Kashmir: Confrontation to Cooperation

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Asad Durrani and A.S. Dulat[1]

In search of an inventive approach to untangle the Kashmir knot, the ‘merit of the case’ was not a good starting point. Firstly, we might not agree on the merit: we did not for over six decades. Secondly, and more importantly: complex issues are not resolved by proving one or the other side wrong, but by identifying common causes that can be pursued together.

Churchill once famously said: “the Americans would ultimately do the right thing but before that they must exhaust all other options”. The US may be no role model for making peace, but most of us do no better. In principle, the state employs all its elements of national power- force too if necessary- to create a favourable position on the talking table. In practice, we embark on the peace path only when all other efforts have been stalemated, in fact checkmated.

India and Pakistan needed fifty years before they were ready to ‘do the right thing’. Europe, cited today as the citadel of peace, took longer. During this period, the two countries developed internal strength, sought external support, acquired unconventional capabilities, used sub- conventional means, even fought wars and made some half-baked efforts to peacefully resolve their conflicts. Finally in 1997, in the belief that they were now well positioned to make peace, both India and Pakistan decided to work out a framework to build durable peace.

Evolution of the Concept

The task was entrusted to the two foreign secretaries, Salman Haider of India and Shamshad Ahmed of Pakistan. Their first challenge must have been to create the right conditions to start a dialogue on Kashmir, the bone of contention between the two countries right from their inception. It had by then acquired such complex dimensions that no meaningful discourse on the subject looked possible. For Pakistan, securing the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu & Kashmir is one of the national objectives. It is therefore very difficult for any Pakistani leadership to embark upon a formal dialogue with India that is not seen to be addressing the Kashmir issue, seriously, if not urgently. India on the other hand, having declared the state as its integral part, could not be seen re-negotiating its status. The foreign secretaries meeting of June 1997 found an ingenuous way to circumvent the dilemma.

Their innovative recipe, better known as the “composite dialogue”, was to form a number of working groups, eight in all, to discuss important bilateral issues more or less concurrently. Peace, Security and Kashmir were to be dealt with by the foreign secretaries. The rest like trade, terrorism, drugs and some territorial disputes, could be addressed by the relevant ministries or departments. With the contentious issues segregated by type as well as by degree of their complexity; in theory, the dialogue could now begin, perhaps even showquick results since some of the problems would be easier to resolve. But a clause in the joint statement had the potential of becoming a serious impediment.

Pakistanis have generally believed that in a dialogue process, while the Indian interests- like greater economic cooperation- could be addressed in quick time, talks on Kashmir, due to the complexity of the issue, would make little headway. There was, and still is, a fairly broad based belief in Pakistan that if the Kashmir question was not settled before improving other neighbourly ties with India, the latter would no longer be interested in resolving it. To address these apprehensions, clause 4.2 of the joint communiqué stipulated that all issues were to be discussed in an “integrated” manner. It meant that the progress on all issues had to be in tandem. It sounded fine, but for a problem. If there were little or no movement on one issue, we would have to slow down on all the others. The favourable environment needed to deal with the more complex problems would thus become contingent on progress in all areas. This was exactly the “catch 22” situation that the authors of the dialogue formula had set out to avoid. The ‘integrated’ part was therefore quietly dropped (but not from the official text). The process was now more like moving with all our disputes on parallel tracks and getting them out of the way as and when feasible. No longer “composite”, the dialogue still retained the politically correct adjective. What we now had was in fact a “multiple-track, multiple-speed” formula.

Even though the evolution of this concept was purely a civil sector enterprise a military strategist too would have lauded the design logic of the formula. Theoretically, when operating along multiple axes, forces that meet little resistance continue their momentum. That helps operations on the other fronts as well. In due course, some critical fronts can be reinforced to achieve a breakthrough and capture the main objective: in this case, durable peace in the Subcontinent.

The Learning Phase

Good concepts, brilliant designs, even sound strategies, have never been enough. For their success, we make certain assumptions and lay down conditions to be fulfilled. It is obvious for example; that an agreement, no matter how favourable to one or the other side, is not to be touted as a one-sided victory. Eager to make political capital out of the accord, the Pakistani media went to town for having made the Indians finally agree to discuss Kashmir. The Indians reacted predictably, and ‘clarified’ that the only aspects of Kashmir they intended to discuss were Pakistan’s support to the insurgency in Kashmir and the status of “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”. The composite dialogue, and along with it the peace process, was laid on ice.

The following year, 1998, the archrivalstook their nuclear bombs out of the basement. The celebrations that followed in India and Pakistan, and not only on the streets, were accompanied by plenty of chest beating and bellicosity towards each other. But there were concerns as well, both in- and outside the region: how the two nascent nuclear powers would now adjust to the new, potentially dangerous, environment. At the very least, some measures were needed to prevent either side from triggering the nuclear weapons in panic, or because it misread a situation; when the other side tested a missile for example. Nuclearisation thus provided the two countries another chance to review their chronically tense relationship.

In February 1999, the then Indian Prime Minster, Atal BahariVajpai, embarked on a landmark Bus Yatra to Lahore. The declaration that he signed on 21 February with hisPakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, went beyond nuclear CBMs and attempted to revive the peace process. The Composite Dialogue once again formed the bedrock of the agreement. And once again it was shelved before it got a fair chance.

While some Pakistani analysts believed that India’s failure to notify a missile testing after Vajpai’svisit was the first violation of the spirit of Lahore, the agreement was most certainly dead when in early May Pak- backed militia was found occupying Kargil heights on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC). It was withdrawn after two months of intense fighting and bilateral as well as multilateral haggling. Pakistan was held entirely responsible for the breach. Its defence that it was only pre-empting another Indian incursion found no takers (an earlier one in 1988 had resulted in India occupying the Siachen Glacier).

Indo-Pak relations suffered another setback when in October 1999 the Pakistani army chief, Pervez Musharraf, took power in a military putsch to overthrow the Sharif government. The Indians believed, not without reasons, that the General was the architect of the Kargil misadventure, and were unwilling to resume the peace process as long as he was in power. However, when Musharraf was found firmly in saddle and was seen making positive overtures, the Indian Prime Minister invited him to give peace another chance. Musharraf visited India in July 2001 and met Vajpai in what became known as the Agra Summit. It turned out to be a failure as no agreement was reached with accusations-counter accusations flying fast and furious regarding the failure of the talks.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan shortly thereafter, Indo- Pak relations were delivered another blow when on 13 December 2001 the Indian Parliament was attacked. India responded by mobilising for war. For most of 2002 the armed forces of the two countries remained in a state of high alert. Fortunately, it did not escalate into actual engagement of troops, even on a limited scale.

Some of the possible reasons for this could be: risk of nuclear conflagration; and, because of that, third parties primed to restrain the two sides before they went over the brink. Another, perhaps the more potent constraint, is less known. An all-out conventional war between the two countries was very likely to end in a strategic impasse. Since countries do not normally start wars without a reasonable chance of achieving a major objective, during the last three decades India and Pakistan have not taken their conflicts beyond build up on borders and skirmishes across the LOC.

India could still have taken the warpath but for a few restraining factors. It would have removed all constraints on Pakistan to support the insurgency in Kashmir that could then become more intense and durable. More importantly, if the war did end without causing major damage to Pakistan, it would have deprived India of a potent card that it had so far used to good effect: the threat of war.

Even though Pakistan has a reasonable chance to prevent India from achieving a decisive military victory, it is still sensitive to Indian war threats: its economy is more vulnerable to warlike tensions. After thirty years of high economic growth it had experienced its worst recession during the 1990s. Now that some recovery looked possible, notably as an important ally of the US, tensions with India were an unwelcome development. Paradoxically, when the drums of war receded, both the countries found that their threat cards were now, under the law of diminishing returns, running out of steam.

Indeed, Pakistan too had time and again threatened that if India did not agree to settle the Kashmir problem, the region could blow up in a nuclear holocaust. In the absence of any desperate resolve to backup these threats, this card was fast losing its efficacy. In 2002, India’s threat of a conventional war too had run its course. Now that the two countries had manoeuvred each other into a deadlock, it was time to revive their on-again and off-again peace process. The 2004 SAARC Summit in Islamabad seemed to be the right moment. Before that, however, the stumbling blocks that had caused the failure at Agra had to be removed.

The very fact that the framework of the composite dialogue evolved in 1997 had survived nuclear tests, the Kargil episode, a military coup, 9/11, and the standoff of 2002; suggested that it was a sound construct. The secret lies in its inbuilt flexibility. One may recall how its authors used ingenuity to accommodate some serious concerns of both quarters. In Agra this capacity was not employed and the two sides insisted that their respective interests be recognized as the core issue: Kashmir for Pakistan; and cross border terrorism for India. To resolve this gridlock in the spirit of the original concept, all one had to do was to make both concerns part of the process.

The following extracts from the joint press statement of the 6th of January illustrate how smoothly that could be done: –

“President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpai that he would not permit territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.”

“The two leaders are confident that the resumption of composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu & Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides”.

Launching of the Process

The stage seemed ripe for the peace process to move forward. To give it an auspicious start, some movement on ground seemed to be a good idea. Some quarters in Pakistan believed that an initiative on Kashmir, even a symbolic one, might be the best way to kick-start the process. Kashmir, after all, was not only the core issue for Pakistan; having sucked in hundreds of thousands of troops, it was also a “multi-corps” problem for India.

The gesture had to meet certain critical criteria:be without prejudice to the declared policesof India and Pakistan; give hope that a resolution of the dispute was seriously sought; and sufficiently engage the Kashmiris to let the two countries work on their less intractable issues. Meeting of the leadership from both sides of the Divide seemed to adequately meet these benchmarks. Ultimately it was decided to start a bus service between the two parts of Kashmir from the 7th of April 2005. The idea must have been that not only the leaders but also the divided families could be brought together. The bus was also bound to make a bigger and better impact than a few individuals huddling together. But it carried a risk. If an odd bus were blown up by any of the many detractors of the peace process at that nascent state it would suffer a serious setback. That mercifully did not happen, nor did much else after the initial euphoria over the bus trips and some high profile visits by the Hurryiat leaders to Pakistan.

The subsequent period was, and continues to be, going rough for Pakistan. Internally the country has gone through a lively transition from a military led dispensation to an elected government. The latter has so far fallen short of expectations of a vibrant civil society that is now increasingly vocal. The fallout from the war in Afghanistan and growing militancy in Pakistan have seriously affected the security situation domestically as well as on the western borders of Pakistan. The quiet eastern front, till its calm was broken by the November 2008 Mumbai blasts, was therefore a welcome reprieve. India too must have been relieved by the post Kashmir-bus developments. It found time to stabilise, as best as it could, it’s part of Kashmir and start work on its water resources that in other times would have created quite a rumpus in Pakistan. Post- Mumbai, however, there may well be a need to review the peace process and in case it is revived, how to manage it a little better.

Some Concluding Thoughts

The design logic of the Peace Process was rightly based on resolving contentious issues at a deliberate pace; essentially slow, but quite realistic in view of our poor track record and an over cautious bureaucratic culture. The problem is that neither our people nor the political leaders are known for the kind of patience needed to keep faith in a process that did not show tangible results on regular basis. For a while it was possible to keep them in good humour with brave pronouncements and cultural exchanges, but soon they were demanding increased economic and trade benefits that the process, despite the built in potential, did not deliver for reasons that had nothing to do with economic and business imperatives.

And indeed, there was always the threat of sabotage, not only by the militants who would find periods of no progress ripe for their activity, but also from any other quarters, external or internal, not in favour of an Indo-Pak rapprochement. Even though some very heroic statements were once made in the two capitals that acts of terror could not derail the process, and there were reasons to believe that both countries understood that the handle over peace should not be yielded to its detractors, some well-planned and well-timed acts of sabotage could seriously set the whole process back. If any proof was needed, Mumbai provided one.

The issue of Kashmir needs constant care. Though deftly handled for a while, the place has the potential to erupt if its people are not taken on board. Literal observance of the peace formula was not enough. Pakistanis, for example, could lose patience if the ‘favourable environment’ that was supposed to help resolve the issue, was taking too long. On the other hand, Musharraf’s 4-point formula is regarded as a realistic way forward in Indian Kashmir (KhurshidKasuri, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan even said the two sides were never closer to a solution). Basically, compromise and accommodation of all three viewpoints is the key to any solution.

Conduct of a peace process is too complex an affair to be left to any single organ of the state. Bureaucrats are required to take care of the technical aspects of an issue. When they are stuck, the political leadership has to take decisions to break the logjam and garner public support. Occasionally, however, it may be politics that would become the stumbling block. After Mumbai, for example, any government in Delhi, especially with an election looming in its face, would have had a hard time not yielding to the intense public outrage over the incident. To help limit the damage some sane minds working behind the scenes could be of great help.

At times one may be well served by unconventional wisdom, not only to pause when necessary or breakthrough when stuck, but also to discover fresh grounds to cooperate. There was, for example, not a single establishment voice from either side that supported “joint investigation” after the Mumbai carnage. In India people felt that this was simply not needed since all the evidence available at their end was shared and Pakistan was only required to tie up loose ends. Many even recommended dismantling of the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism(created by agreement between the two prime-ministers). Conversely, some in Pakistan tasked to keep the peace process on track viewed these two instruments as confidence building measures.

Under the circumstances, suppose someone was to come up with the idea of the two countries working together to help Afghanistan in its hour of great distress! Unless some Indians thought it was a Pakistani ploy to lure them in the Afghan quagmire or if the Pakistanis believed it would lead to their “encirclement” by India, it could become the first regional initiative for the two countries to constructively cooperate.

There are areas of cooperation in Afghanistan and also for the resolution of Indo-Pak issues including Kashmir. In both scenarios, what needs to be done is to bring to the table all that is acceptable to the two sides (three sides in the case of Afghanistan) and debate/discuss them dispassionately. As SardarQayoom Khan once said: ‘what serves best Kashmir and the Kashmiris on both sides, should be acceptable to all’; or as President Musharraf said repeatedly; ‘whatever was acceptable to Kashmir and the Kashmiris, would be acceptable to Pakistan.’ That Pakistan has a stake in Kashmir, no one disputes. But, then there are matters that were better dealt between Srinagar and New Delhi. Both countries should facilitate rather than obstruct confidence building in Kashmir. Better understanding between the two neighbours would go a long way in resolving not only Kashmir but also most other issues between them.

[1]Asad Durrani and Amarjit Singh Dulat have headed (respectively) the ISI and RAW. They co-authored this paper under the sponsorship of Ottawa University.