Sunday, June 10, 2012

Building peace in Kashmir: Next steps



Yasin Malik is an untiring leader who keenly observes and understands the unfolding of politics around him: his own life, from joining armed militancy to giving up arms to initiating Safar-i-Azadi, is witness to his deep understanding of the ever-changing nature of politics. An intellectual, full of political intensity, Malik has often been the first in Kashmir to evolve his politics according to the need of the times. His recent op-ed in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn (May 29, 2012) makes a politically sound observation: “The fate of Kashmir and the Kashmiris appears, for all intents and purposes, to have been stuck in the great game of international and power politics.” Malik is absolutely right. 

Let’s further examine and explore his arguments in the article a bit further. Indeed, as is well known, Kashmir conflict has two dimensions: the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir and the New Delhi-Kashmir conflict. Which dimension of this conflict is stuck in the vagaries of international power politics? Surely, it is the Indo-Pak dimension of the Kashmir conflict that is ‘stuck’ in the new regional balance of power. 

Kashmir and the regional balance of power 
9/11, war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s fall from the American grace, strengthening Indo-US strategic partnership and the Chinese ambivalence have all meant that the Kashmir conflict has lost its priority status in the eyes of the international community. Pakistan’s unfortunate pariah status, strategic arms racing between India and Pakistan, and the increasing nuclearisation of the South Asian strategic scene have further diminished the importance of the Kashmir issue for the rest of the world. While Pakistan may have gained strategically from the region’s overt nuclearisation in 1998, in checkmating Indian conventional superiority in the region, its nuclear weapons and strategic behavior over the years have meant that it has lost its case in Kashmir. Nuclearized South Asia is too important for the international community to leave to the whims of the Pakistani generals who would like to wrest Kashmir from the Indian control by hook or crook. 

What does this ‘forced’ Indo-Pak thaw mean for Kashmir?  This very simply means that the ‘phase of Indo-Pak conflict’ in Jammu and Kashmir is over, at least for the time being. What we are witnessing now is the ‘phase of accommodation’ on Kashmir between the two nuclear neighbours. The two sides also recognize this fact and it is evident in their rhetoric, strategies, willingness to sign CBMs and talk about next steps in Kashmir. It is this process of dialogue and accommodation that we will witness in Kashmir in the coming years. Of course, there are potential wildcards that can frustrate this bilateral process of accommodation on Kashmir. Post-2014 Afghanistan is undoubtedly one of them. 

Given this state of play, it is perhaps wise to focus on the next steps in the resolution of the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. What are those next steps? Reduction of violence in Kashmir by both sides, by Pak-sponsored militants and Indian armed forces, is perhaps the most important next step. Apart from the reduction of violence, there is also a need to increase the intra-Kashmir connectivity. A great deal in this regard was achieved by the two sides during the 2004-2007 peace process. Many non-governmental initiatives had also played a crucial role in this process, most notably the Pugwash Conferences organized by its Secretary General Paolo Cotta Ramusinoin Islamabad, Katmandu, and Srinagar, and other world capitals. There is an urgent need to revive, encourage and strengthen such non-governmental initiatives as well. 

The state of conflict between New Delhi and Kashmir 
While the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir seems to be heading towards some sort of resolution, the conflict between New Delhi and Srinagar seems to be in suspended animation. There is apparent calm in Kashmir. The unaffordable airfares to Srinagar, even as there are over 20 flights to the city, are witness that. Such calm, however, stops at the surface. There is conflict, fear, anger and disillusionment beneath that fragile surface. There is therefore an urgent need to think about the next steps in the peace process between New Delhi and Srinagar. While New Delhi needs to be more serious than what the interlocutors recommend in their report in making peace with Kashmir, Kashmir’s dissident leaders need to reinvent their azadi struggle to avoid losing political significance and steam. Even though it may not be possible for them to join the mainstream now, they would have to look for innovative ways of doing politics and bringing peace to Kashmir. 

Having said that, I am of the opinion that the burden of proof (in demonstrating its seriousness to make peace with Kashmir) lies with New Delhi. If New Delhi thinks it has ‘won’ Kashmir and hence decides to do nothing about building durable peace in the state, it would actually be losing a golden opportunity to make peace with an alienated people in the absence of interference from Pakistan. 

Let me end with what Malik said in his Dawn op-ed: “It is only violence that gets the attention of policymakers and makes them come to the negotiating table. The new generations of Kashmiris will then draw this lesson and may take to the gun as a means of protest to make themselves heard.” Malik is so right about Kashmir’s past, and hence I hope he is wrong about its future.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, June 10, 2012. URL: )

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