Kashmir: From Shimla To Islamabad
19 January 2004
C. Raja Mohan
Kolkata: Nearly two weeks after India and Pakistan issued a joint press statement in Islamabad that outlined a new framework of engagement, analysts here continue to pore over the six apparently simple paragraphs of its text. For some of them, it is the most favourable statement on Jammu and Kashmir India has ever negotiated with Pakistan. They argue that the formulations on the question of Jammu and Kashmir agreed at Islamabad are much better than those developed in the Shimla Agreement of 1972. It is also more credible, from India's point of view, on terrorism than the Lahore Declaration of February 1999 and the inconclusive draft declaration at Agra in July 2001. Over the last few decades, India and Pakistan have continually clashed over a whole range of issues - in particular on how to characterise the Kashmir problem, the nature of the mechanism for its resolution and its linkage to the rest of the relationship. On all these counts, it is being argued that political outcome at Islamabad marks a big breakthrough with Pakistan over Kashmir. * * * On how to resolve the question of Jammu and Kashmir, the Shimla Agreement states in Article 1(ii) that 'the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them'. For India, this implied an emphatic focus on 'bilateralism' which would replace the previous involvement of the United Nations and other third parties in the resolution of the Kashmir question. Pakistan, of course, never fully agreed with this interpretation of the Shimla Agreement. While New Delhi underlined the first part of the sentence, Islamabad highlighted the second part, which referred to the option of 'any other peaceful means'. For Pakistan, this implied the possibility of third party involvement, including that of the U.N. or other interested great powers. From the late 1980s, the two sides often quarrelled about the meaning of the Shimla formulation. The Lahore Declaration did not resolve this disagreement; it only finessed it. It reaffirmed the commitment to implement the Shimla Agreement 'in letter and in spirit'. The 'letter' on bilateralism was sacrosanct for India and the reference to 'spirit' was a bow to Pakistan, which wanted more elasticity in interpreting Shimla. While the reference to Shimla was to satisfy the Indian position, the Lahore Declaration also pointed to the U.N. charter to please Pakistan. On the difficult question of Jammu and Kashmir, the Lahore Declaration said that the 'two Governments shall intensify the efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir'. But there was no direct reference to this issue being a purely bilateral one, except through an indirect reference to Shimla. * * * On describing the Kashmir problem as well as the environment necessary to resolve it, the Islamabad statement has made a big advance. It says: 'The two leaders are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides'. For India, bilateralism has been highlighted twice over. First is the description of Jammu and Kashmir as a 'bilateral' issue, which has never been done before; and the second is the emphasis on 'to the satisfaction of both sides'. That leaves no room for third parties from the international system or within Jammu and Kashmir. There is no reference, even by implication, to either the possibility of 'internationalisation' of the Kashmir question or 'self- determination' for the Kashmiris, which have been central to the articulation of the Pakistani case on its dispute with India over Jammu and Kashmir. * * * Textual analysis of joint statements always provides an insight into the compromises and understandings between nations. But the text makes sense only in a particular context. States are not committed, forever, to these statements. If they feel their interests are not being met or if they believe ground conditions have improved in their favour, they seek to modify or renounce the agreement. The Islamabad statement is based on give and take: Pakistan has agreed to deal with Kashmir in a bilateral framework as well as help create a peaceful environment by ending terrorism and violence. India in return has offered to negotiate purposefully on Kashmir. The agreement also reflects the changed international context in relation to terrorism and the sense in Pakistan that the time has come to wage a 'jehad' against the 'jehadis', as Gen. Musharraf told the Pakistan National Assembly this week. If one side gets a sense in the coming months that the other is not implementing its part of the bargain, the Islamabad agreement will begin to unravel. Pakistan has agreed to set aside, not really discard, its past emphases on internationalisation and self-determination. If bilateralism is seen as failing, Pakistan will be compelled to return to other options. India need not gloat about the diplomatic gains on Kashmir at Islamabad. Instead, the Islamabad framework must be seen as an opportunity that must be used to move the region forward. Having got substantive commitments from Pakistan to address the Kashmir question in a purely bilateral framework, India must now move purposefully to find ways to resolve it.