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Negotiating Peace In Kashmir: What Are The Pre-Requisites?

By revoking Article 370, Indian Prime Minister Modi has not only deprived the Kashmiris of their fundamental rights, but also thrown the gauntlet at Pakistan. The world is watching. No one knows where this game of chicken between the two nuclear powers, who share a common birth, is headed.

Kashmir has often been referred to as an unresolvable imbroglio by academics. In the book, Getting to Yes, Kashmir, along with Palestine, was mentioned as an example of conflicts that cannot be negotiated away.

When faced with seemingly unsolvable and deep rooted problems, it is helpful to step back from the brink and consider options that have not been considered in the past. Previous solutions have centred on an UN-sponsored plebiscite in which the choice given to Kashmiris would be either to join India or Pakistan. But seven decades have come and gone and the plebiscite has yet to occur.

Bilateral negotiations have been carried out intermittently and have yielded no concrete results. It is time to take a deep breath and step back from the brink to gain perspective and to visualize alternative solutions.

Along the way, two major wars and several minor wars have been fought to resolve the issue by force but the ceasefire line that was established by the UN in January 1948 has not much moved much since. All that has happened is it’s been renamed the Line of Control.

Kashmir may well be un-negotiable. But what’s the alternative? It’s worth giving negotiations another try. But before beginning to negotiate, it’s important to reiterate the principles negotiation that underpin successful negotiations.

First, both parties must agree that the gains from cooperation exceed the gains from confrontation. This may be the hardest principle to follow, given India’s dominance over Pakistan in just about every dimension of strength, including not only its military and economic strength but also its diplomatic sense.

Someone will have to convince India that the status quo in Kashmir is not sustainable. And someone will have to convince Pakistan that sending raiders into Kashmir is not acceptable. As the consummate US diplomat and scholar Henry Kissinger noted, “Success in diplomacy does not involve proving that you are right, but convincing both parties that they have a common interest in solving the problem.”

Someone has to show both sides that the costs of continuing the confrontation far exceed its benefits. Conversely, that cooperation has benefits that far exceed its perceived costs. Otherwise, through imperfect information about each other’s intentions and poor communication, they will remain trapped in the familiar “Prisoners Dilemma.” The challenge is to convert what is initially a zero-sum game into a win-win game in which both parties come out ahead.

Complex situations call for moving the outcome from an inefficient non-cooperative equilibrium to a less inefficient cooperative equilibrium. In doing so, the welfare of both participants can be increased. Historically, both Pakistan and India have pursued the confrontation strategy at various times on the assumption that the other party will pursue the cooperation strategy, giving them the upper hand. In every case, the confronter has been surprised and both have landed on their face.

To implement this principle, measures of benefits have to be artfully constructed and presented to both parties. These may include the higher standards of living that would become possible when defence expenditures are redeployed on human and economic development.

Second, a middle ground must exist between the positions of the parties i.e. the “space” representing the maximum-minimum positions of the two parties should overlap. While negotiating the purchase of a car, if the maximum price a buyer is willing to pay for a car is less than the minimum price its seller is prepared to accept then no purchase will occur.

If the spaces do not overlap, other criteria must be brought into the picture that cause the spaces to move in an overlapping direction. Moving from a one-dimensional to a multidimensional frame of reference often increases the likelihood of success, since trade-offs can be made between the various issues. Negotiation theorist Chester Karrass refers to this process as one of enlarging “spheres of mutual interdependence and interests” to realize benefits far beyond what each thought likely or possible when talks began.

Third, both sides should buy into the proposition that they have much to gain and little to lose by making concessions to their long-standing positions. It is important that these concessions be perceived as fair and be approximately symmetrical in the eyes of both participants. i.e., if one party has to comprise by 75% and the other party by 25%, a solution is unlikely to be unsuccessful. It may be imposed by force, such as was done in the Treaty of Versailles, but then it will likely be short lived.

Fourth, a staged approach should be taken in seeking a solution, with easier, confidence-building measures being taken first, followed by substantive steps that address some of the fundamental issues at stake, and concluding with a resolution of the thorniest issue.

Fifth, a credible negotiator from a third party will have to be deployed who can bridge the gulf that divides the warring parties. This person will be required to shuttle back and forth numerous times between the warring parties. Negotiations will initially have to be carried out in secret, even though the ultimate agreement will have to be open and transparent to the people of both countries.

Sixth, initial negotiations should be limited to the primary protagonists, in this instance Pakistan and India, and secondary players, in this instance the Kashmiris, only brought in once critical mass has been built among the primary ones. Otherwise, any of the secondary players can exercise veto power and prevent closure from ever occurring.

Seventh, leaders on both sides will have to inform, educate and prepare their publics to accept changes in long standing positions. In particular, they would have to assure them that no fundamental issues such as national sovereignty have been comprised.

If these principles are followed, then the prospects of resolving the Kashmir dispute through negotiations will brighten.


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