Kashmir: Flashpoint in Pak-India relations

By Shahid Anwar


Since partition in 1947, Kashmir has not only been the most contentious issue between India and Pakistan, but also one of the core determinants of Pakistan’s foreign policy. However, recent decision of Pakistan to grant India MFN status heralds a shift in Pakistan’s conventional approaches-resolution of Kashmir first. Obviously, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has welcomed the move reminding that Pakistan should have done it earlier. What do these developments imply for the Kashmir issue? Has Pakistan settled to let the Kashmir issue be put on back burner or would the free trade gradually build enough mutual trust for eventual resolution of the enduring conflict?  Only the time will tell, but history can help us understanding the direction and nature of current developments. Before turning to these questions, let us have a quick review of genesis of Kashmir issue and the respective positions of India and Pakistan.

The Independence Plan of 3rd June 1947 had given the rulers of the Princely States of united India choice to join either Pakistan or India or to remain independent. Hari Singh, the Maharaja of Kashmir initially tried the third course. But the Kashmiri Muslims’ revolt supported by Pashtun tribesmen triggered a chain of events involving signing of an Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union in October 1947 and a localised warfare between India and Pakistan 1948. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council; the outcome was cease-fire along the Line of Control and a unanimously passed Resolution asking for plebiscite.  Indo-Pakistan war 1971 was followed by the Simla Accord. It expressed the hope that both the countries would try to solve all their disputes amicably. However, no progress could be made towards resolution, and in 1980s an armed uprising (of course supported by many religious groups in Pakistan) emerged as a third important factor in the conflict.

However, for the various military, political and diplomatic factors, India has been able to maintain a statusquo (favorable to its perceived interests). India has often successfully synchronised its measures with the global and regional structure of power. For instance, in military terms, power differential between the two countries, nuclearisation of region, and three Indo-Pakistan wars 1948, 1965, 1998 over Kashmir has amply demonstrated that no military solution is available.

Internationally, the Kargil war turned the world attention towards “nuclear blackmail” by Pakistan instead of resolution of Kashmir.  Currently, the war on terror and India’s projection as “counterweight” to China, by the US has allowed it to deflect any pressure over Kashmir. Politically, the legal battles involving the UN-resolutions can hardly produce results in the absence of Indian refusal to accept and lack of any political will on the part of world community to press India. The world became increasingly impressed by “marvelous economic development” and “vibrant democracy” of India. This leaves both with an option of negotiated settlement that entails bargaining. However, such engagements (occasional peace initiatives) while keeping locked in the respective positions hasn’t helped to move an inch towards resolution. India keeps proclaiming Kashmir as an “integral part” of the Indian Union. Whereas Pakistan has been insisting either on the ‘implementation’ of UN plebiscite-resolutions or looking for a third party mediation without being able to mobilise the requisite political and diplomatic support from the world community.

On the other hand, Pakistan has very limited range of choices to alter the status quo in Kashmir. In this regard the attempts through military means in the operational Gibraltar 1965 and Kargil 1998 turned out to be misadventures and counterproductive. From the legalistic perspective, Pakistan’s official position of seeking plebiscite under the UN resolutions has been often defied by the dictates of real politics. Rulemaking and implementation in international politics requires political consensus and mechanism of enforcement. The system of (sovereign) states follows more the logic of national interests than normative concerns for justice and human rights. So, the diplomatic support for Pakistan or India has been contingent upon their interests involved. Consequently, India could not be pressed enough by the world community either to abide by the UN resolutions or accept third-party mediation as demanded by Pakistan.

Thus the Kashmir issue remains hostage to the dictates of real politik at global, regional and local level. The politics of power and the pursuit of strategic, political and economic interests by the key players permit India to keep the reign of state-terror in Kashmir obscure. In the last two decades Indian atrocities have resulted in killings of 80,000 people in Kashmir. With more than 700,000 Indian troops, the Kashmir remains one of the most militarised areas of the world. Even the US had 150,000 troops in Iraq during the war. That, however, invited worldwide condemnation and massive anti-war protests around the world. But in the largest democracy of the world there are hardly any voices raised against the brutal killings and massive human rights violations. The US President Barack Obama called for resolution of Kashmir issue, but after assuming the office he found it politically convenient to avoid mentioning the “K” world. In the same vein the other world leaders avoid annoying the Indian sensibilities regarding Kashmir.

On the domestic Indian scene, Arundhti Roy stands tall but perhaps lonely in trying to shake the “liberal conscience” of Indian democracy. In a recent work, Kashmir: the Case for Freedom, co-authored by her, she has courageously argued that historically, Kashmir has never been the integral part of India. She laments the partisan journalists for keeping silence on the acts of cruelties committed by the Indian forces in Kashmir. She further warns that the promise of liberal democracy is slowly dying. 

As long as the Kashmiris keep struggling for their right to self-determination and getting support from such moral and credible voices hope is there for Kashmir. It is not merely a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, rather it’s matter of recognition of inalienable rights of the people to live with dignity according to their aspirations. Pakistan needs to examine  its options in a realistic manner but good neighborhood relations should in no way mean abandoning the moral and political support for the legitimate cause of Kashmiri people. The dictates of power politics must give way to the principles of humanity and justice.

— The writer is a PhD candidate at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.