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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Kashmir: learning from the past

While its roots predate Indian and Pakistani independence, the Kashmir conflict’s current directions can best be understood in the light of the nationalism and state building that followed the end of British colonial rule. Domestic factors, including the imperatives of regime legitimacy and consolidation, remain important influences in both countries. 

Evaluation of the failure of past and present Indian and Pakistani approaches suggests caution about any strictly bilateral process that disregards the regional and international dimensions of the crisis. Nor is any solution viable that ignores the sense of historical unity that underlies the social and religious diversity across the current Line of Control (LOC) dividing the former Dogra kingdom into Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. 

This report examines the history of the crisis and past efforts to resolve it. ICG is releasing simultaneously two additional reports that lay out the public and private positions of the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi respectively on Kashmir and bilateral relations. An earlier report examined views from within the Kashmir Valley. Taken together, reports in this series analyse the positions and look at the constraints in terms of ending the conflict as they are perceived on all sides. A subsequent final report will offer extensive recommendations on how to move forward with a process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan and within Kashmir. 

Past international endeavours to resolve the Kashmir crisis have failed largely due to Indian and Pakistani domestic constraints. Bilateral efforts by the parties have faltered in important part because Kashmiri representatives were excluded from the negotiating process and subsequent settlements. Given Kashmir’s internal dynamics, present Indian and Pakistani unilateral approaches also face serious obstacles. While international actors such as the United Nations can play an influential role in buttressing a peace process, any viable solution will ultimately hinge on the two parties’ domestic dynamics, particularly their willingness and ability to negotiate and then implement a compromise solution that also takes into consideration the nationalist aspirations and demands of Kashmir’s diverse population. 

India’s preferred solution (privately but not yet publicly embraced) involves transformation of the LOC into an international border; internal reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union; reconciliation through autonomy and elections; and reliance on coercion to quell Kashmiri dissent and demands. The 2002 elections within Indian-administered Kashmir helped restart the political process, but on their own they are no solution. They failed to satisfy Kashmiri demands for consultation and participation on the many issues that divide New Delhi from the political and armed militants in Srinagar and the Valley. 

Islamabad’s unilateral measures to integrate Pakistani-administered Kashmir have been accompanied by attempts – mainly through support for the cross-border insurgency – to force India to the negotiating table. Pakistan’s preferred approach has failed to gain any tangible concessions from India and indeed has been counter-productive. Its proxy war in Kashmir has undermined international support, and in the post-11 September environment, Pakistan faces increased international pressure to change its Kashmir policy. 

If history is a guide, any sustainable solution will require Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri negotiators to adopt a novel and far-reaching approach to the interlinked territorial and constitutional issues. A solution will have to take into consideration the two countries’ political and security interests as well as Kashmiri aspirations. Strategies for peace will be complex and require leadership and compromise on all sides. The concerned actors – India, Pakistan and the various elements of Kashmiri political opinion alike – will have to reconsider current policies and preferences. 

Pakistan’s military leadership will have to change its policy of support for militant groups active in the armed struggle against India across the LOC and responsible for the continuing violence against civilians within Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan will have to assert control over the militant organisations and persuade them to opt for talks instead of violence in their dealings with New Delhi. 

India will have to rethink its reluctance to accept Pakistan as a genuine party to the conflict and restart a peace process in Kashmir with it. India will also have to follow up its promising recent offer to engage in a dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) by demonstrating that it is prepared to make genuine concessions to that group as well as other Kashmiri political representatives. Abandoning the emphasis on coercion by its security forces, India should support the Sayeed government’s efforts at political reconciliation, including by releasing militants held without trial. 

Recent initiatives announced by the two sides, in particular India’s offer in October 2003 of a series of confidence building measures and Pakistan’s announcement on 23 November 2003, subsequently accepted by India, of a ceasefire along the Line of Control, have been universally welcomed though their substance remains to be tested. If and when India and Pakistan embark in earnest on a peace process, with Kashmiri consultation and acceptance, that process would benefit from international mediation and assistance. UN, U.S. and EU involvement, including the facilitation of communications and verification of implementation, could play a vital role in overcoming impediments during and after the negotiation process. (Reuters, 17 Dec. 03) The above is a summary of the International Crisis Group (ICG) - Belgium’s report. Full details:

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