The Kashmir challenge
By: Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
INDIA cancelled talks with Pakistan blaming it for ‘acts of terror’, along with a vicious attack on the newly elected prime minister. Pakistanis and Indians back their own versions regarding an alleged atrocity. Tragically, the truth is rendered irrelevant. The prime minister, however, must ensure he gets to know the unvarnished truth. Otherwise, like his predecessors, he will be systematically blindsided.
Pakistan wants dialogue. India says Pakistan must first stop ‘cross-border terrorism’. Why did Modi first respond positively to the prime minister’s proposal and then change his mind? Does he believe Imran Khan okayed an atrocity? Or that he is irrelevant?
Does India regard the Kashmiri freedom struggle as terror? There is a legal and a political reality. The UN has acknowledged the Kashmiri right of self-determination in 1948-49. In 1974, it reaffirmed “the duty of States not to use armed force to deprive peoples of their right to self-determination”.
In 1982, the UN “reaffirmed the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial or foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle”.
The UN has rejected India’s claim that Jammu and Kashmir is part of the Indian Union. It remains disputed territory. The right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people has been forcibly denied by the Indian military occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.
India blames Pakistan for not fulfilling conditions for the plebiscite. Even if this were so, it could not derogate from the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The fact that UN resolutions on Kashmir were adopted under Chapter 6 in no way reduces the obligation of member states and of parties to the dispute to respect and implement them. Nor does the Shimla Agreement affect Kashmiri rights.
Politically, however, India refuses to accept any of the above. Moreover, other than expressing concern over the human rights situation in India-held Kashmir (IHK), the international community is not prepared to press India on the subject of a Kashmir settlement. This, despite the dispute having triggered three wars between India and Pakistan which are today adjacent nuclear weapons countries.
This, and so much elsewhere, may underline the irresponsibility of the international community. It certainly highlights the structural ineffectiveness of the UN whose primary purpose is to preserve the peace and address situations that have led to war and threaten far more devastating conflicts.
Nevertheless, acts of terrorism including torture and mutilation are unlawful and unacceptable under any circumstances, including in the context of legitimate freedom struggles. The rights of innocent civilians are inviolable. The terror of one party can never justify that of others, including victims. However, armed struggle and resistance against illegal military occupation and repression is not terror.
Despite all of the above, political realities cannot be wished away. Only UNSC resolutions under Chapter 7 are enforceable. It is inconceivable that the UNSC will ever pass a Chapter 7 resolution on Jammu and Kashmir against the wishes of India. None of Pakistan’s friends would support such a development.
At best major powers will continue to encourage and try to persuade India to engage with Pakistan on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. India may agree to what passes for dialogue. It has done so in the past.
After several barren rounds on core issues it breaks down over one or more incidents. Tensions rise. Conflicts happen. Hawks thrive. Peaceniks cower. Cynics laugh “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds!”
Should Pakistan abandon dialogue with India? The prime minister rightly rejects such advice. Nor is it necessary for Pakistan to solicit dialogue if India is unwilling. Over time, however, Pakistan must strengthen its credibility. If that happens, India will, sooner or later, have to accept the reality that it can neither permanently crush the Kashmir liberation struggle nor successfully blame Pakistan for its inability to do so.
Meanwhile, Pakistan needs to improve and intensify its Kashmir advocacy and diplomacy. The prime minister’s offer to engage India in a dialogue process to resolve all issues between the two countries is also, sooner or later, likely to be taken up. The challenges of the 21st century, which threaten to further exacerbate Indo-Pakistan tensions, will leave either country no choice.
However, Modi for the moment has chosen to accuse Imran Khan of being the ‘true face’ of an ‘evil agenda’. He hopes to exploit Pakistan’s isolation in the international community progressively brought about by the consistently incompetent decision-making of the establishment.
It is not clear if Modi’s ‘U-turn’ was influenced by a reported atrocity, the approach of the 2019 national elections, a major corruption scandal hanging over him, the usual persuasion of influential anti-Pakistan lobbies or personal spite. Whatever it was, it has discouraged sensible realists and encouraged right-wing ideologues in both countries.
Pakistan’s formal position on Kashmir does not need to change at all. But its strategy does need to be revisited to ensure its own policies do not inadvertently harm Kashmiris by allowing India to distract international attention away from its repression. Pakistan should honestly inform its people there is no alternative to a negotiated and principled compromise settlement with India that is verifiably acceptable to Kashmiri opinion.
Once India cannot credibly accuse Pakistan of aiding ‘terrorism’ in IHK it will not be able to portray its repression as ‘counterterrorism’. Nor will it be able to sustain its obduracy on Kashmir forever. Pakistan will require imaginative and skilled diplomacy and leadership of a high order. It will also need to make clear ‘red lines’ that cannot be crossed and ‘vital interests’ that cannot be compromised.
The 21st century has one message for nuclear-armed India and Pakistan: cooperate or perish. The seas are rising. Land, water and jobs will disappear. Populations cannot cope. Stresses of every kind are increasing. Reason and moderation are giving way to atavistic passions, insane hatred and self-destructive machismo. Cooperating to reverse this fatal trend will provide a context for a Kashmir settlement.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.