India, Pakistan and Kashmir

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Touqir Hussain[1]


(India must recognize that a stable and strong Pakistan can be a good friend to India. A strong Pakistan and a “rising” India are dependent on normal and friendly relations between the two countries. Only with Pakistan and India as friends can South Asia develop to its full potential.  The resolution of the Kashmir dispute is essential to the achievement of these objectives. – Author)

The idea and state of Pakistan.

Kashmir is a very complex dispute but both India and Pakistan have made it look simple for their own reasons. Indeed it is no ordinary dispute. It is about a people, their history, culture, and aspirations for freedom. But equally important, it is about India-Pakistan relations, and peace and stability of the region. This adds to the complexity of the dispute.

As a young diplomat I always felt that that one of the reasons why we had difficulty explaining our case about Kashmir to the world was that the case about Pakistan itself, of which the Kashmir story was a subtext, was not well understood. In this context I began wondering why we use the word “partition” of India when we explain how Pakistan was created. It is something that is an integral whole that is partitioned.  Pre 1947 India was nothing like that. It was an empire. Empires are not partitioned; they disintegrate or are dissolved. That is what happened in 1947 when two independent nation states that never existed before came into being with the dissolution of the British India Empire.

Going back in time we find that ancient India had been for much of its history a loose assortment of kingdoms, principalities, and fiefdoms. It went on to become the seat of three great empires—Hindu, Muslim and the British—as a curious mixture of areas directly administered by the imperial power and hundreds of  princely states enjoying varying degrees of autonomy. If there was any unity it was essentially military and administrative. The British rule, the last of the empires, however did give India more than an administrative unity. It introduced modern political ideas and exposed the Indians to European concepts such as nationalism and democracy, spurring Indian aspirations for freedom.

The problem was that India did not have one, but clearly two distinct communities; each with its own culture, identity, and historical experience. Yes, there was a certain shared sense of being an “Indian” (or Hindustani) but it fell short of a national consciousness as it could not over ride political, communal and socio-economic differences, clash of history and regional biases between the two communities.

The leaders of the majority Hindu community, however, thought otherwise.  They began resting their concept of a free India on one nation embracing one civilization. The fact, however, was that India was not a nation – not even a state; much less a single nation civilization. It lacked a linguistic and cultural unity and collective historical experience. Some Hindu leaders even went further and claimed “that Indians were all one people, whose varying faiths and practices enriched a common culture.” [i]

As Steve Cohen has said, the Muslims saw in the unitary Hindu view the first signs of the majority community’s aspirations to be the masters of a united India dominating a minority and began thinking of going their own separate way.[ii] Yes, the idea of Pakistan had to go through the inevitable process of politics to make it realizable and thus may have meant many things to many people but that should not detract from its validity and legitimacy. The important fact is that in the end the Hindu majority community had their state and the Muslim theirs, not all but at least a majority of them.  Neither existed before and nor was it carved out of the other. So what had been partitioned?

By using the word partition we play right into the hands of the Indian view that long considered, and wanted the rest of world also to perceive, Pakistan as  a break-away part of modern day India and by the same token regard Kashmir as India’s integral part. To strengthen their point, India maligned the idea of Pakistan as theocratic and communalist.  Impressed with these arguments many in the West, while analyzing problems in contemporary Pakistan or within Kashmir or between India and Pakistan, have the tendency, even up to this day, to bemoan partition as the cause of all this rather than reflect on whether India could have treated Pakistan differently or not done what it did in Kashmir or whether Pakistan may not have taken the road it did ending up with many self inflicted wounds. They tend to blame “partition” as it was some kind of an original sin. The problem with this argument is that there is no way of comparing how a united India as a nation state would have avoided all these problems because such an India never existed. What had existed was the British India Empire hosting two communities whose troubled relations, marked by distrust and mutual suspicions, were escalating. Indeed, it was best for the self-determination and advancement of each community to go its own way.

Kashmir—the origins of the dispute

The dispute arose out of British plans for the dissolution of their Indian empire.  A major part of this empire was under direct British rule, however, more than 500 princely states were under their limited or indirect rule. These states enjoyed local autonomy while Britain held sovereign control as their paramount power.  These states were under a double layer of colonialism, one imposed by hereditary rulers and dynasties, Maharajas, Nawabs and Nizams who treated them as a piece of real estate, and the other by the British. The departure of the British from India meant the decolonization of these princely states as well. Except that in their case they had to be stripped of not just one but two layers of colonialism—domestic and external.

This is how the British handled the challenge. The principle of decolonization was the same for both the directly and the indirectly controlled territories.  This principle was self-determination, resting on the broad concept that there were to be two successor states of British India. Two nation states, India and Pakistan, were to be created from the directly controlled territory.  Pakistan comprised of Muslim majority areas and the rest went to India. As for the indirectly controlled territories, that is the princely states, they would be asked to exercise their right of self-determination in favor of either one of the two states under the same principle which marked the Muslim majority areas as Pakistan and the rest of India.

The right of self-determination was to be exercised by these princely states through an instrument of accession to be signed by the ruler. In doing so the rulers were not to act as arbiters of the state’s future but merely as instruments for exercising the will of the people in accordance with the true spirit of the principles of self-determination.  The British articulated a criteria to ensure that the element of discretion was taken out of the rulers hands and the accession reflected the will of the people.

To this end, Lord Mountbatten advised the rulers to decide on the basis of the states’ geographical location, economic and commercial interests and linkages, communications, historical and cultural links, and, above all, the religious complexion of the population. If the decision of a ruler violated the above guidelines for accession then this basically meant that he had gone against the will of the people and thus lost their trust and the legitimacy of his rule.  This would have one obvious implication – the right of this exercise naturally passed on to the people and was to be exercised by them.

But as we all know India’s territorial ambitions trumped the British laid principles of decolonization.  It militarily intervened in Kashmir, Hydrabad and Junagadh, all three headed by unrepresentative rulers who tried to maintain their dynastic rule over a reluctant or hostile population. India intervened on behalf of the self-determination principle where it supported her case, and in violation where it opposed her case like in Kashmir. The logic: heads I win, tails you lose.

There, however, was even a deeper logic behind what India did, especially in Kashmir. The Indian National Congress, after its winner take all approach failed, had reluctantly accepted the idea of Pakistan in order to get rid of the British. Almost in a huff they said to the Muslim League, either accept a “centralized” India dominated by the majority community, or just go away. In the heart of hearts the Congress leaders must have thought that Pakistan would not last – it would come back to India or remain weak and subservient. So why let Kashmir go to it. The symbolism of Indian action in Kashmir was thus much deeper – by grabbing whatever you can you deny the idea of Pakistan.  Plans on this line were set afoot before any intervention by Pakistan was possible, in fact, even before the boundaries had been demarcated.  Indian troops were landing in Srinagar even before the so called signing of the instrument of accession by the Maharaja. [iii]

India went about creating new ground realities in Kashmir by manipulating the political process that could give its occupation and Kashmir’s controversial accession to India a semblance of legitimacy.  More than six decades have passed and India has not succeeded. When the tradition of electoral fraud was repeated in 1987, ever more blatantly, India overplayed its hand at an inopportune moment for itself. The mantle of leadership in the state was passing to a younger generation, which had become desperate and radicalized by decades of political manipulation by India, mis-governance and corruption, denial of social justice and economic opportunities, and systematic abuse of personal liberties and human rights by wide ranging draconian laws. Thus began a Kashmiri Intifada which soon came to be supported at the political level by a broad coalition, setup in 1993. Named ‘All parties Hurriyat Conference’ (APHC), its objective was Azadi (freedom). Azadi, however, remained undefined but certainly meant rejection of Indian dominance.

India sought to suppress the resistance with a massive use of force, killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children in the year it began, 1989.  According to Government of Pakistan official sources more than 60,000 Kashmiris have been killed since 1989 directly at the hands of over 600,000 Indian military and security personnel or in hostilities undertaken on their behalf by the state security apparatus and renegade militants. Thousands continue to languish in Indian jails where they are subjected to torture and custodial deaths. There have been frequent reports of gang rapes by the Indian forces and deliberate burning down of entire localities. Indeed the scale and horror of violence has been well documented by international and even Indian human rights organizations. Several reports of organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have extensively documented the gross and systematic violation of human rights of the Kashmiri people by Indian military and para-military forces. Extra judicial killings, involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detentions, rapes and torture continue to be reported on a large scale.

India has tried to delegitimize the Kashmiri resistance by redefining the Kashmir issue in terms of international terrorism and by blaming the insurgency on cross border infiltrations. The allegations of infiltrations are true but exaggerated. The fact remains the substantial core of Kashmiri resistance is indigenous. “No external influence could have persuaded the Kashmiri people to sustain their struggle for so long in the face of India’s brutal military repression. It is only genuine and popular quest for freedom which evokes such monumental sacrifices.” [iv]

Pakistan and Kashmir

Over the decades, by its repressive rule and continued occupation of Kashmir in violation of UN resolutions, India has ended up creating two aggrieved parties to the dispute – Kashmiris and Pakistan. Pakistan was very much a party to the dispute, not only under the British “partition” plan, but also by virtue of the UN resolutions. Pakistan’s case has rested on the illegality of Kashmir’s accession to India and its rejection by the Kashmiris, and of course on the sanctity of UN resolutions and international law. The Security Council has adopted 18 resolutions so far directly or indirectly dealing with the Kashmir dispute. All affirm that the final disposition of Jammu and Kashmir should be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through a UN supervised plebiscite. The most recent resolution was No.1172, adopted in 1998.

In the context of international law    the dispute has been fully examined by the International Commission of Jurists report of 1995 which was based on their fact finding mission to Kashmir. Page 98 of their report sums up by saying that the state did acquire the right of self-determination in 1947, that remains to be exercised and it is not “affected by acts of the Government of Pakistan”. The report also confirms that the right of self-determination is not vested in the rulers but in the people. [v]

India’s case is weak at the political level as well. As a 2004 US Institute of Peace report on Kashmir written by a senior Indian civil servant, Wajahat Habibullah, with extensive administrative experience of Kashmir who was a senior fellow at the USIP in 2003-2004, observes “whatever the legal right, the Accession was more than 50 years ago. Does that right still hold through all that has happened since? Nations, much less democratic nations, may be created but not built as a result of legal decree alone. Military strength in itself can secure only a transient unity. The will of the people, or at the very least their willing acceptance, must be the binding force of a nation, particularly one that aspires to freedom. When that will erodes, mighty empires will fall.” [vi]

Pakistan has tried all means to solve the Kashmir dispute – force of arms, diplomacy and international propaganda. Military means have not succeeded and their cost is rising not only in terms of the blowback from Jihadist forces but also of the risk of nuclear war not to mention the prospects of international isolation. Over the years, taking advantage of the West’s fascination with “rising India”, Delhi has tried to bring both the Kashmiri struggle and Pakistan into disrepute by linking them to religious radicalism and terrorism. The move has had its desired effect. Even China, a traditional supporter of Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, has shifted to neutrality in the interest of improving relations with India and out of its concern about the impact of religious extremism on the situation in Western China.

Keeping these realities in mind, thinking in Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute is changing even though policies may not have. Broadly speaking there are three points of view on the subject – two on the fringes and one in the middle.  The two fringe points of view are on either end of the spectrum. One keeps insisting that the Kashmir cause is winnable. I used to subscribe to this when I was a young diplomat. With time and further reflection I changed, as did Pakistan.  I realized that it is not enough to say that something is winnable as one must also consider the costs involved. So I abandoned this approach which is now confined to a few of the retired Ambassadors, Generals, and Jihadists. While these former officials continue to define Pakistan’s national purpose and strength narrowly in military terms, foreign policy achievements, and competition with India, the Jihadists have their own tunnel vision believing Pakistan’s purpose to be in the service of Islam of which India is seen as an arch enemy and Kashmir as a battleground. The secular nationalist approach of one ends up providing intellectual underpinnings to the radical religious view of the other. These are very seductive themes, specially for the vernacular media, which fuses them both. It, therefore, becomes difficult to defeat radicalism in the country as radicals do not have a monopoly over radicalism.

Later I even toyed with the point of view of just abandoning the Kashmir cause. Why is Pakistan so fixated on Kashmir? Is Kashmir more important than Pakistan? But through further reflection I realized that this too was not a valid argument. It is not Pakistan or Kashmir. Kashmir is very much entangled with Pakistan and with India-Pakistan relations.  It is not an either or question. No strategic prize, including the promise of a better relationship with India and peace and stability of the region, would compensate the sense of betrayal of over six decades of strategic commitment to the Kashmir cause and the supreme sacrifices of generations of Kashmiri population. Any improved relationship built on this moral wreckage will soon be blown away like a house of cards.

I eventually moved to the middle. In the middle the large body of opinion in Pakistan is of course emotional, indifferent, confused or vulnerable with respect to the view of the more organized groups or state institutions. But there is probably also a small segment in the middle who have thought long and hard and finally reached some clarity. One can call them the informed middle to which I now subscribe. They feel that Kashmir has imposed a heavy moral and strategic burden on Pakistan’s foreign policy commitments. In such a fragile national environment, it has not been easy to pursue a forward foreign policy that tried to transcend the disparity between our objectives and capability. A weakened society has been vastly over-stretching strategically. Pakistan has thus become a focus of global concern and possible international isolation in the future. Pakistan has to find a new way to relate to India.

But the problem is what to do with Kashmir. You cannot win it and you cannot abandon it.  If it were just one dimension of the Kashmir dispute it might have been resolved or forgotten long ago. Kashmir, however, has moral, political, diplomatic, and economic dimensions. First of all Pakistan does have a moral commitment to the Kashmir cause which is hard to back away from.  It is a dispute that also has strong political weight as you can see from public opinion. Then you have the diplomatic dimension. If Pakistan does not keep up the pressure on India, the Kashmir cause is as good as lost. The fact is, Kashmiris would not have come this far without Pakistan’s help. Whatever leverage Pakistan is left with in Kashmir also helps Pakistan face up to the Indian challenge and the imbalances in India-Pakistan relations. Lastly, let us not forget the increasing importance of Kashmir in the context of the water issues, especially the contentious problems that the implementation of the Indus waters treaty on the Indian side is beginning to raise.

So Kashmir will loom over the India-Pakistan relationship, implicitly or explicitly, not least because the difficulties that lie at the heart of the whole range of relations are what originally emanated from this dispute such as mutual suspicion, lack of trust and the way the two countries see and define each other. The solution of the Kashmir dispute must, therefore, coincide with improved relations.

India and Kashmir

India knows our dilemma and so do the Kashmiris. Kashmiris now feel that given the change in the global and regional environment, especially the post 9/11 involvement of the US in the region, Pakistan may not be able to help them much in the future. Taking advantage of its emerging strategic relations with the West and the post 9/11 zero tolerance of the West towards religious radicalism and the terrorist threats to US and global security, emanating from a whole range of Al Qaeda inspired Jihadists fighting for Islamic causes, India has managed to get Pakistan pressurized by Washington to have cross border infiltrations considerably reduced along the LOC.  Kashmiris are watching these developments along with the likely prospects of improvement in India-Pakistan relations in the future.  They feel it has to happen sooner or later. Last but not least they are also weighing the fall out of a religiously inspired resistance within their own internal dynamics. Yearning for Azadi remains strong but the movement for Azadi has, no doubt, weakened.

This has strengthened India’s hand in dealing with the Kashmir “problem”. India is treating Kashmir as a troubled and discontented state of India that needs to be pacified. It has decided to pacify Kashmir without reconciling it. As an Indian academic has stated,  “India’s dual strategy of opposing a third party intervention and a time tested technique of wearing out the militants before making political concessions, which it has tried with some success in the northeast and Punjab, is expected to succeed in Kashmir as well” [vii].

A twin strategy of dividing the resistance, through coercion and money is at play.  Draconian antiterrorism laws and the policy of systematic terrorizing of the population that cooperates with the “insurgents” remains while incentives are offered to those who can be coopted. Over the last 25 years or so, the most egregious action on India’s part has been the use of AFSPA[viii] under which some of the worst army atrocities and human rights violations have taken place in Kashmir.  There is heavy penetration by intelligence agencies. To encourage participation in the political process much money has been spent to attract political leaders who are willing to collaborate with India either out of a moderate disposition and realpolitik or out of resignation to the situation going in India’s favor or for reasons of greed and opportunism. They are all taking full advantage of the disarray in the Hurriyat and its boycott of the political process.

According to the famed lawyer and political historian from India, AG Noorani: “The unionists, the National Conference in power in coalition with the Congress, and the main opposition group, the People’s Democratic Party, are preparing to fight it out in the elections to the assembly in Srinagar and to parliament in 2014. And the separatist leaders are barely on speaking terms with each other”. [ix]

Participation in the electoral process does not amount to acceptance of Indian rule; it is just a means to make the best of a bad bargain while the struggle continues in other ways. Similarly, expressions of warm feelings for Pakistan are not indicative of a desire to join Pakistan but reflect the reality that Pakistan still remains a factor in any success of their resistance.

India-Pakistan relations and Kashmir

The need for friendly relations between the two countries cannot be overemphasized. Not a dictated peace but a peace to the mutual benefit of the parties; and fair, if not equitable. Nations sometimes remain shy of seeking peace because there are pay offs for avoiding it, and political costs for seeking it. Often only a combination of strong compulsions and attractive incentives motivate them to change. I think Pakistan is more advanced than India in making this leap of faith. India is either unsure of how to respond or adopting a maximalist position because it feels it has more options.

“In Pakistan today, there is practically a cross-party consensus for having better relations with India. More significantly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has invested considerable political capital in promoting this agenda. The military leadership that traditionally has been opposed to rapprochement is now supportive of this policy in light of the changed threat scenario and emerging geopolitical and strategic imperatives.”[x] Indeed, Prime Minister Sharif was quick to send a message of congratulations to Mr Modi on his elections victory, inviting him to visit Pakistan.

But how does one achieve normalization when Pakistan and India have contrasting and even conflicting perceptions? Pakistan feels that an enduring normalization requires addressing the full range of issues across the board, including Kashmir. Pakistan’s hope was that in the composite dialogue progress on the entire spectrum would be in tandem. But that has not happened despite the fact that Pakistan has shown considerable flexibility. The problem is India is treating the normalization process not horizontally but vertically, as a kind of pyramid. Its base is the so called confidence building measures (CBMs), including military hotlines, people to people contacts and economic and commercial relations, to which India has lately added terrorism. Then in the middle it has other non-Kashmir issues like energy, water, Siachen, and Sir Creek. And the top of the pyramid is Kashmir.

India wants both countries to climb to the top by stages, a climb that India has made very strenuous by lowering the center of gravity of the relationship to the whole range of non-Kashmir issues. Progress on Kashmir is of course on a standstill, but even on other issues there has been very little movement from the Indian side. The idea is to take a hard line stance on these issues in order to get pre-negotiation concessions from Pakistan to the extent that India considered even the resumption of a dialogue or a visit by the Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan as a concession.

India feels that by the time the two sides reach near the top of the pyramid, if at all, one of the following could happen: India will have changed the ground situation in Kashmir to its favor to which Pakistanis would get reconciled; or, any normalization of relations in non-Kashmir issues that may have taken place could induce Pakistanis to have a different perception of India and Kashmir; or, India could simply turn its back on any negotiations on Kashmir; or Pakistan may simply be forced to reassess its position by its internal difficulties to which India itself is contributing by  interfering in Baluchistan and  putting pressure on Pakistan on the Western front. The broader theme in all this is to marginalize a weakening Pakistan to make it irrelevant in the dispute and thus as a consequence weaken the Kashmiris and impose India’s will on them.  To have its way India has been reacting very strongly to incidents along the Line of Control, basically to affirm inviolability of the LOC and to emphasize  that the borders cannot be changed.

Yes, India has legitimate concerns about terrorism which is causing some distrust in India about Pakistan. This, however, is a challenge both countries face. It requires their coordinated response to deal both with violence and  with what gives rise to it—what issues  on both sides are feeding this. India has to make a strategic choice whether to be a partner of Pakistan in solving the terrorism issue or use it as a whip to malign Pakistan internationally and by contrast appear a peaceful victim. Not to mention the free hand it gives to India to unleash repression in Kashmir.

But the fact is India is not without blame either. You may been seen the reported statement by the Indian Home Minister a year and a half ago that  BJP and RSS conduct terror training camps to spread terrorism in Pakistan. And we all know what happened in the case of the Samjhota Express. India is also reported to have prepared a project for covert operations in Pakistan that will focus, among other things, on getting hold of Hafez Saeed. Not only that, suspicions have been raised, even in India, about the possible involvement of Indian intelligence agencies in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. [xi]

The reality is wherever the attack on the Indian Parliament came from and whoever was responsible the trigger was Kashmir.  The two countries very nearly came to war following this attack. In addition,not long ago, in response to incidents along the LOC, India reacted strongly by suspending the visa agreement and some cultural and sporting contacts. The moral of the story is that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is requisite to laying an enduring foundation of normal relations between the two countries.  Otherwise any small incident in Kashmir and the process of normalization will get derailed, sometimes by Pakistan, sometimes by India. And it will continue to fuel mutual suspicions.

I am not suggesting that you have to resolve the dispute first before normalization of relations. The point is that one has to take the settlement of the Kashmir dispute to a strategic stage so that it does not impact normalization in the rest of the relationship. Once a basic normalization has taken place it may, in turn, create greater trust to achieve further progress on Kashmir.

But the problem is India does not consider Kashmir as a dispute, certainly not the way Pakistan sees it. And the whole Indian strategy is to force Pakistan to submit to their point of view.  Under Prime Minister Modi the Indian position is likely to harden even further. It will be premature to think that Modi’s economic focus may make him more amenable to normalization of relations with Pakistan.  His initial focus on Pakistan may not be on normalization and economic ties but on forcing Pakistan to take a stronger action against anti India Jihadists and play Pakistan out of the Kashmir dispute completely by strengthening India’s political, military and constitutional grip on the territory. The composite dialogue will not be abandoned but is likely to be redefined and reprioritized by India.

Where do we go from here?

The Kashmir issue is very complicated. Pakistan keeps talking of UN resolutions, and India keeps harping on Kashmir being an integral part of India. Ideally, both need to abandon these two positions in a mutual exchange. Pakistanis have to ask themselves in all honesty how many issues in the world have been resolved by UN resolutions. India too has to level with itself by asking the question that if they need to keep approximately 600,000 troops in a territory to keep it under control certainly it is not an integral part of their country. One does not need to keep such massive number of troops in a territory which one calls one’s own— and if one does, that obviously questions the legitimacy of the claim. India claims its right to Kashmir by virtue of an instrument of accession. This raises the question, however, on the kind of legitimacy it claims to have over Kashmir if it only rests on a piece of paper, and decades of a dubious political process.

The fundamental truth is that on the ground the Indian occupation has been rejected by the Kashmiris. India has to realize that its massive military presence in Kashmir may have helped it to control the territory but has invalidated its claim to it.  I am not suggesting India should hand over Kashmir to Pakistan. But at least it should acknowledge that it has a serious problem, and that Pakistan even if its claim may be imperfect has a perfect point in challenging India’s position on Kashmir.

Marginalizing a weakening Pakistan to make it irrelevant in the dispute and thus as a consequence weaken the Kashmiris and impose India’s will on them – the present Indian strategy – will not work. India does not realize that when it comes to dealing with India, Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, does not feel it is that weak.

Pakistan, however, does have a problem. Whatever leverage it had was in the days past when the resistance was strong as was Pakistan relative to where both are now. Neither Kashmiris nor Pakistan took advantage of it then. Indeed improved relationship with India, which India needs as much as Pakistan, may now be the only card left with Pakistan to ensure that it includes some satisfactory solution of Kashmir.  For that Pakistan may have to wait to put pressure on India and thus keep itself from fully normal relations with India.  With Modi’s India it may not work as a pressure as he may be prepared to wait for normalization. Either way Pakistan’s leverage will have weakened. That means that even with this diminished leverage—assuming that it works – Pakistan can help Kashmiris, if at all only at its own expense, and that cost is now becoming high, especially with India  hitting back in Baluchistan. Pakistan thus faces a dilemma. How do you achieve the twin objectives of putting pressure on India to solve the Kashmir dispute and seek improved relations with India?   India wants us to make a choice.

While there is a growing awareness in Pakistan that victory in Kashmir remains elusive, there is also a feeling that defeat is not an option. So a settlement has to be such as does not label Pakistan as defeated, and does not degrade India’s territorial integrity and delegitimize its sovereignty over Kashmir.  Above all, it must be acceptable to Kashmiris. Not something that simply freezes the status quo by turning the Line of Control into an international border thus letting down both the Kashmiri population and the Pakistani public. That means a solution of the Kashmir dispute that India can live with, incentivizes Kashmiris to give up their struggle and does not make Pakistan feel defeated; rather it is compensated by improved India-Pakistan relations.  So the settlement may have to be political more than territorial, and the changes may come to focus on the Valley of Kashmir (including parts of Jammu) and the relationship of this predominantly Muslim region with Azad Kashmir.

The Afghanistan factor

Not only Kashmir but Afghanistan also has become a big factor – more than ever before – in India-Pakistan relations as peace in the region has become indivisible. Pakistan must understand that India does have legitimate interests in Afghanistan, and India should know that it has to accommodate Pakistan’s interests there which intersect not only with Pakistan’s security concerns vis a vis India but also impact on Pakistan’s internal security.  Rather than reenacting a modern day great game in Afghanistan and ending in both sides losing, as Afghanistan has produced no winners in centuries of a battle for internal domination and external control, Pakistan and India should cooperate to stabilize Afghanistan.  Indeed, Afghanistan’s stability is crucial to defeating threats that could negatively affect India’s “rise” and Pakistan’s stability; and  it could also open whole new vistas of regional economic integration.

The rewards that a stable Afghanistan could possibly bring include an integrated South Asian market that also takes care of the water and energy issues, which are a strong incentive to both India and Pakistan to normalize their overall relations. In Afghanistan, India will continue its strong support of the government with development aid, infrastructure development, training programs, etc. How far it will go in providing military support remains to be seen. As a minimum, India and Iran will cooperate like they did in the 90’s. But that was to counter Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. The scenario is different now. Pakistan itself is wary of the Taliban and may not support them like before.  Both India and Pakistan have a stake in Afghanistan’s stability for which their cooperation is necessary. So India is likely to be careful in militarily supporting Afghanistan as it might provoke Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. Respectable Indian analysts feel India has no military capability or even intention to interfere in Afghanistan. According to them the Indian Consulates in Afghanistan that Pakistan keep talking about are only listening posts, and the India factor in the Baluch insurgency is being over played by our strategic establishment to underplay the insurgency’s domestic roots and delegitimize it.

As far as Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are concerned and the situation along their border, the Afghans will have to take some responsibility for what has happened to their unfortunate country since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973 which set off the unraveling of their country rather than put all the blame on Pakistan. It is time for the Afghans to do some soul searching and go back in history and ask themselves if the Durand Line and the Pashtunistan issue raised by them and the recurring diplomatic tensions between the two countries in the 50’s and 60’s were not partly responsible for the unfortunate trajectory of events of the last four decades in their country. Yes, the Taliban phenomenon can be largely blamed on Pakistan but they are not the only problem that the Afghans face.  Pakistan did not create all those intra-ethnic tensions, war lords, commanders, drug mafia and the allied corruption.

Theirs is a great country and Afghans are a great people but they must realize that given the nature of their history, geography and ethnicities and above all as a consequence of the Afghan Jihad of the 80’s both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been caught in a wave of radicalization and violence whose levers are global, regional and local.  Pakistan, no doubt, has been part of the problem but does not exhaust the explanation for Afghanistan’s misfortunes which long predate Pakistan’s creation. In fact their remote origins lie in Afghanistan’s troubled history.

I hope Afghans learn their lessons and Pakistanis learn theirs. They need each other to fight the forces of destabilization that are harming them. They therefore have to cooperate. Like Washington, the Afghans keep asking Pakistan to “do more” but what are they offering to Pakistan in return? For instance, Afghanistan wants Pakistan not to support the Taliban but does not realize why it is that Pakistan is supporting them.  Can Afghanistan help ease Pakistan’s concerns by offering it some alternative as a substitute or an incentive?

Both Afghanistan and India want improved relations with Pakistan but are seeking a unilateral advantage by demanding “change” in its behavior. The implication is that the change will be in Pakistan’s interest and will be its own reward. Basically they both want the improvement in relations to be cost free for them while they are raising the cost for Pakistan.

That is where the US comes in. It should work with all three countries.  Washington cannot achieve its strategic purposes in the region, especially to meet the threats radiating from there to its security, from Al Qaeda and its affiliates, by itself. It needs a moderate and stable Pakistan that can be a strong partner in this common fight.  That will have to be a Pakistan at peace with itself and enjoying friendly relations with India and Afghanistan. For that India and Afghanistan will also have to reciprocate. Washington should exert its influence with both of them to encourage such response which, in case of India, should include a meaningful progress on the Kashmir dispute. The problem, therefore, is India has always been opposed to what it sees as the so called US “liberal intervention” in Kashmir and under Modi this opposition will become stronger.


Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiris. Rather than the international community saying that the dispute should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people, which gives precedence to India and Pakistan over Kashmiris, here is how it should be done.  Kashmir’s future should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people taking into account the interests of India and Pakistan and the need for friendly relations between them and for regional peace and stability.

This is easier said than done because Kashmiris are not in control of the territory, India is. That is the reality. But it is not a tenable reality.  If India wants its position on the borders to be morally defensible then in the ultimate analysis it carries the bulk of the moral, political and historical burden to resolve the dispute. It will reap the benefits of the resolution as much as it will lose from non-resolution. Just as the pursuit of the Kashmir cause is not cost free for Pakistan neither is it for India. In different ways the unresolved dispute has hamstrung both Pakistan and India.

India must recognize that a stable and strong Pakistan can be a good friend to India. A strong Pakistan and a “rising” India are dependent on normal and friendly relations between the two countries. Only with Pakistan and India as friends can South Asia develop to its full potential.  The resolution of the Kashmir dispute is essential to the achievement of these objectives.

Pakistan also has to do some soul searching. It cannot become a normal country unburdened of its insecurities and unsustainable regional ambitions without normal relations with India. So the question is not to barter away Kashmir as part of this unburdening but to see how best to pursue this cause. In the ultimate analysis Kashmir is not just a foreign policy issue but a national issue and has to handled in the context of our national priorities and strengths and weaknesses.  Foreign policy is one side of the same coin whose other side is the domestic policy.  Both sides complement each other in advancing the aggregate national interests comprising of security, economic development and political stability. If they operate in a zero sum manner, like they have come to do in our case in the past three decades or so, our interests are harmed not advanced. Foreign and domestic affairs both suffer.

It is time we accepted the following reality. First, our internal challenges have now become far graver than the external ones and that is where our national energies should be focused. Second, these internal challenges are a counter point of our foreign policy, especially the national security doctrines that govern our relations with two important neighbors—India and Afghanistan. The instruments we have used in advancing our interests –jihad in Kashmir, and a curious mix of ethno-nationalism and religious revisionism in Afghanistan – are now also treating Pakistan as a legitimate target. Pakistan calls itself a victim but you cannot complain of being a victim at the hands of forces you have not disowned. Yes, there are instances of this terrorism being acquiesced in if not abetted and sometimes aided by Delhi and Kabul who have both used it as reverse engineering wherever they can – to beat Pakistan with its own weapons. But the external dimension is only a small part of the terrorist landscape dominated by forces that are acting independently very much based and fostered in Pakistan.

A major national effort is now needed to redefine Pakistan’s national purpose that leaves no room for such sinister forces regardless of whether they are, or used to be, strategic assets of the army, political allies of the mainstream parties, or militant affiliates of the Islamic parties. The action of the Islamic parties and the so called reformist parties such as rallies and dharnas is particularly regrettable because they are cooperating with the system but also letting these radical outfits destabilize it to create future political space for these parties. Since they know these forces can only be defeated by public support they are making sure that the public is kept ignorant about their true face. To this end they go on to sow confusion in the minds of the population by calling Hakimullh Mahasud a shaheed and making such fraudulent statements that  actions of these elements have been provoked by drones or it is not them but some foreign powers who are doing it even when these murderers have claimed responsibility for it. The most dishonest statement that some of the godly maulanas make is “no Muslim can do such things”. Well these things are indeed being done by those who claim to be Muslims—in fact better Muslims. And we all know who they are as they live amid us.

Yes, the elite in power have a lot to answer for but the Islamic parties and the reformers do not realize that letting these forces of darkness undermine the government and facilitate its failure and delegitimize the state is a very dangerous game, as along with the government, Pakistan too will fail.

We have to start at the top, with an honest admission by the entire range of political and military leadership—the government and the opposition alike – as to their respective responsibility, past and present, for fostering and sustaining these forces. They have to unite in opposition to them in words and deeds. In addition, they have to start making these assets irrelevant by depriving them of their Jihadist and ultra nationalist causes. This would require, first and foremost, redesigning policy towards India and Afghanistan that addresses our legitimate security concerns through a cooperative framework and normal politico military means rather than through radical movements or non-state actors. Things are not going to change overnight but let us start at least with a change in strategic thinking. Since Pakistan’s opening to China in the early 60’s we have not seen a single foreign policy move of comparable strategic significance in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Let this be one.

Pakistan is now a nuclear power and has enough conventional forces capability and good professional military to face any aggression. This strength should give us confidence and courage to take the risk for peace.  This would involve a major paradigm shift that takes a clear position against the Taliban, Afghan or Pakistani. And also treat the whole phalange of extremists and radicals—regardless of what name they operate under or whatever their agenda and target and whichever part of the country they are based in—as one.  No more policy of hedging as the margin of safety that used to make hedging work in the past is gone. The choices are stark now.

The bottom line is that we are in it for the long haul; and the government critically needs public support to meet this challenge. But the public is confused or divided. The only way to get its support is for the entire national leadership —civil, military, the government and the opposition – to come clean with the nation and speak the truth about these forces of darkness who have brought the country to this sorry state of affairs. Furthermore, they have to make a solemn commitment to the people to work on their behalf as honest hard working leaders rather than for their own benefit and prove it with their policies. Otherwise, they will continue to have credibility problems and the public will continue to lean towards those who pretend to overthrow this discredited system that oppresses them.

[1]The author is a former Ambassador teaching at Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University where he is also the Senior Pakistan Visiting Fellow.

[i] Shankar Bajpai, former Indian Ambassador to Pakistan, China, and the United States, “Untangling the India Pakistan relations”, Foreign Affairs, May 2003.

[ii] The Idea of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen

[iii] Kashmir-A disputed legacy 1846—1990 by Alistair Lamb

[iv] Quoted from official sources of government of Pakistan.

[v]  a report by the International Commission of Jurists entitled “Human Rights in Kashmir 1995

[vi] “The Problem of Kashmir and Its Resolution,” U.S. institute of Peace Special Project Report

2003—04. Wajahat Habibullah,

[vii] Brookings Institution Policy Brief #110  by  Navnita  Chadha  Behera  November 2112

[viii] Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990

[ix] Kashmir’s Tragic Divide A G Noorani Dec 10, 2013 DAWN.

[x] Challenges facing India-Pakistan relations Express Tribune Jan 28, 2014

Talat Masood

[xi]Army spook unit carried out covert ops in Pakistan

Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 21, 2013