By Nyla Ali Khan
In a conference on the ‘Future of Pakistan 2017,’ held at the London School of Economics (LSE), Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of Pakistan made a blanket statement explicitly rejecting the idea of an ‘independent Kashmir,’ claiming that there is no support and demand of the sort. For me, a Kashmiri Muslim from the Valley, that is news, which reinforces the status quo, and further reduces my neck of the woods into a battlefield.
Well, Prime Minister, we, the people of Kashmir, require peace and stability in both India and Pakistan to restore normality in our region. The goal should be to find a practical solution to the impasse, as opposed to forcing the people of Kashmir to remain in limbo and quietly watch our younger generation go by the wayside, while the two nuclear powers in South Asia being used as a bargaining chip.
There must be redress for previous violations of human rights for all groups within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, everyone needs to be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations to further the India-Pakistan peace process. The aims of that process should be the withdrawal of excessive forces from both sides of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir as well as decommissioning militants, the rehabilitation of detained prisoners, and repair of the frayed ethnic fabric in all parts of civil society.
The people of Kashmir have tried, time and again, to transform themselves from passive recipients of violence, legitimated by legislations of the physically and psychologically removed parliaments of India and Pakistan, into subjects who recognise that they can exercise agency and take control of their destinies. Historically, they have marched forward with a refusal to allow history to be imposed on them, and have attempted, despite the subterfuge, to take charge of their own social and political destinies. The confluence of religious nationalism, secular nationalism, and ethnic nationalism creates the complexity of the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s formal political alignment with the United States of America motivated the Soviet Union, in the 1950s, to overtly support the Indian stance towards Kashmir. The Soviet premier Khrushchev made explicit his government’s pro-India position on Kashmir in 1955, in Srinagar the heartland of the Kashmir Valley.
The explicit political support of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era bolstered Jawaharlal Nehru’s courage, and, in 1956, Nehru reneged on his earlier ‘international commitments’ on the floor of the Indian parliament.
He proclaimed the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to India in 1947, which ostensibly had been ratified by the Constituent Assembly of J & K in1954. Nehru’s well thought-out strategy was deployed in full measure when the Soviet Union vetoed the demands for a plebiscite in Kashmir made at a meeting of the UN Security Council convened at Pakistan’s behest. It was in 1953 that Pakistan initiated negotiations with the USA for military assistance. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad protested that “America might arm Pakistan or help her in any other ways but Kashmir will never form part of Pakistan” (The Hindu Weekly Review, 1953). Nehru vehemently warned Pakistan and the US that, “it is not open (to Pakistan] to do anything on Kashmir territory, least of all to give bases’ (Indiagram 1953). He expressly declared that the agreement between him and the Government of Pakistan regarding the Kashmir issue would change if Pakistan received military aid from the US (Nehru’s speech in the Lok Sabha, 29 December1953).
Subsequent to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India lost its powerful ally. India’s relations with the US reeked of distrust and paranoia at the time. This worsened when senior officials in the first Clinton administration questioned the legality of the status of Kashmir as a part of the Indian Union. The non-proliferation agenda of the US in South Asia actively undermined India’s proliferation strategy in the early and mid-1990s.Washington’s agenda was propelled by the fear that South Asia had burgeoning potential for a nuclear war in the future. Pakistan’s overt policy of abetting fanatical elements in Kashmir and Afghanistan led to its political insularity and seemingly legitimised India’s proactive approach. The US adopted the policy of persuading both India and Pakistan to actively participate in the non-proliferation regime by agreeing to comply with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to an interim cap on fissile-material production.
During the last two decades, each military crisis between India and Pakistan has been followed by attempts at diplomatic rapprochement, which have turned out to be fiascos. The two countries go through sporadic peacemaking efforts, characterised by negotiations. For instance, in January 2004, the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the then Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, agreed ‘to the resumption of a composite dialogue’ on all issues ‘including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides.’ Musharraf assured the Indian government that he would not permit ‘any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner’. But this joint statement could not mitigate the existing skepticism.
(The writer is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as guest editor) working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Despite international pressure, the India-Pakistan crisis has not been defused; on the contrary, it is highly volatile. Given their interests in South Asia, Russia and China express, every once in a while, their concern about the brinksmanship’ between the two countries. In order to facilitate a rapprochement,’ President Vladimir Putin of Russia offered to play the role of mediator between then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and then Pakistani President Musharraf at the scheduled regional summit conference in Almaty, Kazakhistan. Both Putin and the then Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, held talks with Vajpayee and Musharraf in order to create a space for political negotiations. But the two heads of government continued to remain aloof and uncompromisingly condemned each other’s belligerence. The one positive outcome of the summit talks, however, was the proposal of the Indian government for joint patrolling of the Line of Control (LOC) by Indian and Pakistani forces. But the Pakistani government was quick to reject this proposal and expressed the requirement for building a third-party force instead. Subsequently, the lethal and hitherto readily adopted practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance mellowed, due to Vajpayee’s and Musharraf’s judicious approach to nuclear warfare. But the simmering grievances between India and Pakistan, and the distress of the Kashmiri people remained unredressed.
A dozen or more summit conferences have been held between the government heads of India and Pakistan toward the resolution of the Kashmir problem, from Nehru-Liaquat to Vajpayee-Musharraf meetings, laced in between with Soviet-American interventions, and a series of meetings between foreign ministers Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but nothing worth reporting was ever achieved, primarily because the people of J & K were never made a part of these parleys. Without the ability to think beyond UN resolutions, which could entail the creation of an autonomous, semi-sovereign Jammu and Kashmir, with the restoration of internal autonomy as a beginning, the notion of ‘Kashmir as the core issue between India and Pakistan’ will remain an abstraction.