Elusive India-Pakistan Peace
With a lingering suspicion that India had never reconciled to Subcontinent’s partition, Pakistan has been living, since independence, in the shadow of India’s hostility and belligerence. This fear was not exaggerated when Pakistan saw Sikkim, Goa, Hyderabad, Junagadh and Kashmir falling to Indian avarice. This fear is not exaggerated today as Pakistan faces India’s continued hostility. The two countries have fought wars and still remain locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the Line of Control in Kashmir, and on the frozen landscapes of the Siachen Glacier.
On their independence, India and Pakistan inherited many problems. At the heart of all their problems is the unresolved Kashmir dispute which, as a core issue between the two neighbours, is also inextricably linked to peace and security of the region. While all other issues are amenable to easy resolution, the Kashmir dispute invokes intense feelings among the peoples of both India and Pakistan as well as the Kashmiri people. Frequent war-like military deployments along the Line of Control in Kashmir have kept India-Pakistan in a conflictual mode.
Even today, we are witnessing ominous war clouds in our region. Modi’s policy of belligerence and mischief has brought the two countries to the brink of another deadly conflict. What we in Pakistan must understand is that weakness always begets indignity. Only a strong and stable Pakistan can withstand India’s declared belligerence. This is what Pakistan demonstrated in its befitting response on 27 February 2019 to India’s latest act of aggression on its territory. India’s precipitous action on August 5 abrogating Article 370 of its Constitution has further aggravated the situation.
No government in Pakistan, much less the present one which enjoys unprecedented civil-military togetherness, will ever give up on the Kashmir cause. The people of Pakistan welcomed this phenomenon as a long-awaited positive development. PTI’s Imran Khan came riding on his personal charisma as well as a vision of a new Pakistan where its citizens would live their lives and raise their children free from fear, want and injustice. Imran Khan’s foreign policy vision has been very clear. He wants peace with all, enmity with none.
No wonder, Imran Khan’s first message to his Indian counterpart was clear. Wars will solve no problems. Both India and Pakistan need peace, not war. They must focus on ameliorating the socio-economic condition of the people. Modi never reciprocated this sentiment. Instead, he made every effort to further deepen the conflict. If Prime Minister Modi was a man of vision, he would have risen above his known limitations and joined with Pakistan’s new leadership in exploring and expanding the linkages of peace and cooperation in the region.
The best opportunity for both countries to make a new beginning was during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Washington DC in July 2019. In his Oval Office meeting with Imran Khan, President Trump offered to play a facilitating role in resolving the Kashmir issue. This was the best ever position taken by any American president in recent history on India-Pakistan issues. India’s response to Trump’s offer came in a gruesome August 5 rebuff abolishing Article 370 and 35 A of its Constitution which since 1949 had kept a semblance of limited autonomy for the Indian occupied Kashmir.
To further aggravate the situation, Modi rushed additional civil-armed troops including uniformed RSS militants as part of a cold-blooded military crackdown in the occupied state. The Valley since then has been under indefinite curfew and a total lockdown with Kashmiri people experiencing the worst hardship including gross human rights abuses. India is forcibly hanging on to Kashmir when the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with India. The Kashmiris consider Indian forces as an occupation force. They want nothing but freedom from India’s military occupation.
No amount of atrocities and humiliations will stop them from pursuing their legitimate cause. Their message has been loud and clear. Brutal military force brings no relief to anyone. Kashmiris today feel betrayed. Theirs is the voice of a wronged and forcibly subjugated people challenging the world’s and India’s conscience. They want their right of self-determination. The underlying cardinal principle of self-determination cannot be thrown overboard. Kashmiri youth are dying on the streets, not asking for jobs or better opportunities. They are holding the Pakistan flag.
It is a clear verdict they are giving to the world on the streets of the Valley and elsewhere in the occupied territory. This is the crux of the Kashmir uprising. India will do itself good by seeing the writing on the wall. Stark lessons are there to read in history. Popular movements cannot be suppressed by force. Even the world’s sole superpower, the United States owes its existence to a long war of independence. And Modi cannot deny the history of his own country. It was the War of Independence in 1857 that laid the road to India’s liberation ninety years later as an independent state.
To misrepresent the gravity and magnitude of the Kashmiri uprising, India has been crying wolf by raising the bogey of ‘terrorism’. India’s efforts to obfuscate the Kashmir dispute as an issue of terrorism will not succeed. It is time for the voices of reason and responsibility — in America, China, Russia, Europe and the Arab and Muslim world — to caution against militarism calling demand for strict adherence by all states, large and small, to UN Charter’s central principle prohibiting the use or threat of use of force in international relations.
India is not a superpower, but it aspires to be one. It seeks to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and yet it is unwilling to implement the Council’s resolutions. On the one hand, it tries to mislead the world and obfuscate the Kashmir issue by alleging that it is simply about ‘cross-border terrorism and infiltration’. On the other hand, it does not allow UN peacekeepers to check this so-called infiltration. The truth is that Kashmir is neither about cross-border infiltration nor terrorism; it is about the denial of an indigenous people’s inalienable right to self-determination.
Kashmir is not only a territorial dispute. It represents the unfinished agenda of the June 3, 1947, Partition Plan. The world must know that there is but one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir as provided in the UN Security Council resolutions. Given its turbulent political history, this region needs stable peace, not confrontation. And peace in South Asia will become a reality only if India returns to the negotiating table in good faith. Perpetuation of hegemony will not serve the cause of peace. As the region’s largest country, the onus lies with India to inspire confidence among its neighbours.
Peace in our region will come not through shady ‘back-channel deals’ but only through meaningful dialogue and constructive engagement. During all these years, the two neighbours seem to have inextricably tied themselves together in a straight- jacket, each mostly looking in the opposite direction. They just can’t unbuckle themselves in this “knotty” love affair remaining locked as they are in a conflictual mode. They are also the only two countries in the world today which at times are not even on speaking terms. Both need to come out of this unenviable situation to give peace a real chance.
The only way forward available to them is to resume their dialogue with sincerity of purpose. What we need is an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ dialogue with freshness of political approach and a commitment to a result-focused engagement. Surely, there will be no quick-fixes and perhaps a long-drawn-out process would be inevitable. And peace in South Asia will remain elusive as long as Kashmir remains under Indian occupation. The international community, especially the major powers must facilitate this solution.
The writer is a former foreign secretary