Thursday, 29 May 2008

A limited war is still on cards

A limited war is still on cards
Shabir Choudhry written in 1999

Only a few months ago everyone was concerned about possibility of a war between India and Pakistan. Some thought it would be a limited war; others disagreed with it and said that wars have momentum of their own and no war could be a limited war. So prospect of a total war and possibly a nuclear war was a real one; and the world community apart from the people of the region were alarmed by this.

The world community particularly America and Britain played an important role in ‘easing’ the tension between India and Pakistan. This is not to suggest that other countries have not contributed in this, of course other world leaders had their input in this as well.

But what is of great concern to people is that forces of both countries are still facing each other and skirmishes on LOC continue as it is a normal way of life there; and innocent people on both sides of the divide are getting killed and suffer all sorts of problems associated with war. The danger is that anything could provide a spark to put both countries on a collision course.

If the international community is genuinely interested in avoiding a war between these two nuclear rivals then they have to help them resolve the core issue of Kashmir. Without resolving the Kashmir dispute which is the main cause of tension, and source of many other problems including extremism and communalism, there cannot be peace and stability in the region.

Unlike claims of some Azad Kashmiri and Pakistani leaders, Kashmir is a complicated dispute, and could not be resolved in the light of UN resolutions, a fact acknowledged by the Pakistani governments as well. It is because of this realisation that they say we need to seek resolution according to Simla Agreement, but problem with that is that Simla Agreement advocates a bilateral approach and completely ignores the people of Kashmir-the principal party to the dispute. And any solution to the Kashmir dispute in which the people of Kashmir are not a party will not bring much desired peace and stability to the region.

Use of force whether in the form of violence, terrorism or military expedition to find solutions to political problems is not desirable, as this approach brings untold miseries to the people. Anyhow lesson from history is that pacts and arrangements made with gun in one hand do not provide a permanent solution to problems. It is unfortunate that India and Pakistan do not have a good record of resolving their differences through peaceful means. Whenever there are crises they like to stretch their military muscles and give little importance to dialogue or seek help and mediation; even though it was mediation which helped them to reach agreement in the Indus Water Treaty in 1960.

Armed forces of both India and Pakistan are facing each other on the borders, and this poses a serious threat of war in the region, as there is no sign of de-escalation or dialogue. India persists that situation is not to its liking to resume dialogue as according to them there is still some ‘infiltration’ going on; Pakistan on the other hand claims that they have done everything what was possible and what they promised. And in return for Pakistan’s initiatives on Kashmir, which are strongly opposed by the people in Pakistan and Kashmir, Musharraf wanted to be ‘rewarded’ with some concessions on Kashmir, or at least resumption of talks.

India doesn’t seem to be happy or even satisfied with the steps taken by Musharraf government, even though he has gone out of his way to appease New Delhi and Washington; and really speaking there is not much more that he could do in this matter. Problem is whenever there is a violent action on that side of LOC, India assumes that these people crossed border to carry out this. What Indians don’t realise is that people don’t have to cross the LOC to carry out such actions. Whether India and other countries like it or not freedom struggle is still going on, and there are people who would carry out violent actions. But apart from genuine freedom fighters, there could be other people disguising as freedom fighters and committing terrorist acts in order to defame the struggle and furthering their hidden agenda.

It should be understood by all concerned that not all ‘militants’ in Kashmir are under the ‘command’ of Musharraf; and apart from that it should also be noted that elements who disapprove of Musharraf’s initiative on Kashmir, would do everything to ‘sabotage’ his initiative and put him in trouble. It is believed that some extreme elements would like to take revenge from Musharraf Government for his role in fight against Taliban and Al Qaida, and they would do anything to ‘set him up’.

So if New Delhi and Washington ‘push’ Musharraf further, or India takes actions on the borders (or in POK) because of some ‘terrorist activity’ in IOK, then they could well be playing in the hands of these extremists. There are extremists on both sides of the border who would like India and Pakistan to have armed conflict because their interests are best served by continued hostility and state of warfare.


India wants to hold elections in Kashmir and too much importance has been given to this as if this was a referendum and not a normal ‘elections’ which they hold. Fairness of the past elections in Kashmir is highly questionable and even Indian writers suggest that outcome is always state managed.

APHC and other Kashmiri leaders are urged to participate in these elections, and these leaders face a dilemma. By taking part in the elections these leaders fear that wrong message would go out, and India could use this as a ‘referendum’, even though UN Security Council Resolution of March 1951 and of 1957, clearly states that an election could not substitute a referendum. There have been many elections or some thing near to that on both sides of the LOC, and yet demand for a referendum is still there on both sides of the divide.

It is feared that ‘extreme elements’ would try to disrupt elections in Kashmir, and that would surely increase tension on the borders. In Pakistan, General Musharraf is also planning to hold elections in October, and there are many interested parties who would like to sabotage these elections. And if situation in these both elections (in Pakistan and Kashmir) is not satisfactory in the eyes of those who are holding them, then there is a danger that the increased tension on borders could manifest in to a limited war between India and Pakistan.

I understand some military ‘experts’ say there is no such thing as a limited war, as wars have momentum of their own, but India and Pakistan through their vast experience in fighting limited wars have proved this theory wrong. Some ‘experts’, soon after nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan, also said that they are immature nuclear powers and could have a nuclear conflict, but both governments behaved maturely and avoided even a full -scale conventional war at a time of great tension and pressure.

India and Pakistan have history of fighting limited wars, and first limited war took place in 1947-8, which was confined to the Kashmir borders. The second limited war took place in Rann of Kachh in 1965, and both countries ensured that it did not escalate in to other areas. Third limited war is still being fought on heights of Siachin Glacier, which is the highest battleground in the world. And fourth limited war was fought on the peaks of Kargil at a time when both countries possessed nuclear weapons. Of course a ‘controlled war’ has been going on around LOC for many months and years, and they have the ability and know how to stage a much larger but limited war which could serve their immediate interests.

In no way I am suggesting that there should be a war, limited or otherwise. Wars do not provide solutions; they result in misery, destruction and immense problems. But we cannot be complacent, because there are people on both sides of the divide who believe that a final war between the two has to come to settle the ‘score’ and the Kashmir issue. My fear is that with changed political situation in New Delhi, in Kashmir and in Islamabad we could find ourselves on a slippery ground.

If we are serious in avoiding a war in that region then we have to take concrete steps to avoid that. In my opinion India has to take initiative in this by making appropriate concessions in Kashmir, and work out a ‘mechanism’ and a ‘package’ that people of Kashmir could be persuaded to trust that. As for holding elections in Kashmir is concerned, the question arises what is the purpose of this exercise. Is it to install (or replace) puppets on the Kashmir throne or is it to elect true representatives of the people that they can help to resolve the Kashmir dispute?

If the aim is to resolve the Kashmir dispute then why hold such elections on one side of the LOC, when the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed. There should be elections in the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir that people can elect their representatives to negotiate with India and Pakistan. I understand India could not arrange elections on both sides of the divide, but this is where the role of ‘mechanism’ and ‘package’ comes in; and those who are ‘facilitating’ the dialogue and resolution process must play part in this.

Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir.

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