by Brian Cloughley

India-Pakistan relations remain fraught with danger and mistrust. Since October 2014, there have been regular exchanges of fire

between their troops across the ‘Line of Control’ which has run through contested Kashmir since Indian independence and the simultaneous birth of Pakistan in 1947. Turbulent times could lie ahead.

British Foreign Office Brief,  29 January 2015

 

January’s touchy-feely embrace between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi was probably just a pre-arranged photo-opportunity but it had resonance and the picture went round the world.  It sent a convincing message that India and the US are intent on good relations and that all the old-fashioned morality-based stuff about Modi being denied a US visa on the grounds that he was responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom” is now water under the bridge of economic imperatives and political expediency.  There were a few unkind comments, mainly based on the perceived necessity for someone to hug you before sticking his knife in your back, but nothing serious.  All in all, it was a pleasant gesture, if a bit contrived, and all was sweetness and light.

 And there would be even more sweetness and light cast upon this troubled world if there could be a similar hug between prime ministers Modi of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.

In spite of much media hype, nothing of importance was agreed between Modi and Obama, but that didn’t matter. The important thing was that there had been bonding and understanding.  It was overdone;  but vulgarity has its uses. The only downside from the US point of view is the awkward aspect of future visits and meeting greetings by Obama, in that other national leaders might expect the same treatment and could be a bit peeved if they don’t get it.  But that’s just another bridge to cross. The main thing is the new atmosphere.

On the other hand the atmosphere between India and Pakistan is becoming more dangerously polluted day by day. There doesn’t seem to be a single thing they can agree on, and it’s not entirely the fault of one side or the other. Obama didn’t help, unfortunately, by giving an interview to the magazine India Today in which he was reported as saying that “Indians were tragically killed on 9/11 as were Americans on 26/11 [in Mumbai]. On my previous visit to India, my first stop was the memorial at the Taj hotel to pay my respects to the victims, meet with survivors and send a strong message to the Indian people that we stand together in defence of our security and our way of life . . .  I've made it clear that even as the United States works with Pakistan to meet the threat of terrorism, safe havens within Pakistan are not acceptable and that those behind the Mumbai terrorist attack must face justice.” He didn’t mention the eight Pakistan nationals who were killed in the Twin Towers or the fact that none of the 9/11 nineteen killers were Pakistanis, but were 15 Saudis, a Lebanese, an Egyptian and two Emirates terrorists.

This statement was not well regarded in Islamabad, naturally enough, as no doubt Obama well knew it would be, but there was a message for all Pakistan that was loud and clear and unmistakeable in its intention:  Pakistan is out to the far side of the US field of interest, and India is in the centre.

Over the years Obama has changed his attitude to the sub-continent completely and his November 2008 statement about wanting to help resolve the Kashmir dispute is now dead and deeply buried.  At that time he said that the US “should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants,” but India’s reaction to such a common sense approach was decidedly negative and Obama has never again uttered a word that would even slightly upset India. 

Britain is notably supportive of India but irrelevant concerning India-Pakistan relations (as are other EU nations), and Russia and China have their own decided interests to follow.  Both are prepared to cooperate with Pakistan over Afghanistan, in order to make the best of the shambles caused by the west’s war in that unfortunate country, but although China is notably supportive of Pakistan (“all-weather friend” and so forth)  it is not going to go out on a limb by offering unconditional backing over Kashmir or anything else. Russia is being pragmatic about relations with Delhi and Islamabad but is anxious, especially in its current economic circumstances, to maintain its arms sales to India in which it will likely succeed as the Indian treasury and taxpayer come to realise that US equipment, although enormously sophisticated and well-endowed with technologically amazing bells and whistles, is vastly expensive. Moscow’s newly pragmatic approaches to Pakistan are most welcome but there is no question of it interceding politically on Pakistan’s behalf in any circumstances.

There is no single country or group of countries willing to become involved in diplomacy that would assist in ending or at least reducing the growling ill-will between two neighbours that would benefit enormously in every conceivable fashion from mutual cooperation and harmony.  So there is only one way forward, and that is for the governments of India and Pakistan to grit their teeth — but not in the usual snarl against each other — and take some domestically uncomfortable but positive and potentially enormously beneficial measures to improve their relations.

The dispute over the territory of Kashmir is the greatest stumbling block along the boulder-strewn path to reduction of tension. Certainly Pakistan has withdrawn its former ill-conceived support for militant groups fighting for independence in Indian-administered Kashmir, but there is scarcely an Indian citizen who believes this to be so. The Bharatiya Janata Party government is even more adamant than its predecessors that the Indian-held region of Kashmir will never, ever, be permitted to decide on its own future. It does not seem to be understood in Pakistan that for India to relinquish territory would be a political catastrophe.  Such a decision would destroy the initiating government and probably result in internal upheaval on a major scale.  It is simply not possible for India to give up the entire area of Kashmir that it considers — however unjustifiably — to be its own.

Most countries’ governments — probably all, indeed — are prepared to deny facts when it is awkward to acknowledge their existence or their relevance to potentially embarrassing circumstances. And when it is impossible to deny facts there is always the attraction of deflecting attention from them by “playing the man and not the ball”:  by denigrating those who made inconveniently honourable statements and thus casting doubt on their integrity, intelligence or sanity, or all three for preference.     

The greatest prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, told the Indian Parliament on 12 February 1951 that concerning Kashmir  “We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it. We have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision.”  And for this civilised approach he is now being denigrated by all sorts of Indians who aren’t fit to have cleaned his boots.

As the BBC put it concisely: “When Lord Mountbatten, India’s first Governor-General, accepted Kashmir's accession, he said it should eventually be ‘settled by a reference to the people’. India's Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, also pledged a plebiscite or referendum for Kashmir under international auspices. This was later enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions.”

But this isn’t going to happen. Few things are uncontestably predictable in this world, but it is obvious to all but the most ingenuous of unworldly optimists that India will never allow a plebiscite.  The United Nations Security Council has had the matter on its books for seventy years and is never going to permit a democratic solution to the Kashmir question.

Yet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared at the UN General Assembly in September 2014 that    

More than six decades ago, the United Nations passed resolutions to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are still waiting for fulfilment of that promise . . .

For decades, attempts have been made, both under UN auspices and bilaterally in the spirit of the Lahore Declaration, to resolve this dispute.

The core issue of Jammu and Kashmir has to be resolved. This is the responsibility of the international community. We cannot draw a veil on the issue of Kashmir, until it is addressed in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan is ready to work for resolution of this problem through negotiations. Our support and advocacy of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is our historic commitment and a duty; as a party to the Kashmir dispute.

While NS is unwilling to draw a veil over Kashmir he can hardly pass over the fact that two months after his exceptionally well-intentioned Lahore Declaration of 21 February 1999 there was open conflict along the Line of Control between Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir that was unquestionably initiated by Pakistan. Mr Sharif was prime minister at the time, and if he didn’t know about his army commander’s intentions as regards crossing the Line then he was either stupid or incompetent.  And no matter what one might think about Mr Sharif it has to be admitted he is neither.  Devious, certainly;  and viciously revengeful to a degree that would have excited the admiration of Hamlet, Mrs Ghandi or even Richard Nixon. But he’s not a fool, and must have known that the Kargil adventure would destroy the Lahore Agreement.  No wonder Delhi became even more paranoid about Pakistan’s policies and intentions. And little wonder, too, that it dug its heels in even further about the future of Kashmir.

The British Foreign Office states that “turbulent times could lie ahead” and as usual it’s right. (The only time it has an evaluation problem is when politicians stick their noses in.) But how can turbulence — or worse — be avoided?

And this is where I part company with Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. 

I have known Kashmir for over thirty years and lived for two and a half years in that delightful region, on both sides of the Line of Control. As with most people who know the area I wish only that it could once again be tranquil and serene.

When my wife and I lived in Srinagar in the early 1980s the Valley was peaceful. Sure, many Kashmiris were greedy and dodgy, but such as ‘Mr Marvellous’ the yodelling boat-paddling flower seller on Nagin Lake, and papier maché merchants like ‘Shining Roses’ and the truly wonderful ‘Suffering Moses’ were, well — marvellous.  Living there was most enjoyable, as it was in the “Pakistan-Occupied” area, as it is called by India. 

Certainly there were some dramas along the Line.  One of the first incidents I went to investigate as a member of the UN Mission in Kashmir was the shooting of a nine year-old boy. He was showering under a trickle of water coming down from an overhanging rock and a rifle bullet hit him in the shoulder. Then one of our own officers was subjected to an hour of machine gun fire while visiting a battalion’s forward positions.  Life wasn’t easy along the LOC.  But we all loved Kashmir.   

President/General Musharraf (for whom I have to admit personal liking; we first met when he dined in our house in Islamabad in 1991) declared a decade ago that “If we want to normalize relations between Pakistan and India and bring harmony to the region, the Kashmir dispute will have to be resolved peacefully through a dialogue, on the basis of the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Solving the Kashmir issue is the joint responsibility of our two countries.”

The unlikely meeting of minds between Sharif and Musharraf is remarkable, but they both miss or deliberately avoid the main point:  there is no possibility whatever that the “wishes of the people of Kashmir” will be taken into account by India, simply because if there were to be a plebiscite then India would lose Kashmir in one way or another. Kashmiris might not vote to join Pakistan, but they most certainly would vote to leave India, in one way or another.

So in the interests of peace — and, above all, of the people of Kashmir — the compromise, hard to swallow as it would be, is for India to be told that Pakistan accepts its illegal occupation of the Valley and its surrounds.  The Line of Control, with modifications specified by a neutral observer body, should become the international border, extending to that with China and excluding Siachen.

This would be a bitter pill for many millions to swallow, but it is the only way forward if the rabid hostility between India and Pakistan is to begin to diminish.  The UN Security Council would be discredited, of course, for failing to abide by its own tenets;  but this would barely matter, as the Council has been reduced to a grubby forum for hostility and partiality. But the Council would have a major role in furthering peace, at least in this instance, by producing a plan for physical division of Kashmir predicated on the Line of Control.

Then we might see a hug between Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, who would probably share a Nobel Peace Prize. 

 

The author is a South Asia defence analyst and author of ‘A History of the Pakistan Army’