On the eve of his visit to the United States, Indian Prime Minister ManMohan Singh has once again triggered a controversy over Kashmir by telling CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on October 22 that “there will be no redrawing” of the borders in the disputed region. He added that, within the existing border arrangement, the “two countries can work together to ensure that peace is maintained, that trade is made free and ensure that encouragement is given for more people-to-people contact.”
Neither the UN Security Council nor Pakistan or the Kashmiri people consider the Line of Control as a permanent border. Consequently, the Indian prime minister’s statement received a swift reaction from the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. It spokesman Abdul Basit said India had no “right to decide the issue unilaterally.” He added that “Kashmir was a pivotal part of the comprehensive peace dialogue between Pakistan and India…the Kashmir dispute must be resolved in accordance with UN resolutions”
There is no doubt that in recent years the center of gravity of the conflict in South Asia has shifted from Kashmir to Pakistan’s frontier with Afghanistan and in Afghanistan itself. This does not mean that Kashmir has disappeared from the region. Since 1989, the disputed region has seen an uprising by a host of militant groups, waging a war against Indian security forces as well as committing terrorist activities.
In a recent report, the Amnesty International called upon US President Barack Obama to raise the issue of India’s oppression in Kashmir when he meets Prime Minister Singh in Washington. The report states: “The Indian side of Kashmir is an area where the security forces commit mass human rights abuses with impunity...facilitated by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and other similar laws.
The Forgotten Pledge
During his election campaign, Mr. Obama had pledged to make the resolution of Kashmir dispute as one of his administration’s top priorities in South Asia. The rationale offered by him and his advisor on the region, Bruce Riedel, at the time was that Kashmir was a major cause of regional terrorism, and its continuity prevented Pakistan to fully concentrate on combating terrorism in the country’s border regions with Afghanistan acting as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban.
The Obama Administration has not yet undertaken any credible initiative to helpIndia and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir dispute. However, during their recent meeting in Beijing, President Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao did issue a joint statement, saying they “agreed to cooperate” in “bringing about more stable, peaceful relations in all of South Asia.” On the occasion, US Secretary of State Clinton said in an interview that the United States wanted the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan to sort out their differences, including Kashmir.
For its part, Pakistan’s present leadership is willing to engage India for a “constructive engagement and meaningful dialogue”, to use Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s recent remarks, to resolve the Kashmir dispute amicably. The response from Indian leadership is as disappointing as it was during the Musharraf regime, which had gone an extra mile in offering several unilateral concessions from Pakistan’s side to secure a negotiated outcome of the dispute.
Instead of showing due interest in mutually resolving Kashmir, Prime Minister ManMohan and his ministers for external affairs and home affairs have somehow developed this habit of sidetracking the key South Asian dispute which is also one of the main sources of regional terrorism. For instance, in the same interview, Mr Singh said, “Pakistan has not done enough with regard to pursuing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks. He continued by alleging that Pakistan’s fight against Taliban was at cross-purposes with the US-led war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has officially accepted that its territory was used for Mumbai attacks, and its civilian government has arrested scores of Mumbai terror suspects. However, the fact that Lashkar-e-Tayyiba chief, Hafiz Saeed, was freed by the court does create a reason for India to criticize Pakistan for not “doing enough” in bringing the culprits of Mumbai terrorism to task. However, to argue that Pakistan’s current fight against Taliban in South Waziristan is in contrast with US counter-terrorism agenda in the region is quite unreasonable, especially when Islamabad’s success against Taliban first in Swat and now in South Waziristan is being appreciated by the outside world.
The China Factor
On its own, India has attempted to reach out to the Kashmiri resistance groups—but without any role of Pakistan in the negotiated settlement of the dispute. The All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC), a representative body of a number of Kashmiri resistance group, does not subscribe to such a course. That is why its Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq recently stated a just solution to the Kashmir dispute could be brought about only through tripartite talks—participated by Pakistan, India and Kashmiris. He even proposed the inclusion of China in any future negotiations over Kashmir.
The role of China in Kashmir was first highlighted this year when Beijing started to issue visas to Indian Kashmiris on separate sheets—rather than stamps in an Indian passport. That implied to Indians that China questioned India's rule over Kashmir. India responded to the Chinese move by allowing Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to visit the Arunachal Pradesh region near the Chinese border in November. New Delhi has likewise criticized the recent joint statement of Presidents Obama and Hu. Mistrust between India and China has grown this year over the disputed Indian border state of, especially with the visit of the exiled Dalai Lama. The two countries fought a brief but bloody war in 1962.
Resolving the Kashmir dispute is central to peace in South Asia, a region already overshadowed by terrorist violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In other words, combating terrorism in this volatile region requires solving the 62-year dispute, which has already caused three wars and as many, if not more, standoffs between the two countries.
Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the organization which allegedly conducted the November 2008 terrorist assaults in Mumbai, and other al-Qaeda affiliates in the region seek their existential and operational legitimacy from the continuing prevalence of unresolved Muslim conflicts such as Kashmir.
A former activist of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, for instance, told Kamran Haider of Reuters recently in an interview that his group could “strike again despite Pakistani efforts to rein it in.”
”I don't know whether they'll carry out another attack like Mumbai, but for sure they won't leave India in peace as long as Kashmir is not resolved," he was quoted as saying.
"Their goal is Kashmir freedom. It's the priority. They still pray for the freedom of Kashmir every time they finish their prayers."
The above statement makes the inherent danger in the unresolved Kashmir dispute very clear. Its non-resolution will continue to fuel non-state terrorism, provide a pretext to violent non-state actors in the region to engage in militancy, including terrorism, and distract Pakistan as a frontline counter-terrorist state in the region from proactively combating terrorism.
Given that, both India and Pakistan can no longer afford the luxury of pursuing a peace process which only produces cosmetic results in trade, transport and confidence-building spheres and does not address the core issues of dispute between the two countries such as Kashmir.
Instead of making irresponsible statements on Kashmir, which generate unnecessary controversy, dimming hopes for the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan, the Indian leadership should come forward and join its Pakistani counterpart’s thus far unilateral chorus on starting a “meaningful and constructive” process to once and for all resolve a dispute on the basis of which terrorist groups thrive and jeopardize regional peace and stability.
Access this Commentary at weeklypulse.org