For a few tantalizing weeks last month it appeared that a breakthrough in the 50-year-old Kashmir conflict may be in sight.
The optimism was caused by the surprise announcement of the Hizbul Mujahidin, a major guerrilla group in Indian-administered Kashmir, to offer an unconditional cease-fire and talks with the Indian authorities. A few days later the Hizbul Mujahidin added the rider that Pakistan must, as a party to the Kashmir dispute, be included in the talks.
The international community welcomed this opening to move the intractable Kashmir dispute away from the battlefield to the negotiating table. Alas these hopes were short lived. India refused to associate its arch foe Pakistan with the parleys and added its own rider that the negotiations must be held within the ambit of the “Indian Constitution,” which is diplomatese for saying that the Mujahidin must recognize that Kashmir was a part of India.
If they had accepted that proviso, it would be a tacit admission that their movement had failed and the Indian point of view had prevailed. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Mujahidin angrily withdrew their cease-fire offer. Violence and killing in Kashmir has resumed.
When the departing British agreed to the partition of India in 1947 between its Hindu majority, which became independent India, and the Muslim minority, which became Pakistan, the 500-odd princely states that were outside British India were advised to join either India or Pakistan based on the same principle of the religious denomination of their inhabitants.
The vast majority did so. However, the ruler of Kashmir, a Hindu, whose subjects were preponderantly Muslim, dithered and did not declare his state’s accession to either India or Pakistan. By October 1947 his position was desperate, as some of his Muslim subjects were in revolt and were being aided by their co-religionists from Pakistan who had crossed over into Kashmir.
In a dramatic development in late October 1947, India airlifted troops to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, stating that the ruler had opted for India and had requested armed assistance. Some say India forced that ruler to sign the Instrument of Accession. Whatever were the facts, the arrival of the Indian soldiers sparked off the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir. Fighting continued until 1949, when both combatants agreed to a U.N.-supervised cease-fire. The U.N. Security Council also adopted resolutions calling for a referendum in Kashmir to determine whether its inhabitants wished to join India or Pakistan.
Around 1955, India incorporated the two-thirds portion of Kashmir that it had held into the Indian Union, saying that since the Kashmir assembly had endorsed this incorporation, there was no need for a referendum. The U.N. disagreed with the Indian action and reiterated that its resolutions calling for self-determination in Kashmir remained valid. In 1965, India and Pakistan went to war again over Kashmir, which was inconclusive.
The status quo, with Pakistan demanding a referendum to settle Kashmir and India refusing calling it an “integral” part of India, continued until 1989, when a full-blown insurgency broke out in the Indian-held Kashmir Valley. Apparently alienation against Indian rule had reached a point when some Kashmiris took to the gun.
For the past 11 years, sporadic fighting has continued with loss of life estimated at between 30,000 and 70,000. India has been criticized for its repression in Kashmir by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Asia Watch.
The Indians claim that they are fighting to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of India. They blame Pakistan for fueling the insurgency by infiltrating fighters and arms across the cease-fire line in Kashmir, a charge Pakistan denies.
In the case of other intractable international issues such as Northern Ireland, the Arab-Israeli confrontation, Cyprus and recently in East Timor, outside intervention helped to move toward a resolution of the disputes. Kashmir is a harder nut to crack because while Pakistan welcomes international mediation, India has rejected offers of outside help. It says Kashmir is a bilateral issue between the countries in which there is no role for outside mediation or arbitration.
With India and Pakistan both in possession of nuclear weapons, it is essential that the two nations be helped to reduce their tensions. The consequences of a nuclear exchange are too horrible to contemplate.
The United States is understood to be encouraging both adversaries to cool the temperature in Kashmir and resume talks over the future of the state. The Kashmiris who have suffered so much, including thousands of innocent civilian casualties, will have to be a party to these talks.
The leaderships of both countries will have to give up their entrenched attitudes and make painful concessions so peace and prosperity can be ushered in that beautiful land, which has been called the Switzerland of Asia.
— S. Azmat Hassan is a former Pakistani diplomat.
— From: The Daily Record, Morristown, NJ
— Published: August 23, 2000