A New Hope for Kashmir?

Posted in India , Asia | 06-Aug-05 | Author: Rod Latham

Rod Latham, WSN Editor U.S.A.:"A complex problem requires a complex solution"
Rod Latham, WSN Editor U.S.A.:"A complex problem requires a complex solution"
How changing rivalries affect the prospects of solution.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Thousands lined the route from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad on the morning of 7 April 2005, to watch nineteen people travel by bus in stormy weather. This was the first time in almost six decades that such an itinerary had been possible, despite both towns being situated in a once united territory known collectively as Kashmir. “Thank you Pervez Musharraf. Thank you Manmohan Singh,” exclaimed one man, embracing a brother unseen for 35 years. “You have united a family today."i The re-opening of the bus route is an emotional testimony both to how deep the conflict over Kashmir has become and to the very real progress made in the last three years. But tearful reunions are not the whole picture. Elsewhere, militants unsuccessfully attempted to attack the bus on its maiden journey, while some commentators in Pakistan deemed the event an unacceptable capitulation to India and a betrayal of the values and ideals central to their long struggle.

There are two major underlying issues at the heart of the Kashmir dispute. The first is found in the diversity of the region. The name ‘Kashmir’ is often used in its colonial sense, to describe that part of the Himalayas ruled for a century by Gulab Singh and his descendents. But, as so often with imperial terminology, such a simple designation disguises a complex regional make-up. In truth it was “not really a unit geographically, demographically, or economically”, according to Sir Owen Dixon, the first UN representative assigned to the area, but “an agglomeration of territories brought under the political power of One Maharaja”.ii While the majority of the population were Sunni Muslim, certain parts were predominantly Shia, and there was also a substantial Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu minority, within which the Maharaja himself was included. Each individual area differed in identity and outlook from the other, and from those to the south and south-west which were to form the countries of India and Pakistan. It was in the formation of these entities that the modern conflict over Kashmir began, with the second major underlying issue arising from the intractable estrangement that was to arise between them.

Chapter 2: Origins (1947-1949)

The conflict over Kashmir was born from the irreconcilable images of identity set by the leaders of India and Pakistan for their respective countries at independence. The ‘two nations’ theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah was designed to unite the Islamic community, protect them from Hindu repression, and make separation from New Delhi rule a sustainable reality. Yet the very concept of secession on grounds of religion undermined the competing dream of Jawaharlal Nehru, who envisaged India as the quintessential model of a secular, tolerant and democratic state. There were widespread doubts over whether an independent Pakistan would be a sustainable reality, and many in India continued to believe reunification inevitable. Both states thus emerged from partition viewing the other as a direct challenge to their own self-image, a fracture exacerbated by mutual fears over disintegration and security. The pre-colonial history of the region was not one of unity but of division, distrust, overlapping sovereignty, and internal war and, from the outset, there were vocal ethnonational leaders unhappy with subordination to New Delhi or Karachi. Defence was naturally bound up with these considerations, with China, Iran and the Soviet Union all potentially strong regional players ready to take advantage, lest partition degenerate into balkanisation.

Kashmir was not the inevitable centrepiece of the epochal India-Pakistan rivalry that developed but, given a reluctant Britain and an unskilled Maharaja, it proved a fertile battleground on which the underlying issues of identity, perception, territorial integrity and security outlined above could take root and hostilities flourish. Each princely ruler had been given the choice of which state to join: the Hindu Maharaja in Kashmir deliberated until, faced with an invasion of Muslim tribesmen from remote areas of Pakistan, he agreed to align with India in return for military assistance and a guarantee of special status. The instrument of accession he signed would become the legal basis of India’s claim. Pakistan objected to the arrangement, arguing that the Maharaja was no longer representative of his people. When the UN became involved, ironically at the request of India, their resolution calling for a plebiscite amongst the people became the legal basis for Pakistan, who believed that the clear Muslim majority in the area equated plebiscite to victory. The transformation from a simple territorially-based competition to the embodiment of the wider rivalry and deeper fears of both states was swift and, with the experience of an indecisive war leaving the territory partitioned in 1947-48, so the identity-centric conflict became entrenched and prolonged. By 1949 the likelihood of a peaceful settlement over Kashmir was remote and diminishing, as the dispute had gained so much symbolism so rapidly and the stronger power of India was left as the status quo power, with two-thirds of the disputed area under its control.

Kashmir - a paradise again ?
Kashmir - a paradise again ?
Chapter 3: An Indian Upper Hand (1949-1989)

Preoccupied with establishing itself as a viable entity, Pakistan ended its early isolation by joining the American containment ring around the Soviet Union and China when India refused. An alliance was formed, with Pakistan joining key treaties and receiving well over $1 billion in aid over the next decade. But their entry into the Cold War also compromised any chance of finding a peaceful solution over Kashmir, for they now posed another direct challenge to the Nehruvian vision – this time regarding the non-alignment of South Asia. Moscow was swift to take advantage of the situation and draw India towards the Soviet camp. Kashmir was a simple yet highly visible and effective target. Ignoring pleas from Karachi, Premier Khrushchev visited Kashmir in person in late 1955 and endorsed the Indian position. “We are so near,” he told the people of Srinagar, “that if ever you call us from your mountain tops we will appear at your side.” The Cold War had come to South Asia, solidifying rivalries, raising the stakes, and diminishing even the prospect of negotiations. New Delhi began instead to erode the remaining autonomy of its Indian-administered Kashmir (IJK), seeking to make full integration into the union an irreversible fait accompli that Pakistan would be unable to oppose.

As American interest in South Asia waned in the early 1960s, Pakistan was forced to look elsewhere to provide for its security. China, which had defeated India in a border war in 1962, was a natural choice for a strategic partnership. The 1963 agreement to cede part of the Pakistani-administered ‘Azad’ Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) northern areas to Beijing linked Chinese interests directly with the fate of Pakistan. “An attack from India on Pakistan today is no longer confined to the territorial integrity and security of Pakistan,” asserted then foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “An attack by India on Pakistan involves the territorial integrity and security of the largest state in Asia.”iii Pakistan had bought security at the expense of further entrenching antagonism with India, smarting from defeat, and reducing the chance of settlement in Kashmir. The imprudent attack across the Indian border in 1965 only accentuated the difficulty. Although India’s maladroit handling of local Kashmiri politics had caused resentment in IJK, this was neither close to armed uprising nor pro-Pakistani in nature. In the wake of Nehru’s death and the loss to China, New Delhi was mindful of the consequences to the supranational state and its international position lest it give any ground to Pakistani aggression. The profile of Kashmir was again raised, as the options narrowed.

Indian policy since the early 1950s had been to stifle any attempt at negotiation over Kashmir: left in control of their most prized areas, they denied there was any matter to discuss. Pakistan had been unable to force any concessions - but had kept the dispute alive. With the overwhelming defeat of Pakistan in the war of 1971, however, India was able to cement its superior position over Kashmir and (temporarily) silence the issue. Rather than emphasise plebiscite or the UN position, the peace agreement, negotiated at Simla in June 1972, committed the two countries “to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations”.iv The ceasefire line, with its implications of only temporary status, was renamed as the Line of Control, with a ring of permanence. There was to be “refrain from threat or the use of force in violation of this Line”, removing the (admittedly impuissant) option of military force from the power which opposed the status quo. Furthermore, with identity at the heart of the India-Pakistan acrimony, the separation of Bangladesh undermined what Pakistan had stood for. The unitary Islamic republic for Muslims on the subcontinent was broken, and the driving justification for demanding Kashmir looked hollow. Kashmir faded from the global consciousness and, for all save Pakistan, was seen as a largely settled affair in the wake of Simla.

That Kashmir would again become a flashpoint is evidence that India failed to consummate its great advantage. New Delhi was unaccustomed to place reconciliation ahead of the unilateral imposition of its integrationist ideals, yet ultimately its disregard for others’ sensitivities worked entirely contrary to its own long-term interests. Pakistan enjoyed an international resurgence through renewed American interest following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But while Islamabad revelled in India’s loss of relational control and the propaganda opportunities afforded by their support for Moscow, General Zia-ul Haq, who had seized power in a military coup, was intensely aware of Pakistani vulnerabilities. Although there were border skirmishes over the disputed Siachen Glacier in 1985, Zia was careful not to risk major confrontation. The Cold War rejuvenated Pakistan, but it also constrained it and, above all, the failure to seek, yet alone find, any resolution to Kashmir in this period was a reflection of an overwhelming Indian supremacy.

Kashmir separatists announce poll move
Kashmir separatists announce poll move
Chapter 4: Insurgency (1989-1998)

The Kashmir insurgency, which resurrected the importance of the dispute, was not a product of the rivalry between India and Pakistan so much as the failure of the consistently repressive approach employed by New Delhi to force the integration of IJK. Throughout the 1980s the Congress Party had struggled to accommodate ethnonational groups, its attempts at increased centralisation encouraging separatist movements. Protest movements in Punjab and Assam foreshadowed those in Kashmir, raising government hysteria over a perceived challenge to supranational federalism. Dissatisfaction amongst the peoples of IJK had long been recognised as a source of trouble. “Kashmir has distorted India’s image in the world as nothing else has done,” a leading opposition politician wrote to Indira Gandhi in 1966. “The problem exists not because Pakistan wants to grab Kashmir, but because there is deep and widespread discontent among the people.”v India’s prized democracy stopped short of the Kashmir border and, when the elections of 1987 were allegedly fixed against the Muslim United Front opposing the Congress Party, “the Valley and some of its contiguous areas lost all residual confidence in India’s political system.”vi

Unlike the failed AJK-led attempts of 1947 and 1965, the insurgency that began in 1990 was a movement created amongst the IJK Kashmiris. Whilst hoping to attract international attention and support through their uprising – a common tactic employed by secessionist groups in the post-Cold War world – the insurgents were primed to make a violent stand against the Indian government with or without outside support, inspired in part by the Palestinian Intifada. For Pakistan, reluctant to accept Indian regional hegemony yet with few ways to oppose it, the insurgency was an ideal opportunity. Given military inferiority, a weak economy and a desire to deflect international condemnation, Islamabad developed a covert form of supporting terrorism, turning Kashmir into a proxy battleground. An expanding cycle of violence and high-stake brinkmanship was set in motion, with Kashmir an arena for the two states to express their differences and compete – at the expense of its people. Pakistan fuelled the insurgency less in the hope of forcing India to capitulate to its inflated demands, with the majority of militants seeking independence not annexation, but rather to undermine its rival and strengthen its relative position at a time when it felt isolated, vulnerable, and abandoned by the United States. India was determined to view the troubles as an entirely internal affair, its anxiety over disintegration heightened by the precedents set in the collapsing Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and over security by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The future of Kashmir was deemed by both sides to be central to state identity, even though there was a common yet unstated acceptance that neither side could realistically now lay claim to the whole of the disputed region. Any chance of settlement was made contingent on much wider and unsolvable problems than the comparatively simpler territorial disagreement.

Chapter 5: To the brink (1998-2002)

The election of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India brought a new intensity to the South Asian rivalry, and was soon followed by the successful completion of nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan over the summer of 1998. Initially, the awesome power of the weapons forced a Waltzian focus upon the two states: a much-heralded peace agreement was signed at Lahore in February 1999. However, by raising the stakes of a major war so dramatically, the nuclear element actually encouraged proxy wars such as that in Kashmir. Within three months of the Lahore agreement, Pakistani intrusion at Kargil led to another border skirmish and exchange of exaggerated threats. The international community, preoccupied with Kosovo, focused on preventing escalation rather than promoting solution. A resumption of political dialogue became unthinkable in the charged environment of claim and counter-claim.

The war on terror once again placed Pakistan at the centre of American grand strategy through events outside its control. General Musharraf, who had seized power in a bloodless military coup after Kargil, was willing to turn on the Taliban and condemn terrorism in return for a new influx of American aid. The contradiction in denying Pakistani involvement with the insurgency in Kashmir yet then promising to combat it belied how little control Musharraf actually had over a movement that remained a predominantly IJK-based phenomenon. The Kashmiri terrorist attack on the New Delhi parliament building in December 2001 proved highly destabilising and, despite Musharraf’s attempts to reassure his commitment to counter-terrorism, India based its apprehension on the long-term history of rivalry between the states rather than the more recent proclamations of an unelected and opportunistic leader. In summer 2002 India and Pakistan came closer to nuclear war than any two states had since the end of the Cold War, leaving many pessimistic about the chance of a peaceful settlement being found for Kashmir.

Terrorists - the biggest threat for stability and peace
Terrorists - the biggest threat for stability and peace
Chapter 6: A new hope (2002-2005)

The prospects for any mutually acceptable solution to the Kashmir problem appeared distant in 2002, set beside a long-term history of intransigence and a short-term experience of sabre-rattling, which had brought the region to the brink of nuclear war. But three years later and there has been a seismic shift in attitudes such that, at the time of writing, the chance of solving the dispute seems higher than at any time since 1947.

History had cemented perspectives such that no leader of Pakistan could talk about a settlement short of a plebiscite and accession lest they be seen as weak or anti-Islamic, while no leader of India could acknowledge any need for a change to the status quo, lest he be accused of giving in to cross-border terrorism and Pakistani bullying. The vital prerequisite to progress was thus strong leadership, capable of tackling Kashmir without committing political suicide. Once a leader has undertaken a policy in South Asia on such a sensitive issue, failure to deliver is seen as grave failure indeed. While this has previously been a barrier to discussion, once the commitment is made, it is a spur to agreement.

The huge gamble Atal Behari Vajpayee made in April 2003, accepting that dialogue was necessary and extending a “hand of friendship”, was a major step forward – taken symbolically in Srinagar itself. The precise reasoning behind such a revolutionary move remains unclear, although there was undoubtedly many causes. The Indian economy was finally enjoying success, reducing secessionist demands, attracting friendly interest from China and the United States and increasing New Delhi’s desire to be treated as a top flight power. Within a year, India would be campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council and then pushing for a nuclear partnership with Washington: an ongoing Kashmir dispute could only act as an impediment to these goals. The threat of nuclear attack should also not be forgotten: Pakistan had asserted its right to strike first given its conventional weakness and an enormous amount of destructive power was thus aimed at New Delhi. Tentative displays of commitment from India pushed Musharraf to believe that Pakistan, which had never managed to seriously disrupt the status quo, could finally make material progress. He was thus encouraged, with some American pressure, to adopt an increasingly positive and open outlook himself. Both leaders came to link the fate of the Kashmiri peace talks to their own political fortunes and, despite Vajpayee unexpectedly losing a general election, the process had come so far that his successor, Manmohan Singh, was willing to do the same. Extremist elements in both states are incensed, as evidenced by the recent violence in Dhoob and Srinagar, but they have been largely sidelined while the peace process is seen to be working.vii

After eighteen months of intense diplomacy there have been some highly symbolic gestures enacted: the first Indian cricket tour of Pakistan since 1989, the re-opening of air links, and the first bus route to run across the Line of Control being amongst the most prominent. Such gestures have been made, and proved meaningless, before. What is more encouraging is the meaningful change in rhetoric. In New York in September 2004, for the first time in the history of the dispute, both sides were willing to speak of ‘options’. “Our view is that the Line of Control can never become an international border,” Musharraf told the Indian media in April 2005. “India’s is that there can be no redrawing of the borders. Now let’s talk solution.” Instead of repetition of the traditional, intransigent arguments heard for decades, a “common lexicon is slowly evolving”, focusing on the potential for the Line of Control being converted into a “soft border”.viii Serious consideration is now being given to the construction of a billion dollar gas pipeline, to run from Iran into India across Pakistan, linking the economic interests of the two rival South Asian powers in an unprecedented way.

The current global and strategic environment is also unusually conducive for a settlement on Kashmir, with an active Washington and London for once in line with the preferences of Moscow and Beijing. For China, support of the Pakistani position has become politically dubious, for the principle of self-determination has the potential to undermine them vis-à-vis Taiwan and Tibet, kindling a major change in their South Asian policy. Musharraf has gained personal prestige as well as material aid for his role in Bush’s war on terror, which has forced him to scale down otherwise contradictory support for the uprisings in IJK. Musharraf may have agreed to the opening of the cross-border bus route in April 2005 in large part because of an American “reward” of F-16 fighter jets, whose sale was confirmed shortly afterwards. Unlike in the Cold War, the international community is now well placed to aid the prospects for peace.

Chapter 7: Recommendations and Conclusions

The animus between India and Pakistan over Kashmir began as a result of competing yet legitimate territorial claims from each side, and the resulting tensions that were allowed to escalate given an uninterested Britain and a wavering Maharaja. But there were much wider reasons for rivalry between the two South Asian powers and disproportionate symbolic value was soon attached to Kashmir, perpetuating the crisis. The clash of identities thus pushed Kashmir to become a more intractable problem, which in turn hardened the clash of identities. There have been constant strains running throughout the period, such as India’s place as both the stronger and status quo power and the fears on both sides of fragmentation. But the dispute has also reflected the changing relational balance, international structure, and subjective threat assessment of each state.

A history of cooperation, or the absence of rivalry, is no guarantee for two states to be able to solve a territorial dispute that arises between them. However, once such a dispute becomes a central part of any wider conflict involving such impassioned issues as state survival, identity, and religion, it is inevitable that it will be considerably more difficult to find a solution through peaceful means. Such a situation is not unique to Kashmir, and similar phenomena can be witnessed in Northern Ireland, Cyprus or Nagorno Karabakh. But while time may entrench conflicting viewpoints, it can also heighten a desire for peace and, as a changing global environment can worsen the problem, so it can also improve it. If the prevailing advantages are to be seized upon and full advantage taken, both sides must be willing to accept compromise as beneficial to their long-term interests.

Discussion alone is no guarantee of satisfactory outcome, as evidenced by the failure to find any common ground over demarcation in the Siachen Glacier.ix Recent diplomatic moves have helped to ameliorate the negative effects of the wider rivalry between the two powers, but the basic difficulties of the territorial settlement remain. There are certain key aspects which, if borne in mind, may lead to a solution:

  • India must recognise AJK as an undisputed part of Pakistan, while Pakistan must recognise all of IJK excluding the Valley as an undisputed part of India. Each side has seen sixty years of control in these regions which have cultural, ethnic and religious ties to them. Neither would accept a settlement which denied them of control of these essential areas. The principal stumbling bloc in the recent past has been the wider rivalry between the two states on this issue, rather than any genuine belief that control of all of the colonial state of Kashmir is a realistic target for either.

  • Pakistan must accept that India will never voluntarily agree to give up all control of the Kashmir Valley, while India must accept that continued insistence on full control will preclude any agreement. A complex power-sharing arrangement with some degree of intergovernmental cooperation offers a potential solution that can accommodate both sides, albeit with India retaining the upper hand. To this extent Northern Ireland is a good role model, and the recent talks on ‘softening’ the border are encouraging. The commonly recited concepts of self-determination and/or partition are now impractical, unacceptable to the states involved.

  • The people of Kashmir must be included in some aspect of the negotiation process, even if such participation is overwhelmingly symbolic rather than decisively influential. The involvement of the people is necessary to make a settlement workable, to make it acceptable to Pakistan, to undermine the more radical insurgents, and to win international backing. The majority of Kashmiris are war weary and keen for peace and stability.

  • The Kashmiris must accept that neither state will accept their independence, which may prove a complicating factor. The cooperation shown by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, whose leaders travelled to Pakistan in late May 2005, must be fostered and opposition groups, such as the Jamiat-ul Mujahideen, prevented from seriously undermining the process.

  • Whatever agreement is made, some form of democratic governance must prevail. The repressive and authoritarian approach, adopted by both India and Pakistan in their respective regions, has set an appalling precedent which serves only to isolate the Kashmiri people. Civil liberties must be restored. The gradual reduction in Indian troop levels is a welcome first step but a genuine commitment to restoring a free and fair electoral system is an important prerequisite to a ‘final’ agreement. The opening up of Indian and Pakistani markets should continue, with special attention given to the economic development of Kashmir.

  • For the international community, the Indian desire to become a major global power should be accommodated but with informal leverage used on Kashmir.

Negotiators must move beyond the simplistic possibilities put forward in the past and accept that a complex problem requires a complex solution. As this newsletter has sought to show, the high-intensity rivalry that has been commonplace since independence has consistently worked against any resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the past. But now a window of opportunity has opened. Expectations are swinging towards solution and pride is being taken in the prospect.


i Majumder, Sanjoy, ‘My own flesh and blood – Kashmiris unite’ (BBC News, 7 April 2005).
ii Dixon, Sir Owen, 1950. Quoted in Schofield, Victoria, Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan, and the Unending War (I. B. Tauris: London, 2003), pp vii-viii.
iii Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali, July 1963. Quoted in Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict, p102.
ivSimla Agreement on Bilateral Relations between India and Pakistan’ signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and President Z. A. Bhutto, in Simla on July 3, 1972. Online at http://www.indianembassy.org/policy/ Kashmir/shimla.htm.
v Narayan, Jayaprakash, 1966. Quoted in Bose, Sumantra, Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 2003), p84.
vi Bose, Kashmir, p94.
vii ‘Militants slit Hindus’ throats’ (BBC News, 29 July 2005), online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4727057.stm
viii Majumder, Sanjoy, ‘Analysis: breaking diplomatic ice (BBC News, 18 April 2005), online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4456439.stm
ix ‘No breakthrough in Siachen talks’ (BBC News, 27 May 2005), online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4581615.stm