COMMENTARY
 
Why resolving Kashmir conflict is important
Weekly Pulse
February 6-12, 2009
Since early 90s, Pakistan has observed February 5 as a day of solidarity with the cause of Kashmir. This special day is observed with equal enthusiasm by the people of Kashmir struggling for freedom from Indian rule across the Pakistani side of the Line of Control. Yet for nearly two decades, the day’s significance has been merely symbolic, confined to the holding of public rallies and media talks, where leaders urge the international community to resolve the conflict. Nothing happens afterwards.

This time, however, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for the people of Kashmir and Pakistan, as well as for a segment of Indian Muslim population who wish the resolution of this intractable dispute in accordance with the aspirations of largely Muslim people residing in the disputed region.

The reason for this is that we have a new President in the United States, Barack Hussain Obama, who considers Kashmiri settlement crucial for defeating terrorism in the region. With America being the most pivotal player at the global stage, and the growing realization that India and Pakistan alone cannot resolve Kashmir, such hope makes a rational sense.

Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir has sent a memorandum to President Obama to intervene in Kashmir. Pir Ali Syed Gilani, one of the leaders of All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which is a representative body of over a dozen Kashmiri parties, has urged the international community, especially the Obama Administration, to resolve this over-half-century dispute.

Special Envoy

Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will visit Afghanistan and Pakistan early next week. Even though the US State Department has clarified that Mr Holbrooke’s mandate does not extend to Kashmir, given the fact that President Obama has already made an important link between Afghanistan and Kashmir, there is no reason why the Hero of Bosnia should not offer his own unique input in the case of Kashmir, if not now but at some stage when he fully gets involved in the conflict-ridden affairs of this region. Mr Holbrook may not mention Kashmir publicly—due to Indian sensitivities on the issue, which may complicate US ties with India—but he will surely talk about it privately.

During his election campaign, President Obama had singled out Kashmir as the flashpoint that destabilizes South and Central Asia. ‘Uproot the root cause in Kashmir and you can choke off the underlying tensions and overarching terrorism that afflict India, Pakistan and Afghanistan,’ he said.

In November, Mr Obama told MSNBC, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.” In July, he told the Time Magazine, “Kashmir was a place he wanted to “devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach”.

Bill Clinton

The name of Bill Clinton, the former US President and Mr Obama’s Democratic predecessor, is being speculated as the US Special envoy for Kashmir. President Clinton has a special attachment to South Asia, a region he visited in the final year of his presidency in April 2000. The most tragic event that coincided with his visit to India was the massacre of over 30 Sikhs in Indian-administered Kashmir, which was orchestrated by Indian security forces to portray Kashmiri freedom struggle as a terrorist movement, as India’s own investigations into the incident later revealed.

The basic contradiction in India’s Kashmir policy is that on the one hand it considers the disputed Kashmir region as its integral part; on the other, it has negotiated the dispute with Pakistan since the early 1960s. The Lyndon B Johnson Administration was instrumental in initiating the first round of such talks in that decade between Pakistan’s then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and India’s External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh.

In 1993, former US Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel made a bold remark on Kashmir, holding India responsible for the continuity of this intractable dispute and calling for its urgent resolution by the international community. New Delhi had responded quite offensively on the issue. For whatever reason, the Indians do not like anybody to talk about Kashmir.

That is why India has mounted a behind the scenes diplomatic offensive to take Kashmir off the table before Holbrooke started his challenging diplomatic mission to the region. That is why the Indian leadership lashed out British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who during a visit to India and Pakistan last month said Kashmir provided the oxygen for the terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

Indian Refusal

India does not appear to be in the mood to cooperate with the Obama Administration on the issue of Kashmir, even if for the past couple of decades the dispute has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people, who fell prey to terrorist violence and Indian state repression.

On Tuesday, Indian National Security Advisor M K Narayanan told CNBC TV18 that “references made by President Obama, which seem to suggest that there is some kind of link between the settlement on Pakistan’s western border and the Kashmir issue, certainly have caused concern [in India].”

In the event of Obama believing that there is a link between Pakistan’s eastern and western borders, he said, “I do think that we can make President Obama understand, if he does nurse any such view, that he is barking up the wrong tree. I think Kashmir today has become one of the quieter and safer places in this part of the world.” Narayanan said India would discuss issues concerning the region with Holbrooke, but if he broached Kashmir he would be informed that India would not accept any third-party involvement.

Indian intentions are, therefore, amply clear. The powerful clout of the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) community in the United States and India’s own status as a rising power in Asia are two important factors that can prevent Obama Administration from being as assertive as it may wish to be on Kashmir.

However, since the Obama Administration considers Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions as a central front in winning the war against terrorism, especially its belief that terrorists who operate in Afghanistan and Kashmir are part of the same international terrorist network led by al-Qaeda, it is out of question that Washington can sacrifice Afghanistan, an issue the international community is fully engaged in settling, for the sake of Kashmir, a dispute India has no interest in resolving.

Obama’s Priority

We should also not underestimate Mr Holbrooke’s ability to resolve entrenched regional conflicts. India was sympathetic to the cause of the Serbs in the Balkans. It was Mr. Holbrooke who made a difference in the lives of Bosnian Muslims, saving them from total extermination.

He will President Obama’s ear on Kashmir, as unlike his counterpart for Middle East George Mitchell, he will report directly to his boss in the Oval Office. And, as clear from Mr Obama’s remarks on Kashmir during the election campaign, the US President is quite clear about the importance of Kashmiri settlement in reversing the al-Qaeda-led terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s tribal regions and its potential international reach.

Afghanistan (along with Pakistan and Kashmir) is President Obama's priority, as he recognizes the Indo-Pakistani rivalry over Afghanistan is exacerbated by their endless jousting over Kashmir, which has sparked three wars between the nuclear-armed rivals. Kashmir is no doubt a nuclear power-keg.

It is not just the new US leadership that recognizes the crucial significance of resolving Kashmir in effectively tacking the global wave of terrorism, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Islamabad this week underscoring the urgent need to resolve conflict and combat terrorism in the region.

He urged India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir bilaterally, a process to achieve an amicable settlement of the dispute that two of his predecessors, Kofi Annan and Boutros-Boutros Ghali, had also underlined during their respective visits to the region in the last decade.

In an interview with me in March 1997, Secretary-General Ghali had frankly admitted that the UN Security Council was helpless in realizing its resolutions on Kashmir because its decision-making process was determined largely due to real-politic interests of the five veto powers.

That was understandable then, and it should be understandable now as well.

Main Obstacle

The foremost reason why the international community and its principal players such as the United States have not been able to mediate the Kashmir conflict is that India being one of the parties to the does not want any third-party intervention in the conflict resolution process on Kashmir.

Perhaps for the first time we have an administration in the United States which wants to play such a role, because the terrorism-related geo-political reality in the region necessitates international intervention in Kashmir. It is a dispute that has already caused three wars (1948, 1965 and 1971), one limited war (1999) and three near-war situations (1990, 2001, 2002). It is a conflict which has not been resolved by any of the bilateral processes thus far, be it the foreign secretaries-level talks in the late 1990s or the post-January 2004 composite dialogue between the two countries.

Thus, in South Asia, one of the principal challenges before the leaderships of the UN and the US is how to settle a dispute that frequently generates open hostility between India and Pakistan, distracts the latter’s attention from the counter-terrorism campaign in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, has the potential of causing a nuclear catastrophe, and, most important of all, a dispute where bilateralism has proven to be a historic failure.

There cannot be better proof of India’s arrogance and rigidity regarding Kashmir than the fact that during the four-year-long peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad, former Pakistani President-General Pervez Musharraf went to the extent of surrendering Pakistan’s traditional stand on Kashmir: that of seeking the dispute’s resolution through the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, which call for the holding of a UN-supervised plebiscite in the disputed region.

Musharraf Formula

President Musharraf’s four-point formula for the resolution of Kashmir, instead, proposed creative and pragmatic options such as demilitarization of the disputed region, establishment of self-governance in it, no change in its borders and the region’s joint supervision by India and Pakistan. In his memoir, General Musharraf elaborated at length as to what he meant by an “out-of-box” approach to Kashmir revolving around newer notions such as identification of zones of conflict, demilitarization, self-governance and join management of the selected zones.

It is the misfortune of India, a growing country that is making a difference in the global rise of Asia in world affairs, that none of its leaders, either from the Bharatiya Janata Party that began the recent peace process with Pakistan or the Congress Party which carried it forwards, however reluctantly, until the November Mumbai terror attacks, capitalized upon the enormous opportunity created by Pakistan’s U-turn on its Kashmir approach.

That U-turn, I believe, still remains intact under the current democratic government, despite India’s refusal to appreciate it and respond positively and its nasty moves to squeeze Pakistan’s lifeline by constructing and expanding dams, and obstructing the natural flow of water from Himalayan heights in disputed Kashmir to Pakistani territory—and all in clear violation of the 1962 Indus Water Treaty.

These are factual realities, and are as much important as is another present reality of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism posting a common danger to the region, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India alike. Since the terrorist events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, India has tactfully attempted to confuse link Kashmiri freedom struggle with terrorist movement in the region. There may have been a link in the past, and there may be some link today.

However, what matters the most here is the intention of the parties concerned. India’s portrayal of Kashmiri struggle as a terrorist movement is to neutralize the significance of Kashmir resolution bilaterally and internationally. The outmoded leadership in New Delhi does not realize that another, more powerful linkage is being established here by the leaders of the international community: that link, as clear from the above-quoted remarks of President Obama and British Foreign Secretary Miliband, is between the non-resolution of Kashmir as a major obstacle to the victory against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Pragmatism Demands

We shall wait and see as to when pragmatism also prevails in India, which deserves a better, younger generation of leadership who can look beyond the myopic worldview of the country’s current ruling elites, and responds positively to the workable options for Kashmiri settlement articulated by Pakistan’s former regime and maintained as such by its current rulers.

It is for India to understand that its rational wish to emerge as a pivotal regional player stands in sharp contrast with its irrational desire not to settle Kashmir at any cost with Pakistan, nor to allow international intervention for its resolution. It would be stupid on the part of Indian leaders to aspire for permanent membership of the Security Council while continuing to be intransigent on Kashmir, a dispute registered with the Security Council as one of the most intractable regional conflicts.

As the failed peace process tells us, Pakistan alone cannot make India understand this important factor, which serves India’s pragmatic regional-global interests. Islamabad did everything within the composite dialogue process, and outside it, to facilitate the settlement of Kashmir. The process came to a grinding halt in November, as terrorists struck Mumbai. It is India’s failure to at look into the possibility of the involvement in Mumbai terrorism of the same organizations that kill innocent people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It took weeks of US, British and other shuttle diplomacies to prevent India from pursuing a suicidal course with Pakistan, which has surely hurt the international cause of counter-terrorism in the region.

The international community, especially the Americans and their British friends, have to act forcefully in the case of Kashmir.

Access column at weeklypulse.org