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 Bihari 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” (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, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have expressed 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 in 2002. 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 state 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.
Subsequent to the Kargil Conflict between India and Pakistan in May-June 1999, Washington’s incrimination of Pakistani aggression mitigated New Delhi’s fear that internationalization of the Kashmir dispute would spell unambiguous victory for Pakistan. India’s strategy of diplomacy and restraint increased the international pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Indian territory. India took recourse to limited conventional war under nuclear conditions, prior to President Clinton’s March 2000 visit to New Delhi. At this point in time, proliferation was relegated to the background in Indo–U.S. relations.
U.S. strategic ties with New Delhi were further consolidated in the wake of 11 September 2001, when the links between militant Islamic groups and Pakistan’s military and militia forces were underscored. As one of the consequences of the decision of the Bush administration to eliminate Al-Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s then General Pervez Musharaff found himself with no option but to sever ties with the Taliban. Following this drastically changed policy decision to withdraw political and military support from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad found itself unable to draw a clear line of distinction between “terrorists” in Afghanistan and “freedom fighters” in Kashmir. Islamabad’s quandary proved New Delhi’s trump card. New Delhi was able to justify its military stance vis-à-vis Pakistan in the wake of the attacks on the J & K State Assembly in the summer capital, Srinagar, in October 2001, and then the attacks on the Indian Parliament, New Delhi, a month later. New Delhi’s strategy was validated by U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and the deployment of U.S. forces in and around Pakistan to restrain Pakistani aggression. India was assured by the United States that it would stall any attempt by Pakistan to extend the Kashmir dispute beyond local borders, which might disrupt its operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Also, deployment of the U.S. military in Pakistani air bases strengthened New Delhi’s confidence that Islamabad would hesitate to initiate nuclear weapons use (Kampani 2002). The result of India’s policy of coercive diplomacy was that the Musharraf regime was pressured by the United States to take strict military action against the mercenary and militant Islamic groups bolstering the insurgency in Kashmir (Armitage 2002). New Delhi was successful in getting Islamabad to both privately and publicly renounce its support of insurgents in J & K.
India and Pakistan routinely brandish their nuclear capabilities to intimidate each other. The two countries have also resorted to direct nuclear signaling through ballistic-missile tests. Such strategies emphasize the military and political volatility in South Asia (Dawn, 27 December 2001).
India’s concern probably is that a limited war will not enable it to accomplish substantive political or military objectives; that such a war might spin out of control and would be impossible to cease according to the wishes of the administration and the military; that India might find itself in disfavor with and spurned by the international community; and that a war might beef up nuclear armament. And today, the United States requires Pakistan to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban in order to draw up a roadmap for peace between Afghans and the Afghan government and militants and expedite the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. And with China heavily invested in CPEC, the bilateral project designed to improve infrastructure within Pakistan for more efficient trade with China and further integrate the countries of the region, India’s claims to isolate Pakistan don’t make much sense.
The impending menace of precipitative nuclearization has been one of the many factors underlining the necessity to maintain a quasi-stable regime in the South Asian region. In effect, one of the ramifications of India and Pakistan climbing the ladder of nuclear proliferation has been a tottering stability, maintained amidst the continuing conflict in Kashmir.
Indian and Pakistani nationalisms deploy the idea of citizenship and fraternity that unifies the entire community in the pursuit of a common goal. In order to assert itself a nation-state needs to draw clearly etched borders so it can define itself in opposition to other nations, particularly when it comes to appeasing domestic constituencies. Instead of the display of bravado on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) and tall claims to isolate nations, we must learn to cross the frontiers of culture, nationality, and language in order to make humanist responses to the belligerence of military powers. Ensuing human rights violations on either side of the divide are incredibly painful.
As long as Indo-Pakistan relations remain strained, not only will the solution of the Kashmir question recede further and further into the background, but even the fragile peace in the subcontinent will hang by a thin thread. Such a situation is obviously fraught with disastrous consequences not only for India and Pakistan but for the entire subcontinent.
Everyone needs to be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations to further the India-Pakistan peace process. The aims of that process should be the phased withdrawal of forces from both sides of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, the rehabilitation of detained prisoners, and repair of the frayed ethnic fabric in all parts of civil society. We have the resilience and the wherewithal to forge ahead without sabre rattling and braggadocio.
Jammu and Kashmir is a part of the subcontinent, and we cannot run away from this geographical reality. Unfortunately, our State has become a bone of contention between India and Pakistan, and we are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is, in the vital interest of J & K that these two countries should initiate dialogue, as opposed to war, with each other.
In civilized societies, political dissent is not curbed and national integrity is not maintained by military interventions. The more military officials get involved in issues of politics, governance, and national interest, the more blurred the line between national interest and hawkish national security becomes.
The imminent release of captured Indian Air force Pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, by Pakistani authorities bodes well for South Asia and is a much needed prioritization of national interest and foreign policy over belligerent national security.