02 December 2004

Kashmir Compromise Potential

Musharraf's speech on 12 January 2002 had clear implications for Kashmir. By announcing bans on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, he increased the chance that the insurgency in Kashmir would be weakened. If it faced a less intense battle in Kashmir, it is likely that the Indians would want to put the issue on the back burner. But it is worth bearing in mind two developments. First, the Kashmiri people are tiring of the struggle. Most informed Pakistanis now accept that, given the chance, most Kashmiris would opt for independence rather than a merger with Pakistan. But above all else the people of Kashmir want peace. That is not to say they will accept any settlement but it does raise the possibility that most would accept a compromise. The second new element is that many Pakistanis are also tiring of the conflict. Before Musharraf's January speech it was conventional wisdom that no Pakistani leader could confront the religious extremists and remain in office. The lack of any backlash to Musharraf's speech helped dispel that myth.

Might the same be true of Kashmir? Proponents of the view that no Pakistani leader can afford to back down in Kashmir rely on a number of arguments. First, the Pakistani people, informed by decades of intensive propaganda, are highly mobilised on the issue. Second, the army has made so many sacrifices in Kashmir that a significant climb-down would be seen as unacceptable. Not even an army chief, it is suggested, could compromise on Kashmir and expect to survive. That may be true, but there are counter arguments. Despite all the propaganda, many people in India and Pakistan are not particularly concerned about the Kashmir dispute. Many of those living, for example, in Sindh or Tamil Nadu would be quite happy to see any settlement of a dispute that is quite clearly holding back the subcontinent's social and economic development. After a decade of insurgency, there is a growing feeling in Pakistan that India will never pull out. Pakistan's size and economic weakness means it is not in a position to force the hand of a country with a billion people and great power aspirations. If General Musharraf or any subsequent Pakistani leader did make a compromise on Kashmir he or she might receive more support than is generally predicted.

In his account of the Kashmir dispute, the Indian author Sumantra Bose has rejected the idea of splitting up Kashmir because, he argues, none of the political districts are either ethnically or religiously homogeneous. In the Jammu region, for example, one third of the population is Muslim. Indeed, some of its districts have strong Muslim majorities. In Ladakh, meanwhile, the Buddhists may have a clear majority in Leh but the adjoining Ladakhi district of Kargil has a predominantly Shia Muslim population. Whilst Bose undoubtedly has a point, the history of the late twentieth century, for better or for worse, suggests that his objections to the possible partition of Kashmir are far from overwhelming. In the Baltic States and former Yugoslavia, to give just two examples, international boundaries were redrawn without regard to the fact that, in the process, new minority populations were created....

Ever since 1947 the views of the Kashmiris have been obscured by the dispute between India and Pakistan. With the insurgency over a decade old most Kashmiris are sick of the conflict and are desperate for a peaceful settlement. But for both India and Pakistan the symbolic importance of the Kashmir dispute means that they will inevitably follow their own perceived national interests rather than those of the Kashmiri people. If the Kashmiris had been conducring a straightforward fight for independence in the same way as the Chechens or East Timorese they would have had a greater chance of success. The tragedy of Kashmir is that the voices of the Kashmiri people themselves have been drowned out by the Islamists, nationalists and ideologues in Islamabad and Delhi.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 106-108

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