Averting the Catastrophic India-Pakistan War

Averting the Catastrophic India-Pakistan War

An 11-Step Framework towards Kashmir Dispute Resolution and Peace in South Asia

Nearly three thousand miles away from the unsettling dust raised by the Arab Spring in Middle East and North Africa, another ‘spring’ is blooming in the fabled land of Kashmir. The painful upheaval unfolding in the Middle East today, leaving profound social and political impact beyond the region’s borders, could potentially be dwarfed by a similar situation of war and mass movement of people in South Asia if Kashmir’s 2016 ‘spring’ and the resultant India-Pakistan diplomatic and military hostilities evade global attention.   

At the fault lines of the Himalayan frontiers of Asia’s three nuclear powers – China, India and Pakistan – Kashmir is today witnessing the portents of a situation that could engulf the whole South Asian region, including Afghanistan, in a devastating conflagration. At the time these lines were being written, Indian and Pakistani militaries were exchanging mortars and heavy fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir, resulting in mass displacement of populations and deaths of at least 55 civilians since July 2016. This deteriorating security situation along the borders of two nuclear-armed neighbors has profound implications for peace and security in South Asia, including the fragile peace in Afghanistan and the world at large. 

International community is today deeply absorbed by the uncertainty and chaos unfolding in Middle East and North Africa regions. Europe is struggling with managing the political and social implications of the large influx of refugees and asylum seekers due to the conditions that could have been avoided through timely preventive actions. Such preventive actions need to be taken on Kashmir today, primarily by India and Pakistan, but also the wider international community.

International community’s support to a meaningful and result-oriented endeavor of dialogue and peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue is not only a moral call, but a global peace and security imperative as well. Something has to be done today to avoid a Syria-Iraq like situation in South Asia, home to over 1.6 billion people. Stricken by poverty, unemployment and rising religious radicalization and intolerance on all sides, South Asia cannot afford the apocalypse of war, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe of monumental proportions. The world at large cannot afford that either.

India and Pakistan have fought three full-fledged wars – in 1947, 1965 and 1971 – for wresting full control over Kashmir. In recent times, the two countries have come to the brink of a catastrophic nuclear war, particularly in 1996 and 2005. With the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in power in India, that has taken an uncompromising political stance on Kashmir, coupled with an aggressive foreign policy course vis-à-vis Pakistan, the prospects of a major terror strike in India, seen emanating from Pakistani soil, could spark a chain of retributive state-sanctioned actions and reactions, both overt and covert, across the borders of the two countries. A second layer of strikes and counter-strikes by independent non-state actors targeting both the countries remains within the realm of probability. Such a situation could ignite a full-blown conventional or even a nuclear war between the two countries with unimaginable humanitarian consequences for millions of peoples of the region. 

Within the first week of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, 21 million people – half the death toll of World War II – would perish from blast effects burns and radiation. Pakistan has publicly stated that in case of war thrust by India it would not hesitate in using nuclear weapons. India’s Defense Minister has lately questioned the rationale of the country’s no-first-use policy of nuclear weapons, hinting a radical shift in India’s long-held nuclear weapons deterrence doctrine. 

The greatest peril that characterizes the current situation in the Indian sub-continent is that neither New Delhi nor Islamabad’s actions in response to the unpredictable situation unfolding in Kashmir reflect a strategic approach linked to a definite and intended set of outcomes. Consequently, unintended consequences of the largely tactical and uncalibrated actions, with little or no risk mitigation strategies in place, are difficult to visualize. 

This work is, therefore, intended to act as a wake-up call to the world community as well as the governments of India and Pakistan. Guided by an objective analysis of the current situation, the options available to Kashmir, India and Pakistan and also the possible future scenarios, this document also seeks to address certain questions related to the future of Kashmir that have for long remained a subject of rhetorical debate with no ready answers. 

As a conscious choice, this framework has not delved much into history, has maintained a  futuristic focus and also addresses some of the hitherto unaddressed questions related to the future of Kashmir and Kashmir-India-Pakistan (hereinafter referred to as KINPAK) relationship. 

This framework takes a new approach to help establish peace in Kashmir and the larger sub-continent. It proposes to re-invent the idea of Kashmiriyat as a political theory – leading to the transformation of Kashmir as a Haven of Peace (HoPe) in South Asia. Kashmir Haven of Peace will be philosophically rooted in the core principles of Kashmiriyat – non-violence, human dignity, multi culturalism, pluralism, tolerance, scholarship, entrepreneurship & innovation and environmental responsibility. 

It proposes the governments of India and Pakistan to engage in a transformative and historical bilateral dialogue process leading to what is proposed to be the Kashmir Haven of Peace (HoPe) Accord which would stipulate creation of five Transitional Administrative Territories (TATs) across the Line of Control (LoC), political autonomy for a 15-year Transitional  Administrative Period (TAP) for Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir (accompanied by a multi-stage demilitarization and security transformation process) and the eventual reunification and re-establishment of Kashmir as a Haven of Peace entity. 

The Accord, which shall be ratified by the autonomous Transitional Assemblies of the Transitional Administrative Territories (TATs), will essentially be based on the fundamental democratic principle of majoritarian political aspirations on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in the erstwhile Princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, recognizing the complexities and a lack of forward movement related to other solutions, including the implementation on the UN Security Council Resolution of 1948, contemplated or prescribed from time to time.  

This framework does not claim to offer a perfect solution. However, it has endeavored to propose a feasible, pragmatic and, importantly, practical approach to resolving one of the world’s long-standing political disputes. It must ignite an inclusive and wide debate on its fundamental components, including on the sequence of the steps to settlement that it has proposed.    

This framework has primarily been conceived for four reasons:

Increasing risks to regional and global peace and security 

The moral one

Need for a clear roadmap

The elusive win-win-win solution

These issues are discussed in detail in the actual document.

There are several reasons why the status quo on Kashmir appears to be increasingly unsustainable. The following narrative identifies some of the relevant factors:

Kashmir – a stark contrast to India’s image as world’s largest democracy 

With 1.21 billion people, of which 834 million can vote, India is unarguably the largest democracy in the world. The country is home to more than two thousand ethnic groups, with 122 major languages and 1599 other languages of lesser popularity. Approximately, 80%of India’s population are the adherents of various Hindu religious denominations, followed by Muslims (14.23 %), Christians (2.3 %), Sikhs (1.72 %), Buddhists (0.70 %) and Jains 0.37 %. Despite divergent socio-political aspirations among many communities and large income disparities, the democratic system has, albeit with imperfections, largely been successful in providing an inclusive environment of political representation to diverse groups of people. The electoral system, despite its own limitations, has been instrumental in acting as a safety valve in absorbing the pressures of political discontent that prevails among several ethnic, religious and sub-ethnic groups across the country.

Kashmir, on the contrary, represents a stark contrast to India’s global reputation of a well-functioning democracy. Ever since Kashmir’s former ruler Maharaja Hari Singh’s conditional “accession” to the Indian union in 1947, the latter’s rule in Kashmir has been characterized by systematic erosion of the its constitutionally-guaranteed political autonomy through manipulative means, rigged elections, imprisonment of political leaders, human rights violations, infringement of civil liberties and economic exploitation. For most part of the post-1947 period, New Delhi has largely governed Kashmir directly, retaining key decision making powers on matters related to economic development, natural resource management, law and order, public finance management and civil liberties. This state of affairs is seen as paradoxical to India’s image of a vibrant democracy, undermining its assertions of avowed commitment to the principles of liberty, freedom and rule of law. There is a compelling case that a pragmatic and humanistic view of Kashmir and its future is likely to strengthen India’s global reputation of a “temple of democracy.” 

The economic and human costs of India-Pakistan dispute

For nearly seven decades now since their independence, India-Pakistan bilateral relations have remained hostage to their entanglement over Kashmir. Owing to their political preoccupation and high economic costs associated with the confrontation over Kashmir, both India and Pakistan have lagged far behind their immediate peers in social and economic development. Consequently, a large mass of people in both the countries continue to be mired in poverty, disease and social injustice. 

Despite some degree of progress in poverty eradication, India’s Human Development Index (HDI) in 2015 was among the lowest in the world. With a score of 0.609, it ranked 130th among 188 countries – only in league with some of the most impoverished countries of sub-Saharan Africa. In comparison, China’s HDI was 0.727 and ranked 90 in 2015. Pakistan was almost in the same league in relation with its immediate peers. Its HDI score in 2015 was 0.538 and the country ranked at 147 among 188 countries. 

Poverty and destitution remain rampant in India. In 2015, India was home to 348 million multi-dimensionally poor  people, representing 28% of the country’s total population. In terms of numbers, India remains home to world’s largest population of destitute people. Despite a decline from 2004 level of 55% destitution, 39% of Pakistan’s population was destitute in 2015. 

Even as the quantum increase in India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the years has attracted wide attention to its potential as a booming market and investment destination, the country’s GDP per capita remains quite low compared with its immediate peers like China and Pakistan. In terms of GDP (Nominal) while India ranks 7th in the world with USD 2,288,720 million its GDP per capita was USD 1,581.6 in 2016, compared with USD 83.8 in 1960, marking a 1787 per cent increase in 56-year period.  

On the other hand, Pakistan’s GDP per capita was almost similar to that of India in 1960 – USD 82.5 in 1960. It rose to USD 1,429 in 2015, with a 1632 per cent increase in the same 56-year period. In comparison, one of Pakistan’s peer countries – Indonesia – had a much better GDP per capita at USD 3,346.5 in 2015.

This clearly shows that both India and Pakistan’s political preoccupation with each other, coupled with unsustainably high military expenditures, has had severe economic ramifications for the two countries. 

The first steps towards resolution

In recognition of the fact that the status quo was not serving the interests of the two countries, with significant risks to the long term peace and stability of the two countries, India and Pakistan shall embark on a bilateral Summit-level dialogue process mandating the facilitation of the Kashmir Comprehensive Political Reconciliation Process (CPRC) across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir towards developing a consensus on the Kashmir Haven of Peace  (HoPe) Framework as the final settlement of the Kashmir issue. Such a reconciliation process shall be guided by some fundamental principles of Kashmiriyat, viz. A yearning for dignity, tolerance, moderation and inclusiveness.

In order to create a favourable environment for the peace and reconciliation process, the summit-level dialogue shall include agreement on:

Complete ceasefire along the Line of Control and International Border.

Release of all political prisoners in Indian-administered part of Kashmir. 

Release of all political prisoners in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, including those who have espoused a political ideology other than Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.

Withdrawal of extra-constitutional laws like the Armed Forces Special Forces Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act and Disturbed Areas Act in Indian-administered part of Kashmir. 

An announcement of cessation of hostilities by the Muzaffarabad-based United Jehad Council (UJC), including support to the Kashmir Haven of Peace settlement process.

Creation of the Mediation, Dialogue and Reconciliation Facilitation Group (MEDFAR Group) for facilitating the intra-Kashmir Comprehensive Political Reconciliation Process (CPRC).


Creation of the Mediation, Dialogue and Reconciliation Facilitation Group (MEDFAR Group)

India-Pakistan summit level agreement shall be followed by the designation of a Mediation, Dialogue and Reconciliation Facilitation Group (MEDFAR Group), which shall be a body of neutral and internationally-reputed mediators with successful international experience in conflict resolution, mediation and peace-building. India and Pakistan may seek assistance from the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations for identifying the members for the group, and finalise the same in mutual consultation. This mediation group shall have the following terms of reference: 

a) The MEDFA Group shall be responsible for developing a road map on the Comprehensive Political Reconciliation Process (KASHREP)

b) The MEDFA Group shall facilitate dialogue between various political formations of Jammu & Kashmir for political reconciliation, paving the way towards the ratification of the HoPe Accord. 

c) The group shall facilitate trainings in peace-building, conflict resolution and reconciliation for the leaders and negotiators of all key political parties of Jammu & Kashmir through workshops and a plenary conference.

d) It shall mediate and seek agreements from all key political stakeholders of Jammu & Kashmir on a comprehensive amnesty process for former soldiers, militants and other combatants. Once agreed the agreement shall be signed between the representatives of INKPA.

e) The group shall facilitate a dialogue between the political representatives of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Indian-administered Kashmir in finalizing the modalities of re-unification and post TAP government formation.   

f) It shall coordinate with the governments of India, Pakistan and the UNMOGIP for the smooth conduct of elections to the Transitional Administrations. 

Disarmament, General Amnesty and Social Reconciliation (DISGASOR) Process

Transitional violence is known to sow seeds of a new cycle of retribution and instability in newly-created independent political entities. South Sudan’s chaotic transition to independence and its inability in achieving political reconciliation is a testimony to that in contemporary times. Historically, societies that have embraced forgiveness have witnessed longer-lasting peace and stability compared to those that chose revenge and exclusion. For ushering in an era of durable peace and social reconciliation, it would be critical that the subsequent Transitional Administrative Period (TAP) is free from violence, retribution and disharmony. Towards that a Disarmament, General Amnesty and Social Reconciliation (DISGASOR) process shall commence on both sides of the LoC stipulating that:   

a) Prior to the conduct of the elections to the Transitional Administration Territories (TATs), all the militant groups shall voluntarily submit their arms to the UN Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) offices in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad during a specified time period. Those political activists/combatants from Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK) who had crossed over to Pak-Administered Kashmir (PAK) after 1990 or before shall return and be re-united with their families with safety and dignity. Similarly, any combatants from Pakistan or Pak-Administered Kashmir (PAK) present in Indian Administered Kashmir after handing over their arms to the UNMOGIP office in Srinagar shall return to their native places in Pakistan or Pak-Administered Kashmir (PAK) with safety and dignity.


b) Surrender of all arms and ammunition by the state-supported Village Defense Committees (VDCs) and any other militias before the respective District Commissioners in the presence of UNMOGIP representatives in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir.


c) Release of all political prisoners on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).


d) Bona fide state subjects of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir presently living in India, Pakistan or other countries as refugees, asylum seekers and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) shall also have a right to safe and dignified return and choose to live in any of the newly-designated Transitional Administrative Territories (TATs).

Under this process, all major political parties/platforms of Jammu & Kashmir shall agree that coinciding the future notification of the Transitional Administrative Period (TAP), there shall also be general amnesty and opportunity of safe and dignified integration into the Kashmir TAT for the following categories of people:

a) State subjects of Jammu & Kashmir serving in Jammu & Kashmir Police, Indian Army, AJK Police, Pakistani Army, including those against whom there are attributions of state-sponsored violence. (In case of acts of violence that would qualify as “war crimes” as per the International Humanitarian Law, either perpetuated by State Subject state actors or non-state actors, minor jail terms could be considered if a resolution to that effect shall be passed by the Kashmir-TAT and PAK-TAT Assemblies.) 

b) State Subject leaders and members of political parties that had participated in elections and had been part of the Administrative governments in both Indian-administered Kashmir (IAK) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

c) State Subject government servants, including senior civil servants, who had served the governments of India and Pakistan either in Jammu & Kashmir state or in other states/provinces of India or Pakistan.

The descendants of the last ruler of the Princely state of Jammu & Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh, possessing properties and other interests in the territories of United Kashmir, shall be entitled to own those properties and live in Kashmir as and when they wish to do so. They shall be entitled to citizenship of United Kashmir HoPe should they decide to be the citizens of the new entity. They shall also have the right to own the properties they hold should they decide against the citizenship of United Kashmir. 

To be continued

The author works on international development, and is based in Egypt. Views expressed in this document are personal and not the organization he works for.