Kashmir solution: Has the die been cast?

We are better off without extreme pragmatism or without a do-now-think–later strategy, comments Tariq Shah.The summer 2008 turned out to be a watershed in the history of K...

We are better off without extreme pragmatism or without a do-now-think–later strategy, comments Tariq Shah.

The summer 2008 turned out to be a watershed in the history of Kashmir.  After four decades of political beseeching and couple of decades of armed resistance, Kashmiris yet again, returned to more peaceful means of mass protest against the opression.  The seemingly innocuous Amarnath land row catalyzed the thunderous expression of Kashmiri angst against Indian rule. Although by no means any less tragic– the events that cost scores of precious Kashmiri lives– also momentously thrust Kashmir's Gen-next on the center -stage of Kashmir politics.

Their deafening Azaadi chorus shook the already faltering bearings of India's Kashmir policy, and forced certain segments in the Indian civil society to realize that all was not well with India's Mission Kashmir. These events also brought to surface, contrary to what peaceniks would have us believe, the differing provincial political visions in Jammu & Kashmir: Remember the peaceful protests in Kashmir invoking India's wrath, and the murderous agitation in Jammu, and the consequent blockade of the national highway?

Regardless, the uproar on the streets of Kashmir was audible not only in New Delhi but it also reverberated in many capitals across the globe. President Obama was then eying his move to the White House, and– at least partly– prompted by street protest in Kashmir, made some eye-popping statements about Kashmir. Obama's historic takeover of the White House, by default,  was the harbinger of a new era not only for Kashmir but also marked a major paradigm shift in how global politics would be conducted in the coming years. While it remains to be seen how these changes will play out on the angry streets in the Muslim World, Obama for now is persisting with former President Bushes' strategy of pursuing America's enemies in the foreign lands so that she did not have to confront them at home. This, like it or not, has squarely relocated the war theater from beyond the American shores to the South Asian region.

Although, historically  and politically the  Kashmir conflict and the turmoil in Afghanistan  are two disparate  regional issues that  have no common denominators, the  international community's decades of willful neglect  of  the Kashmir issue and the  West's  total abandonment– until recently– of Afghanistan after  the departure of the Soviets  has inextricably linked the politics of the these two unfortunate peoples. Complete alienation of Kashmiris from the India, and the all pervasive  anti-Western sentiment  and  the widespread disaffection among the Afghans, has created a toxic union of a wide variety of non- state actors from far of places whose transnational actions have on several occasions brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, eroded the neighborly trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and  created  an uncontrollably chaotic state in the  region threatening regional peace and prosperity with wider implications for  strategic  economic and  security objectives of  America and other Western nations in the region.

While the continued political stalemate– over Kashmir– between India and Pakistan has often threatened to dump the Kashmir dispute into a discourse of anger and rhetoric of rage, India– as well as rest of the international community– is now increasingly awakening to a new reality that Kashmir dispute cannot be buried under the debris of the so- called 'war on terror'. The Sharm-El-Sheikh agreement seeking to delink Mumbai-like terrorist attacks from progress on the fledgling peace process was predicated on this premise.  India's initial backtracking on this agreement– and its soft-peddling of peace process– in view of political fallout at home has sadly, and hopefully temporarily, dampened any aspirtaions that the peace process between the two countries will resume soon. However, the prospect for resumption of peace dialogue between the nuclear rivals is complicated by India's own prevarication on the issue. For a long time now, India has been resisting– often successfully, international calls for engaging with Pakistan to settle the dispute over Kashmir. The things are changing– and changing fast.

With Afghanistan promising to be America's Vietnam II, the White House is sensing the mood of increasingly impatient American public — eager to end America's military role in the war ravaged country. The international concerns about the long-term regional and global implications of continued military engagement in Afghanistan, and any possible spillover of the conflict to neighbouring countries, are giving rise to a steady stream of voices calling for a regional approach to the issue, and its peacfull resolution. From Obama to Miliband, from Beijing to Riyadh, and from OIC to UN (thanks to Gaddafi), calls have been coming– overtly and covertly–   at breathtaking speed reminding India of the international community's nervousness on the matter. After the initial expression of annoyance at these global  'insinuations on India's internal matters', it is obvious that  India can no longer ignore either the ground situation in Kashmir or the magnitude of international concern that any potential international conflagration in the Subcontinent engenders.

However, India is facing a dilemma of immense proportions. On the one hand, its announcements to engage Kashmiris to work out an 'unique solution' to the Kashmir problem is falling on deaf ears, since it has hardly  engendered any excitement in the valley; Kashmiris remain  as distrustful as ever. On the other hand, the threats from non- state actors continue to pose a challenge to India since it has vowed to not allow any  more of Mumbai–like attacks on its soil. India has assured its public a 'befitting response' to any such attacks in the future; an assurance one cannot understand how it will fulfill. Unless India chooses to impute the actions of individuals or groups (outsiders as well as India's own) to the Pakistani nation itself, who is it going to punish in the event of another terrorist attack? How conceivably can Pakistan prevent attacks against India when its own military head quarters have been rampaged by an audacious assault by the same non- state actors? What were the Indians thinking when they agreed at Sharm-el-Sheikh not to link any terrorist attacks to any progress on the peace process. Any graduate student of strategic national security policy will know that the one certain way to encourage terrorists to hold sway is to work in their hand, and react to their actions. This may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy: India has tied albatross of terrorism around its neck.

Here, then, are we confronting the Gordian knot of terrorism — the more you try to untangle it, the more entangled it gets. Since no one in his right frame of mind can foreclose the possibility of any new terrorist attacks on the Indian soil, and since India must live up to its rhetoric and  'punish' the perpetrators ( read  airstrikes across LoC)  when can we expect the peace process to start and accomplish its objectives. The short–and sadly the shrill– answer is never.  If and when those airstrikes were to occur the 'peace process' will die violently and the peaceful in the sub-continent will cry silently—once again.

This failure of the peace imperatives is more a pathetic commentary on the myopic strategic vision of Indian policy makers who have encouraged such entrenched and unsavory bargaining positions, than a reflection of successes of the militiamen. One cannot but lament how easy India has made it for the saboteurs to wreck havoc to India- Pakistan relations. Once cannot help wondering if this is how India is seeking to keep the dark lights of terrorism shining on the Kashmir issue.

Obviously then, we are nowhere near the Rubicon River!  Given India's intransigence and its lack of strategic foresight the ominous question is: Will we ever cross the Rubicon? This being a 64 million dollar question, where do we go from here?

Sadly, Nowhere!
There, however, is a lesson or two to be learnt by the resistance camp; Do they want  to put all their  eggs in India's dialogue basket, when, as pointed out by Farooq Abdullah– rather amusingly – the "Indians are talking about dialoguing,  but they do not know what they are going to dialogue about." There is a dire need for the pro- dialogue group in the resistance camp to come clean on the nature of the dialogue. If they are clear on the basis of the dialogue, the Kashmiri nation will want to know if India's has changed its Kashmir policy. Is Kashmir an 'integral part' of India whose political problems will be solved through a formula devised in some secretive corners of New Delhi or Islamabad, or is it a disputed territory whose final disposition will to be determined through a dialogue  between India, Pakistan and Kashmiris? The success or failure of any dialogue process is integrally linked to this fundamental question. The successful dialogues do not have to be secretive but discrete and imaginative.

If it is about autonomy or self rule, get out of the way and let NC and PDP take control.  If it is about what the Kashmiri aspiration demands, then engage some experts—diplomats, lawyers, and social and political scientists– in the negotiation process. Do not engage directly, and don't be at the forefront. Let the experts take over the process.

Remember too, those who signed the Oslo Peace Accord after secretive negotiations carried their Nobel peace prize with them to their more secretive and lonely heavenly abode. And those on whose behalf the agreements were ostensibly signed are shredding into pieces the agreement documents to light bonfires at the Jewish settlement sites in the occupied Palestine.  Spare us the pain of dividing the Kashmiri nation into the West bank and the Gaza strip.

Whether by design or by compulsion, India is in no hurry to find a just solution to the Kashmir issue. It is merely interested in some amorphous and hodgepodge arrangement that will perpetuate its rule in Kashmir by hook or by crook. Do not fall into the trap of 'unique solution'; you will be merely providing India much needed time.  We are better off without extreme pragmatism or without a do-now-think–later strategy.

And, do not forget this:  you are not anymore dealing with a shy and stoic Kashmiri. Kashmir's Gen-next– the educated, knowledgeable and discerning generation is watching you over your shoulders. The two month peaceful protest of the summer 2008 brought to Kashmiris what forty years of political entreaties and the twenty years of the armed struggle did not achieve. Let it not go waste. No, the die has not been cast! Not yet, anyways!

(The author is a citizen writer based in US. Feedback at tshahgm@gmail.com)

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