Over past a few weeks there has been gradual but marginal change in the attitudes of New Delhi and Islamabad over the Kashmir issue.
It indicates that both the capitals are willing to side-track hardlines adopted so far in search of a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue because of compelling domestic and external pressures and foreign policy objectives. What will be ultimate solution of the longstanding issue, it is too early to say anything concrete.
But, it is certain that desire if not urgency to find a negotiated solution of the Kashmir issue is much more compelling than it was ever before. Nevertheless, hanging fear also looms large about resolution of the issue that it may not elude once again as it has been doing in the past.
There has been substantial change in ground realities in recent past which has made the Kashmir issue focus of regional as well as international attention. The most significant change is the Kashmiri people’s armed struggle during the decade of 90s. The human cost of struggle has been enormous: more than 70000 Kashmiris have scarificed their lives and many more have suffered tremendously in many different ways.
They were supported and continue to be supported by their brethren of faith from all over the Muslim world including Pakistan. For them their armed struggle is Jehad. India terms it cross-border terrorism engineered by the Islamists and freedom fighters who are supported by the government of Pakistan.
She tried to win the western capitals particularly Washington on the sensitive issue of cross-border terrorism in the background of alleged involvement of Osama bin Laden against Washington’s hegemony and military presence in ME, to isolate Pakistan diplomatically.
Because of geographical contiguity and Pakistan being an involved party in the issue, it has been openly supporting freedom movement of the Kashmiri people materially, morally and diplomatically. It has not and could not remain aloof from the developments taking place in the Indian-held Kashmir (IHK).
Pakistan has been raising persistently the issue of human rights violations committed by 0.7 million Indian army personnel during past one decade and demanding their withdrawal and resolution of the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions. Pakistan’s attitude till recently remained uncompromising on her principled historical stand.
On the contrary, India has treated the Kashmiris’ struggle for independence from India a proxy-war and vowed to quell it with military force. It stuck to the point that IHK was an integral part (atootang) of India. It has argued that India could at best grant greater autonomy to the Kashmiri people within framework of the Indian constitution. Kashmir was granted special status in mid-50s in the Indian constitution.
It was thought to be the first step towards annexation of the IHK and its ultimate merger in the Indian union. India has also been insisting that under Simla Agreement signed as a consequence of fall of Dhaka on 16 December 1971, the Kashmir issue was a bilateral regional issue which could be resolved between India and Pakistan without third party intervention. It has stuck to this position till today and has been supported by Washington and other capitals for reasons pertaining to their national interests.
The second change in ground reality which has affected the Kashmir issue seriously is acquisition of N-weapons by New Delhi and Islamabad after May 1998 when former opted to use the nuclear option and latter was forced to follow the suit because of compelling national security imperatives.
The quantum jump in South Asian security environment from conventional to nuclear weapons was viewed with a lot of scepticism by Washington and other western capitals. They considered such development a serious set-back to their agenda of non-proliferation of N-weapons across the world.
The Kargil conflict changed the western scepticism into a affirmation and the Kashmir issue has been since then viewed a flashpoint which could trigger a nuclear conflict in the region. For this very reason and in addition to other domestic and external reasons both New Delhi and Islamabad have thought it prudent to make way for some sort of negotiations which if pursued with honesty of purpose by the three parties, there is, India, Pakistan, APHC (All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the representative body of political parties committed to Kashmir movement for independence) and other political parties such as National Conference, BJP and Congress in IHK, could lead to a negotiated solution.
This is not for the first time that efforts are being made to start a political dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Kargil conflict also diplomatically isolated Pakistan in Western capitals. At the height of conflict they sent a clear message to Islamabad to respect the LoC and restrain herself from seeking a military solution of Kashmir. After the change of government in Pakistan and Kargil conflict, New Delhi and Islamabad fell back on their previous hard positions on the Kashmir issue.
- In 1989 Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi had agreed to demilitarise Siachen
which India in a surprise move had occupied in 1984. They also signed a few cultural and political protocols which could lead to a negotiated solution of the Kashmir issue. But, when it came to core issue of Kashmir, India backed out. Also, Benazir Bhutto’s initiative to resolve Kashmir issue was not welcomed at home by the military establishment. She was branded a national security risk and sent home.
- The second initiative was taken by Nawaz Sharif and I K Gujral when they met in Male in 1997. This was followed by foreign secretaries talks in Islamabad in September 1997. India conceded that there was a ‘dispute’ over Kashmir but the tempo of talks could not be sustained because 1998 turned out to be an election year for the coalition government of I K Gujral. He reneged on his agreement with Nawaz Sharif. Both the leaders moved inches away from the hard stands, that Kashmir was an ‘integral part’ of India (India’s stand) and that it was ‘core’ issue (Pakistan’s stand) between India and Pakistan.
- The third initiative was taken by Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee in early 1999 which culminated in latter’s visit to Lahore and ‘Lahore process’ was set rolling. It could have paved way for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. Nevertheless by mid-1999 Kargil conflict had over taken the events and any chance to find out a negotiated solution of the Kashmir dashed to the ground. Kargil conflict also triggered the tussle between the army and Premier Nawaz Sharif and latter was sent packing through an army coup on 12 October 1999.
New Delhi blamed Islamabad for stabbing at her back in the background of Lahore process, refused to talk to army-led government in Islamabad on one pretext or other, raised tension across the LoC, vowed to fight back cross border terrorism and tried to win diplomatic support of Washington and other western capitals against Islamabad on the issue of cross border terrorism as a regional issue with some success.
Islamabad also adopted a hardline stating that she was bound to support the Jehad of Kashmiri people, made offers to open up a dialogue with New Delhi and responded firmly India on the LoC. The army-led government had the compulsion to adopt a hardline because of New Delhi’s uncompromising attitude and domestic pressure which the religious forces committed to Jehad in Kashmir had built in post-Kargil period on the government.
Post-Kargil international diplomatic environment favoured India more than they favoured Pakistan. BJP-led coalition emerged stronger after general elections held in September/October 1999. Kargil conflict directly contributed to it because of PM Vajpayee’s exploitation of the conflict during electioneering in BJPs favour.
India’s de-facto nuclear status, democratic governance, booming economy with a growth rate of around 7 percent 3 of GDP, emerging Asian industrial and military power, diplomatic favour bestowed by western capitals upon New Delhi, Washington’s desire to establish strategic partnership with New Delhi which was firmed up during President Clinton’s visit to South Asia early 2000 — all these factors gave a clear edge to New Delhi over Islamabad.
Islamabad on the contrary remained hamstrung on three accounts: legitimacy crisis faced by the army-led government, a weak economy dependent on IMF tranches and good will of Paris and London clubs to reschedule loans and politically disorganised and fragmented society trying to organise itself th rough experimentation and ad hoc solutions envisaged by GHQ.
This conspicuous contrast between India and Pakistan has enabled New Delhi to dictate its Kashmir agenda to Islamabad through behind the scene diplomatic manoeuvring. Islamabad had little option to deflect Washington’s pressure particularly because of economic constraints which would have pushed economy to default on foreign loans, had IMF not come up with $ 596 million stand-by arrangement and exceptional financing worth dollars 4 bn by end-November, 2000.
New Delhi has succeeded to woo APHC to open a dialogue with her. Earlier APHC had indicated to hold dialogue with New Delhi but reneged because New Delhi not concede to holding tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and APHC.
This time the understanding is that Pakistan would be involved in talks at some later stage.
The Indian thrust is to diffuse the Kashmiris’ armed struggle which is being spearheaded by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen which had earlier declared unilateral cease-fire with tacit blessing of Islamabad.
India declared unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramadhan and Pakistan declared ‘maximum restraint’ across the LoC, backed by partial withdrawal of troops . There has been positive response to the new initiative which is certainly the outcome of behind-the-scene manoeuvring by Washington.
India has accepted to change her Kashmir policy to achieve larger foreign policy objectives of securing a seat in UN Security Council, opening its economy to the world to achieve high economic growth rate of 7-8 percent of GDP and playing a great power role compatible with her national aspirations. She cannot achieve these foreign policy objectives without Washington’s support.
On the contrary, Gen. Musharraf’s government is seeking legitimacy from the western capitals to stay in power and financial assistance from IMF and IFIs to revive economy. Continuation of government’s hardline Kashmir policy which manifested itself in post-coup period rhetorics would have hardly served government interests.
There are few fundamental questions pertaining to a visible shift in the Kashmir policy of New Delhi and Islamabad.
First, will New Delhi keep up the understanding of involving Islamabad in tripartite talks at later stage, as is being indicated now? Or, will it renege under the pretext that holding dialogue with APHC and other political parties of IHK amounts to holding a dialogue with ‘its own people’ as has been asserted by the sceptics? Will India resist temptation of calling the Kashmir issue an internal matter in the wake of successful talks with APHC? Nevertheless, initiating talks between APHC and New Delhi and between APHC and Islamabad as is being envisaged is a step forward in right direction.
Islamabad also has its domestic problems to bring material shift in Kashmir policy. Religious outfits who have so far made sacrifices to enable the government to pursue a hard Kashmir policy are likely to challenge the shift in case it indicated betrayal of their sacrifices. The government will have to tread carefully to keep an intricate balance between change in Kashmir policy and domestic compulsions.
The possibility that Islamabad could fall back on hardline Kashmir policy if it felt threatened because of domestic compulsions or betrayal by India, cannot be ruled out.
Keeping in view volatility of domestic compulsions for Islamabad and New Delhi’s potential gains which she intends making by marginalising Islamabad the fear that Kashmir issue may not elude once again is not without genuine concerns.
This article was published in 1/8/2001 issue of the The Frontier Post of Pakistan. You can find this article in their official site www.frontierpost.com.pk