Kashmir needs to be resolved

THE QUESTION we in India have to ask of ourselves is: do we want the Kashmir problem to be solved? There may be some among us who may believe that there is no pressure on India to resolve the issue and that we can outlast Pakistan which, unable to sustain the burden for long, will eventually have to give in and abandon its ambitions in respect of Kashmir. This is an unrealistic assumption.

We ought to want to have the problem resolved. Without a solution of the Kashmir problem, India and the whole South Asian region will not enjoy peace and attain the levels of prosperity which should be within our reach. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in his "Musings from Kumarakom" last year, succinctly described the compulsions for working towards a solution of the Kashmir problem. Additionally, the loss of about 60,000 lives should be mentioned. No effort should be spared to find a solution.

Many analysts in India are convinced that Pakistan is not really interested in a solution of the Kashmir question. The argument is that Pakistan can sustain the low intensity, low cost proxy war almost indefinitely, causing India to bleed economically and in human lives, besides putting it on the defensive internationally on allegations of human rights violations, etc. This argument may or may not be valid, but it is irrelevant for India's decision-makers. The relevant question for us is whether we want a solution; if Pakistan does not, let it be so exposed.

It would be meaningless to state that we desire a solution if, at the same time, we insist that it has to be entirely on our terms. That would be as unproductive as for Pakistan to declare its readiness for a solution on the basis of our handing over the entire Valley. Such a position would be tantamount to saying that we are not interested in a solution. To say that the only dispute is in respect of Pakistan's illegal occupation of a part of our territory, while legally correct, is not of any help in finding a practical and political solution.

If Pervez Musharraf's proclaimed stand against the jehadis is sincere and successful, it will greatly contribute to implementing programmes of good governance and economic development in Kashmir. But the basic problem would still have to be solved. Mr. Vajpayee, in his Musings, said the following: "In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem... we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past." It is significant that this is the only paragraph from the Musings that he has reproduced in his New Year message this year. It seems that he not only has the desire but also the commendable ambition to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio.

Mr. Vajpayee is not the only Prime Minister to have the desire and also perhaps the will to work for a solution. Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, made more than one effort so as not to leave a festering legacy for his successors in office. His commitment to consult the wishes of the Kashmiri people was sincere and was only withdrawn when Pakistan entered into a military relationship with the United States in 1954. Both before and after that date, Nehru had offered to settle the issue on the basis of the ceasefire line. In 1962-63, he even offered to adjust the CFL in Pakistan's favour, but Pakistan foolishly and greedily refused. Indira Gandhi thought that she had in fact succeeded in settling the issue at Shimla in 1972, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, undisputed leader of the rump Pakistan, apparently promised her to take the necessary legal and practical measures to formalise the LoC as the international boundary. It is difficult to understand why Indira Gandhi should have trusted Bhutto, given his destructive role in the 1962-63 negotiations; apparently her advisors influenced her judgment. Narasimha Rao too was willing for meaningful talks but he did not have a reliable interlocutor in Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. Vajpayee has said that India will look for new avenues, off the beaten path, while working for a solution. Gen. Musharraf is holding the Prime Minister to what he said in Kathmandu about jettisoning historical mindsets and baggage. What new avenue is available? Which piece of old baggage can be got rid of?

One possibility is to discard the mantra of exclusive bilateralism. It is extremely unlikely that bilateral talks, if and when held, by themselves can yield a solution. Help by a third party can make a crucial contribution to breaking the stalemate. Bilateralism should not be allowed to become a dogma closing all doors to a rapprochement. The advantage of third party facilitation is that it gives the parties to the conflict the possibility of sounding out the other side before making a proposal and of disowning it, should the need arise. Politically, it would be suicidal for either side to make a formal offer to settle the issue on the basis of the LoC. One must not worry too much about drawing a fine distinction between good offices and mediation. For the exercise to have any chance of success, the line between good offices and mediation will have to be kept blurred. For political reasons, "facilitation" might best fill the bill.

As so many have pointed out, the U.S. is already heavily involved in the affairs of the subcontinent. Both India and Pakistan have sought an American role in support of their agendas. The people, at least in India, have raised no voice in protest or even unhappiness at this development. In fact, the only complaint of Indians has been that the Americans have not put enough pressure, on behalf of India, on Pakistan.This does not mean we have to blindly trust America. Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting, in the context of arms control, a Russian saying: "trust, but verify". Our line could be: "verify, and trust as necessary".

There are basically two, possibly three, parties to the Kashmir conflict — India, Pakistan and perhaps the Kashmiri people. There is no scope for a solution unless all three are persuaded to give up their illusions. India's illusions will have to be defined by others. Pakistan's illusion was, and perhaps still is, that India, being a soft state, will not be able to withstand the onslaughts launched in the form of proxy war and /or that, by successfully internationalising the issue, India would be compelled by the international community to agree to a plebiscite or to tripartite negotiations. As for the people of Kashmir; they are the worst victims of illusions. They were made to believe by Pakistan that India did not have the staying power, that the international community would compel India to agree to implement the U.N. resolutions, and so on. It has not been explained to them that the U.N. resolutions in any case provided for only two choices — to go with India or Pakistan; there was no mention of the so-called third option of independence. The Kashmiris should have no illusion that Pakistan will ever give up PoK or that India will give up the Valley, whatever the cost. A third party can play a most useful role in disabusing the three parties of their illusions.

Nearly all sensible people in India have come to accept that an eventual resolution of the Kashmir problem will have to evolve around transforming the LoC into some kind of a permanent border, much like what Nehru had envisaged 50 years ago. It seems that a few intellectuals in Pakistan also have realised that this is the only possible solution. .

Gen. Musharraf declared in his speech on January 12 that he wants a peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem. Since he has quoted with approval Mr. Vajpayee's statement in Kathmandu about jettisoning historical mindsets and baggage, he too must be presumed to be ready to try out new possibilities. As in the case of his words on terrorism, he will have to be tested regarding his expressed sentiments in respect of the Kashmir problem. The times seem to be holding out an opportunity.

(The writer is former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations and U.N. Special Coordinator for Gaza.)

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