There’s a clear path to reducing tensions in Kashmir
The dynamics of any internationally contextualized terror attack have so many moving parts, known and unknown, that it is far easier to make self-serving pronouncements than it is to pinpoint the cause, the motive, and the nexus of responsibility.
Unfortunately, the aftermath of the militant suicide bombing attack in the Kashmiri town of Pulwama has produced the usual recriminations, with a lot of fire and a concomitant paucity of light.
There are certain facts that are, however, indisputable, as follows:
There are elements within Pakistan’s security establishment that provide covert, if not overt, support to separatists in the Kashmir Valley.
The pre-1947 princely state of Jammu and Kashmir continues to be, under international law, a disputed territory.
While India has refused to hold a UN-mandated free plebiscite in Kashmir, Pakistan controls about a third of the territory itself and, again contrary to international law, has gifted large chunks of it to China.
India’s heavy-handed response to the 1989 movement for separatism has been rife with human rights abuses at a scale that is unique for a pluralist democracy.
Neither India nor Pakistan are about to let go of their de facto parts of Jammu and Kashmir, whether it be through attrition, referendums, or international pressure.
There is no easy, idealistic way forward to any “just peace” in the Himalayan region. Pakistan’s default demand that India hold a plebiscite is simply not tenable anymore in practical terms. Nor is India’s desire that Kashmiris simply accept being “Indian” under the guns of half a million troops.
Neither the sub-continent’s history nor its people’s social psychology will allow for a long-term solution to Kashmir based on notions of abstract principles and international law.
But there are real life models out there that can be looked into for a start to ratcheting down tensions and perhaps create an opening for lasting peace at a future date. Immediately comes to mind the arrangement that the UK and the Republic of Ireland developed over Ulster/Northern Ireland as part of the 1998 Good Friday Accords.
Keep in mind that, like the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, the bulk of the dispute on the Emerald Isle is grounded in perceptions of religious differences, rivaling sovereignty claims, and perceived wishes of the people of the defined region in question.
Under the Good Friday Accords, neither the UK nor Ireland gave up their claims on Ulster; instead, they each moved forward to make incremental agreements that took lived realities on the ground: Toning down the propensity for direct or asymmetrical violence, making it easier for vetted individuals and businesses to engage across the border smoothly, and suspend, temporarily, major irritants to stability even if those irritants could be claimed as being within the “purely domestic affairs” remit.
So we saw a reorganization of the Northern Ireland police service as a concession to its Roman Catholic constituents, a pullback of Britain’s military presence in Belfast, the Irish Republic’s commitment, with third party verification, to help disarm anti-UK terror groups, the formation of a regular consultative group of UK and Irish Republic political leaders to air views on the governance of Ulster, and, eventually, a devolved regional government in Belfast within technical UK sovereignty.
Though there have been regular and plenty of obstacles -- including the very recent issue of Brexit which was accepted by most of the UK but rejected by the people of Northern Ireland -- the Good Friday Accords have generally held and provided a sense of stability and security that has attracted billions in investment in both parts of the Emerald Isle.
No model perfectly fits a different situation, be it in business organizations or on the geo-political stage. Also, unfortunately for South Asia, there is no mediator that can play the trusted role that the United States played in bringing about the Good Friday Accords between two countries with which America shares deep bonds of kinship, language, and trade.
But models can be adapted before being adopted if there is political will and the grease of inducements to go along. The recent whirlwind trip of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to India and Pakistan and the billions in deals signed between the desert kingdom and the two South Asia rivals suggests that there is such grease to be had considering growing Saudi interest in being a bigger player beyond the Gulf.
Similarly, as China ties up ever closer with Pakistan through investments in roads and ports, it also is counting on India to form a stronger counterbalance to the United States presence in the South China Sea.
China’s interests in protecting its investments and projecting its power would also point towards its possible role as some kind of a guarantor of mutual credibility if Pakistan and India get serious about taking steps forward. There may be several other permutations of this possibility.
The point is that there is a known path forward in Kashmir to reduce tensions, get a sense of stability, and not give in on deeply held principles. Even with deeply suspicious people of great vanity, it is possible.
Indeed, with a nudge from certain countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and perhaps the US, that possibility could translate into a probability.
Esam Sohail is a college administrator and lecturer of social sciences. He writes from Kansas, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]