The Salience of Kashmir

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Editorial writers worldwide lauded Vajpayee’s gesture, when he declared his intention to make a last attempt at solving the Kashmir problem. This was quite a change of tune, since he had insisted that there would be no talks until Pakistan stopped “cross-border terrorism.” At the failed Agra summit, the Indian side refused to even recognize Kashmir as the “core issue.” In March, Foreign Minister Sinha thundered that a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan had stronger justification than the U.S. strike against Iraq.

Prime Minister Jamali responded favorably to Vajpayee’s gesture. But the kudos that came from Colin Powell were reserved for India, since the U.S. chose to show this as an Indian initiative, notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan had been saying it was ready for talks “any time, any where.”

Powell’s deputy, the indefatigable former Navy seal, Richard Armitage, has just visited the subcontinent. Why is there such a sudden interest in resolving the Kashmir conflict? Perhaps the post-Iraq war atmospherics in Washington that have encouraged the U.S. to undertake bold moves in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are at work here as well. Prior to moving into Baghdad, General Garner reportedly said that the U.S. intends to have the Kashmir issue resolved by December 2004.

Does the U.S. really expect that one of the world’s enduring conflicts will burn out quickly? Analysts have long argued that it has trapped both countries in a deadly arms-race and brought them at least once to the brink of nuclear war. The leaders of both countries have given such salience to the Kashmir issue that their citizens have been left far behind in the more fulfilling race for economic development whose results are evident in East Asia.

While idealists have called for disarmament, the realists (i.e., former idealists who kept notes) have said it won’t happen. They cite the work of Mancur Olson, and assert that the perpetuation of the Kashmir conflict can only be explained by the existence of special interest groups. These groups engage in parasitic rent-seeking behavior, and cannot be pushed aside easily. The realists question whether Mr. Vajpayee’s last attempt at peacemaking will not go the way of his previous two attempts.

In “The Guns of August,” Barbara Tuchman quotes Marechal de Saxe, “The human heart is the starting point of all matters relating to war.” It would be naéve to think that there been a genuine change of heart in India. L. K. Advani and George Fernandes will not be able to sleep peacefully at night, knowing that their plans for a fourth and final war with Pakistan had been scuttled. Foreign Minister Kasuri has suggested that India has finally realized that it could not solve the problem militarily. However, there is no evidence that the Indian army is anywhere close to being exhausted in Kashmir.

Something else might be brewing. India has long desired to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, so that it can rise from being a regional hegemon to being a great power on the world stage. It cannot get that position without U.S. support. Last year, the U.S. gave a blunt message to India that it would have to “solve” the Kashmir conflict as a pre-condition for wining the U.S. nomination. As Mr. Vajpayee travels to Russia later this month, he knows he has the Kremlin’s support for that nomination. By cozying up to China during the past few months, he is hopeful he will get Beijing’s support as well. The U.K. has always been in the Indian camp, and one would expect that France, which sees India as a large market for its armaments industry, would not object.

What type of Kashmir solution would be acceptable to the U.S.? One needs to recall the terse comment from Ambassador Powel that Pakistan had not done enough to control the flow of militants across the Line-of-Control (LoC). Also apropos is the observation of Richard Haass of the U. S. State Department, that if Pakistan failed to stop infiltration across the LoC, it would place a ceiling on Pakistan-U.S. relations.

Indian analysts have noted that Vajpayee, who leads a Hindu fundamentalist coalition, cannot make any concessions until Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism. Vajpayee himself has ruled out third-party mediation in the dispute. Thus, what type of “package deal” will he offer Prime Minister Jamali?

It is likely to involve several parameters. First, Pakistan should stop cross-border terrorism. Second, it should accept the LoC as an international border. Third, it should continue fighting the al-Qaida terrorist network, and keep yielding a “big fish” terrorist every other month. Fourth, India should ensure that fair elections are held in Kashmir, and begin withdrawing its security forces as conditions improve. Finally, India should provide some measure of autonomy to Kashmir.

If Pakistan accepts this deal, it will continue to be the beneficiary of U.S. economic aid. It will be offered deferment of foreign debt and possibly its outright forgiveness. However, unlike Egypt, which got back the Sinai and state-of-the-art military hardware with which to safeguard it, only surplus military supplies may come Pakistan’s way, with none of the coveted land.

Under the best of circumstances, both countries would freeze the Kashmir dispute, restore cultural and sports exchanges and begin to develop trade ties. It is more likely they will freeze the Kashmir dispute and little else would happen. Even then, this would be a face saving gesture for both. India would not risk losing Kashmir in a referendum. Pakistan would not have to repudiate an article of faith, since it would claim that it had restored the civil rights of Kashmiris. The special interest groups would be placated through hand-outs. Those “freedom fighters” that don’t fall in line would fall from grace, to be hunted down and killed like common terrorists.

Musharraf has been called Pakistan’s most successful politician. No other leader has survived a military debacle, let alone been promoted to the presidency. If he is able to make economic reform a higher priority than Kashmir, he may yet become Pakistan’s Deng Xiaoping. But there is one problem. For the past 56 years, generations of Pakistanis have grown up hoping one day to see the union of Kashmir with Pakistan. Many lives and countless resources have been sacrificed in this cause. Musharraf will have to convince Pakistanis of all political persuasions, and possibly half of his corps commanders, that he is not selling out on a noble cause for personal gain. For a man who said on January 12, 2002, “Kashmir runs in our blood,” this will be a formidable task.

The author is an economist in Palo Alto, California.  He lived in Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars.  He has written on Pakistan’s Strategic Myopia in the RUSI Journal, and reviewed Mazari’s book, Journey to  Disillusionment for International Affairs. He has authored “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.” He is a Fellow of the American Institute of International Studies in California. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

Related / External Link (s):

The Rape of Kashmir – by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

The Geographical Scale and Scope of the Conflict in Kashmir – by Dana Allen

The Heart of Kashmir – Kash Gabriele Torsello Diary 1994 (An On-line Photo Exibition)

More MMN Articles on Kashmir (Google Search Results)

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