The foreign policy of the United States in South Asia should move from the lackadaisical and distant (with India crowned with a unilateral veto power) to aggressive involvement at the vortex.
The most dangerous place on the planet is Kashmir, a disputed territory convulsed and illegally occupied for more than 53 years and sandwiched between nuclear-capable India and Pakistan. It has ignited two wars between the estranged South Asian rivals in 1948 and 1965, and a third could trigger nuclear volleys and a nuclear winter threatening the entire globe. The United States would enjoy no sanctuary.
This apocalyptic vision is no idiosyncratic view. The Director of Central Intelligence, the Department of Defense, and world experts generally place Kashmir at the peak of their nuclear worries. Both India and Pakistan are racing like thoroughbreds to bolster their nuclear arsenals and advanced delivery vehicles.
Their defense budgets are climbing despite widespread misery amongst their populations. Neither country has initialed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or indicated an inclination to ratify an impending Fissile Material/Cut-off Convention.
The boiling witches brew in Kashmir should propel the United States to assertive facilitation or mediation of Kashmiri negotiations. The impending July 14-16 summit in New Delhi between President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee featuring Kashmir on the agenda does not justify complacency. The fatal flaw in bilateral Kashmir diplomacy – which the United States has unreflectively endorsed – is the exclusion of the people whose international law and human rights are at stake and must be satisfied for a viable solution: namely: namely, 13 million Kashmiris and their most representative political arm, the All-Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC). We, at the Kashmiri American Council are guardedly optimistic. Because both India and Pakistan have agreed to place Kashmir on the agenda. They have ended a long period of negotiating estrangement. This is good for the region of south Asia that is home to one fifth of total human race. We will support any initiative that will bring Pakistan and India into greater harmony and amity.
But one point we want to highlight is critical. In the past weather at Tashkent, Simla or Lahore negotiations over Kashmir ultimately ship wrecked because Kashmiris themselves were excluded from the diplomatic process. That is like attempting to solve the Northern Ireland problem without talking directly with Sinn Fein, or attempting to cut the Gordian knot in the East Timor without including the East Timorese. And was not Kosovo’s conflict with then Serb president Milosovic addressed through negotiations that included Kosovar Albanians?
In sum it strains credibility to believe serious progress can be made over Kashmir without at some time including genuine Kashmiri leadership – the APHC é as full integers in the negotiating equation. Indeed, that preposition seems in contestable after 54 years of bilateralism has been utterly barren of results. Any negotiation over the issue of Kashmir without the participation of the Kashmiri leadership is performing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
Kashmiri history is compelling. Kashmir was one of more than 500 princely states during the British raj subject to British paramountcy in defense and foreign affairs. Paramountcy lapsed on August 15, 1947, the same day partition that established India and Pakistan as separate states. Kashmir then acquired nationhood under international law because it had neither acceded to India nor to Pakistan unlike the vast majority of other princely states.
At the inception of its birth, Kashmir was ruled by an autocratic and religiously bigoted Hindu Maharaja despite its 80 percent Muslim population. But his regime was then crumbling under the assault of a widespread indigenous insurrection. Outside support was negligible. Religious freedom, democracy, and self-determination were the lodestars of the freedom fighters. Islam in Kashmir has been exceptionally respectful of the three other Kashmir faiths: Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist.
India, however, intrigued with the Maharaja to thwart the Kashmiri popular will. In return for India’s dispatch of muscular military forces on October 27, 1947, to prop up his oppressive rule, the Maharaja purportedly signed an instrument of accession to India. (Meticulous scholarship by Britain’s Alistair Lamb convincingly suggests the document is fraudulent). India’s military fought the Kashmiri resistance to a standstill, which ultimately hardened into a cease-fire line. India remains on one side illegally occupying two-thirds of Kashmir, while Pakistan exerts ascendancy of the other side in Azad Kashmir.
The crux of the Kashmir conflict, contrary to prevailing orthodoxy, are the rights of the Kashmiri people who have been subjugated and treated as expendable pons for long years. On August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949, the United Nations Security Council, at the behest of India, adopted resolutions mandating a self-determination plebiscite conducted by the United Nations to settle Kashmir’s sovereignty. India’s then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru characterized a self-determination solution as the fairest imaginable. But he reneged on India’s commitment, and unilaterally annexed Kashmir in the 1950s. The annexation commands no international recognition, but India has suffered no consequences for its might-makes-right Kashmir gambit. Therefore, Kashmir issue cannot be regarded as a border dispute between India and Pakistan. Nor is it a fight between Hindus and Muslims. Nor is it a struggle between secularism and theocracy. Nor is it a battle for autonomy. It is about the future, human rights and the right of self determination of the 13 million people of Kashmir. And they have not conferred on any sovereignty the power to bargain away these priceless possessions.
For more than 50 years, India and Pakistan have negotiated sporadically over Kashmir without result. Meanwhile, Indian occupied Kashmir has descended into a human rights inferno vastly worse than anything witnessed in Kosovo, Bosnia, or East Timor. Since 1989, Kashmiri deaths at the hands of the Indian military or its proxies has surged past 65,000, coupled with horrifying incidences of torture, rape, arson, abduction, plunder, custodial disappearances, and savage suppression of political dissent. But the indigenous Kashmiri resistance persists, and largely speaks through the APHC. That umbrella political organization is devoted exclusively to peaceful, non-violent means to achieve the self-determination that United Nations Security Council resolutions and morality have exalted for more than half a century.
In sum, the United States should place Kashmir at least on a national security par with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the Balkans. It should establish official contacts with the APHC leadership and insist on the inclusion of its leadership in all Kashmir negotiations. The United States should appoint a person of an international standing , like President George H. Bush or President Nelson Mandela, to be a special envoy on Kashmir. The United States should also offer India tangible rewards for acceding to Kashmir self-determination subject to safeguards to prevent Kashmiri freedom from threatening India’s national security interests: support for permanent Indian membership in the Security Council; grandfathered nuclear status under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; the ending of sanctions for India’s 1998 nuclear tests; and, closer military ties that would strengthen India’s hand in its border and companion quarrels with China.
Only the United States can midwife a Kashmir solution. And the strength of its national security, human rights, and international law interests implicated clearly justify an unstinting effort.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the executive director of the Washington, DC-based Kashmiri American Council.