Beyond mutual destruction


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DIPLOMACY does occasionally wear a farcical look but nowhere more often than in South Asia. During bilateral talks in 1993, India and Pakistan exchanged carefully drafted position papers. These were called ‘non-papers’. An American academic, Stephen Cohen, has followed in this tradition. He is the author recently (1996) of a non-plan, labelled the Cohen Plan. It is the subject currently of much interest in Islamabad which has, to the best of my knowledge, not given any thought to a plan of peace with India.

Cohen’s is an outline not for a settlement of disputes between India and Pakistan but for U.S. sponsorship of a ‘Camp David process’. It offers no clue to American or even the author’s thinking on the principles that may guide the agenda of this process. It merely argues that the climate for an American initiative is favourable, that peace-making in South Asia will be less expensive for the United States than was Camp David which entailed large aid to Egypt in addition to the hefty billions Israel receives from the U.S., and that it will require patience, bipartisan consensus, and a well-reputed American mediator.

The closest Cohen comes to revealing the substance of the initiative he recommends is his model of the Camp David Accord. He deems it, as most American policy analysts do, a great success. But was it? Surely, by removing Egypt from the rank of frontline Arab states, it rendered unthinkable an Arab war against Israel. By the same token, Arab states and people became the objects of Israel’s ambition and aggression. It was after Camp David that Israel invaded Lebanon, killing 30,000 civilians, maiming thousands more, destroying its ancient villages, towns, and the capital city Beirut where Israeli forces oversaw the Falangist massacre of Sabra and Shatila. A portion of Lebanon remains under Israeli occupation, the site of weekly killings and dying, a monument to Camp David.

The Palestinians – who are the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the Kashmiris are to the Indian-Pakistani conflict – fared even worse after Camp David. The United States pretended to an arbiter’s and guarantor’s role; in reality it was on Israel’s side. When negotiations between Anwar Sadaat and Menachem Begin deadlocked over the question of unlawful Zionist settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Jimmy Carter staked his presidential prestige to assure Sadaat that Israel would not establish more settlements. The ink had not dried on the Camp David Accord when Begin announced the establishment of new settlements. Jimmy Carter protested, verbally and in vain. While massive U.S. aid continued to pour into Israel, it expropriated nearly 60% of Palestinian land and all of its water resources. The augmented harshness of the occupier rendered life well nigh impossible for the hapless people of the West Bank and Gaza. Dispossession on a large scale was one outcome; the outbreak of the intifada was another.



The Camp David Accord is viewed, not incorrectly, as the foundation stone of the Oslo and Cairo agreements between Israel and the PLO. Officials no less than most journalists and scholars in the United States have been offering these as first steps toward Palestinian statehood. I, among others, have argued that Oslo is liable to yield not a Palestinian state but a state of apartheid in the Middle East. Its outlines had already emerged under Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, though both prime ministers were viewed in Washington as apostles of peace.

Two distinct humanities live in Israel and under its occupation – one Jewish, the other Arab. One enjoys full citizenship rights, the other does not. One claims sovereignty, the other is denied it. One controls the land and its resources, the other does not. They live in separated spaces, the one as a free people, the other as a besieged people. These realities become uglier and more complex as new roads, public facilities and institutions are constructed with American aid. They create new facts of apartheid and inequality. It’s an awesome tribute to the power of belief that perfectly normal scholars, like Professor Cohen, offer Camp David as a successful model.

As Washington shows interest in midwifing an India-Pakistan agreement, Pakistan’s policy-makers – where are you Éwhere? – ought to reflect on Camp David’s example. No two histories are similar, yet analogies help analysis. Egypt and Israel went to war thrice in three decades; so did India and Pakistan. Palestine served as a major bone of contention in the Middle Eastern conflict as Kashmir does in South Asia. As Pakistan has over four decades, Egypt expended much energy posturing about resistance and liberation while ignoring Palestinian right to representation and paying scant attention to a changing world environment. As frustrations piled over failures, Egypt put all its eggs in the American basket. ‘Ninety per cent of this problem can be solved by America,’ Anwar Sadaat was fond of saying. Pakistan has been inviting third party mediation for some time. As a ploy to engage the sympathies of others it has not worked. It is unlikely to serve as a mechanism to obtain even a modicum of justice for the Kashmiris, or peaceable Indo-Pakistan relations. Rather, American mediation may harm Pakistan as it harmed the Arabs.



The United States’ interests in South Asia are those of a great power, largely economic and part strategic. Moral issues of human rights and self determination play but a minor role in policy-making. It is self-defeating to get distracted by Washington’s professions of virtues and neutrality. Realistic analysis would suggest that in the role of mediator, the U.S. shall be keen to bring about peace in South Asia while favouring India over Pakistan, and the two states over the stateless Kashmiris. Consider, among other factors, the following:

India is a large market roughly eight times larger than Pakistan; this ratio is reflected in the current volume of American investments in the two countries. It is many times more endowed in natural resources than Pakistan. Also, India is better positioned for rapid economic growth by virtue of educated manpower, infrastructure, and standards of skill and literacy. Strategically, it is a large and populous country, in important respects a counterpoint to China. As a post-cold war structure of international relations emerges, the United States seeks balancing mechanisms to strike a favourable equilibrium in its relations with China. India can serve this purpose better than any other country in Asia except Japan. For these reasons, Washington has to be more keen to insure the goodwill and stability of India than of Pakistan.



Nations, realists are fond of reiterating, do not have permanent friends, nor permanent enemies. They only have permanent interests. During most of the cold war years, the United States government saw political Islam as its ally and an adversary of communism. Today the reverse is true; it views Islamic movements the world over with deep distrust and active hostility. Between 1989 when Kashmir’s powerful nationalist insurrection began, and 1992 when it developed an Islamic character with Pakistan’s help, America’s intelligence services supplied their policy-makers an alarming picture of militant Islam emerging in the strategic Kashmir valley with Pakistani, Afghan, and Iranian involvement. This impression of Kashmiri resistance has been reinforced by the proliferation of a score of armed Islamic groups in Kashmir.

Like all paramount powers, the United States is a status quo power. In areas of its interest and influence it favours stability over change. Kashmir’s liberation movement has been increasingly perceived in Washington as a destabilizing force in South Asia, especially if it makes significant gains toward its goal of total separation from India. They see the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamaat-ul-Ulema’i Islam gaining legitimacy, popularity, and armed strength from their role in Kashmir, thus changing the comfortable current balance in favour of temporal parties of Pakistan. In India, Kashmir’s separation can only aid the militant Hindu parties which have arrived perilously close to power. Above all, Kashmir’s separation is likely to worsen India’s tense communal environment; the BJP and its partners may ride the anti-Muslim wave. ‘We cannot afford,’ a Washington insider remarked some months ago, ‘Bosnia on a grand scale.’

For these and more reasons, Pakistan will be wise to encourage U.S. interest while declining its mediation in our relations with India. Thanks, but no thanks! Islamabad’s challenge is to explore other, better options. Unfortunately, it does not appear poised to meet it.



A lasting peace between India and Pakistan remains, nevertheless, an urgent necessity. Hostility between the two will continue to distort the political and economic environment of both countries, inflict upon their inhabitants the augmenting costs of subversion and sabotage, inhibit regional cooperation, and force more than a billion people to live perpetually under the menace of nuclear holocaust.

Indian-Pakistani disputes over Siachin and Wuller Barrage are easily resolvable; in fact, the basics of agreement over these two issues have already been reached in bilateral talks. Kashmir is the primary source of conflict. It has outlasted most post-world war II conflicts – the cold war, war in Indo-China, the American-Chinese confrontation, South African apartheid, and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Three full scale wars, frequent armed confrontations along the India Pakistan border, years of Kashmiri uprising and Indian repression, and the beleaguered Kashmiris’ enormous sorrows, have not induced either India or Pakistan to shift from their positions.



Delhi declares the matter settled, claims that Kashmir – under its occupation – is an integral part of India, regularly denounces and occasionally threatens Pakistan for its ‘interference in India’s internal affairs,’ and has been trying for years to put down Kashmiri resistance – mercilessly, without pity, and in vain. Islamabad insists that Kashmir is an unresolved international dispute, and it must be settled by a plebiscite as originally envisaged by a U.N. Security Council Resolution of over fifty years standing.

Neither position is sustainable. Pakistani and Indian decision-makers will serve their countries well if they concede to the realities sooner rather than later. One, a military solution of the Kashmir dispute is not possible. Two, it is equally difficult to envisage, as India does, a unilateral political solution. Three, while the United States has a stake in peace between India and Pakistan, neither the great powers nor world opinion will make a decisive contribution toward resolving this conflict. Four, direct negotiations offer the only effective path to a peaceful solution. However, meaningful negotiations are not possible without Kashmiri participation. Hence the most sensible way to resolve the dispute is tripartite negotiations involving Pakistan, India, and a representative Kashmiri delegation. Direct negotiations do not preclude a facilitating role for the United Nation’s or the United States. A discussion of these points follows.

Three models may be envisaged for a military solution: a conventional Indo-Pakistan war, the Kashmiri war of liberation ending like Cuba, Algeria or Vietnam, and protracted guerrilla warfare followed, as India achieved in East Pakistan, by a decisive Pakistani military coup de grace. To a student of military strategy all three options would appear unrealistic. For differing reasons neither Pakistan nor India are likely to win a conventional war. It shall, nevertheless, be unbearably costly to both countries. If perchance a decisive outcome appeared likely, nuclear weapons will surely enter the scene, resulting at best in an inconclusive cease-fire or, at worst, in a continental holocaust.



Military leaders in both countries share this estimation of the military balance and international environment. Barring the odd hawkish officer, they do not favour a full scale military confrontation. That leaves the option of low intensity warfare. In Kashmir, India is engaged as an incumbent; Pakistan supports the insurgency. It also happens in wars of incumbency and proxy that rivals hit each other with sabotage and subversion.

This Kashmiri uprising has lasted more than a decade, long enough for observers to discern its ramifications, possibilities and limitations. India and Pakistan exchange accusations against each other on a regular basis. Since 1990 the two countries have engaged in a carefully calibrated war of proxy and subversion which has done both sides much harm. In the process, an estimated 40,000 Kashmiris are dead, and many more wounded. Kashmir’s economy has been wrecked, and an entire generation of Kashmiris has already been deprived of normal upbringing and education. Yet, armed struggle and Indian repression have not brought Kashmiris closer either to self determination, which is Pakistan’s demand, or to pacification, which India seeks. In fact, both countries are farther from attaining their goals in Kashmir than they were in 1989.

Kashmir’s discontent is rooted in history, economics, politics and psychology. The causes and dynamics of the Kashmiri movement lie in Kashmir and its experience with India. It is not a product of plotting and subversion by Pakistan. As such, it can not be suppressed by force. Nor is it likely to be managed by electoral manipulations. Yet India has confronted the insurgency as incumbents normally do – with a combination of brute force, unlawful subversions, violations of Kashmiri humanity and, above all, denial of reality.



In the last analysis, the successes and failures of counter-insurgency operations revolve around two questions: One, does the incumbent state enjoy at least residual legitimacy among the insurgent people? Two, is the incumbent power willing to accommodate those aspirations which converge to cause and sustain the insurgency? I have asked these questions twice before. Once in 1965 in relation to America’s war in Vietnam. Again in 1971 concerning Pakistan’s military operation in East Pakistan. For India too the answer to both questions is NO.

A rational approach to Kashmir shall elude India as long as its leaders are unable to confront this reality. The price of avoidance may not be for India the kind of military defeats which the United States experienced in Vietnam or Pakistan suffered in its eastern wing, now Bangladesh. Yet, one can say with confidence that if India, Pakistan, and Kashmiris do not reach a mutually beneficial settlement, the protracted war among the three will continue, with lulls and heats. Its costs may be even greater in the future than the hapless peoples have already paid.

India’s allegations notwithstanding, Pakistan had little to do with the insurgency which emerged full blown in 1989. In fact, Islamabad’s military no less than civilian intelligence services were surprised by the intensity and scope of the uprising. It was united by and large behind a single organization, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which had most of the attributes of a winning young movement.

The great powers, especially the United States, have not evinced any interest in supporting Pakistan’s position which is legally and historically well founded. Islamabad has expended much effort and resources in trying to mobilize international opinion. In effect, lobbying for Kashmir has provided since 1989 the framework for hundreds of Pakistan’s ministerial, parliamentary, and other international junkets. None of these have had any discernible impact. Even the United Nations and its Security Council, whose authority Pakistan invokes quite assiduously, have shown scant interest in the matter. An analysis of years of Pakistani effort to mobilize meaningful international support for its position on Kashmir suggests that neither the great powers nor international opinion are inclined to weigh in meaningfully on Pakistan’s or the Kashmiri resistance’s side.



India has lost Kashmir. Delhi’s moral isolation from the Kashmiri people is total and, I think, irreversible in the sense that in order to reverse it India will have to envisage a qualitatively different relationship with Kashmir. But can India’s loss translate into Pakistan’s gain?

My answer is no! There is an inclination among policy-makers to believe otherwise. This is not unusual. It is common in international relations for rival countries to view their contests as a zero sum game whereby the losses of one side would translate into gains for the other. The American intervention in Iran (1953), and its costly involvement in Vietnam (1956-75), were compelled in part by this outlook. The Soviet interventions in Hungary (1956), and Czechoslovakia (1968), were similarly motivated. History has repeatedly exposed this assumption to be false. The ratio of rival losses and gains is rarely proportional; it is determined by circumstances of history, politics, and policy. India’s Kashmir record offers a chronicle of failures; yet none of these accrued to Pakistan’s benefit. Rather, Pakistan’s policy has suffered from its own defects.



Three characteristics made an early appearance in Pakistan’s approach to Kashmir. One, although Pakistani decision-makers know the problem to be fundamentally political, beginning in 1948 they have approached it primarily in military terms. Two, while the military outlook has dominated, there has been a healthy unwillingness to go to war over Kashmir. Three, while officially invoking the Kashmiri right to self determination, Pakistan’s governments and politicians have pursued policies which have all but disregarded the history, culture, and aspirations of Kashmir’s people. One consequence of this is a string of grave Pakistani miscalculations regarding Kashmir. Another outcome has been to alienate Kashmiris from Pakistan at crucial times such as 1948-49, 1965, and the 1990s.

The question asked at the beginning remains largely unanswered: Has India’s loss translated into Pakistan’s gain? Another question needs to be asked: if both countries are failing in Kashmir, what next?



A reminder is useful: in the 20th century armed struggles have failed more often than they have succeeded. In the 1960s, no less than 45 armed uprisings were in progress; six of these could claim success. A few, including the Kurdish, Irish, Timorese, and Filipino movements are still active. Their longevity suggests that while success may not be assured an armed uprising can endure or keep recurring if the aspirations on which it feeds are not addressed. A review of the Kashmiri movement suggests that it is falling in this latter category.

Popular support is an essential attribute of success. To win, consolidate and maintain it is the greatest single challenge of an armed movement. To deny it popular following, drive wedges between it and the people, and reclaim the hearts and minds of the populace constitute the primary objectives of incumbents. This is one requirement the Kashmiri movement fully meets. As I argued earlier, India’s federal government has lost all semblance of legitimacy and support among Kashmiri muslims. It’s moral isolation appears so total that it is unlikely to regain even a modicum of legitimacy without conceding in a large measure the Kashmiri aspirations which have converged around a single slogan – Azaadi.

That slogan, Pakistan’s policy-makers and Pakistani partisans of Kashmiri struggle ought to acknowledge, translates as sovereignty for Kashmir. There exists among Kashmiri speaking people but little enthusiasm for a plebiscite which would confine them to exchanging life under Indian sovereignty for life under Pakistan’s sovereignty. It is only a rare Kashmiri – I found none among the dozens abroad or scores I have interviewed in Pakistan – who views Kashmir as an ‘unfinished agenda of partition.’ In the U.S., a Kashmiri academic from Srinagar asked: ‘East Pakistan has violently separated from the west. The Muslim nation of the Qaid-i-Azam is now divided into three sovereign states. So what unfinished agenda of partition are we Kashmiris required to complete?’

Unity is essential to success. But unity is rarely total. The Chinese, Algerian, Cuban and Vietnamese movements confronted divisions, but in all four countries one party and leadership commanded hegemony over the others. At the start, the Kashmiri movement had the appearance of fulfilling this requirement. Soon after, the proliferation of parties began and became epidemic. There are no less than thirty-eight armed parties in the valley. Thirty of them are grouped in the All Party Hurriyat Conference, a welcome umbrella all but paralysed by differing ambitions and styles.



Increasingly, the valley has become a free-for-all environment in which the distinction between crime and militancy has been blurred. The atrocities of the ‘reformed militants’ are credited obviously to India’s account. But it is also true that the excesses of other groups reflect on the standing of the movement as a whole. Pakistan is viewed as the purveyor of internal divisions as some parties and positions are known to be favoured by Islamabad while others are not. In growing numbers Kashmiris are beginning to regard themselves as dually oppressed.

Clarity and consistency of ideology and objectives are the third essential factor in keeping a movement strong and resilient. These are essential to maintaining the morale of cadres, solidarity of the people, and sympathy of neutrals at home and abroad. In an environment of armed struggle in which people invariably face great risks and cadres unusual hardships over long periods of time morale, solidarity, and sympathy define success and failure in critical ways. Unfortunately, barely two years after it began Kashmir’s uprising started to suffer from split images.



At first the movement led by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front appeared to be secular and nationalist. As such it elicited support at home, and a measure of sympathy both in India and abroad. When the Islamic parties, supported among others by the Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan made a significant appearance on the scene, the effect was not only internal confusion and division but also the dissipation of actual and potential international support for Kashmiri struggle. To date, the governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir have spent millions of dollars to mobilize international support behind the question of Kashmir. Cumulatively, the score has been a pathetic zero. In effect, for each of these religious and secular, parliamentary and private carpet-baggers and patronage seekers, Kashmir’s cause serves in Pakistan as one big pork barrel.

The creation and maintenance of ‘parallel hierarchies’ of governance has been the distinguishing feature of liberation warfare in the 20th century. Successful movements have tended to out-administer their enemy rather than outfight them. This is so because the gap between the military resources of states and the opposing guerrilla forces have widened greatly as a consequence of technological progress after world war I. An armed movement neither aims nor expects to defeat its adversary in conventional battlefields; events such as the battle of Dien Bien Phu are exceptions not the rule. Liberation organizations expect to exhaust the enemy – politically, economically, psychologically – through protracted struggle.



This is primarily political not military warfare. It demands systematic elimination of the incumbent’s governing capability, and its substitution by the movement’s administrative and social infrastructure. Slowly and surely the guerrilla organization assumes the functions of government – provides health facilities, schools, courts, arbitration, and collects (not extorts!) taxes. Thus the state’s machinery becomes increasingly dysfunctional, delinked from the people. ‘Nous commencons legiferer dans le vide’, the French had recognized first in Indo-China, then in Algeria (We are legislating in a void!). And the liberation movement gets organically linked to the land and its people. It is this phenomenon that overcomes the vast discrepancy in the military power and material resources of the two sides. In 1989-1990, the Kashmiri movement showed signs of developing parallel hierarchies, an infrastructure of governance. Then, it lost interest no less than ability. It still has popular support but neither the will nor capacity to serve the people. In such a climate a movement’s support dissipates as people tire of hardships and suffering.

The location of the intelligentsia vis-a-vis a movement serves more as an signal than a decisive factor in wars of liberation. Individual exceptions notwithstanding, the intelligentsia is a cautious class, prone to opportunity seeking more than risk taking. In an environment of armed polarization they wait and watch, and change positions as they sense the balance of forces shifting. The desertion of the intelligentsia from incumbency to the movement normally signals a decisive shift in favour of the latter. The opposite is also true.

In Kashmir, the intelligentsia inclined toward the JKLF in 1990, then began distancing from the movement as it recoiled from the excesses of Islamic militancy. Menaced also by Indian excesses, many middle and upper middle class families moved to the safety of Jammu and Delhi. An estimated 15,000 Kashmiris are now enrolled at Indian universities. Although it is impossible to find an educated Kashmiri who does not disapprove of India’s military presence in the valley, their class location vis-a-vis the struggle for Kashmir remains ambiguous.



Last the material factors – the availability of arms, men, and logistical supplies – which significantly affect the course of a struggle. The best organized armed uprisings obtain much of their armaments from the enemy. ‘We must regard [French General] De Lattre as our quarter-master-general,’ was Vietnamese General Ngo Vuyen Giap’s motto during the Indo-China war. Algeria’s guerrilla commander Belkacem Krim had his adversary, General Andre Beaufre play roughly the same role. To my knowledge, Kashmiri militants are not capturing even 10% of their weapons from Indian forces. Their dependence on external sources of supply is total. I am not in a position to estimate the endurance and reliability of their external sources of weapons supply. One should expect it to be limited and sporadic.

Kashmir has a Muslim population of about 5.5 million. Of these roughly half a million are estimated to be males of fighting age, between 15-35 years. The state is their major employer, followed by agriculture and tourism, a trade wrecked by war. The pool of potential fighters is around 100,000 men. Of these some 40,000 are dead; and an estimated 60,000 have been disabled. Unbearable economic burdens on families are added to their enormous personal grief. There is a growing feeling among Kashmiris that the world, including their own world, has abandoned them.



The dispute over Kashmir is as old as independent India and Pakistan. This latest phase of violent strife has lasted over ten years. Yet while the human and material losses have mounted – beyond bearing for the Kashmiri people – neither India nor Pakistan have shown an inclination to end the bloodshed on any except their own terms. The three parties to this conflict have reached an impasse. It is now necessary for them to find a peaceful solution. I should first summarize the nature of the impasse.

If one views as crucial the distinction between governing a society and coercing a multitude, India has ceased to govern Kashmir. For reasons discussed earlier, its moral isolation there is total, and irreversible if Delhi remains fixed on the terms which it currently offers. It’s options then are three-fold: One, to keep its coercive presence in Kashmir and hope that some day Kashmiris will tire and throw in the towel. Two, to negotiate with Kashmiri leaders on terms the latter could live with. Three, to negotiate a broader settlement with Pakistan and the Kashmiri insurgents who are grouped in the All Party Hurriyat Conference. We deemed a fourth, another India-Pakistan war, as an unrealistic option for settling the question of Kashmir.

India’s current policy is to stick with option one while giving it a face lift. This entails a focus on legislative elections and vague promises of greater autonomy. Although the U.S. is encouraging it, the ploy is not likely to work because Kashmiri leaders distrust India’s tenuous promise, and Pakistan encourages their rejection of it.

In comparison with the earlier period of their insurgency, the promises and options of the Kashmiris are circumscribed. The insurrection climaxed in 1993. That was an appropriate year for both Pakistan and Kashmiri insurgents to launch a vigorous political and diplomatic offensive. Since then the insurgency has not gained. Rather its strength has been sapped. It faces internal divisions. The Kashmiri movement now confronts Indian sponsored competitors and a more supple Indian counter insurgency effort than was possible during Jagmohan’s heavy handed cruelties between 1990-92.



While Jagmohan cleared the ground of the more-or-less secular nationalists during 1990-1992, India’s intelligence services connived, as Israel’s had done earlier in Gaza, at the emergence of Islamic groupings in Kashmir. Pakistan’s intelligence services appear to have missed the point. The emergence of multiple Islamic groupings have sectarianized the movement, dampened the enthusiasm of those Muslims who cherish their traditional, lived relationship to Islam, alienated a significant section of Kashmiri intelligentsia, and contributed greatly to militarizing what should have been primarily a political struggle.

U.S. support for India’s electoral initiatives has caused self-doubt and confusion among Kashmiri leaders. The lack of international support, civil war in Karachi, unrelenting reports of crisis and discontent in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, and a drop in logistical supplies have also had a dampening impact on cadres and leaders. Above all, the people are showing signs of war weariness and economic hardship, and the movement has suffered from a decline in its manpower pool.



As a result, while Kashmiri insurgents are not about to surrender to India’s coercion or manipulation, they are enfeebled politically, logistically, and psychologically. Itself in a severe economic crunch, Pakistan is unlikely to help in improving their fighting capability and morale with significantly larger logistical support. The outlook in Kashmir then is of low intensity war-fare continuing with ups and downs, and costing its people heavily in blood, repression, and economic hardship.

All three sides are in a blind alley, back to back. India and Pakistan have the capacity, and apparently the inclination, to stay there indefinitely. Out of frustration and fatigue they might swing around one day and come to blows. The Kashmiris, being the weakest and most vulnerable party, have Hobson’s choice: either give in to India and settle for what symbolic concessions they can get from the tormenting giant, or continue with resistance, however sporadically. History is replete with examples of oppressed peoples who have done just that. Their sacrifices were always awesome. The shame and moral burden was always the oppressor’s.

There is a third option of which the initiators can only be Pakistan and India. It requires those two armed adversaries to move toward the future, away from the fixed positions of half a century ago. For history moves by rendering fixed positions obsolete. Any good soldier, engineer, physician, philosopher, and historian knows the high costs of obsolescence. New realities are rapidly creeping over South Asia. Globalization is creating transnational assembly lines, breaking boundaries, forcing enemies to trade, creating transnational centres of power, and circumscribing sovereignties. South Asia governments are eager participants in the process. prime ministers proudly claim MOUs as their achievement, cite figures of foreign investments, sign international trade agreements, and join regional cooperation treaties. India and Pakistan are signatories of GATT, members in the WTO, SAFTA, and SAARC. Ironically, they cross swords in these councils of collaboration. New realities lead them to enter pacts of amity. Tired instincts and vested interests compel them to rake up the bile and bitterness of an earlier time.

One hand, stretched toward the future, is chopped off by another hand anchored in the past. This is but one, possibly the most harmful, manifestation of inorganic growth in the body politic of India and Pakistan. Such distortions will continue to grow as long as our governments do not restore to this region its natural millennial flow – of rivers and mountains, ecology and production, and commerce and culture. To become prosperous and normal peoples we must make peace where there is hostility, build bridges where there are chasms, heal where there are wounds, feed where there is hunger, prosper where there is poverty. Kashmir is the finest place to start, and not merely because it is the core of Indo-Pakistan conflict. Our histories, cultures and religions have converged in Kashmir. Our rivers begin there, mountains meet there, and dreams rest there.



A framework of durable peace ought to provide incentives for each party to keep the peace and attach penalties for breaching it. The pertinent facts are the following: (i) Kashmir is divided. India holds Jammu, Ladakh, and the valley. Pakistan’s sovereignty extends to Azad Kashmir, and the Northern Areas are virtually integrated into Pakistan as federal territories. (ii) With one major exception, the present division of Kashmir conforms to the principle on which the partition agreement was based in 1947. The exception is the valley, which is the center of opposition to Indian rule. (iii) While there exists no objective measure of nationalist sentiments, most observers believe that it runs deep, especially in the valley’s Kashmiri speaking population. (iv) The principle of free trade between India and Pakistan is now established. The actual resumption of normal trade is a question of time. To deprive divided Kashmir the right to exchange and trade will be to penalize the principal party and victim of the India-Pakistan conflict.

(v) India-Pakistan relations, including trade, will not be stable until the question of Kashmir is settled by a tripartite peace process, and the arms race and war threat between the two neighbours will continue. (vi) In relation to Kashmir India is the status quo power. Like all such powers it is engaged in a ‘war of position’. The Kashmiris are entering the second decade of an insurgency which aims at changing the status quo. As India’s challenger, Pakistan should have engaged in a ‘war of movement’, which in this instance translates into maintaining a politically and diplomatically dynamic and flexible posture. Instead, it matched India ‘position for position’, thus creating for itself a crisis of policy, and for the beleaguered Kashmiris an imbroglio of political fragmentation and diminishing resources.



Islamabad will continue to deny itself the advantages of a ‘revolutionary power’ (i.e., one whose interest lies in changing the status quo) as long as it remains inexorably committed to the demand for a plebiscite, a demand for which there exists neither the backing of force, nor of the great powers, nor of international opinion. Rather, even the author of the plebiscite formula, the U.N., is keen to repudiate it.

Hopefully, our policy-makers realize that Pakistan’s insistence on a plebiscite was a means to an end, not the end itself. That means is now out of date. A plebiscite is a noun without a verb, a car without an engine. Islamabad has to find other means to reach its goal of settling the question of Kashmir to the satisfaction of Kashmiri people and without compromising its own national interest.



The first step is to develop a policy, and a strategy to pursue it. It is unnecessary to spell out details. Details can change, and political manoeuvres and diplomatic tactics alter to suit new developments and unforeseen events while a broadly defined strategy continue to serve as a road map to the final destination. A key to developing a workable strategy is the concept of linkage.

In this instance, the question of Kashmir must linked to the imminent liberalization of trade between India and Pakistan. Free trade may not survive and will not thrive if Kashmir is excluded from it, and the long miles of the India-Pakistan ‘line of control’ remain closed to exchanges other than those of gunfire. The two issues ought to be presented as integral parts of a singular peace to be negotiated between India and Pakistan. The international community, which is keen to see the barriers of trade lifted between neighbours, should be urged to actively support a comprehensive settlement leading to normal trade and growing regional cooperation in South Asia.

It is difficult for nations not ravaged by war, as were Germany and Japan at the end of world war II, to shift suddenly from one state of mind to another. A period of transition, during which assumptions can be tested, trust is engaged, and new bonds are built across boundaries, is often preferable to precipitous peace of the kind that the Arabs of Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan have entered with Israel. In our case, it is important to proceed gradually, step by careful step, in a manner capable of absorbing shocks and building confidences. But peace, however gradual, must be based on common commitment to principles. These need spelling out.

One fundamental principle in this case is that the ultimate arbiters of the dispute over Kashmir are the people of Kashmir in all their diversity of past as well as recent history. Second, a settlement that does not restore the natural, millennial flow of Kashmiri history and geography is not likely to satisfy either Kashmiri aspirations or the requirements of durable peace between India and Pakistan. Third, the notion of sovereignty changed in the second half of the twentieth century; in the twenty-first century, it is in the process of changing drastically. Fourth, divided sovereignties are not synonymous with divided frontiers.



If these principles are followed, diplomacy might be directed at reaching an agreement which could be implemented in three stages, of autonomy, open borders, and shared sovereignty over historic Kashmir. If they fail to avail themselves of yet another opportunity, they shall remain holding unused and archaic cards in frozen hands. Such failures rarely harm the leaders. Only the people get hurt.


* The late Eqbal Ahmed (re. In Memoriam, Seminar 479) was an indefatigable campaigner for peace and sanity in the subcontinent. This article is an edited version of an eight part series on Kashmir that he wrote for Dawn in 1996. It is an index of Eqbal’s perspicacity that the passage of time – the Lahore bus ride, Kargil, and other developments – has not diluted the validity of his propositions for a situation as fluid and fluctuating as Kashmir.