Negotiating Peace In Kashmir: How To Break The impasse?
History has shown that a bilateral approach to finding a peaceful resolution between India and Pakistan has never gotten off the ground. It was tried in Tashkent soon after the 1965 war ended, it was tried in Simla soon after the 1971 war ended, and it was tried, ironically, by Gen Musharraf who had attacked Indian positions in Kargil in 1999.
Thus, the only way to break the impasse is to involve a third party. Col Brian Cloughley, who served as deputy chief of the UN mission in Kashmir during 1980-82, and who has written a widely-cited history of the Pakistani army, noted soon after the Kargil conflict:
“The matters of Kashmir, Siachen, ‘guest militants’ and human rights violations cannot be dealt with bilaterally. The problem of Kashmir is a sore that continues to fester. There is no meeting of minds. A solution is to introduce third party –UN—verification of confidence-building measures and UN-sponsored mediation. This would in no fashion diminish national sovereignty. The only result would be diminution of tension and the opening of paths to peace and prosperity.”
Some might contend that India would never allow third-party mediation. The Simla agreement is often cited to support the Indian position. However, it does not preclude multilateral agreements: “[T]he two parties are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.”
Moreover, Cloughley noted presciently, “India has long been a supporter — indeed a proponent — of UN peacekeeping endeavors…It might appear inconsistent with refusal to countenance international mediation in Kashmir that Indian soldiers are involved in peacekeeping in many other countries.”
Of course, the leaders of India and Pakistan will need to display exemplary courage, imagination, creativity and political savvy to accept the short-term personal political costs associated with promoting a significant shift in their Kashmir policy to their citizens. However, these costs are not likely to be so great as to unseat them.
They would find it useful to share openly with their citizens the short-term and long-term costs of maintaining large armies, and the even larger costs of getting involved in a nuclear war. In addition, to overcome the natural barrier to third-party mediation, the examples of Northern Ireland and the agreement between Egypt and Israel that was achieved during the Sadat presidency should be mentioned. Neither of the protagonists in those disputes suffered “national humiliation” as a result of the process.
The process has to begin with simple, confidence building measures, and progress to more complex and difficult issues. As noted by retired Indian General Chipper, “Hostility between India and Pakistan is artificial. It can be removed if people are not insulated from interacting with each other freely.”
During his visit to Pakistan in the 1990s, Chipper indicated that a well-known guru in India, Sai Baba, had asked him to visit Pakistan in search of peace. He also stated that then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee was a devotee of Sai Baba, suggesting that deep down the Indian Prime Minister may be looking for a way out of the confrontation with Pakistan.
Indeed, at a SAARC summit in mid-1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee expressed his yearning for peace when he said: “Enough of conflict on the basis of religion and creed. Enough poverty and backwardness. Let us grow rich together.” By resorting to “cricket diplomacy”, Gen Zia was able to avert a major conflict with India in the mid-eighties. Prime Minister Imran Khan must have first-hand memories of that situation.
Of course, a lot has changed since the 1990s. And there is a big difference between Modi and Vajpayee even though both leaders have many common supporters. Indeed, Prime Minister Imran Khan had stated that if Modi was to be re-elected, it would become easier to negotiate peace with India. Even though Modi has revoked Article 370, he has not talked about annexing the Pakistani portion of Kashmir. And he has expressed his desire to improve the condition of Kashmiris.
The proposal would involve taking several measured steps that would be implemented over many years.
First, both countries will pull back their artillery and mortar from the Line of Control (LoC). This will put an end to the viscous cycle in which both countries blame each other for the sporadic firing that seems to break out randomly along the LoC.
Second, a demilitarized zone will be created around the LoC, and the UN would deploy a significant international Peace Keeping Force in this zone. This force may be organized along the lines of KFOR in Kosovo. The current UN force in Kashmir of fewer than 100 is unable to even observe activities along the 460 mile line, let alone stop its violations.
Third, Pakistan will end all military support to the Mujahedeen. Instead, it would use its good offices to educate them on the benefits of pursuing a peaceful approach. It may wish to remind them of the futility of engaging in chronic armed conflict by discussing the decade-long civil war in neighboring Afghanistan, and how it has completely impoverished the Afghan people.
Fourth, both Pakistan and India will simultaneously withdraw their military and paramilitary forces (including the Mujahedeen) from the whole of Kashmir. Indigenous militias would be disarmed. A sizable UN Peace Keeping Force would take the place of the withdrawn forces. This clearly is a very big step, and will require significant courage. However, it is a prerequisite to the next two steps, which are even bigger.
Fifth, Pakistan and India will both withdraw their irredentist claims to Kashmir, and let the people of Kashmir decide their own future.
Sixth, the UN will hold the long-promised plebiscite in Kashmir, giving the people of Kashmir a choice between four options, rather than the traditional two. It’s clear that any durable solution has to factor in the needs of Kashmiris. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kashmiris would welcome independence rather than joining either country.
The following options would be offered to the Kashmiris: (1) Convert the LoC into an international border, and let the portions of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and India become part of their respective territories, (2) Create an independent state of Kashmir which merges the areas controlled by India and Pakistan into one state, (3) Accede in its entirety to India, and (4) Accede in its entirety to Pakistan. UN observers would supervise the plebiscite consistent with the early UN resolutions on Kashmir.