Kashmir Conflict and Prospects for Peace in South Asia

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Jammu Kashmir has been at the vanguards in India-Pakistan relations since the abrupt withdrawal of Great Britain from sub-continent and formation of two nation states. Since 1947 Pakistan and India have gone to war thrice, Kashmir perceived to be the main dispute. In 1999 Kargil crisis again brought both newly nuclear rivals to the brink of war. The then US administration led by President Clinton intervened promptly and timely negotiated to deescalate the overwrought situation when both were at fighting an impromptu war at the peaks of Kargil in Jammu Kashmir. 

After US led war against terrorism in Afghanistan (2001), the genre of global politics exclusively transformed and it also influenced the South Asia and anywhere else in the world. Due to the changing global political scenario and new fronts of confrontation after the end of cold war, both India and Pakistan advanced their bilateral relations during the Musharraf and Vajpayee’s regimes in their respective countries. Backdoor diplomacy led them to take some Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) including a direct bus service across the Line of Control (LOC). South Asian politics of guns and arsenals was replaced by composite dialogues, negotiations, reconciliations, sports and exchanges of cultural, intellectual, academics and musicians. 

But all this could not last long due to absence of a democratic system in Pakistan and history of mistrust among the rivals. Musharraf regime, which was already fragile and lacking public support, became weaker due to his confrontation with judiciary in Pakistan in the first quarter of 2007. The unfortunate and untimely death of Benazir Bhutto was a blow in the forthcoming regional politics of South Asia. As a result of February 2008 general elections in Pakistan, Musharraf lost the power but successive governments of President Zardari and then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not show mature judgments on various key issues regarding the future of South Asia including the resolution of Kashmir conflict. On the other hand victory of Hindu nationalist BJP led by Narindra Modi in 2014 general elections in India altered the Indian politics and secularism. Even the major party to the conflict could not stand for the “Ownership Building Measures” and trusted the CBMs which was a colossal error on behalf of Kashmiri leadership across the LOC.

The real question is: what would be best for both countries, for the South Asian Region at large and for the wider world would be a peaceful negotiated solution. However, we should not expect any more from bilateral talks than a replay of leisurely, theoretical and protracted CBMs leading nowhere practically. Peace in South Asia is a long way off and there is no adequate political will on either side to change the impasse. One could argue why not India and Pakistan negotiate in a positive way to finally sort out the  Kashmir conflict which has held both the countries hostage for more than six decades and give Kashmiris, caught in the crossfire, the rights and peace they deserve? Pakistan has an alp of domestic and foreign policy impediments, beginning with the unstable border region with Afghanistan and its liaison with the United States’ war as well as increasing political instability with home-grown armed militia. The Pakistani army prefers to avoid conflicts on two fronts. India inclines to be self-righteous about Pakistan’s wobbly condition; sometimes whispering about a failed state, but it should also have a close look at home – where not all is well either although politicians and media is portraying to hoodwink the world. Increasing poverty, declining social mobility, an increasing segregated gulf between haves and have nots, identity crisis and social diseases like discrimination on caste basis are the severe internal challenges India is going through.  New Delhi has been flooded by a sequence of corruption disgraces and many of India’s rural areas are under some form of insurgency. Poverty and rising differences are prevalent in both countries and both need all likely possessions to sort out the domestic and the international issues.

The extensive wave of radicalism and belligerency in Tribal Areas, Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi and organized insurgency in Baluchistan have exposed the poor infrastructure of various states’ institutions and lack of co-ordination and commitment in tackling extremism and solving the issues by political means. Although the present day extremism has evolved from the series of events and wars in the neighboring Afghanistan, possibilities of connections between secret services of Pakistan and extremists at one hand and material support across the international borders at the other hand cannot be ruled out.  

However, it will be unfortunate to create or find any link between the situation in Pakistan and Kashmiris people’s demand for international attention and intervention. Because Kashmir was declared disputed by the United Nations in 1948 and both India and Pakistan agreed to give Kashmiri people a chance to determine their political future through free and fair plebiscite under the UN patronage. Kashmiris have a shared history of peaceful co-existence and seeds of segregation were only strewed by the political religions of India and Pakistan. 

The struggle over Kashmir is enduringly rooted in national identity, political, cultural and economic rights of Kashmiri people across the Line of Control under three interim administrations, Srinagar, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit. The Kashmir conflict has also influenced the politicization of Pakistan’s army, religious radicalism, and nuclearization in both countries.   The governments in Delhi and Islamabad have their own contradictory agenda over Jammu Kashmir. 

At the crucial juncture of history, when the regional and international politics is becoming violent for the benefit of “privately owned enterprises” the working class of the region needs to understand the dangers and stand firm towards ending the tense environment between the two nuclear rivals of sub-continent. There is always a ray of hope and a faded light at the end of the tunnel and this vital point needs to be resonated. At the heart of any sustainable peace is the condition and process of reconciliation: the restoration of entirety. There are structural conditions that can promote reconciliation, but integral to the process is that elements of compassion, assistance, understanding and clemency; the capacity to let go of the hatred and hurt of the past and begin to envision common futures.  Peace in sub-continent will not be lesser than any blessing after the decades of stress, strain and destruction. The poor masses of both the rival countries must demand for some solid measures taken by their rulers to bring dawn on the dusk of sub-continent.  No matter, as a Kashmiri, one can still doubt the transparency and sincerity of the debating actors. Because both are fragile regimes with their own domestic problems and contradictory claims over the future of the state of Jammu Kashmir.  Our commitment to a sustainable and durable solution to Kashmir issue during the negotiations should be crystal clear that there can be no bilateral solution imposed on Kashmiris. The only one solution can open the doors of peace, prosperity and democracy in sub-continent and that is to accept the Kashmiris living in all the three regions as one nation and to accept their basic right to be a free nation. A secular, democratic and peaceful Kashmir can guarantee the peace in the region. The entryway leading towards the solution of all the problems passes through the Himalayan region of Kashmir and any oversight at this sensitive brink of history can alter the corridor of future in South Asia. .

(Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, human rights, peace activist and a freelance journalist of Kashmiri origin. His major focus is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at [email protected])

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