COMMENTARY
 
Kashmir: Setting the Record Straight
The Nation
August 8, 1999
India’s former Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit and former National Security Advisor N. N. Vohra recently spoke on Kashmir at the Stimson Center, a Washington-based security think-tank. As special envoys of Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, they also met Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth at the State Department. Press reports about what the two former Indian officials said during the two occasions suggest they have attempted to distort the reality in Kashmir before US policy makers and security experts.

Even though the United States officially considers Kashmir a disputed matter, and has frequently offered to mediate if both India and Pakistan accept its offer, the danger inherent in the latest Indian bid to present a distorted picture of Kashmir before US political and security establishment cannot be under-estimated.

Nuclear Flashpoint

Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute. Especially since the Indo-Pak nuclear tests of last year, it has at least won near-global recognition as a nuclear flashpoint. For the last one decade, a popular uprising has been under way in Indian-administered Kashmir, where widespread human rights violations are frequently reported by many world bodies, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and also by several Indian NGOs.

Even if not entirely, the uprising is predominantly indigenous. The Kashmir issue is, thus, not about territory; it is essentially about people and their right to freedom. A right guaranteed by the United Nations Security Councils. A right to be secured through the UN-mandated plebiscite and a right promised by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. All of these are facts. And there are many more.

The sad reality, however, is that, despite dispatching envoys on Kashmir to Western capitals, especially Washington, Pakistan’s successive governments have been unable to let the American and the rest of Western policy making circles fully digest these truths. On the contrary, despite the fact that Indians mostly distort the reality of Kashmir, they have been able to influence Western thought on the dispute. Why is it that Pakistani envoys fail to project the truth of Kashmir?

Fundamentalist Takeover

This is a question for the present government to answer, and then act accordingly. As reported, Indian experts have stated that, “India is ready to offer Nawaz Sharif ‘anything in the world’ to keep him in power, as the alternative could be a fundamentalist, Talibaniesed regime which would be much more difficult to ideal with.” The fact is that even Pakistan’s biggest Islamic party, Jama’at-e-Islami, has for many years become a non-entity in electoral politics. This is the strange reality in a country which was created in the name of Islam. Despite the fact that Pakistan has an Islamic constitution, no religious party has ever ruled over its people since independence.

India, on the other hand, despite constitutionally being a secular state, is currently being rule by a religious party. BJP won 1996 elections. It won 1998 elections, and it is all set to win the coming September polls. On what basis do Mr Dixit and Mr Vohra see the rise of Islamists in the fall of Mr. Sharif, whose power base is already predominantly represented by conservative section of Pakistani society?

For the two Indian experts, the 1972 Simla accord has also all of a sudden become “sacrosanct.” An accord which has been physically violated three times by India itself, well before the Kargil crisis started. Soon after the Simla accord, India aggressed into Chorbat La. Then, in 1984, it committed the Siachen aggression. Finally, in 1992, it invaded and occupied the Qamar sector. All of these violations of the Simla accord damaged one thing: the so-called sanctity of the Line of Control.

Simla Accord

If the Simla Accord was so “sacrosanct,” then India should have negotiated the Kashmir issue bilaterally with Pakistan years ago. Mr. Dixit himself sabotaged the Indo-Pak parleys on Kashmir, when he came to Islamabad in January 1994 as India’s foreign secretary, leaving his Pakistani counterpart Sheharyar Khan wondering about the purpose of his visit. It was on prime minister Sharif’ s personal initiative, which he undertook soon after coming to power in February 1997, that the foreign secretary-level talks process was resumed. Then, in a couple of rounds of these talks in March, June and September that year, a Working Group on Kashmir was finally negotiated.

Who backtracked from that option? Pakistan? Indian experts argued in Washington that India was ready for a “reasonable compromise” on Kashmir—one of the preconditions for which, they said, was that “Pakistan should come out of its static complex.” They said Pakistan should end its fixation with the Partition Plan. The fact, however, is that Kashmir is nothing but an unfinished agenda of Partition. That behind its creation lies India’ s over half a century old aggression is a historical truth. That Kashmir dispute was also an outcome of the British mischief is another widely acknowledged factor. Forgetting the essence of the issue and exercising an option which is not even indirectly linked to it is in fact the line of action that India has always adopted on Kashmir, and is now more devoutly pursuing in the post-Kargil period.

LoC is a temporary arrangement, both under UN Security Council resolutions and the Simla agreement. It is the same ceasefire line which was established under the UN resolutions in 1949. It is a line drawn only on 19 maps, but was not delineated on the ground. It is line being monitored by UN observers, ever since 1949, at least form Pakistani-administered Kashmir’s side. How can it be turned into an international frontier? Why not ask the Kashmiris, living on both sides of the LoC, about this? Kashmiris have been separated from each other for the last half century. Is it human to permanently separate them?

The Plebiscite

Mr. Dixit and Mr. Vohra reportedly claimed in their talk at Stimson Center that it was not India but Pakistan which had not implemented the UN Security Council resolutions calling for plebiscite. Their argument was that the UN resolutions had spelled out a number of steps Pakistan had to take before the referendum could be held. These steps included evacuation of all Pakistani troops form Azad Kashmir, and creating a stable administration and preparing for the plebiscite. “Whenever we refer to these steps as a prelude to Indian obligations, the Pakistanis never come back with a response,” said Mr. Dixit.

Who the Indians are now trying to fool? Pakistan’s withdrawal from Azad Kashmir, creating a stable administration there and things like these are all of secondary importance. First and foremost is the willingness to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. Why can’t India announce such willingness tomorrow? Why does it oppose external mediation on Kashmir? Does India have a stand on Kashmir? How can the envoys of a country which does not even recognize Kashmir as a dispute now start considering “reasonable compromises” and “practical solutions” concerning its resolution?

Given America’ s post-Cold War global clout, Islamabad needs to undertake urgent diplomatic efforts to clarify among all the circles in Washington, DC visited or addressed by the two former Indian officials what the truth is in Kashmir.