Kashmir has a new status quo & Pakistan can risk breaking it. A solution can be found only after accepting that the existing borders are permanent.
Before searching for a solution to the Kashmir problem, we should understand it better. There are deadly perils in jumping in with solutions without first understanding the facts and realities. Only quacks, or maybe faith-healers, prescribe medication for chronic ailments without arriving at a reasoned diagnosis.
There are three sets of solutions today from three categories of these ‘faith-healers’. First, in India, the establishment view, which finds wide popular support, is that the only problem in Kashmir is Pakistan, and the radical Islam it exports there along with rifles, rocket-launchers and RDX. Get the Pakistanis off our backs, and you shoot a sequel to Kashmir Ki Kali in Dal Lake.
The Pakistani establishment fantasy, again with wide public support, is the exact opposite: Get the Indians out by pushing, pinching, bleeding them. We defeated Soviets and Americans in Afghanistan. What is India? Then, you can integrate all of Kashmir as the fifth province of Pakistan.
The third category in our analysis today is the small but articulate and doughty group of Indian liberals. They accept that Kashmir’s accession to India isn’t final, that the will of the Kashmiris is paramount and it hasn’t yet been sought. To that extent, their basic demands for plebiscite, autonomy, even independence, are legitimate. You can’t keep them with India by using state and military power.
Philosophically, it is difficult to argue with this: India is a voluntary federation of states, so how can you force people to stay with you if they don’t want it? No surprise that this view also finds sympathy among a lot of fundamentally liberal and young elites. I understand the perils in picking an argument with them because this very position gives them the higher moral ground. But we live dangerously. Let’s break it down to five fundamental pillars on which this current liberal position rests:
1. India made a commitment to a plebiscite in the United Nations Security Council Resolutions of 1947-48. Why did it violate these?
The fact is, both India and Pakistan made this commitment. Both broke it as well. If you read the text of the resolution (47), however, you will see a three-step ladder. The first was Pakistan withdrawing all its forces from Kashmir and then making ‘best endeavours’ to ensure all others (we will call them jihadis today) leave as well. It never happened.
The next two steps were India thinning its troops to the minimum needed, setting up an all-party government, and then for a plebiscite to be held under a UN-appointed governor. Pakistan didn’t take the first step. India wasn’t jumping to take the next two.
2. Most Kashmiris want neither India nor Pakistan. They want freedom. How can you deny it to them?
Once again, read the resolutions. It will take you three minutes. They do not provide independence or azaadi as an option. The choice is India or Pakistan.
Pakistan’s supposed support for Kashmiri ‘azaadi’ is fraudulent, but it has also had some Goebbelsian success with this great deception that Pakistanis back freedom for Kashmiris. Pakistan has built this masterfully over 70 years, calling the part of Kashmir occupied by it ‘Azad Kashmir’.
Since Pakistanis claim all of Kashmir, shouldn’t they be calling it their state of Jammu and Kashmir as well? No. Because that will expose their hypocrisy in using azaadi as a cover for territorial capture.
3. Can you hold forever a territory and people by military power?
The answer is a counter-question: Can you take away a territory and people from another country through military power? Pakistan tried this. Twice, in 1947-48 and 1965 through direct military invasion, and 1989 onwards with proxy war. There was also the little madness of Kargil 1999. These are facts. You need to understand Nehru’s shift on the UN resolutions from mid-1953 onwards. The Cold War was then ratcheting up, and Kashmir’s geography trapped it into a unique pincer where the Great Game hadn’t ended. Foreseeing trouble, he moved to integrate Kashmir in 1953 with Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest. In the next two years, Pakistan had joined the US-led Baghdad Pact, SEATO etc. It began tilting the military balance in its favour over the next decade. Ultimately it was Nehru’s pre-emptive action that saved Kashmir from military (not plebiscite-led) capture. The Pakistanis waited until they felt they had built sufficient military advantage, caught India in a period of weakness, military recovering from the 1962 debacle, Nehru’s death, food shortages and used its full US-armed and trained military might (read up on Op Gibraltar and Op Grand Slam) to take Kashmir, but failed.
This was the last time Pakistan could have taken Kashmir by direct military force. And it hadn’t sent its troops and tanks to win Kashmiris azaadi.
These three pretty much account for the twists and turns in the Kashmir story in its first UN-to-Simla epoch (1947-72), though at a kind of digital pace in fast-forward.
4. Why is the Modi government not settling Kashmir according to the Simla Agreement as even Imran Khan is now saying?
The answer again: Do read the short Simla Agreement. The literal sense is all India-Pakistan problems are now bilateral. Which means, no UN resolutions. The spirit was, both realise that none can take any territory by force. So, rename the Cease Fire Line (CFL) as the Line of Control (LoC) and work on persuading your people to accept it as the border. Why this wasn’t stated more explicitly is a brilliant subject for some genuine scholar, for a book called ‘The Guilty Indians (not just men) of Simla’.
But the spirit was betrayed as soon as the prisoners of war returned. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began Islamising his country (yes, he did, not Zia), hosted the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit in Lahore, even named its cricket stadium after Muammar Gaddafi as he launched a fund-raiser for his ‘Islamic Bomb’.
The cool breeze of Simla lasted only until the bomb was ready. By 1989, Pakistan was back in ‘action’, trying to take Kashmir with force again, avoiding direct confrontation which it knew it would lose.
The Simla Agreement was indeed violated. Only by Pakistan.
5. But the Kashmiris don’t want to be with you, what can you do?
Again, a counter-question: Who are the Kashmiris? The Right-Nationalists are missing nuance when they say just 10 districts of the Valley can’t speak for all of the state. Because these represent the state’s majority. The liberal argument is more flawed. If the majority view of Valley Muslims then subsumes the sizeable minorities of the state, what do we do for the view of the rest, about 99.5 per cent of India? Can you have the democratic logic of majority work in one place and not in the other?
Whether you like Narendra Modi or not, he has now broken the post-Simla status quo. Pakistan’s space for sub-military manoeuvre is gone. No political party of consequence is questioning the abrogation of Article 370, only the method.
There is a new status quo now. Pakistan can risk breaking it. There is a problem in Kashmir, with anger, alienation, violence, human rights abuses, and it needs addressing. It must begin with accepting that the borders today are the permanent borders of India and Pakistan. We shouldn’t need Bill Clinton to come here and tell us that maps of the region can no longer be redrawn with blood. Once you accept this reality, you can argue about the future.