POLITICS

New Delhi Will Have To Stop Pretending There Is No Kashmir Dispute

The first step to solve a problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

20/09/2016 12:37 PM IST | Updated 20/09/2016 1:22 PM IST
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An Indian paramilitary soldier stands alert near a pro freedom graffiti in curfew.

It is not true that New Delhi has no strategic options with Pakistan. It does: agreeing to talk Kashmir. Talking Kashmir is not the same as 'giving Kashmir away to Pakistan'. It is about solving a dispute that bogs India down.

Since the Kashmir conflict started in 1989, New Delhi's policy has been to manage the conflict rather than find a solution. There have been two exceptions, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's attempt to initiate dialogue with Kashmiris and Manmohan Singh's attempt to find a solution with Pakistan that went beyond thinking in terms of borders. These short-lived and unsuccessful attempts apart, New Delhi has consistently sought to overlook its political responsibility of resolving the Kashmir dispute.

New Delhi has taken it for granted that Kashmir can't be resolved, because Kashmiris are too hostile to India and the Pakistani army needs Kashmir to be on a perpetual boil to maintain its domestic supremacy on governance and economy.

There is truth to these assumptions, but considering New Delhi doesn't have options, the only way out is to resolve the Kashmir dispute, to try and bring an end to the conflict.

A Contradictory Approach

The first step to solve a problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem. But New Delhi wants to live in perpetual denial. Such is its arrogance that it doesn't even want to acknowledge that Jammu and Kashmir is a dispute and a problem, leave alone acknowledging that it needs solving. While this has always been the case, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre has taken this line even further.

New Delhi insists Jammu and Kashmir is an atoot ang, an integral part of India, that there is no need to address anything Kashmiris living in Indian-administered Kashmir have to say, that the only issue that needs solving is bringing Pakistan-held J&K under Indian control. Furthermore, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party would like to abolish Article 370, the Constitutional link between India and J&K, and make J&K like any other state.

Similarly, New Delhi's approach with Kashmiri separatists has been to either buy them over or to tire them out. Talking to Kashmiri separatists has never really been about resolving the problem, which is why the separatists who do matter, such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, refuse to talk.

From time to time, we hear some different noises. New Delhi says it is willing to talk Kashmir if Pakistan stops terrorism. But if Pakistan gave up terrorism, why would New Delhi want to talk Kashmir with Pakistan anyway? New Delhi constantly gives the impression that it does not want to talk Kashmir. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, the terrorist group accused of the Uri attacks on Sunday, is a group whose sole aim is to liberate Kashmir. Kashmir is what it's all about. If New Delhi is unable to put down such terrorist groups militarily, the only option it is left with is solving the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. Even if Kashmir is just an excuse for Pakistan to use terrorists, India must take that excuse away.

Similarly, New Delhi's approach with Kashmiri separatists has been to either buy them over or to tire them out. Talking to Kashmiri separatists has never really been about resolving the problem, which is why the separatists who do matter, such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, refuse to talk.

Danish Ismail / Reuters
A masked protester attends a protest in Srinagar, against the recent killings in Kashmir September 18, 2016.

New Delhi says the only Kashmir issue is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but rarely does it pay more than lip service to its claim to the held territory. Pakistan goes around telling the world that Kashmir needs solving, and New Delhi says terrorism needs to be stopped, but New Delhi rarely pays more than lip service to its own claim of Pakistan-held Kashmir.

In India's Own National Self-Interest

New Delhi's own claim to Pakistan-held J&K should make it display eagerness to solve the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi enacts laws that would imprison those showing support to Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan, but makes no efforts whatsoever to regain actual control of those places. Pakistan, on the other hand, makes diplomatic, military and sub-conventional (terrorism) efforts to stake its claim to Kashmir.

Whether it is to reclaim Pakistan-held Kashmir or to find a win-win solution, whether it is to stop terrorism or just make Kashmiris hate India a little less, New Delhi has many reasons why it should be eager to solve the Kashmir dispute. Instead, New Delhi says there is no Kashmir problem. The ostrich has its head firmly in the sand.

Danish Ismail / Reuters
An Indian policeman fires a teargas shell towards demonstrators during a protest against the recent killings in Kashmir, in Srinagar September 13, 2016.

Talking Kashmir with Kashmiris and with Pakistan is not a concession to anyone. Doing so would be in India's own national self-interest. Solving Kashmir should be the top national security, diplomatic and defence priority for India. After all, it is the Kashmir dispute that is the greatest source of military and terrorism threat for India.

Pakistan repeats like a broken record that Jammu and Kashmir needs a plebiscite in keeping with the United Nations Security Council's resolutions. India in response reminds Pakistan of the Shimla agreement, in which the two countries decided they would resolve all disputes bilaterally, making the UN resolutions redundant.

Pakistan repeats like a broken record that Jammu and Kashmir needs a plebiscite in keeping with the United Nations Security Council's resolutions. India in response reminds Pakistan of the Shimla agreement, in which the two countries decided they would resolve all disputes bilaterally, making the UN resolutions redundant. Pakistan can't go back on the Shimla agreement it signed. But by now even New Delhi has forgotten the Shimla Agreement. The last line of the Shimla Agreement read, "...a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations."

Similarly, the Lahore Declaration Vajpayee signed with Nawaz Sharif in 1999 said the two countries would intensify efforts to resolve all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

But today, India pretends there is no final settlement to be done. New Delhi would love to see status quo. But status quo is not viable not only because of Pakistan's strategic superiority with the use of terrorism, but also because Kashmiris living in Indian-administered Kashmir are willing to give up their lives endlessly to change the status quo.

Put The Ball In Pakistan's Court

There is no reason why New Delhi has to be defensive about the Kashmir dispute. The dispute isn't of New Delhi's making alone. It's a Partition era dispute, a legacy of the colonial power as it left India, one that was as much of Pakistan's making with the 1948 war, as of anyone else.

Finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute isn't easy, but when you don't even try you can't say it's intractable. Instead of coming across as a party that does not want to find a final settlement to Kashmir, India should be the party put forth ideas for a final solution. If the Pakistani Army blocks them, then New Delhi would be able to make Pakistan look like the one that is coming in the way of a solution.

POOL New / Reuters
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif (R) during the closing session of 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu November 27, 2014.

Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf cam close to finding a win-win solution, but it couldn't go beyond ideation because of Musharraf's exit. Thereafter, New Delhi should have put the blame on the Pakistani Army for blocking the idea. Instead, New Delhi refused to take ownership of the idea.

If New Delhi is unable to prevent terrorism emanating from Pakistan through military means or by appealing to the world community, it has only one option left: stop pretending Kashmir isn't a problem. Start trying to solve it.

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