One of the oft-repeated cliches about Kashmir is that the issue is complicated and cannot be resolved quickly. The premise is false, although the conclusion may be correct. True, such issues cannot be resolved overnight, although there is no reason why not if there is sincerity in addressing it; after all, East Timor was separated from Indonesia in a matter of months, once a world power had decided to do it. However, one does not see any moves to address the issue of Kashmir in earnest, so delay is perhaps inevitable.
The problem, however, can be defined quickly and simply, without complication. India has occupied the state illegally since October 1947, and despite promises to hold a plebiscite (referendum) to allow the country’s people to decide their own future. This promise was made repeatedly by India’s first prime minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, until at least 1954. It has, of course, never been kept. Instead, Delhi has determined to hold on to Kashmir at all costs.
The claim that an issue is “complicated” usually means that one party or the other is unwilling to discuss it in light of agreed-upon principles. There is nothing complicated about the desire of the people of Kashmir to see an end to Indian occupation, and to determine their own future by holding a plebiscite. That is a right for which they have struggled for 53 years, offering tens of thousands of lives. There are even UN security council resolutions affirming their right to self-determination, but these are effectively meaningless: the UN is simply a handmaiden for the west and its allies. So, if there is any complication about the Kashmir dispute, it is India’s unwillingness to end its occupation and Pakistan’s inability to force it to withdraw.
The recent round of verbal volleys between Delhi and Islamabad about moves to resolve the issue are of necessity starting positions. Unlike Pakistan, however, India is trying to secure maximum advantage without making any fundamental change in its position. Pakistan has already made significant concessions, even without getting to the negotiating table. This is the curse of the weak; Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organisation did the same thing vis-a-vis the zionist occupiers of Palestine, ending ultimately with nothing more to give and earning the opprobrium of being an “obstacle” to peace. Pakistan risks being tarred with the same brush.
One major concession that Pakistan has already made is agreeing to accept whatever the All-Parties Huriyyet Conference (APHC) decides, instead of insisting on a plebiscite. The APHC is an odd assortment of 23 political groupings with divergent outlooks, who have done little to force India into the present position. It is the jihadi groups that have made all the sacrifices. The fruits of their labour are now being picked up and may even be frittered away by the APHC. The situation is not dissimilar to that in Palestine after the first intifada (1987-1993). The PLO was imposed upon the people of Palestine, and it betrayed the blood of the martyrs, thereby necessitating the second intifada. By abandoning its principled stand even before any serious negotiations have commenced, Pakistan has weakened its own position. In fact, there is no guarantee that any negotiations will take place, or that, if they do, India will behave any differently than in the past.
The recent moves started on November 19, when the Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced a ceasefire in Kashmir “for the month of Ramadan”. While immediately hailed the world over as a great gesture for peace, it was in fact for India’s need rather than any help to the Kashmiris or to Pakistan. A study of the situation Kashmir reveals that even while the so-called ceasefire was in effect (whose extension for another month was announced with equal fanfare), the Indian forces continued to kill and burn. The ceasefire was merely a play. However, India would dearly love to freeze the situation on the ground; after all, 700,000 Indian troops continue to occupy the Kashmir Valley and Delhi refuses to countenance any change in the status quo. The ceasefire is also meant to silence critics within the Indian military who have called for a political solution, openly admitting that the Kashmir dispute cannot be settled militarily.
That India is not serious about resolving the dispute is also evident from the reluctance with which it has issued passports to APHC leaders to travel to Pakistan. It has dragged its feet and refused to explain its intransigence. The APHC delegation was to have arrived in Pakistan on January 15 for discussions with Pakistan-based Kashmiri leaders and Pakistani officials, followed by similar talks with the rulers in Delhi. Even this indirect method of holding negotiations appears not to be acceptable to India. So why is India going through the motions at all?
Some of the reasons have already been cited. There are also internal as well as external compulsions that force India into such posturing. At the very least, the exercise has exposed fissures in the APHC as well as revealed differences between it and the mujahideen groups. Dividing the Kashmiris is a primary objective of Delhi, because it weakens their resistance to occupation. Even more critical is India’s political ambitions. Many friendly governments, not least the US, have impressed upon Delhi that the “irritant” of Kashmir has to be removed before its ambitions can be realized. The new US government has already blessed India’s role as a regional policeman. Similarly, India would like to get a permanent seat on the UN security council, which will be difficult as long as the Kashmir dispute continues.
If this is the view in Delhi, what is forcing the Pakistani elites to abandon their long-held position on Kashmir without getting anything in return? One is battle-fatigue, even if the fighting is done by others. One body of opinion in Pakistan holds that those whose primary concerns in life are acquiring plots of land, buying properties in the US and sending their offspring to universities in the US or Britain can hardly be expected to make sacrifices. They read something even more sinister into the emerging scenario: the ruling elites fear the spread of jihadi culture in Pakistan. If it were to become more widespread — and the continuing struggle in Kashmir is bound to encourage it — then the jihadis will gain even more confidence. The jihadi culture, which is based in Pakistan’s lower-middle classes, will begin to threaten the easy lifestyle of the elites, and ultimately sweep them away. It is this realization that is forcing a re-appraisal of the role of jihadi groups in the Kashmir struggle.
Although the secularists have achieved nothing during their 53-year domination of Pakistan, they cannot give up. This is what is driving them into the arms of the Hindu rulers of India, in an effort to avoid the wrath of their own people. The betrayal of Kashmir may be the next shock that the Ummah has to absorb.