Kashmir: Denouement Or Sell-out?
29 April 2005
Karachi: THE Musharraf-Manmohan Singh agreement is one that, leave alone the Kashmir dispute, says nothing even about Siachen or Baglihar or other side issues of the dispute. It proposes to add truck trade to the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and to start similar services between other towns and regions of the divided state. All this softening of the LoC, does it not amount, in practical terms, to giving it durability, if not legitimacy of a sort? True, the agreement does say that the two countries will negotiate a final solution of the Kashmir issue but that has been said a number of times before. In the face of Indian assertions that borders cannot be changed, is this not just a play with words? On the face of it, the logical answer to these questions would seem to be, yes, Pakistan has given in, we have accepted the Indian position. However, to view the matter in perspective, one ought first to examine what exactly is, or was, the position on Kashmir that Pakistan can be said to be giving up. There are three aspects of the question - legal, political-diplomatic and what is delicately referred to as the ground reality. In legal terms, the matter of the accession of princely states either to India or to Pakistan (with no third option) as set out in the independence-partition arrangements, was that the decision was to be made by the ruler and not by the people. It was the Quaid who insisted on leaving it to the princes, while the Congress proposed referendums in cases where there could be a dispute on the matter between the ruler and the people. The Quaid did so on legalistic grounds but really in order to allow the Nizam to make Hyderabad independent. As for Kashmir, he must have thought that geography and other factors left the Maharaja with no option other than accession to Pakistan. The Congress proposal was ostensibly democratic but was intended essentially to foreclose the Nizam's options. India's case on Kashmir is based wholly, if not solely, on the instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja. Pakistan argues that a successful popular revolt having caused the Maharaja to flee the state, he no longer had the legitimacy to sign the instrument of accession. Alastair Lamb, in his books on Kashmir, has indeed raised doubts about the authenticity of the instrument India claims to have in its possession. It is also relevant that when India went to the UN Security Council with a complaint of Pakistani aggression against the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Council (implicitly) ignored this point and managed to get India (and Pakistan) to agree to let the people of the state decide the matter through a plebiscite. India's case was further weakened by the emphatic and repeated official declarations, made often by Prime Minister Nehru, that the final decision on the state's accession would be made by the Kashmiri people themselves. It is another matter that Nehru did not really mean to let them do so except if a positive outcome (to borrow a phrase from the late Ziaul Haq) could be assured through Shaikh Abdullah or by other means. If there existed an effective and functioning international judicial system, the question of accession could be referred to it for decision. But the Hague court jurisdiction is not compulsory nor can its decisions be enforced. On the diplomatic-political front, Pakistan could not have obtained a better result than the proposed plebiscite and the elaborate arrangements for holding it, set out in the Security Council resolutions of 1949-50, clarified and reaffirmed unequivocally right up to the sixties. However, the problem of implementing them arose almost as soon as the ink was dry on the resolutions. For when it became evident that even Shaikh Abdullah was not going to be able to pull off the plebiscite for India, the Indians set about finding one issue after another to thwart and undo the plebiscite agreement over whose troops and how many would remain in Kashmir during the plebiscite. The legal position is that resolutions adopted under chapter VI of the UN Charter, as were the Kashmir resolutions, have the force of recommendations and are not binding like those under chapter VII. Not that there was ever any question or possibility of the Security Council applying military or economic sanctions against India. In any case, for long years, the Soviet veto made the position safe for India in this regard. What is more, as time went on, we found it increasingly difficult to muster even a simple majority for resolutions on Kashmir. Our own attempts to settle the dispute by force proved inconclusive. The 1965 war fell between the two stools of fighting the war to a finish and provoking international intervention; the three more or less identical attempts at guerrilla war (in 1948, 1965 and 1989 onward) show above all a lack of originality in Pakistan's strategic thinking. As for Kargil, the tactical cleverness of the operation was nullified by the absence of a strategic objective. Now that there are nuclear weapons on the scene, any idea of using force is out of the question. Thus our options are reduced (and have been so for a good while) to staying put on our position or playing the field as it lies. But when one talks about sticking to our principled stand on Kashmir, exactly what does that mean in specific terms? The one immutable principle underlying the Kashmir case (and not only because it is embodied in the UN resolutions) is the principle of self-determination and that rules out a settlement along the LoC over the heads of the Kashmiri people. From the beginning India has favoured dividing up the spoils on this finders- keepers basis, now there are some well-meaning peaceniks in this country who are prepared to go along. But assuredly, Pakistan has no legal or moral basis formally to endorse and accept India's grab of Kashmir and no pragmatic, political reason to do so in exchange for keeping our own piece. General Musharraf has affirmed clearly enough and more than once that a deal of this kind is not on. So, where do we go from here? OIC resolutions, joint communiques, etc, are all very well but they have little effect on the situation. Our diplomats are often urged to forcefully reassert our case and they have been doing so for 50 years and more. The rights and wrongs of the case are well known in the foreign ministries that matter, but the simple fact is that every country has its own interests to promote and few are prepared to take sides over Kashmir. Sadly, it is a world of double standards as one saw when Secretary General Kofi Annan said with a straight face that the Kashmir case was quite different from that of East Timor. Boycotting trade and cultural exchanges with India (which to some extent do go on clandestinely), discouraging people-to-people contacts, these measures were left over in the aftermath of the 1965 war. They reflect our frustration with the Indian intransigence but do not serve to break it down, specially when our own interests are hurt in the process, as when we buy industrial raw materials or machinery from third countries instead of less expensive Indian products. Restoring these links is not going to pave the way for a Kashmir settlement - let us not kid ourselves. But in revising policies that do not work, Pakistan is not giving away anything. No doubt, a good deal of hype and atmospherics surround the Delhi agreement but atmosphere is not without importance in relations between countries whose people are given to emotional outbursts that can swing quickly from one extreme to the other. CBMs such as the opening up of a bus service and trade routes in Kashmir will not resolve the Kashmir dispute. They are a beginning whose denouement cannot be foreseen; interaction between the divided Kashmiris could create a dynamic of its own. For India too has to face a ground reality and recognize its implications. This is that 50 years of talking about Kashmir as India's atoot ang has not changed the fact that India's hold on Kashmir remains as tenuous as ever. Progress on Kashmir in any case is not going to be linear, and admittedly, in negotiating with India, Pakistan is not playing on an even field. What you play on the diplomatic field is not cricket. One cannot count on a diplomatic Inzamam to hit a four with the last ball and bring the trophy home. The writer is a former foreign secretary.