False Thaw

India’s idea of a Kashmir solution is now more about addressing it internally than externally with Pakistan

ARMY chief General M M Naravane in an interview to the PTI on Sunday acknowledged, “a feeling of peace security” following the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan in February which except for one violation has since been holding. The LoC truce, he added, was “the first step towards a long road of normalisation of ties between the two countries”. At the same time, General Naravane wanted Islamabad to do more: “consistency in the reduction in infiltration attempts and terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir will go a long way in assuring India of Pakistani intent to foster good neighbourly relations”.

As this statement makes clear, one thing that India is clear about in its dealings with Pakistan is the demand for an end to the latter's support to militancy in the Valley. But thereafter, things become complex. As for talks about Kashmir, India would rather seek to discuss the status of the part of the former state under Pakistan’s control, claiming it as its own territory. But even if the two countries get to the point of discussing the resolution of the festering issue, India wants a solution that doesn’t depart from the status quo. This position is unlikely to change, even in the long term. And there is little in the existing geopolitics or in the hands of Pakistan that could force New Delhi to concede on this, or at least soften its stance.

As for the situation in Kashmir, it has been forcibly calmed to a point where New Delhi now faces little local challenge to its rule. Militancy has more or less been reigned in: the armed forces have killed a majority of militants in Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam, the places in South Kashmir that have emerged as new militant strongholds in recent years. Similarly, the separatist politics seems to have vanished into thin air. It seems unlikely that this politics will resume in the near to medium term. Or maybe never in the form it had existed until the repeal of Article 370.

Similarly, as for Pakistan, Kashmir remains central to its engagement with India. This is also supposed to be so during its current detente with New Delhi. Pakistan would apparently want New Delhi to reverse the withdrawal of Article 370 that granted J&K its autonomous status. Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan reiterated this during a live questions and answers session with the people. But India is in no mood to do that nor is Pakistan in a position to force it to do so. Ironically, the restoration of Article 370 is supposed to be a jumping off point for the two countries to institute a formal dialogue to discuss their issues.

This realization has forced Islamabad to seek the minimal concession possible to resume the dialogue: if we go by the recent statements of the senior Pakistani leaders, they only want India to restore Kashmir’s statehood and offer assurances that it won’t alter the region’s demography. But as things stand, New Delhi won’t even do that. Or at least it is in no hurry to do this. If anything, this only goes on to show that India feels little pressure to relent. Nor does it want to push the current engagement with Islamabad beyond a point.

There are reasons for it. Today the old equations between New Delhi and Islamabad and also between Kashmiri separatists and New Delhi no longer hold. Following the withdrawal of Article 370, Hurriyat has been obliterated from the scene. Pakistan is no longer bolstered by the strategic depth of Afghanistan or leveraged by an all-encompassing militant struggle in Kashmir. This has brought in a considerable inequality between the parties which no amount of rhetoric in Kashmir and Islamabad can hide. And this inequality - accentuated further by economically stronger India - is likely to leave a deep imprint on the content of a future dialogue. And of course, on the outcome of it too, if it is sustainably held. It will be an outcome that will not be completely in line with the expectations of the weaker parties. Or else, the logjam that has persisted for the past seven decades will linger on.

Former Pakistan president Musharraf was the first to recognize the new reality. His four point proposals on Kashmir envisaged a solution that would be a drastic climbdown from Islamabad's traditional stand on J&K. This solution was about some minor political and administrative adjustments, more phraseological than substantive in their nature. With moderate Hurriyat playing along, these proposals almost got the two countries to agree to a radical new solution for Kashmir, if the lawyers' agitation in Pakistan hadn't forced the sudden exit of Musharraf, this solution would potentially have resolved Kashmir.

The situation has since moved on. India’s idea of a Kashmir solution is now more about addressing it internally than externally. As is apparent from the erasure of Kashmir’s autonomy, the effort is to address the problem by changing the facts on the ground than resolve it bilaterally with Pakistan. Four point proposals that once seemed to have the potential to resolve Kashmir will need to be adapted to the new reality, should the two countries choose to go back to them as a framework for settlement. But again, to come to that point won't be easy. This would first need a realization that Kashmir is an issue that needs to be resolved, something that New Delhi is now loath to even acknowledge.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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