COMMENTARY
 
US experts ignore Kashmir realities
The Nation
November 30, 1997
In the spring of 1997, a five-member team of known US experts on South Asia spent nearly two months in interviewing scholars, journalists, academics and top serving and retired government and state officials in India and Pakistan. The US-based Kashmir Study Group, which had sponsored the team’s visit to the two countries, has released its report, The Kashmir Dispute at Fifty: Charting Paths to Peace, which—as it was expected—stresses an amicable and “just” settlement of the issue through a bilateral dialogue between the two countries, and not a solution that requires implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on the dispute.

The Study Team members included Dr Ainslie Embree, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University, Dr Charles H Kennedy of the Wake Forest University, Ambassador Howard Schaffer of Georgetown University, Joseph Schwartzberg of the University of Minnesota and Robert Wirsing of the University of South Carolina.

The 72-page report mentions their findings respectively in India and Pakistan, and, based on these findings, makes several recommendations. These recommendations, in the opinion of the authors, represent “measures to change the circumstances currently prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir” and are “premised on the belief that such conditions include commitment by all parties not merely to the peaceful but to the just settlement of the Kashmir dispute.”

The team commends the governments of India and Pakistan for embarking in the 50th anniversary year of the Kashmir dispute on an historic and promising initiative to normalize bilateral ties and strongly recommends that they press forward with their effort. In addition, the team considers it imperative that the dialogue now under way between India and Pakistan be given as soon as possible a strengthened and protected institutional framework.

That Study Team seems to have made this recommendation after being encouraged by the fact that India and Pakistan have started negotiating their differences through dialogue. That’s why their report starts by mentioning that “the meeting of the two countries’ foreign secretaries in Islamabad in late June 1997 ended with a joint statement containing the announcement that the two governments had agreed upon the formation of eight “working groups to meet for discussions on the major issues between them. Kashmir was to be the focus of one of them. This was the first time since the Simla Agreement of 1972 that India and Pakistan had formally agreed upon Kashmir’s inclusion on the agenda for talks between them”.

The fact is that much of the optimism regarding Indo-Pak dialogue that existed in June has waned now—due to India’s backtracking from the formation of a Joint Working Group on Kashmir, as was agreed during the foreign secretaries’ talks held in Islamabad in June. In other words, India has proved that even a bilateral negotiating option on Kashmir is not acceptable to it, what to talk of a multilateral solution as aspired by Pakistan, the entire Muslim world and even some Western states like Great Britain.

The Kashmir Study Group’s report also argues that progress towards the restoration of normal civil life in Jammu and Kashmir is a vital initial step towards an eventual fair and honourable settlement of the Kashmir dispute. “All parties to the dispute need to commit themselves unreservedly to this objective,” it states.

One agrees with the Team’s observation that civil life should be restored in occupied Kashmir. The question is, how? Through unilateral surrender of all the Kashmiris fighting for their freedom? Or, through unilateral withdrawal of all the Indian forces persecuting the Kashmiri freedom fighters? Or, by implementing the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir? The team members should have focused on one additional question, what has forced the Kashmiri people to pick up arms to secure their right of self-determination?

Two other inter-related recommendations of the Kashmir Study Group’s report are: first, at an appropriate time early in the unfolding of normalization talks between India and Pakistan, the political representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be formally and meaningfully included in the negotiations; and, secondly, representation of Kashmiris in normalization talks between India and Pakistan should be broadly defined to include not only representatives of the two governments already established in the area—that is in Srinagar as well as in Muzaffarabad—but also representatives of all other major political, regional, ethnic, and religious groups. Agreed that Kashmiri representatives from the entire Kashmir should be included in the talks, but the question is whether they themselves are willing to be part of the Indo-Pak dialogue unconditionally; and, also, whether India is willing to include them in the talks.

The answer on both counts is, No. The Kashmiris say they will not participate in the talks unless India is willing to recognize the validity of UN resolutions on Kashmir or, in other words, their right to self-determination. For its part, India neither wants to include Kashmiris in the talks, nor is it ready to accept any UN-sponsored resolution of the dispute. Why would India like to include the Kashmiris in talks when it does not consider Kashmir a disputed territory?

A confidence-building measure to which the Team attaches particular importance would be “a significant reduction in the number of security forces that India maintains on internal security duties in ‘the state of Jammu and Kashmir’ and the transfer of these duties to the state’s own ‘regular police forces.’ The Team believes that “Pakistan, for its part, should simultaneously undertake a convincing confidence-building measure of its own by agreeing to station on its side of the Line of Control an adequately staffed regional or other international body with a fresh mandate for observing and reporting all cross-border activity.”

A logical follow-on to the last recommendation, in the Team’s judgement, would be for India and Pakistan to explore together various modalities for strengthening peacekeeping on the Line of Control. “One such option would be to constitute a joint Border Security Group to supplement or even, eventually, replace the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) as principal peace-keeper on the Line of Control.”

Withdrawing the UNMOGIP from the Line of Control is an option recommended earlier by US Congressman Jesse Helms. It suits India, for the simple reason that as long as the United Nations retains its military presence along the Line of Control, the Kashmir issue will continue to be characterized as an international dispute. The question of withdrawing the UNMOGIP from the Line of Control should rise only after Kashmir dispute is peacefully resolved through UN resolutions. By asking Pakistan and India to set up a joint Border Security Force along the Line of Control, the Team ignores the fact that India is the only accused party in the case of Kashmir. Pakistan, on the other hand, is an aggrieved nation.

Also, why ask India that it should reduce its security forces in Kashmir only “significantly”? Why can’t New Delhi be asked to withdraw all of its well over 600,000 troops from the Valley, and, instead, agree to station a UN-peace-keeping force in the territory?

The Kashmir Study Group Team also believes that it is equally crucial that the government of India “take public steps to formalize and strengthen monitoring of India’s compliance in Kashmir with applicable United Nations human rights covenants.” Here again, there is an inherent contradiction in the Team’s perception. Why limit India’s “public steps” only to its adherence to the UN Human Rights Charter? Why not ask India to implement UN resolutions—by allowing the stationing of international peacekeepers in Kashmir and the holding of a free and fair plebiscite?

The Team believes that India should initiate formal and unconditional talks with a broadened slate of Kashmiri leaders, including the leadership of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. India’s willingness to take this action is essential for progress to be made towards the restoration of normal civil life in Kashmir. In addition, it also stresses the need for a clear commitment from “all of the armed militant and counter-militant Kashmiri groups of their willingness to eschew violence and to participate constructively in the process of political dialogue”. The implementation of this recommendation again depends upon Indian attitude.

What New Delhi has been interested in, in the last five decades of the Kashmir conflict, is to suppress the Kashmiris’ will. Then, how can it negotiate with the Kashmiri leaders? And, for their part, the Kashmiris fighting the Indians in occupied Kashmir should not be asked to give up their armed option. Why? Because they were forced to pick up arms in 1989 only after they realized that the Indians, under no peaceful circumstances, will agree to give them their due right to self-determination as guaranteed to them under the UN Security Council resolutions.

The final recommendation of the Kashmir Study Group Team is that the international community “can play a helpful role by emphasizing to all those concerned the importance of implementing measures to restore normal civil life and by pointing out to them the high costs of failing to do so.” The fact, however, is that solution to the Kashmir problem is not possible unless the international community starts treating it, in a real manner, as a regional dispute requiring international resolution.

While the world community, including the Study Team itself, recognizes Kashmir as a dispute, India does not. Only this simple reality explains what the international community should do—or should have done in the first four decades of the dispute in order to prevent the popular uprising, which has come to be a fundamental ground reality in occupied Kashmir in the last over seven years.