By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
“Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable.” John F. Kennedy
Peace has eluded Kashmir for more than 69 years, every since British sovereignty lapsed on August 15, 1947. The Government of India holds the decisive cards to end Kashmir’s convulsions and carnage on a genocidal scale. No peace formula worth its salt, however, depends on altruism or unselfishness sentiments to succeed. India will accede to the steps necessary for peace, i.e., permitting Kashmir’s sovereignty to be determined by the voice of its 20 million people (13 million in IOK), only if it perceives that such a bow to self-determination and international law and morality will strengthen its national and economic security. That advocacy task is not fanciful, but can prevail if pursued with deftness and soft diplomacy.
Kashmir has been plagued by conflict since 1947 for a simple reason: the denial of self-determination that has been enjoyed by countless other peoples in comparable circumstances, most recently in East Timor, Eritrea, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Southern Sudan. In the meantime, life for Kashmiris has oscillated between grisly and gruesome. Approximately 700,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces occupy Kashmir and de facto impose martial law as it has been now under curfew for more than five months.
A free and fair plebiscite would show a commanding majority of the Kashmiri people in favor of independence. No impartial observer disputes that fact. In fact it was confirmed by a survey that was conducted by London-based Chatham House in May 2010. If India believed its rule in Kashmir was by consent rather than by coercion, it would hold a plebiscite with alacrity, just as the United States routinely permits the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to vote for independence. In the latter case, independence has never garnered more than 4% of the ballots. The converse would be true in Kashmir. Accession to India would capture at most 4% of a plebiscite vote in the Vale of Kashmir.
Kashmir’s legal and moral case for self-determination is equal or greater than that of the United States when it declared independence in 1776 with a population of but 3 – 4 million. The American grievances against King George III were but trifles compared to the human rights inferno which afflicts Kashmir. The Declaration of Independence protests the maintenance of standing armies, the obstruction of beneficent laws, the denial of trial by jury, and for making the military superior to the civil power. Kashmiris, in contrast, suffer from those same grievances, plus the gruesome human rights violations amplified above. In sum, every American who defends the Revolutionary War against Great Britain is compelled by legal and human rights principles to champion self-determination in Kashmir.
Peace in Kashmir rides on two seemingly conflicting realities. Kashmir will be chronically convulsed until its sovereignty is determined in accord with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. A plebiscite conducted by the United Nations is one option on that score. Indeed, United Nations Security Council resolutions contemplate that method of self-determination. Contrary to what some have said, Kashmir is not a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India. And it is not a dispute provoked by foreign infiltrators or extremists. It is not a struggle between theocracy and secularism. Kashmir is every bit as much about self-determination as was East Timor or Southern Sudan in 1999 and 2011 respectively.
The second reality is that India holds 99% or more of the political and military cards in Kashmir. No outside influence has exerted more than trivial direct influence over India’s Kashmir rule or diplomacy. For more than 69 years, the United Nations Security Council has not lifted a finger to enforce its plebiscite resolutions concerning Kashmir. Neither the United States nor NATO would risk a single soldier for Kashmiri self-determination. Pakistan is no military match for India. Its alluring economy, nuclear arsenal, and importance in the war against international terrorism deter moral or other sanctions for India’s aggression and misrule of Kashmir. India’s superpower status in South Asia and global stature explains why progress towards peace in Kashmir has been zero for more than 69 years. All the periodic dancing and jousting between India and Pakistan have been at best sound and fury signifying nothing.
India will never budge from its intransigence over Kashmir, say some experts, until it perceives that its national and economic security would be strengthened, not weakened, by acceding to self-determination. That task of persuasion is no fool’s errand. An independent Kashmir would not create military or terrorist vulnerabilities for India. The Kashmir’s constitution might contain a no-war clause as in Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. It might prohibit a Kashmiri army, as in Costa Rica. It could prohibit any foreign military bases or alliances, i.e., insist on permanent neutrality, as in the 1955 Austrian State Treaty. It could require Kashmir’s adherence to all international counterterrorism conventions, including a corresponding extradition treaty with both India and Pakistan. These safeguards would make India more, not less secure from Kashmir dangers.
More important, Kashmir self-determination would eliminate the chief cause of India’s national security vulnerability. War with Pakistan would become fanciful and its military and paramilitary forces in Kashmir could be redeployed to the northeast or elsewhere to confront local secession. An independent Kashmir would not create a cascading dismembering of India. Its legal history is unique. And it speaks volumes that self-determination in East Timor, Eritrea, and Czechoslovakia did not occasion a spiraling disintegration of Indonesia, Ethiopia, or the Czech and Slovak republics.
India’s economy would also be uplifted by self-determination for Kashmir. Investment would climb because of greater political stability. India would save billions in slashed military expense. A free trade accord could be fashioned between India and an independent Kashmir to spur growth. India would also be a candidate for permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council if it acceded to a free and fair plebiscite on Kashmir. Its international stature would rise, like that of the United States after yielding the Panama Canal back to Panama. And Pakistan could offer a non-aggression guarantee if India permitted self-determination 13 million of Kashmir, a speck among India’s population of more than 1 billion.
In sum, a strong case can be made and should be made to India by the President-elect Trump that its security and stature would jump rather than fall by accepting a Kashmir plebiscite with reasonable constitutional safeguards. As President-elect has said that he would be honored to play a mediating role in addressing a ‘very, very hot tinderbox’ of Kashmir. It cannot be expected that India would act against its own perceived self-interests in Kashmir since no other country in the world has ever done so.
During the time needed to persuade India of its enormous benefits from Kashmir self-determination, it should embrace measures calculated to alleviate the misery of Kashmiris and to diminish extremism. India should slash the number of its military and security personnel posted in Kashmir. Forces should be withdrawn completely from civilian inhabited areas, and bunkers there should be dismantled. A seething siege mentality must be lifted from Kashmir to reduce bitterness and conflict.
Emergency legislation that places the civilian Kashmiri population at the disposal of India’s staggering military and paramilitary personnel should be repealed. Illustrative are the Jammu & Kashmir Disturbed Area Act of 1990 and the Armed Forces Jammu & Kashmir Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1990.
All torture and extrajudicial killings by Indian forces should be unswervingly denounced and punished. All political prisoners should be released. As suggested by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on September 13, 2016, a UN fact finding mission should be granted access to Jammu and Kashmir to monitor and document the human rights landscape. All restrictions on peaceful political dissent or protest should be lifted.
Kashmiri leadership who disavow violence in favor of a negotiated settlement should be permitted to travel abroad without hindrance. The Diaspora Kashmiri leadership should enjoy access and visas to visit Jammu and Kashmir. Further, direct talks over the future of Kashmir should be commenced with all parties concerned – India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership – with a pledge that the final status of the territory will not diverge from the wishes of the Kashmiri people and an exploration of what dispensation in the territory would scrupulously honor India’s national security and economic needs. And India should renounce any intent to build a Berlin-like wall along the Cease-fire Line.
These unilateral gestures would not represent appeasement, but an enlightened understanding of India’s best interests in Kashmir. They would give heart to the peaceful forces in Kashmir, who believe that Kashmir is a political issue and needs to be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
The time for delusions over peace in Kashmir has long since expired. All advocacy and intellectual energies must be directed towards showing India that its self-interests are allied to self-determination in Kashmir; and, that India’s acceding to self-determination would enable India to play its rightful role in the international diplomacy.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness