It is expected that the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met last week on the sidelines of the ongoing UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Could this be a real opportunity for forwarding the peace agenda between India and Pakistan?
In the aftermath of the ravages caused by the Taliban and Kashmiri Jihadi groups there is a belated realization within the Pakistan defense establishment that activities of these groups, if allowed to go unabated, could endanger the State’s very existence. The Pakistan Army Chief made a critical statement a few months ago, that the major threat to Pakistan is from the Taliban, and associated terrorists, rather than India. In his speech at the Military Academy, Kakul on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, he again dwelt at length on this threat and how Pakistan has no option but to meet it head on, hardly mentioning India in this context.
The newly elected Nawaz Sharif Government has the necessary political space and mandate and has shown the will to move forward on this matter. Very soon after he took office he dispatched a special envoy to India to sound out the Government there. Notwithstanding recent troubles on the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir, in view of the convergence of the civil and military views on the threat assessment, the current circumstances in Pakistan are most favorable to move forward on this matter. On the Indian side Mr. Manmohan Singh enjoys fewer degrees of freedom. In view of upcoming elections within the year he cannot afford to be seen as being soft on Pakistan. The voice of the BJP, when in the opposition, is more strident than that of the Congress. But the BJP has not been unreasonable on this matter. It was a BJP premier Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpaee, who took the bus ride to Lahore to promote peace with Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif was last in power in the 90’s.
India could be tempted to let Pakistan suffer and bleed from the ravages caused by the monsters it has itself created. However, saner elements there believe that a stable Pakistan would be in the interest of India, since India will not be able to stay immune to the violence on the Pakistan side of the border, as the Mumbai attacks have shown. This is also the stated narrative of the Indian Government.
However, to achieve peace a major rest is necessary in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. This is required not as a concession that needs to be given to India to achieve peace, but as a result of changed ground realities.
The situation on the ground has changed quite significantly since Pakistan’s Kashmir policy was first formulated in 1947. A close look at this matter shows that the interests of both Pakistan and India have now become surprisingly similar. Both India and Pakistan want to keep control over their parts of Kashmir. Both have hopefully realized after three wars that they cannot get the other part. Two major opinion surveys conducted on both sides of border in Kashmir over the period 2007-2010 have shown that less than 5% of the Moslem population of Indian Kashmir would like to join Pakistan. Likewise Pakistani Kashmiris do not want to join India. (References: (a) survey conducted in August 2007 and sponsored by media groups, Indian Express –The Dawn- CNN-IBN; (b) survey conducted in May 2010 by Robert Braddock – an associate fellow at the Chatham House, a think-tank in London).
It appears that the Kashmiris in Indian Kashmir are not as keen to join Pakistan as the Pakistani Kashmiris are for them to do so. Over time, the interests of the people of Indian Kashmir have become different from those of their brethren on the other side of the border. Given the low desire of the Moslems of Indian Kashmir to join Pakistan and the uncertainty of the political disposition of an independent Kashmir vis -a- vis Pakistan and even Pakistani Kashmiris, it appears that while Pakistan and the Pakistani Kashmiris will lose control over Pakistani Kashmir, they will gain very little in return, if an independent Kashmir were to be created.
It is therefore NO LONGER in the interest of Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmiris to press for a UN plebiscite or an independent Kashmir.
India has always been unwilling to consider an independent Kashmir as an option. Since even the Moslem Kashmiris in India do not want to join Pakistan, and the Pakistani Kashmiris do not want to join India, a division along the LOC, i.e. a formalization of the status quo, is in the best interest of both India and Pakistan. This should be the primary thrust of Pakistan’s policy, not because it is the best deal that it can get, but since the alternative is not in its interest. Now the above surveys also showed that Indian Moslem Kashmiris do want independence, essentially to get rid of the alleged Indian suppression there.
Given that the Indian Muslim Kashmiris do not want to join Pakistan, takes Pakistan out of the equation from a purely national interest point of view and strictly speaking, makes this a matter between India and Indian Kashmiris. However, the Indian Government says that their military action in Kashmir is a consequence of alleged Pakistani cross border incursions. Therefore, if a settlement is reached between Indian and Pakistan, as above, it would also drastically reduce the support the Jihadi groups receive in Pakistan. This in turn should lead to a reduction of their activities, which would go a long way in ending the repression in Indian Kashmir and enable the Kashmiri people live a more peaceful life.
An agreement along these lines only formalizes the de-facto situation on the ground and does not require any changes or further give and take which could result in a breaking point. It would therefore be the easiest to implement.
Also, the key to a solution of Pakistan’s problems on its Western border with Afghanistan also lies on the eastern border. Normalized relations with India would remove the urgency that Pakistan feels for having a friendly pro-Pakistan Government in Kabul. This would reduce tensions between Islamabad and Kabul and hopefully contribute to peace in Afghanistan.
In view of the high payback possible from defusing this flashpoint between two nuclear armed countries, it is imperative that political leaders of both countries (with encouragement of the international community) spend the necessary political capital to come to an agreement. It may get them the Nobel Peace Prize if they do!