In a conference on “Future of Pakistan 2017,” held at the London School of Economics (LSE) Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of Pakistan has made a blanket statement explicitly rejecting the idea of an “independent Kashmir,” claiming that there is no support a demand of the sort. For me, a Kashmiri Muslim from the Valley, that is news, reinforces the statusquo, and further reduces my neck of the woods to a battlefield.
Well, Prime Minister, we, the people of Kashmir, require peace and stability in both India and Pakistan to restore normalcy in our region. The goal should be to find a practical solution to the impasse, as opposed to forcing the people of Kashmir to remain in limbo and quietly watch our younger generation go by the wayside, while the two nuclear powers in South Asia use us as a bargaining chip.
There must be redress for previous violations of human rights for all groups within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, everyone needs to be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations to further the India-Pakistan peace process. The aims of that process should be withdrawal of excessive forces from both sides of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir as well as the decommissioning of militants, the rehabilitation of detained prisoners, and repair of the frayed ethnic fabric in all parts of civil society.
The people of Kashmir have tried, time and again, to translate themselves from passive recipients of violence, legitimated by legislations of the physically and psychologically removed parliaments of India and Pakistan, into subjects who recognize that they can exercise agency and take control of their destinies. Historically, they have marched forward with a refusal to allow history to be imposed on them, and have attempted, despite the subterfuge, to take charge of their own social and political destinies. The confluence of religious nationalism, secular nationalism, and ethnic nationalism create the complexity of the Kashmir issue.
Pakistan’s formal political alignment with the United States of America motivated the Soviet Union, in the 1950s, to overtly support the Indian stance towards Kashmir. The Soviet premier Khrushchev made explicit his government’s pro-India position on Kashmir in 1955, when he belligerently declared in Srinagar, the heartland of the Kashmir Valley:
The explicit political support of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era bolstered Jawaharlal Nehru’s courage, and, in 1956, Nehru reneged on his earlier “international commitments” on the floor of the Indian parliament.
He proclaimed the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to India in 1947, which ostensibly had been ratified by the Constituent Assembly of J & K in 1954. Nehru’s well thought-out strategy was deployed in full measure when the Soviet Union vetoed the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir made at a meeting of the UN Security Council convened at Pakistan’s behest (see Das Gupta 1968). It was in 1953 that Pakistan initiated negotiations with the USA for military assistance. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad protested that “America might arm Pakistan or help her in any other way but Kashmir will never form part of Pakistan” (The Hindu Weekly Review, 1953). Nehru vehemently warned Pakistan and the US that, “it is not open [to Pakistan] to do anything on Kashmir territory, least of all to give bases” (Indiagram 1953). He expressly declared that the agreement between him and the Government of Pakistan regarding the Kashmir issue would change if Pakistan received military aid from the US (Nehru’s speech in the Lok Sabha, 29 December 1953).
Subsequent to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India lost its powerful ally (Kodikara 1993). India’s relations with the US reeked of distrust and paranoia at the time. This worsened when senior officials in the first Clinton administration questioned the legality of the status of Kashmir as a part of the Indian Union (Battye 1993). The nonproliferation agenda of the US in South Asia actively undermined India’s proliferation strategy in the early and mid-1990s (Perkovich 1999: 318–403).Washington’s agenda was propelled by the fear that South Asia had burgeoning potential for a nuclear war in the future (see “Prepared Statement by John H. Kelly, assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs before Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, House Foreign Affairs Committee”). Pakistan’s overt policy of abetting fanatical elements in Kashmir and Afghanistan led to its political insularity and seemingly legitimized India’s proactive approach. The US adopted the policy of persuading both India and Pakistan to actively participate in the nonproliferation regime by agreeing to comply with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to an interim cap on fissile-material production (“Interview with Strobe Talbott,” The Hindu, 14 January 2000).
During the last two decades, each military crisis between India and Pakistan has been followed by attempts at diplomatic rapprochement, which have turned out to be fiascos. The two countries go through sporadic peacemaking efforts, characterized by negotiations. For instance, in January 2004, the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the then Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, agreed “to the resumption of a composite dialogue” on all issues “including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides.” Musharraf assured the Indian government that he would not permit “any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner” (“Text of PM, Musharraf Statement,” The Hindu, 6 January 2004). But this joint statement could not mitigate the existing skepticism.
Despite international pressure, the India–Pakistan crisis has not been defused; on the contrary, it is highly volatile. Given their interests in South Asia, Russia and China express, every once in a while, their concern about the brinksmanship between the two countries. In order to facilitate a rapprochement, President Vladimir Putin of Russia offered to play the role of mediator between then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and then Pakistani President Musharraf at the scheduled regional summit conference in Almaty, Kazakhistan. Both Putin and the then Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, held talks with Vajpayee and Musharraf in order to create a space for political negotiations. But the two heads of government continued to remain aloof and uncompromisingly condemned each other’s belligerence. The one positive outcome of the summit talks, however, was the proposal of the Indian government for joint patrolling of the Line of Control (LOC) by Indian and Pakistani forces. But the Pakistani government was quick to reject this proposal and expressed the requirement for building a third-party force instead. Subsequently, the lethal and hitherto readily adopted practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance mellowed, due to Vajpayee’s and Musharraf’s judicious approach to nuclear warfare. But the simmering grievances between India and Pakistan, and the distress of the Kashmiri people remained unredressed.
A dozen or more summit conferences have been held between the government heads of India and Pakistan toward the resolution of the Kashmir problem, from Nehru-Liaquat to Vajpayee-Musharaf meetings, laced in between with Soviet-American interventions, and a series of meetings between foreign ministers Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but nothing worth reporting was ever achieved, primarily because the people of J & K were never made a part of these parleys. Without the ability to think beyond UN resolutions, which could entail the creation of an autonomous, semi-sovereign Jammu and Kashmir, with the restoration of internal autonomy as a beginning, the notion of “Kashmir as the core issue between India and Pakistan” will remain an abstraction.