Why India and Pakistan Must Get Together

India-Pakistan relations remain fraught with danger and mistrust. Since October 2014, there have been regular exchanges of fire between their troops across the ‘Line of Control’ which has run through contested Kashmir since Indian independence and the simultaneous birth of Pakistan in 1947. Turbulent times could lie ahead.

– British Foreign Office Brief to Parliament,  29 January 2015 

On Wednesday, Al-Jazeera programs in India were replaced by a sign saying the channel would not be available until 27 April, ‘as instructed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.’

India says maps used by the channel are incorrect, as they show the region of Kashmir as divided between Pakistan, India and China.

Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety..

– BBC News April 23, 2015

Voutenay sur Cure, France.

January’s touchy-feely embrace between US President Obama and India’s Prime Minister Modi was probably just a tacky photo-opportunity but it had resonance and the picture went round the world.  It sent a convincing message that India and the US are intent on good relations and that all the old-fashioned morality-based stuff about Modi being denied a US visa on the grounds that he was responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom” is now water under the bridge of economic imperatives and political expediency.  All in all, the clinch was a pleasant gesture, if a bit contrived, and all was sweetness and light.

And there would be even more sweetness and light cast upon this troubled world if there could be a similar hug between prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.

In spite of much media hype, nothing of importance was agreed between Modi and Obama, but that didn’t matter. The important thing was that there had been bonding and understanding.  It was overdone;  but camera-attracting vulgarity has its uses. The main thing is the new atmosphere.

On the other hand the atmosphere between India and Pakistan is becoming more dangerously polluted day by day. There doesn’t seem to be a single thing they can agree on, and it’s not entirely the fault of one side or the other. Obama didn’t help, unfortunately, by telling the magazine India Today that “Indians were tragically killed on 9/11 as were Americans on 26/11 [in terrorist attacks in Mumbai]. . .  I’ve made it clear that even as the United States works with Pakistan to meet the threat of terrorism, safe havens within Pakistan are not acceptable and that those behind the Mumbai terrorist attack must face justice.”

He didn’t mention the eight Pakistan nationals who were killed in the Twin Towers or the fact that none of the nineteen 9/11 killers were Pakistanis, but were 15 Saudis, a Lebanese, an Egyptian and two Emirates’ citizens.

His statement was not well regarded in Islamabad, naturally enough, as no doubt Obama well knew it would be, but there was a message for all Pakistan that was loud and clear and unmistakable in its intention:  Pakistan is out to the far side of the US field of interest, and India is in the center.

Over the years Obama has changed his attitude to the sub-continent completely and his November 2008 statement about wanting to help resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is now dead and deeply buried.  At that time he said that the US “should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants,” but India’s reaction to such a common sense approach was decidedly negative and Obama has never again uttered a word that would even slightly upset India.

Britain is notably supportive of India but nowadays irrelevant concerning India-Pakistan relations, as are other EU countries. Of more importance, Russia and China have their own decided interests to follow.  Both wish to cooperate with Pakistan over Afghanistan in order to make the best of the shambles caused by the west’s war in that unfortunate country, but although China is notably supportive of Pakistan (“all-weather friend” and so forth, as evidenced during the visit to Pakistan last week by Chinese President Xi Jingping) it is not going to go out on a limb by offering unconditional backing over Kashmir.  Russia is being pragmatic about relations with Delhi and Islamabad but in its current economic circumstances is anxious to maintain arms sales to India. Moscow’s newly pragmatic approaches to Pakistan are most welcome but there is no question of it interceding politically against India in Pakistan’s behalf.

There is no country willing to become involved in diplomacy that would assist in ending or at least reducing the growling ill-will between two neighbours that would benefit enormously in every conceivable fashion from cooperation and harmony.  The standoff is economic madness.  So there is only one way forward, and that is for the governments of India and Pakistan to grit their teeth — but not in the usual snarl against each other — and take some domestically uncomfortable but positive and potentially enormously beneficial measures to improve their relations.

The dispute over the territory of Kashmir is the greatest stumbling block along the boulder-strewn path to reduction of tension. Certainly Pakistan has withdrawn its former ill-conceived support for militant groups fighting for independence in Indian-administered Kashmir, but there is scarcely an Indian citizen who believes this to be so. And the Bharatiya Janata Party government is adamant that the Indian-held region of Kashmir will never, ever, be permitted to have a vote concerning its own future.

It does not seem to be understood in Pakistan that for India to relinquish any territory would be a political catastrophe.  Such a decision would destroy the initiating government and probably result in internal upheaval on a major scale.  It is simply not possible for India to give up any of the area of Kashmir that it considers — however unjustifiably — to be its own. The ‘Line of Control’ dividing the areas administered by India and Pakistan is to all intents and purposes a border.

The greatest prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, told the Indian Parliament on 12 February 1951 that concerning Kashmir  “We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honor for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it. We have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision.”  As the BBC put it concisely : “When Lord Mountbatten, India’s first Governor-General, accepted Kashmir’s accession, he said it should eventually be ‘settled by a reference to the people’. India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, also pledged a plebiscite or referendum for Kashmir under international auspices. This was later enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions.”

But this isn’t going to happen. Few things are uncontestably predictable in this world, but it is obvious to all but the most ingenuous of unworldly optimists that India will never allow a plebiscite.  The United Nations Security Council has had the matter on its books for seventy years and is never going to permit a democratic solution to the Kashmir problem.

Yet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared at the UN General Assembly in September 2014 that

More than six decades ago, the United Nations passed resolutions to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are still waiting for fulfilment of that promise . . .

For decades, attempts have been made, both under UN auspices and bilaterally in the spirit of the Lahore Declaration, to resolve this dispute.

The core issue of Jammu and Kashmir has to be resolved. This is the responsibility of the international community. We cannot draw a veil on the issue of Kashmir, until it is addressed in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan is ready to work for resolution of this problem through negotiations. Our support and advocacy of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is our historic commitment and a duty; as a party to the Kashmir dispute.

While Nawaz Sharif is unwilling to draw a veil over Kashmir he can hardly pass over the fact that two months after his exceptionally well-intentioned Lahore Declaration of 21 February 1999, during his second prime ministership,  there was open conflict along the Line of Control between Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir that was unquestionably initiated by Pakistan. Mr Sharif was prime minister at the time, and if he didn’t know about his army commander’s intentions as regards crossing the Line then he was either stupid or incompetent.  And no matter what one might think about Mr Sharif it has to be admitted he is neither.  Devious, certainly;  and viciously revengeful to a degree that would have excited the admiration of Hamlet, Mrs Gandhi or even Richard Nixon. But he’s not a fool, and must have known that the Kargil adventure would destroy the Lahore Agreement.  No wonder Delhi became even more paranoid about Pakistan’s policies and intentions. And little wonder, too, that it dug its heels in even further about the future of Kashmir.

And this is where I part company with Pakistan’s Kashmir policy.

I have known Kashmir for over thirty years and lived for two and a half years in that delightful region in the areas administered by India and Pakistan. As with most people who know Kashmir I wish only that it could once again be tranquil and serene.

President/General Musharraf said a decade ago that “If we want to normalize relations between Pakistan and India and bring harmony to the region, the Kashmir dispute will have to be resolved peacefully through a dialogue, on the basis of the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Solving the Kashmir issue is the joint responsibility of our two countries.”

The unlikely meeting of minds between Sharif and Musharraf is remarkable, but they both miss or deliberately avoid the main point, which is that there is no possibility whatever that the “wishes of the people of Kashmir” will be taken into account by India, simply because if there were to be a plebiscite then India would lose Kashmir in one way or another.  Kashmiris on the Pakistan-administered side would vote to stay with Pakistan while those on the Indian-administered side might not vote to join Pakistan, but most certainly would vote to leave India, in one way or another. Naturally enough, India will not permit any sort of poll that might indicate the feelings of the people most directly concerned.

So in the interests of peace — and, above all, of the interests of the people of Kashmir — the compromise, hard to accept as it would be, is for Pakistan to accept India’s illegal occupation of the Valley and its surrounds.  The Line of Control, with local modifications specified by a UN-appointed body of experts, should become the international border, extending from its current terminus in a straight line to the border with China.

This would be a bitter pill for many millions to swallow, but it is the only way forward if the rabid hostility between India and Pakistan is to begin to diminish.  It must be emphasized that in the present state of relations there is real possibility of nuclear war in the sub-continent.

It is in the best interests of the world as a whole to bring pressure to bear for settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Bilateral agreement between the countries would result in the UN Security Council being discredited for failing to abide by its own principles in insisting on a plebiscite, as agreed so many years ago;  but this would barely matter, as the Council has been reduced to a grubby forum for hostility and partiality.  The positive side is that the Council would have a major role in furthering peace, at least in this instance, by producing a plan for physical division of Kashmir predicated on the Line of Control.

Then we might see a hug between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif  as they congratulate each other on being awarded their well-deserved Nobel Peace prizes.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

A version of this piece appeared in the April edition of Blue Chip, Pakistan’s quarterly magazine on economics and world affairs.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.