GEO-POLITICAL AFFAIRS

The Kashmir Factor
in Indo-Pak Ties

nasim_zehra

From the Board of Editorial advisors, Ms Nasim ZEHRA, examines the recent developments in Kashmir and the effects on relations between Pakistan and India

Lessons in peace-making from abroad, the anger of peace-loving war-hating groups at home and the often ‘forced’ dialogue between the two governments, all have drawn a blank. As they inevitably must. After all throughout history mere wishful talk even, if logical, unless backed by concrete effort to implement has been classified as rhetoric. One that befittingly gets buried under ‘reality at work.’ Much like the burial of Pak-India ‘peace-talks’ being witnessed by Pakistanis, the Indian and the ‘concerned’ world community. It all is happening around the much anticipated Colombo summit that yielded four meetings between the Pak-Indian Prime Ministers and foreign secretaries.

For all the concern home and abroad about the fate of one fifth of humanity that inhabits South Asia, the prospects of an arms race, of an all-out war and of even a nuclear war have never been stronger. Meanwhile blood-letting covert war between the two, with varying intensity, continues.

After all the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s pessimistic conclusion regarding a ‘zero’ outcome from his talks with Vajpayee is born out by what is happening on Pak-India front. Suddenly the existing reality has erupted on many fronts: continuous and unprecedented levels of death-fire exchanges continue along the LoC killing around 50 Pakistanis ; Pakistani retaliatory fire meanwhile killing Indians along the LoC; many villages along the 250 mile LoC on the Pakistani side have been vacated; repeated violation of Pakistani airspace by Indian fighter planes ; the arrest by Indian authorities of allegedly 4 Pakistanis planning sabotage activities in Delhi; the hot-line weekly contact between Indian and Pakistani commanders, according to India’s army chief was skipped because of the tension. All this leaves little room for optimistic projections regarding Pak-India relations.

At Colombo, on the diplomatic front an unusual level of frankness prevailed. An Indian spokesman accused Pakistan of being ``obsessive’’ and ``neurotic’’ about Kashmir. Pakistanis maintained that India was ``rigid and inflexible.’’ The Pakistani Prime Minister looking for even a symbolic Indian ‘give’ found none. He therefore concluded that ``We accomplished zero... Yes, it is a stalemate. We are not here to waste each other’s time.’’ Nawaz Sharif told the Sri Lankan daily The Island that India ‘was dragging its feet ‘over the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir. For his disinterested Indian counter-part his message was, `` let us resolve the issues of Kashmir in a serious and substantive manner so that we would be able to make progress.’’

The Vajpayee meanwhile put ‘ a positive spin’ on the inconsequential talks. Having been satisfied with his troop performance along the LoC the Indian Prime Minister told Indian reporters on July 31 that his meeting with Nawaz had `` started the process of resumption of dialogue...the two belligerent neighbours are talking again’ What would sound like music to the wishful peace-promoters Vajpayee said India was ``committed to the path of discourse and discussion.’’

The fact ofcourse was that at Colombo ‘discussion and discourse’ escaped the two soft-mannered Prime Ministers. Like last September, the Colombo talks too stalled over Kashmir. India’s BJP President took the position that Kashmir for India is a closed chapter but for ending Pakistan-supported ‘terrorism.’ Indian officials claimed that their ‘terrorism’ concern could be discussed as part of a ‘bigger-picture talks between the two nations’, not as a separate issue. The Indians refused to accede to the Pakistani demand that foreign secretary talks should resume on the basis of the June 25, 1997 ‘Islamabad Declaration’ jointly adopted by Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries.

According to the June 1997 agreement there was agreement that mechanisms to work out differences will be set up on all issues confronting Pak-India relations including Kashmir and Peace and Security. Indians according to the American news agency AP made it clear to the Pakistanis that the agreement reached between Islamabad and the previous I.K. Gujral government could not be honoured by the BJP-led coalition government ! Over the issue of Kashmir the Indian government, supported by the indifference of the international community has become a habitual violator of legal agreements. Ranging from binding UN Security Council resolutions 91 and 122 to the bilateral 1972 Simla Accord.

In a telling pre-view of how India would want to proceed on discussing the Kashmir issue the Indian Prime Minister invited Nawaz Sharif to visit the Taj Mahal and to sell tomatoes to India and buy wheat from India ! For Kashmir the Indians have no time in their bilateral talks with Pakistan. The Indian pattern is consistent. Delhi understands it can afford such indifference to Pakistan’s clamouring over Kashmir and to the Kashmiri Uprising in the Valley. Indians must note with comfort that despite high level acknowledgements within the international community about the centrality of the Kashmir issue to South Asian security, these acknowledgements are not backed by any practical measures. Of the recent acknowledgements the following four are noteworthy: South Asian specific conclusions of the US Department’s 1997 Report Proliferation: Threat and Response. The Report had argued that ‘unresolved disagreements, deep animosity and distrust, and the continuing confrontation between their forces in disputed Kashmir make the subcontinent a region with significant risk of nuclear confrontation.’ On June 3 US Secretary of State Madeline Albright came out with the most comprehensive and accurate statement ever made by a US official regarding what underlies the Pak-India relations. Talking to press reporters she said about the Kashmir problems, ‘It is a problem that came about the minute that the partition proposals came about and the princely states chose up which side, which country they were going to go with. The problem in Kashmir of a primarily Muslim population with a Hindu - a maharaja that headed it, made it very difficult for them to decide. There have over the years a number of ways tried...The item has been on the Security Council agenda.’

Later on June 4 in Geneva the five permanent UN Security Council members, while condemning the tests and urging India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT also maintained that the P-5 will actively help India and Pakistan to resolve the outstanding issue of Kashmir problem. Most recently on June 10 Assistant Secretary of State Karl Indurfurth told press reporters that irrespective of Indian agitation over the P-5’s statement that the Kashmir issue needs to be addressed, ‘Kashmir issue is a fact of life in the region and cannot be wished away. We are absolutely convinced that it is time now for India and Pakistan to meet, to resume the dialogue and address the fundamental issue that had divided the two countries for 50 years.’

For almost a decade now, both India and Pakistan have ‘adjusted’ to the international community’s virtual indifference over what manifestly haunts Pak-India relations the Kashmir dispute. The indifference, at least until the two countries became overt nuclear powers, has helped India to pursue through use of force, first a pro-status quo policy and now what the Indian Home Minister L.K.Advani maintains is a ‘pro-active’ policy on Kashmir. Pakistan meanwhile continues to explore all openings available to it, at both the diplomatic and ground level, to promote its position on the Kashmir dispute. Essentially denied any substantive and significant diplomatic support for its position on Kashmir. Pakistan has continued, and will continue to deploy all means, stated and unstated, to support the UN- sanctified Kashmiri struggle inside the Valley.

The futility of the international and regional forces to de-link Kashmir from peace and security in South Asia once again became evident through the events that have occurred around the dates of the Pak-India Colombo summit; the failure of the talks, the killing of hindus in Jammu, the massive fighting and the civilian killings along the LoC, deadly skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian troops in Siachin, the arrest of so-called Pakistani saboteurs in Delhi.

Around the same time on July 29 the Indian Home Minister L.k.Advani had said ‘We are determined to crush the proxy war by Pakistan as well as the internal enemies supporting it...’ An Indian official merely reiterated the standard government line, ‘Pakistan started the proxy war in 1989 and that thousands of people have been killed since then.’ Advani and his government was reacting to the gunning down of 16 Hindus in the Doda district.

All this of course cannot be interpreted as either coincidental or as inevitable occurrences conveying contradictory approaches adopted by different actors within the Indian government. Obviously all sections of the Indian state, the civilian government, the army, RAW, the Border Security Forces are all working together to escalate tension and create a virtual war zone along the LoC. Obviously the intent is to intimidate Pakistan.

Predictably after the nuclear tests early May India had already stepped up its military activities along the LoC. Coinciding with the Indian Home Minister’s virtual war cry in May was heavy artillery and shelling in the Poonch sector. Undoubtedly from international indifference India derives the ability to pursue its present Kashmir policy of ‘taking the bull by the horn.’ Advani’s aggressive policy on Kashmir however enjoys the cover of astute and appropriate ‘peace-talk’ by his Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The overt nuclearization of Indian defence has radically altered India’s position on the Kashmir issue. On May 18 a candid Advani spelt out the Indian intent. One that ‘Islamabad should realize the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world and roll-back its anti-India policy, especially with regard to Kashmir.’ Two that ‘India’s bold and decisive step to become a nuclear weapon state has brought about a qualitatively new stage in Indo-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem.’ Three that it ‘ signifies India’s resolve to deal firmly and strongly with Pakistan’s hostile designs and activities in Kashmir’ and that India will now take ‘ proactive’ measures against Kashmir militancy.’ Almost as if building a case for a rapid strike, Advani referred to the Kashmiri freedom fighters as ‘ foreign mercenaries.’

Washington had instantly responded to BJP’s aggressive Kashmir policy articulated by Advani. At the May 19 press briefing the State Department Spokesman maintained that Advani’s May 18 remarks ‘seems to indicate that India is foolishly and dangerously increasing tension with its neighbours and is indifferent to world opinion.’ He called upon India to ‘exercise great caution in its statements and actions at this particular time when emotions are running high... .’

In the Gujral days, and even earlier India’s position was clearly a pro-status quo position. Many in India saw turning the LoC into an internationally recognized Pak-India border as the solution. With BJP in power and nuclear defence at its disposal India is now aggressively seeking to alter the status quo. Essentially on the premise of ‘hot pursuit’ make military advances into Azad Kashmir.

BJP’s aggressive Azad Kashmir Operation was begun within one month of BJP coming to power. For example, end April the Indian forces carried out a ‘trial and intimidation run’ in Azad Kashmir. In a midnight operation Indian Security Forces crossed the LoC , entered the bordering village of Bamdala in Azad Kashmir. They left 22 civilians, including women and children dead. Islamabad clamoured. They wanted the international community to take note. Even the western press covered the incident. In a recent news feature Shyam Bhatia of the London-based Guardian News Service concluded it was the Indian security forces. ‘The Indian commanders involved in the operation left their finger prints behind in the shape of a note in urdu. ‘ Do you understand blood is the same on both sides of the border?’ Significantly not a squeak from any country.

Obviously Indian calculation is that Pakistan in economic trouble and with weakness on the conventional weapons front, will not opt for military escalation. The only option available, however to a conventionally weak Pakistan will be to weaponize and deploy its nuclear capability. For Pakistan being pushed to defend itself against India, it will have to adopt an offensive-defence posture by demonstrating the possibility of use of its nuclear capability.

At the diplomatic level, meanwhile there is occasional ‘getting together’ between the two who are bitterly divided over Kashmir. Mostly when officials from Washington, like Under Secretary Strobe Talbott, insist that ‘reduction of tension in the region’ is a must. Concerned now with the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors the Americans urge the Pakistanis to understand the immediate necessity to ‘reduce tensions’ instead of linking the issue of Pak-India peace with security concerns. The Pakistanis did both. They conceded to dialogue but also raised what they correctly view as the ‘core’ issue undermining South Asian peace and security. Western pressure had contributed to the re-starting of talks in 1997 after a deadlock of three years. Yet western pressure is incapable of diluting the effectiveness of the unsettled Kashmir issue on Pak-India relations.

Coinciding with the talks has been a regular pattern of killings inside Jammu and Kashmir and military escalation along the LoC. Obviously talks are undermined. This undermining of talks helps both Pakistan and India. India, because it wants no dialogue on Kashmir; Pakistan, because it has consistently experienced India’s, and especially BJP’s unwillingness to discuss Kashmir. Pakistan must recognize that escalation of tension along the LoC may serve as a wake-up call for the international community’s involvement in beginning Pak-India dialogue over Kashmir.

At least in the near future there is no likelihood that the cost of the Kashmiri struggle will be politically, economically, militarily or diplomatically so high as to convince the BJP government to enter into dialogue with Pakistan and with the Kashmiris for resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Islamabad must recognize this. Consequently Islamabad must view as ‘favourable’ for the Kashmir issue the intensification of the ongoing Kashmiri struggle inside the Valley and the consequent escalation of Indian aggression along the LoC. Since fear of military escalation tripping into a full scale war including a nuclear conflict, may prod the international community into action over Kashmir.

Irrespective of what the international community desires the operative Kashmir policies of India and Pakistan will continue to militate against a political resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The suffering of the Kashmiris fighting against Indian forces will meanwhile continue. And above all the danger of military escalation along the LoC exploding into a Pak-India war will persist.

There is mistaken belief among those wanting peace between Pakistan and India that are ways of ‘removing the Kashmir hurdle’ from the normalization process of Pak-India relations. One, by completely crushing the Kashmiri struggle in Indian Held Kashmir. This Pakistan will prevent from happening, although the protracted Kashmiri struggle will undoubtedly hit political ‘highs’ and ‘lows.’. Two through the weakening of one of the two state actors involved in the dispute to such an extent that it is forced to give up its stance. Of the two state actors India and Pakistan, the ‘vote’ has been on forcing Islamabad to give up what is seen as Islamabad’s ‘fight merely for acquisition of territory.’ This the international community and India has unsuccessfully tried for many years. Islamabad’s diplomatic posturing notwithstanding it will continue to practically support the Kashmiri struggle in the Valley and continue to invoke the legal locus standi for its demand for a settlement of the Kashmir issue. As for forcibly ‘weakening’ Pakistan it seems unlikely that a nuclear armed Pakistan, despite its economic woes will be reduced to a Jordan or Egypt of South Asia. Three by merely forcing Pakistan to normalize ties with India and let the Kashmir dispute be addressed later. That too does not seem to work.

All has been tried. Nothing works. No wishing away of the Kashmir dispute is possible. And the international community now acknowledges this. And also that normalization of Pak-India ties without progress on resolution of the Kashmir issue is not possible. l

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