Kashmir and the Prospects for Peace
Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Since 1947, the Kashmir dispute has bedevilled relations between Pakistan and India. It has led to three separate wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971, as well as a serious armed conflict in Kargil in 1999. Because both countries are declared nuclear weapons states, Indo-Pak hostilities have serious repercussions for South Asian relations as a whole. Attempts at regional cooperation—such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the South Asia Free Trade Agreement—have floundered.
The roots of the Kashmir conflict lie not merely in the controversial accession of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir to India. The core tension between the two countries is the confrontation between their two nationalisms. According to Pakistani nationalism and theorized in the ‘two-nation theory’, Muslims would be oppressed under majority-Hindu rule. Hence, the need for a Muslim state Pakistan vis-à-vis India a Hindu state. Because Kashmir (shorthand for Jammu and Kashmir) is a Muslim-majority state, and is part of the unfinished agenda of the 1947 Partition, it should belong to Pakistan. On the other hand, Indian nationalism, which until almost the very end opposed the idea of Pakistan, is secular. It believes that Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews can live together, as they have done for centuries. It is critical for Indian nationalism that Kashmir, with a sizeable Muslim majority, stays with India as a potent symbol of Indian secularism. Kashmir has become hostage to these bitterly contending nationalisms.
Nationalistic Struggles and Problems of Governance
India recognized the unique nature of Kashmir and in 1949 incorporated it as such into the Indian Constitution. The special Article 370 granted most governing powers to the Kashmiris, except for some critical powers such as defence, foreign affairs, currency, and communications, which remained vested with the federal government. Kashmiris had their own Constitution and flag. The Kashmir Assembly was to decide which, if any, Indian laws it would permit to extend to Kashmir. These concessions were remarkable for a Constitution that was otherwise centralized and never mentioned the term ‘federal’.
The powers of the Kashmir Constitution, however, did not last long. By 1953, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India could no longer stomach the assertions of Kashmir’s autonomy or even independence from India made by Sheikh Abdullah, the popular Kashmiri Prime Minister. Sheikh Abdullah was summarily removed and placed under house arrest. Soon, Article 370 was systematically whittled down at the behest of the Central government by pliant assemblies produced by rigged elections.
The growing Kashmiri alienation did not become militarized until the 1987 elections, wherein opposition Muslim United Front candidates were robbed of a significant number of seats in the Kashmir valley, while counting agents and candidates were beaten and thrown out of counting centres. The Kashmiris had had enough. Large numbers of Kashmiri youth crossed over the border to Pakistan and were trained and armed. This led to the Kashmir insurgency, which by 1989 was backed by a wave of popular support.
Though Pakistan trained and armed the young Kashmiris who had crossed over to garner support for their ‘freedom struggle’, the provocation arose primarily from India, not Pakistan. Henceforth, from 1989, Pakistani-trained militants, mostly non-Kashmiri, came and fought against the Indian security forces in Kashmir, marking a new stage in the dispute. The violence spread, and terrorist attacks were launched against innocent civilians in the rest of India, causing thousands of deaths. In retaliation, sectarian Hindu parties invoked the Kashmir struggle to identify Indian Muslims with Pakistan. This led to pogroms against Muslims—most notably in Mumbai in December 1992—January 1993 and Gujarat in February–March 2002, in which a total of more than 4,000 innocent civilians were killed. In the entire Kashmir conflict, some 50,000 to 80,000 people have been killed, primarily Kashmiris. If other Pakistani-backed secessionist movements in Punjab and the North-East are added, the death toll approaches 100,000. And the attacks have continued: on 11 July 2006, almost 200 civilians were killed in bomb blasts in suburban trains in Mumbai.
Continuing Political Implications of the Struggle
Civil societies in both countries have paid, and are still paying a terrible price for these sanguinary struggles. In Pakistan, the fighting over Kashmir has legitimized military dictatorships and draconian anti-terror laws, which are often used against dissidents and civil society movements. In India, it has also led to sweeping anti-terror laws that are sometimes used against Muslim civil society movements, innocent Muslim civilians, and petty Muslim criminals. The more recent terrorist attack in Mumbai has led to the postponement of Indo-Pak talks, despite the left parties’ pressure on the Indian government to proceed as planned. As a result, the Indo-Pak conflict has had grave consequences for both countries, and the peace process has often broken down.
If the Kashmir issue is to be resolved to the satisfaction of Pakistani leaders, who dub Kashmir the ‘core issue’ in the Indo-Pak conflict, there would have to be durable peace. India, while accepting the importance of the Kashmir problem, refuses to separate it from other outstanding issues such as the Siachen glacier, Wullar barrage, and above all the cessation of cross-border terrorism. India argues that to create the atmosphere for a comprehensive settlement, Pakistani-backed terrorism must be stopped first, because it is an act of war.
Meanwhile, Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir remain fruitless. On its part, Pakistan insists that it is not training, arming, or providing logistical support to militants in Kashmir. The rise of militant attacks in Kashmir and the rest of India, however, belies this assertion. While it is clear that some of the groups—such as the much-feared Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Hizbul Mujahiddin—on occasion function autonomously, these militant attacks and low-intensity conflicts are nonetheless designed to force India to accept a solution palatable to Pakistan. It is now universally accepted that Pakistani support and guidance to the Kashmiri militancy keeps the armed struggle going.
Unresolved Critical Problems
One major obstacle to peace is the lack of Kashmiri representation in Indo-Pak talks. The Indian side insists on speaking to the Kashmiris in India and opposes trilateral dialogue. In Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK), parties such as the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front that support accession to Pakistan are not allowed to contest the assembly elections including the July 2008 J & K Assembly Elections that were poorly attended. This is understandable because the Pakistani state decides the premier of Pakistani-administered Kashmir through its nominees, despite the wishes of any party or coalition that has a majority in the assembly. And the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan have scarcely any representation at all. All strands of Kashmiri opinion on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) should be fully represented in the talks, even if Indian objections prevent trilateral talks. If India simultaneously discusses with Pakistanis and Kashmiris, it would provide concrete assurance to the Kashmiris that their interests on both sides of the LoC are being represented and duly considered. But the Indians remain wary. Their constant refrain is that the Kashmir problem is a bilateral issue that merits no third-party intervention.
Furthermore, the Indian establishment has consistently argued that there can be no substantive talks concerning Kashmir until cross-border terrorism from Pakistan ends. Simultaneously, it argues that terrorism in Kashmir is purely the result of Pakistani support and sheltering of terrorists. But this argument that cross-border terrorism has caused the Kashmir situation today is circular. If cross-border terrorism ends, there will be no Kashmir problem. In the Indian argument, there is no admission of how India has alienated and caused suffering to the Kashmiri people. Human rights violations are consistently denied. Access to international human rights groups is forbidden. The blame is consistently heaped on Pakistan, and the Indian role glossed over. The backdrop of conflict between the two contesting nationalisms on Kashmir, together with the enduring bitterness over Partition, has facilitated the demonization of the neighbour by elites on both sides. Demonization has spread to the peoples in both countries and weakened the peace constituencies in both.
The core issue in Indo-Pak relations, then, is the way each ruling elite demonizes the ‘other’. Pakistani scholars such as K. K. Aziz and A. H. Nayyar, and Indian scholars such as Bipan Chandra and Ram Puniyani, among a host of others, have shown how textbooks in both countries have distorted their own histories and that of the ‘other’, thereby providing an enduring basis of hatred towards the ‘othered’ people and country. This is not just a problem in madrasas, or the Hindu right’s Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools, but is equally present in public school texts and teaching. Similarly, the mass media, including the electronic media, present few programmes humanizing the other, and reflecting the true realities and similarities between the two countries. The simple fact that both peoples lived together in harmony for thousands of years is barely reflected in Pakistani texts and media. On the contrary, the media and major opinion makers in both countries are quick to blame the other for their own problems.
The consistent demonization of the other can be countered only by resolute and sustained action by the state and civil society in both countries. Despite much propaganda about people-to-people contact, such contact remains informal and fettered by the principle of reciprocity. For example, India invited 800 Pakistanis to the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai. Then, Pakistan admitted only the same number of Indians to the 2006 World Social Forum in Karachi. The lack of contact is deeply troubling because it undermines the peace process by precluding civil society from rejecting negative stereotypes and by preventing the exposure of the other side to civil society activists and the common people. Direct personal contact is indispensable to building sustainable peace in both countries. Yet it is given grossly inadequate support by both governments. Even today, obtaining visas for people-to-people dialogues is extremely difficult. To create grounds for better Indo-Pak relations, visa rules and facilities for people to travel to both countries must be considerably liberalized.
Track II and III talks, which are unofficial dialogues between influential actors in civil society, will also continue to be useful in countering the impact of demonization. Track II talks tend to be dominated by retired bureaucrats or military personnel, whereas Track III talks are dominated by activists in civil society, but both are necessary for de-demonization. Other people-to-people contacts also help counter the chauvinist propaganda and mindset in both countries. National chauvinism is what has made the Kashmir problem so intractable, and the Pakistani and Indian power elites so inflexible and unyielding. Unless a non-chauvinist attitude becomes dominant in both countries, the peace constituencies will remain too weak to pressure their respective governments to reach a reasonable and fair compromise. Both polities are still far from that situation, but the success of efforts such as the Pakistan—India Forum for Peace and Democracy founded in 1994 and the recent World Social Forum in Karachi held in 2006 in which prominent Indian activists were represented, both point to the rich possibilities of sustained people-to-people contact.
Feasible Plans for Resolution
From this gloomy situation, is there any way out? India is content because militancy is contained; terrorism levels are down as compared to the 1990s. There is, therefore, no threat to the survival of the Indian state. Indeed, militancy only strengthens Indian chauvinism over Kashmir. Tragically, the militants who are killing innocent civilians are only delaying a solution to Kashmir and not bringing it any closer. The Kashmiris are now tired of the bloodshed and want peace.
Solutions are possible. But before the grounds for any solution can be created, the demonization process would have to be reversed. Right-wing political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena as well as other political forces like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh continue to publicize the bitter memories of Partition, constraining steps toward peace while furthering the demonization since the hostility between the two nations is based on more than just the Kashmir dispute. Popular history would have to be rewritten and re-taught. From textbooks to media, the neighbouring country would have to be presented in a realistic and friendly manner. This would also require a change in the political discourse and mindsets of the elites in both countries. Only after this crucial step occurs are substantive midterm solutions plausible, because the problem of Kashmir is mired within the problem of demonization driven by historical memory. Despite subtle international pressure, the Indo-Pak peace talks are moving slowly.
One such midterm solution is to give both Kashmirs maximal autonomy, in accordance with the original intention of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution, and the demands of the Kashmir Assembly. Both countries can retain defence, foreign affairs, and communication, while other powers will be vested in the two Kashmirs. The LoC should become a soft border with simple and quick procedures for entry and exit. Both countries should immediately accept all international human rights and humanitarian laws, including the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and amend their own law accordingly, which is something even India has not done. The LoC could be policed jointly by Pakistani and Indian paramilitary forces. An international tribunal, as suggested by the Indian jurist A. G. Noorani, could be set up to address human rights complaints by India about PaK, and Pakistani complaints about Indian-administered Kashmir.
While this is neither full accession to Pakistan or India nor creation of a sovereign Kashmir, it would largely meet the Kashmiri demand for ‘azadi’ or independence. A long-term solution? Well, once a common Kashmiri society and polity are restored and bonds are allowed to strengthen despite the LoC, new solutions may emerge. Kashmiris may decide that they want complete independence or alternatively accession to India or Pakistan. If the peace process continues to gather steam, other problems are resolved and fears and suspicions diminished, and thereafter, both Pakistan and India may consider new long-term solutions for Kashmir that are unacceptable now.
The acceptance of such a midterm solution will be the true test of democracy in both countries, and of their commitment to the Kashmiri people. This is not implausible. In its talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, the body of the Naga tribes that fought long for independence, the Indian government had discussed solutions outside the currently framed Constitution. If there is political will and realism, the Kashmir problem can also be resolved, though it is profoundly more complicated than the Naga problem. The international community can help through indirect mediation because the Indian government insists on treating Kashmir as a purely bilateral matter. Both Pakistan and India must be told that there is no military solution to this problem, which is not just a territorial dispute. While it pressures Pakistan to completely end its support for militancy and gives full political rights to PaK and the northern areas, the international community should also mediate with India to restore Article 370 in the original or an extended form as well as ensure that both countries ratify all human rights instruments.
At the moment, these ideas seem like a wish list. But the same was true for the Indian struggle for independence against Britain and again during the struggle for Pakistan. Civil society will have to lead the way by vigorously combating national chauvinism and strengthening the forces of peace and justice. Most of all, both Pakistanis and Indians must realize that no country that oppresses another can itself be free.