trade ties, rather than aid should tie J & k to the rest of India.

During the Cold-War, it took only some ingenuity on the part of Pakistani rulers to convince the decision makers in the US that Pakistan would assist is furtherance of the US interests. The US became the equalizer in the sub-continent. Starting with major arms sales to Pakistan in the Fifties, it lent its weight to Pakistan in confronting India. In so doing, it was also serving its own purpose. The US took its cues from the former Imperial masters, in securing a role for itself in the sub-continent. On the one hand, Indo-Pak confrontation ensured for the US all the help that Pak could give in facilitating access to the Islamic world and China. On the other hand, if and when a need arose, Pak could be persuaded to dampen its hostility to India for a consideration that Pakistan would find attractive. The US hold on Pakistan was absolutely essential for either purpose. Now, in the changed circumstances, the US may want to create conditions in which India acts as a counter-balance to China. It would like to keep the option open. Although the US would continue to remain engaged in the sub-continent, it is unlikely to sub-serve Pak interests unquestioningly as it used to in the past.

The roots of the Kashmir problem run deep into the logic and reality of partition. Eventually a federal structure for the sub-continent has to emerge. The twenty-first century would not have it otherwise. But this will only happen when a sub-continental consensus gradually emerges. No 'constituent assembly' is likely to be formed in a hurry. But there must at least be a vision for the sub-continent, starry-eyed though it may be. Political and social scientists must begin by building models for this purpose. There is no need to place all the reliance on the step-by-step approach, although that also has a place in solving the immediate and pressing problems. After all India and Pakistan must continue their dialogue, at least during with flag-meetings, even when the Lahore Declaration is in tatters.