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Time for Change

by Ejaz Haider

Rizwan Tabassum—AFP

Pakistan’s pro forma Kashmir policy must change to combat India’s framing of the struggle as a purely internal problem.

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1933)

Yesterday was Feb. 5. Since 1990, Pakistan has marked this day by commemorating Kashmir Solidarity Day with the beleaguered Kashmiris that continue to groan under the heavy oppressive hand of India. As a symbol of solidarity, it’s good to stand with the Kashmiris. As a viable policy, it means nothing.

While symbols are important, policies are about substance, about breaking logjams, innovating and resolving disputes. As it happens, year after year, Feb. 5 has lost even its symbolic significance, reduced merely to a pro forma exercise that allows governments to signal a lackadaisical, tired approach to Kashmir and gives rightwing parties like Jamaat-e Islami a reason to fulminate.

The denial to Kashmiris of the right to self-determination, an inalienable right, is of course a burning and live issue, regardless of the world’s sleeping conscience or Pakistani governments and political parties’ expedience-driven pro forma approaches.

It’s an appropriate moment, therefore, to revisit the dispute.

There are two levels of analysis here: moral-legal and realist. This does not mean that both are necessarily and always mutually exclusive, but that both interact in a gray area, a zone where law and politics intersect and law often follows politics, which we can also describe as force. Put another way, international law and norms are primarily a function of superior force and post-wars and conflicts, the law is often determined by the victor(s). Let’s park this fact.

In order to revisit Pakistan’s policies to get the dispute resolved, we have to ask some basic questions: Where do the Kashmiris stand today? How does India deal with Kashmir? How has Pakistan fared thus far? What must we do going into the future to help the Kashmiris’ cause?

It’s somewhat easy to answer these questions: Kashmiris are no closer to achieving independence/freedom. Repression and systems of hegemonic control have increased in Kashmir over time. Internationally, the Kashmiri struggle is seen as being caught up in the India-Pakistan conflict, rather than as legitimate in its own right. At worst, the Kashmiris’ struggle has been associated with extremism.

Corollary: the “train” (processes, approaches, strategies) that has been in motion to handle the Kashmir dispute has not been heading in the direction where Kashmiris want to go.

Traditionally, New Delhi has adopted two strategies. During periods of normalization, it has talked about talks with Pakistan, rather than any substantive, result-oriented dialogue. Simultaneously, within, it has alternated between opening a track with Srinagar while using force to keep the Kashmiris suppressed.

That has not worked because there is a wide chasm between how the Indian state looks at the definition of what a “political solution” means and through what processes it can be arrived at, and how the Kashmiris perceive it. On the Kashmiri side too, the pro-India parties, NC and PDP, look at a political solution more in terms of greater autonomy and revival of Article 370 than a breakaway from India. The Hurriyat factions and the Kashmiri youth have their own definition of a political solution.

Since the coming into power of Narendra Modi, India’s policy of a “political solution” has changed. Modi has steadily moved toward a two-pronged policy that (a) seeks to isolate Pakistan and (b) attempts to give Pakistan a ‘decisive blow.’ The two prongs are supposed to work in tandem. As the current Indian NSA, Ajit Doval, said at a talk in 2010 when he was a private citizen, Kashmiris have to be assimilated and he believes that doing so requires that Pakistan’s mindset be changed. Put another way, India has decided that Kashmir is its Pakistan problem, pushing Kashmir and Kashmiris out of the picture altogether.

The Indian move to cancel foreign secretary-level talks in August 2014 over a meeting between Pakistan’s High Commissioner and Hurriyat in Delhi and its current oppression of Kashmiris indicates that Delhi wants to posit Kashmir in a strictly internal framework while accusing Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border terrorism. The only solution, thinks the current Indian government, is to put down Kashmiri civil resistance regardless of the cost to Kashmiri society. This is what Doval said in 2010: “Don’t overreact, don’t give in, don’t follow appeasement, it [the crisis] will pass off. It looks big in the midst of it, they cannot sustain it beyond a point and even if they do there is a price that they have to pay.”

Pakistan’s policy has wavered between looking at Kashmir as a territorial dispute and a problem of self-determination, which is an inalienable right—in other words, a right that cannot be limited. The U.N. Resolutions, while talking plebiscite, nonetheless ‘limit’ this right by asking Kashmiris to either join India or Pakistan. The argument, therefore, that the two—the territorial dispute and the right to self-determination as existing mutually—are coterminous or reinforce each other, is flawed.

Since the ‘90s, when violence in Kashmir erupted, Pakistan’s policy of using non-state actors has harmed the Kashmiri cause immensely, helping India to (a) position the issue as an India-Pakistan dispute rather than as an issue of Kashmiris’ right to self-determination and (b) presenting it as a problem of ‘terrorism’ and the struggle as religion-oriented rather than one for freedom from India’s oppressive and illegal occupation of Kashmir and its people. The two—resistance, armed or unarmed, and terrorism—are qualitatively different as UNGA resolutions 2625 and 3246 testify through their language, affirming the legitimacy of resistance by oppressed peoples in pursuit of the right to self-determination.

This has been a major setback to the Kashmiri struggle. This has also severely limited Pakistan’s options in presenting the Kashmir case before the international community.

As another wave of resistance sweeps through Kashmir, Pakistan does not seem to have a viable Kashmir policy either in the domain of the moral-legal or in terms of force (realpolitik), relying on old approaches that did not work and are unlikely, in the post-9/11 world, to work. Pakistan needs to understand the environment in which it must formulate a policy, informed and underpinned by multiple strategies/approaches that can work in tandem and achieve critical mass.

Modi and the current hawkish strategists in Delhi are likely to be bolstered if their recent posturing/positioning begets a tit-for-tat response from Pakistan. It is my considered view that the Modi government wants Pakistan’s security paradigm to remain unchanged. Delhi believes that that paradigm is working in India’s favor and helps it [Delhi] to tar and isolate Pakistan.

Successive Indian governments have, not without success, moved the issue away from Kashmiris to making it about “terrorism,” painting Pakistan as the villain.

Imperative: Change the current paradigm. While strongly rejecting Delhi’s new conditions and attempts to alter the basic terms of reference on Kashmir, it would be best for Pakistan to respond in a way that brings into full focus the political issue of Kashmir and Kashmiri aspirations and interests.

This means putting the focus on Kashmiris. In other words, Pakistan must frame the question of the future of Jammu & Kashmir in terms of high principles and international norms vis-à-vis self-determination, not as a real estate dispute. Essentially, this means avoiding doing anything that shifts the attention from the glaring fact that Delhi has not shown any good faith or seriousness in addressing Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. The right “train” would be a process/strategy whose destination is a solution of Kashmir that is acceptable to all parties and in shaping which the Kashmiris have a primary role. The train should be a process that directly includes Kashmiris and gives Kashmiris the primary role in moving it forward.

This requires, first and foremost, trusting the Kashmiris and letting them take the lead. Kashmiri youth are emerging as a new savvy, dynamic and highly capable force and, if the right environment exists (i.e. avoiding a context that reinforces hegemonic repression in Kashmir), a new, vibrant political movement can and will emerge. This will be an internationally presentable struggle and political mobilization for Kashmiri rights that can gain legitimacy and momentum and put real political and moral pressure on New Delhi.

Put another way, Pakistan must avoid deciding how the Kashmiri leaders should deal with India. Pakistan has sought in the past to select, impose, recognize and delegitimize the leadership in Kashmir—a people’s movement can never run this way.

Pakistan can begin by issuing a clear policy statement on this–that since the solution of Kashmir must be in accordance with Kashmiri aspirations, India and Pakistan need to talk and agree on a process/mechanism by which the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Azad Kashmir are involved in talks. At all costs must Pakistan avoid any situation that associates Kashmir with violent Islamist extremism. Kashmir should be the focal point of a vibrant Kashmiri movement and political mobilization that forces New Delhi to negotiate on Kashmir.

Indian strategists are eager to associate Kashmir with Al Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS, LeT, etc–they are not prepared to deal with an internationally acceptable and legitimate peoples’ political movement that is led by moderate, patriotic and dedicated Kashmiris. Despite the current repression and symbolic gestures like Burhan Wani Shaheed picking up the gun, Kashmiris do not want to see a new wave of militancy in Kashmir. If Delhi wants to “politically quarantine” Kashmiris and, along with it, Kashmir–this is the right time to give real formal recognition to Kashmiris and allow them the space they need to emerge as a legitimate political player in a meaningful way. Pakistan could even ask other countries to recognize Kashmiris.

Since this policy will be perched on high moral-legal and diplomatic ground, Pakistan will also need to take some clear measures in relation to Azad Kashmir. The Karachi Agreement was and remains problematic. Over the years mechanisms like the Kashmir Council have further eroded the independence of AJK and there has been electoral, political, developmental and administrative interference from Pakistan’s centers of power in Azad Kashmir’s affairs. That must end. The current electoral/administrative/political configuration is far from satisfactory. AJK needs its own indigenous political leadership.

Similarly, AJK’s resources (water, minerals etc) should be owned by AJK and AJK must primarily benefit from them. Ditto for Gilgit-Baltistan where lands are being acquired for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects without proper compensation.

Strategy is a long-haul game. If Pakistan is really serious about Kashmir and Kashmiris, it must adopt a high-principled approach to contrast AJK/GB from IOK. That, over time, and in tandem with a political movement by the Kashmiris will beget international support.

The internal political situation for the Modi government is likely to change in favor of other opposition parties. However, for the time that he remains in power, Pakistan needs to respond to Modi and the strategic hawks in Delhi in such a way that they are exposed as belligerent and unreasonable in their attempt to adopt a unilateral, power-based approach on Kashmir.

To recap: come out looking as the most reasonable and principled by keeping the focus on Kashmiris and peace for the region. Confound the hawks in Delhi by going on a “peace offensive” and by formally recognizing Kashmiris as the third party and asking Kashmiris to step forward with their own ideas.

[Note: some of these points were discussed by the author in a presentation at the National Defence University, Islamabad.]

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider 

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1 comment

Srinath February 6, 2018 - 3:02 pm

New Delhi should take initiative and do whatever it takes to provide healing touch to the valley, There exists a general consensus in India that political parleys with a spirit of accommodation is vital . The first step to boarding the right train would be take visible steps to stop nurturing cross border terrorism and initiate measures that normal countries do to book the terrorists. For instance, the suggestion of Mr Tariq Khosa, who headed the premier investigating agency, should be considered to take the Mumbai attack case to logical conclusion. At the heart of this article is the suggestion that focus of Kashmir policy should now be on the future of Kashmiris. The writer is indeed asking for the moon. The Pakistan policy, since Jinnah, is tethered to the idea of “Kashmir banega Pakistan’. The writer’s long wish list to make this happen gives us some idea of the pragmatism that has informed this presentation.


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