The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir stretches back to 1948 and the problem has been further complicated by the Pakistan sponsored insurgency after 1989 -90. The dispute is not only a territorial and a political problem, but also an emotive issue deeply affected by the internal dynamics of India, Pakistan and the people of the J&K state. Any solution to the protracted problem must satisfy the differing perceptions and aspirations of all the parties involved.
The rigid stands adopted by the three stake-holders to the conflict prevent accommodation and any settlement, unless all the competing parties are willing to be more flexible and accept some level of compromise to their stated claims. Any viable approach in tackling the issues must not only respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity concerns of India and Pakistan, but also the popular aspirations of the people of J&K. The key to resolve the issue lies with the governments of India and Pakistan, as the people of J&K and POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) see themselves as either victims or hostage to the policies of one or both the States. The complex character of the dispute cannot be solved without the active cooperation of the two States and Pakistan has to refrain from supporting the various terror outfits operating at their behest in the J&K, and assist in enabling an environment conducive for meaningful talks.
It also needs to be understood that the aspirations of the different regions of J&K are not similar. The people of Jammu and Ladakh, and the Gujjars and the Paharis of the hills do not support the separatists, excepting the more vocal Sunni population of the Kashmir valley. The Sunni population of the valley have identified more closely to the separatist cause and their proxies in Pakistan. In fact, these five districts in the valley, out of the total 24 districts in the entire state, have a population of only 30% but have been given disproportionate amount of importance and representation - both in the state legislative assembly and at various forums. It needs to be realised that they, through the “United Jehadi Council” or the “Hurriyat” do not represent the aspirations of the entire state. We thus, need to involve adequate representation of the people from the other regions of the state in any future talks, as a composite delegation that represent all sections and elected members, rather than just the Hurriyat, who focus on the concerns of only the separatists and the alienated people of the valley.
Unfortunately the various think tanks and the official agencies of the Central Government in the past have also neglected the demands of the other regions, so much so that the refugees of 1947 who had migrated from Pakistan to Jammu still continue to be stateless, and without any rights of citizens. On the contrary, the migrants from Tibet after the Chinese ingress of 1950, have been given the status of state subjects. The resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley remains unresolved as they fear for safety and feel unwelcome. This is certainly not an example of fair-play that ensures equal treatment to all the regions and communities. The issue of the Northern Areas, Gilgit and Baltistan and their unauthorised annexation by Pakistan is hardly ever discussed by India or the so called Hurriyat who claim to represent and voice the concerns of the people of J&K. Thus, the Kashmir issue is driven by a complex network of multiple interlocking dimensions, which requires a skilful compromise of the conflicting demands. To resolve this complicated dispute we need to identify and address the entire range of issues that have relevance to the possible solution of the J&K issue. These are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.
Issues Relevant to the Possible solution of the J&K issue
2. The external dimension of the Kashmir issue concerns the territorial status, the geographical borders and the applicability and the relevance of the outdated UN Security Council Resolution of 1948, which have been overtaken by subsequent events, and the successive democratic elections in the Indian part of the J&K during the last six decades in the state. Pakistan continues to raise the outdated issues, despite the fact that she has not pulled back the troops from the POK, which was the prerequisite for the promised plebiscite. Implications of the illegal ceding of the Shagksham valley to China by Pakistan also needs to be factored in while considering the external dimension, as also the unauthorised integration of the Northern Areas and Baltistan by Pakistan. The internal dimension examining the aspirations of the people of the J&K must include all the regions including those of Jammu and Ladakh. In fact, the Muslim population of the Jammu and Ladakh also endorse the case for accession of the state with India. Even the Shia community in the valley, which is about 12% does not support the separatists cause. However, the demand for good governance, greater autonomy, economic development and greater trade, commerce and cultural exchange across the LOC/ borders is widely accepted, by all the regions, except the Hurriyat, who as the proxy of Pakistan plays the negative role of strikes, encourages non-cooperation and incites violence . The Hurriyat feels at-home talking to their Pakistani masters and avoids talks with the Indian Government. This clearly reflects their affiliations, preferences and priorities, yet they clamour to represent the voice of the J&K?
It is true that the Central and the state governments in the past have made serious mistakes by rigged elections, central meddling in the state, corruption, denial of legitimate demands, use of force and large scale arrests, which resulted in unprecedented anger and alienation in the valley. This alienation was exploited by Pakistan by infiltrating jehadi cadres, arms and ammunition in the Kashmir valley. This has been corrected to a large extent by the firm action against the insurgents by the armed forces, civic action programmes and the economic development activities by the central and state governments. The action by the armed forces has been generally fair and supportive, with the use of minimum force, barring few aberrations. The armed forces have had to operate in difficult situations, where a hostile vernacular media and foreign sponsored propoganda and the foreign funded Human Rights organizations have attempted to malign the armed forces. Although the majority of the civil population is no longer misguided and prefer to lead a peaceful life, the hardcore militants persist in their sinister designs, actively supported by Pakistan.
Such a situation would continue as long as Pakistan with her anti-India agenda and her proxies in the state will not reconcile. This is a factor which is unlikely to change while we address the internal dynamics of the J&K. The main participants in the future dialogue process thus, should be the elected representatives of the people from the three regions. The Hurriyat should be invited as one of the players representing the seperatists, but should not be given undue importance in the parleys - even if they decline to participate, which they are most likely to do unless Pakistan directs to them to do otherwise. The present thrust on the economic development in the state, greater devolution of powers and mainstreaming with the rest of the country should continue, enabling a conducive atmosphere for the redressal of grievances. Conflict resolution would take considerable time and requires persistent effort by all the agencies and the stake holders.
Alternatives and options
3. Given the above background , what are the various alternatives and options to resolve the complex internal and the external dimensions of the Kashmir issue? Some analysts have suggested that we should adopt the model of the Northern Ireland between the Republic of Ireland and UK , the so called “Good Friday Agreement '' for settlement in the J&K. A dispassionate examination would reveal that there are differing conditions and environment between the two. In the Northern Ireland there were similar cultural, linguistic and economic conditions as those prevailing in the Republic of Ireland, with a more homogeneous society. The ground realities of diverse religious, multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic and differing social conditions in the J&K have to be considered, besides the deployment of the two armies on the live borders. However, a few aspects from the Irish model could be adopted with suitable modifications. Recognising and respecting the two identities of the two sovereign states of India and Pakistan in the respective territories along with the Kashmiri identity will have to be accepted by all, as the starting point.
Secondly, the peace process in Northern Ireland was driven by the determination of the British and the Irish states. Such an environment in our context is presently lacking and the cooperation of Pakistan would remain suspect and a question mark. Thirdly, Britsh-Irish inter -governmental cooperation was greatly facilitated by the European Union (EU), as both the states were members of the EU and accepted by the two as the forum to discuss the issues. Such a regional grouping is not available between India and Pakistan as the SAARC has not matured to take on such disputes. In the Irish model, the USA also acted as a facilitator and mediator, but the role of the third party as a mediator is not acceptable to India. The Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration(1999) do provide a broad framework for the two countries for talks provided there is evidence of political will in Pakistan. At times, there is often a demand in India to abolish article 370, particularly by some hardliners. Article 370 provides special status to Kashmir within the Indian union to maintain its exclusive identity as part of the accession instrument. Abrogation of this article would be a retrograde step. This article provides the legal basis for accession with India and should clearly be retained, as any tampering with this article will only harden the public opinion in the valley.
There is another controversial issue raised by political parties in the J&K, of repealing AFSPA from the state. This act enables the armed forces to operate in the conduct of anti-insurgency operations legally. Repealing of this article should only be done gradually from the districts where the situation has been normalised, based on the recommendations of the state. The Army and the PMF should also be withdrawn from the towns to the selected locations outside the urban centres, leaving the state police to handle law and order functions. The long term goal should be to strengthen the capacity and the calibre of the J&K police to undertake all the security tasks in the state. The Army's presence along the LOC and its anti- infiltration grid in the depth will have to be retained and cannot be diluted in the near terms, till the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. Any talk of demilitarisation is also premature, till Pakistan dismantles its terror infrastructure and reduces its own forces from the LOC and POK.
4. An important lesson from the Irish model which could be adopted is the creation of an 'inter-ministerial joint council' between India and Pakistan, which would resolve all the inter-state disputes and take further steps to enhance mutual relations in trade, tourism, irrigation and power, education, sports and cultural exchanges. This Joint council would have to operate directly under the two Prime Ministers to be meaningful. The most important step that needs to be taken is to accept the LOC as the geographic border between the two countries with suitable modifications to make it more realistic on the ground. This is the most difficult decision and the most important one failing which no normalisation would ever be possible except the status-quo situation as on today. This decision to convert the LOC as the border would lead ultimately to making it as the soft border and open up tremendous opportunities to both the sides and to the Kashmiri people; however forces in Pakistan, the Army as well as the Jehadis and their proxies in the J&K would resist and not let this happen. In such a scenario - which is most likely - resolving the Kashmir dispute and enhancing inter-state linkages, appears extremely difficult. At the same time it should be clear to all that any hopes of redrawing the borders by military actions or the aspirations of separatists for “Azadi” will not be realised or allowed to be fructified by India. The sooner this truth is realised across the borders and by their proxies in the J&K the better it would be for all, otherwise we would have to live with the existing situation.
There are some who advocate trifurcation of the state, however such a step would disturb the balance of the three regions and not resolve the issue, except, pushing the Kashmir valley further in the control of the separatist forces and eventual separation. Surely this is not a viable option for India or the Kashmiris themselves. The Centre should encourage the regional parties like the PDP and the NC to come up so that the regional aspirations of the local population are better understood, and these parties act as a 'buffer' between the Centre and the State. However, the authority of the central institutions – the Election Commission, The CAG, Central Vigilance Commission, and the Supreme Court should not be diluted.
What then is the ultimate solution?
I am of the opinion, based on my very long tenures in all three regions, while serving in the army, both at the operating levels and in senior positions, that the J&K issue, because of the inflexible stand of Pakistan, will continue to remain unresolved and we will have to live with this reality. The Indian Army will have to remain deployed in the J&K in the national interests to guard the frontiers and provide the necessary security, stability and an environment for peace, development and integration of J&K with the rest of the country. The people of J&K would have to learn to accept the status-quo and get on with the opportunities this arrangement provides. The effects of economic development and globalisation, along with the people friendly policies of the government, easier travel facilities across the LOC, inter state trade and commerce and all round prosperity, will ultimately have a sobering effect on the public to accept the existing arrangements willingly. The relations, with Pakistan, hopefully would also improve over a period of time and become more amenable and business like, even if not entirely friendly. Pakistan, due to its internal compulsions and the Army's own agenda, is unlikely to water down its claims over Kashmir. Some politicians in the Kashmir valley and the hard core separatists, even when marginalised, would continue to demand self-rule and greater autonomy. This, although adequately provided in the article 370, should be undertaken, within the parameters of the Constitution.
We should be prepared for Pakistan's and the Hurriyat's rigid and inflexible attitude and in fact even ignore them, and continue to pursue our national policies of good governance, economic development, and people friendly policies and provide the necessary healing touch, while taking firm action against the insurgents in the J&K. The law and order and the policing of the urban centres should be completely handed over to the state police. The PMF and the Central police forces should be withdrawn, retaining the barest minimum for provision of security to the central institutions/ installations or for reinforcing the anti-infiltration grid. The state administration and its agencies involved in health services, public works, power and electricity should be strengthened and energised to deliver. At the diplomatic level we should expose Pakistan's double standards and involvement in the cross border terrorism in J&K. We should propose establishment of an Indo-Pak Joint Council for resolving the J&K entangle and for settlement of the related disputes between the two countries.