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The Rediff Special/ Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)

A Case for Détente in Kashmir

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The Kargil episode has brought in to sharp focus the danger of escalation of conflict. The entire stretch of the Line of Control between the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir and the areas of the state under Pakistani control is a soldier's nightmare. The LoC in J&K resembles thousands of 'Check Point Charlie' at the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. The line does not follow any well defined geographical feature and often a house has its courtyard in India and other rooms in Pakistan. For the last 50 years, the two armies have been in an eye ball to eye ball confrontation. In this situation, border skirmishes and firing are the order and peace is a rare interlude.

Many of these clashes take place due to overzealous local commanders and are not planned military operations. But once the incident starts, the higher military echelons back their subordinates in the interest of morale. This vicious circle is difficult to break and creates a situation where both sides are driven to higher levels of violence in a game of one-upmanship. Political leadership can lose control over the situation in such circumstances. There is scepticism over the purely rational decision-making models of the Cold War by asserting that war or conflicts is essentially a 'hot headed' activity and a degree of emotion and irrationality is part of it.

The developments of May/June 1999 could actually catalyse a movement towards flexibility and peace once the reality that military force as an option is now no longer available sinks in the minds of key decision makers. The analogy is somewhat similar to the situation in the post-Cuban Missile Crisis 1962. Many international observers believe the Cuban crisis marks the beginnings of the process of détente between the US and the USSR.

Securing Foundations of Peace

A detailed survey of 50 years of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir brings out certain facts that must be considered while thinking of avoiding a future conflagration over this issue and working for a détente between India and Pakistan.

Diversities within Jammu and Kashmir

Within the state there are cultural, linguistic and religious diversities.

Futility of Conflicts

The two earlier conflicts between India and Pakistan over Jammu & Kashmir have only deepened the divisions and adversarial relations between the two countries. The accords that followed these conflicts have not been implemented in a meaningful way.

Insurgency as an impediment

The insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir has further contributed to deterioration of relations between India and Pakistan. It has added to the misery of the common people who are caught between the insurgents and security forces. The last 50 years have shown that insurgency and guerrilla war has adversely affected the people without the slightest gain to those who incited it.

Insurgency invites active military intervention which in turn further sours relationships and retards economic, social and educational progress and development. Insurgency by one state into another's territory and the accusations of violations of human rights by the defending state, are but two sides of the same coin. They seriously impede dialogue and hamper the climate of peace.

Defensive Capability

Both India and Pakistan in conjunction with the massive water obstacles developed on the border as well as other prepared defences have the power to thwart each other's offensive. Though India has larger overall numbers, Pakistan can match her deployable strength, keeping in view India's needs to defend eastern border against China. Modern conventional weapons favour defence. Further escalation in the arms race is thus not cost effective even in purely military terms as it cannot easily upset the balance that is in favour of defence.

The Real Victims

It is the welfare and progress of the people on both sides of the Jammu and Kashmir border that has suffered the most due to this long and unending conflict.

Serious and Deep-rooted Conflicts

The conflict in Jammu & Kashmir is one in which most of the elements that generate conflicts like ideology, ethnicity, history and perceived threat to identity, are present. It is both a deep rooted as well as serious conflict. Since the conflict is over intangibles like identity, ideologies or insecurity, the issues at stake are difficult to negotiate. Ideological conflicts tend towards being absolute conflicts and there is a danger of the use of nuclear weapons.

The J&K issue that began in 1947 as a residual conflict of Partition has over the years turned into an ideological conflict or between the 'two nation theory' of Pakistan and belief in India of secularism of its pluralist society. From the Indian point of view Indian acceptance of the two-nation theory could put the future of not just its Muslim citizens but Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Zorastrians and Jews of India in jeopardy, and therefore untenable.

Secularism is central to Indian existence as a home of a pluralistic society. If Indo-Pakistani peace efforts are to progress an honest dialogue with transparency of intent on both sides must be initiated on the following lines.

Mutual Acceptance of a No Win Situation

The first and the foremost step in solving the Kashmir problem is for the governments of both countries to realise the reality of a no win situation. While Pakistan cannot get Kashmir by force, India will continue to bleed defending it. Parenthetically there must be a clear realisation that War or the language of War will only make matters worse.

Accept that both sides have legitimate logic to back up their claim

The second essential step is for both countries to agree that each has a 'legitimate' logic to claim Jammu & Kashmir. Once this is mutually accepted, it should be made clear that any measures taken to mitigate the hardship of the people or other adjustments do not dilute their respective claims.

Interests of Kashmiris on top of the agenda

A solution to the Kashmir problem is possible provided India and Pakistan put the interests of Kashmiris on top of their agenda. This would mean that the issue of economic development should take priority over politics. The stalled river navigation and hydroelectric projects should be cleared to mutual benefit.

Role of the Legislature

As a first step in the conciliation process, India and Pakistan should agree to provide unfettered access to the legislators of Pakistan Occupied or Azad Kashmir to the Indian part of the state and vice versa. This will foster people to people contact as well as counter hostile propaganda about mistreatment and atrocities.

Human Problem

They should form a joint committee to solve the human problems of a divided population. This committee should have powers to grant permission to travel. In addition, Kashmiris, on both sides of divide should be permitted free access to the areas of state to meet their relations. A similar provision exists in the North-East between Burma (Myanmar) and India whereby tribals of the region are permitted to travel up to 40 kms from the border without the formalities of passport, visa etc.

Open up Border Crossing Points

To facilitate this, as a first step several border-crossing points need to be opened up. Due to difficult terrain and an illogical border, many a times people have to take long detours to go to various places. This could be avoided if travel through each other’s territory is permitted.

Peace and de-escalation along the Line of Control

In order to calm the situation on the LoC, a joint Indo Pak group of cease-fire monitors needs to be constituted that can replace the UN observers. This group should essentially carry out the same function as the UN observers but report to a joint parliamentary committee of India and Pakistan.

Solving The Siachen Issue

Since the last decade Indian and Pakistani forces are fighting a futile war in the Siachen glacier area of Jammu & Kashmir. This area that lies at a height of over 21,000 feet, is of no strategic significance to either side. The only reason over 3,000 soldiers have lost their lives here is neither side is sure that other will not occupy it.

As a test case for stopping this utterly meaningless war, India and Pakistan should agree to set up a company (120 soldiers strength) monitoring force in each other's areas that can easily ensure that no military movement is taking place. These observers would not be armed, except for self protection, and would be in terms of 'hostages' for good behaviour. A de-militarisation without either side giving up its claim, could then take place. The mountain ranges of 21,000 feet are rightfully meant for mountaineering; not combat.

De-militarisation of the Line of Control

In order to reduce the chances of frequent clashes, both sides should agree to withdraw a fixed distance behind the Line of Control. The LoC, though not marked on ground, has been delineated in great detail after the 1972 Simla Agreement by the military officers of both countries and this should not be a difficult measure.

Attitudinal Change

According to a UNESCO document, war begins in the minds of people. It is there it has to be fought. In December 1988, nearly decade ago, Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi had met in Islamabad and agreed on measures to ensure that young minds are not poisoned by the teaching of distorted history. The two governments were to establish a joint machinery to examine school text books and suggest changes. Unfortunately the accord was never implemented. It needs to be revived and implemented. Peace education is necessarily a part of such an initiative.

Regional Initiative

India as the stronger economic power should take the initiative to set up a South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation fund to help countries of the region in economic distress. While not of direct relevance to the Jammu & Kashmir issue this will go a long way in reducing tensions. Simultaneously with the establishment of joint legislative and parliamentary committees, service personnel of other SAARC countries could be co-opted to head the observer group in Jammu and Kashmir.

Some other steps to be taken in a regional framework are:

* Exchange of students. India should take the initiative in offering seats in its professional institutions for SAARC students.

* Free flow of journalists, artistes and intellectuals.

* Support to sports exchanges.

There are many possibilities in trade and commerce. The reality is that today billions of dollars of trade is carried out between two countries via the Gulf countries. Direct trade will benefit all.

Once contact at the people to people level is established, after five years time, the issue of the status of Jammu & Kashmir should be re-examined. India and Pakistan should aim at a soft border like the one existing between the US and Canada. It should not be forgotten that in 1813 Canada had invaded the US and the two were once bitter enemies. If France and Germany can bury their hatchet, so could India and Pakistan. The measures suggested are only pointers and much work will need to be done to work out the actual modalities.

Many of the suggestions can be classed as 'small steps.' But even if some of these small steps are only partially implemented and successful, it will represent a 'giant leap' towards welfare and peace for the people of the sub-continent.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retired), a Pune-based defence analyst, is a former head of the War History division at the defence ministry. He specialises in counterinsurgency and peace keeping operations.

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