Monday, 10 October 2016
Contesting Kashmir, by Dr Niaz Murtaza.
Contesting Kashmir, by Dr Niaz Murtaza.
GIVEN the ulterior agendas of global powers like the US, the UN record of resolving the status of contested domains is poor. Eritrea, Kashmir, Palestine, East Timor and Western Sahara’s fates languished at the UN for decades. Eritrea and East Timor gained freedom, not primarily due to the UN or even their freedom forces, but because their occupiers — Ethiopia and Indonesia — collapsed temporarily.
The cases of Kashmir, Palestine and Western Sahara, occupied by strong, US-allied states, remain unresolved. Other freedom drives with mixed popular support in strong states — eg in Turkey, India and Pakistan — have not even made it to the UN agenda.
But some states got freedom without ever being on the UN agenda. Nearly a dozen did so easily, but only because the ex-USSR collapsed. Bangladesh became free with the helping hand of a powerful neighbour; Kosovo only after relentless US bombing of Serbia. Showing maturity which often eludes even democracies, Sudan’s autocratic regime let South Sudan go, despite little new external pressure.
History has lessons for India and Pakistan.
This history has lessons for India and Pakistan. Those for Pakistan are immediate. No strong state has ceded land recently to its arch enemy through bilateral or multilateral talks or overt or covert war. Afghanistan’s freedom came not from the fabled bravery of the ‘mujahideen’ but USSR’s lack of emotional investment there and the creeping collapse of communism. India is a rising, not decaying, power and is emotionally invested strongly in Kashmir. Thus, the chances of India ceding Kashmir due to bilateral or multilateral talks or covert or overt war are near zero.
Yet talks are the best bet even if they do not ensure success. They allow Pakistan to escape global rebuke for and the domestic blowback from hosting militants. Decades of space for anti-India and Afghan militants has not given India-held Kashmir freedom or Pakistan strategic depth in Afghanistan against India. It has boosted India’s global portrayal of Kashmir as a terrorism case. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, it has ironically given India strategic depth against Pakistan in Afghanistan. For this, our physical and ideological defenders must be held accountable. But their accountability in Pakistan is even less than that of corrupt politicians.
We may chafe at the silence of Western democracies at Indian atrocities in Kashmir. But it may help reduce the hurt if we remember that Western powers also remained largely silent when we committed atrocities in Dhaka since we were a US ally then, as India is today. In fact, they also remain largely silent even today at atrocities in Balochistan.
But of course tens of thousands of people do not periodically take to the streets shouting “azadi, azadi” in Quetta as they do in Srinagar, making silence on Kashmir more odious. Terrorism involves killing civilians. So which is terrorism and more condemnable: the killing of 18 soldiers in Uri or the killing of 80-plus civilians elsewhere in India-held Kashmir?
The lessons for India are less immediate, yet crucial. Yes, there is little chance of it losing Kashmir soon. Yet, its Kashmir position is largely based on might-is-right rather than ethics, logic or legality. No major power accepts its position of endlessly referring to Kashmir as its integral part, not even its close regional allies Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The world still considers it disputed territory despite India’s growing global clout, reflecting the absence of even an inch of progress despite decades of Indian efforts. That principles are closer to Pakistan’s basic position on Kashmir (but not its current strategies) is refreshing for a state whose policies are so often unprincipled.
The lack of alternative views on Kashmir in more democratic India is odd. Pakistani liberals critique their country’s security policies far more openly despite greater risks here. Forget hawks, even Indian liberals argue cockily that Pakistan cannot liberate Kashmir, implicitly accepting the lack of principles in India’s position. The knee-jerk response to this jingoism is that neither can India liberate Azad Kashmir or the part controlled by China.
A more sensible response is that even if the world does not run mainly on principles, they are not entirely absent from the global political calculus. As India becomes a bigger power and more aligned with Western democracies, such an absence of principles will bite. The process can be hastened if Pakistan reins in militants, for the global focus will then be on Indian atrocities. Ironically, Pakistan itself is delaying this outcome.
But ultimately India will realise that territories do not become one’s integral part by repeated unilateral declarations but by local and global acceptance. To gain global legitimacy for its Kashmir claims, it will eventually have to talk with Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Not the aggression of the hawk but the patience of its cousin eagle, as shown so well by China on Taiwan, will serve Pakistan more in contesting Kashmir.
The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.
Published in Dawn October 11th, 2016