Prosperity Can Buy Peace In Kashmir

Prosperity Can Buy Peace In Kashmir

17 August 2010
Financial Times
Mansoor Ijaz

London: It has been a summer of death in Kashmir. In early June, a 17-year-old student, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, was killed when a tear gas canister fired from close range by Indian security forces attempting crowd control hit him as he returned home from tutoring for medical exams. Last Sunday night, Fida Nabi, a 19-year-old high school student, was taken off life support after six days in hospital with a bullet in his brain. Interspersed between these two tragedies, more than 50 other civilians have suffered similar fates – senseless deaths caused by overzealous security personnel operating on instructions from a government in New Delhi that seemed devoid, until recently, of any idea how to win back hearts and minds in Kashmir’s idyllic valley. In the past, India blamed Pakistan-backed militants to excuse its security forces’ unruly behaviour in the Muslim-majority region that both states claim. But New Delhi cannot point the finger at Islamabad any more. Pakistan’s domestic disarray, political ineptitude and daily struggles against a resurgent Taliban, floods, economic strife – you name it – have all but eliminated its military, even moral, support for insurgency in Kashmir. Cross-border incursions into Indian-held Kashmir are at an all-time low. The problem today is almost exclusively defined by indigenous Kashmiris who cannot find jobs, lack basic services and have no civilised way to air their grievances about poor governance, either at the local or federal level. That is why resolving Kashmir’s crisis must start by raising the economic fortunes of its people to such an extent that a political solution can be found through reasoned debate. Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, took important steps in that direction last week when he announced intentions to accelerate job creation in Kashmir. By bringing in former central bankers, high-technology billionaires, and government trade and industry experts to advise him, Mr Singh showed a keen understanding of the political reality he faces. Men and women who have jobs do not have time to gather in the streets and throw stones so anti-riot police can disperse them with force, perpetuating a cycle of violence that seems to have no logical end. Historically in Kashmir, peace was most possible when hawkish political and military leaders in Islamabad and New Delhi were able to see the mutual benefit in making peace without compromising security. Such was the case when Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s prime minister from the rightist Bharatiya Janata party, reached across Kashmir’s line of control in 2000 and accepted a ceasefire by Pakistani-backed militants. At that time, Chander D. Sahay, India’s intelligence chief for Kashmiri affairs and later its top spy, and I created a framework for resolving the dispute that sought to empower Kashmiris economically and to remove the terror from their daily lives by withdrawing Indian forces and Muslim militants in confidence-building stages. Our belief was that a prosperous Kashmir would give leaders in India and Pakistan the space to find a political solution. A year later, Mr Vajpayee and Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf (who had sanctioned the militants’ 2000 offer of ceasing hostilities) nearly reached accord on a final framework for settling the dispute by agreeing a blueprint to create an autonomous region out of both Indian and Pakistani-held Kashmir. Such an accord would have buttressed economic stability with political unity, reuniting families and lowering tensions sufficiently for Indian security forces to go home. Pakistani army hawks would have been able to argue that Kashmiris had secured peace with their support – a win-win for all concerned. In secret negotiations in 2007, the idea of an autonomous Kashmir was again put on the table by Indian and Pakistani negotiators just before Gen Musharraf lost his grip on power. Today, conditions are ripe for such a solution to be resurrected. Pakistan’s internal disarray makes the arguments against peace by its hawkish military leaders nearly irrelevant. The generals, to put it bluntly, are busy elsewhere putting out fires they started years ago. The country’s flamboyant president, Asif Ali Zardari, is a wheeler-dealer who gets along just fine with his neighbours to the east and is only too happy to replace militant camps with clothing factories. Mr Singh should take advantage of this, for example by creating special economic zones where specific products that benefit both countries are allowed to trade freely. This would soften political resistance in Pakistan to any Indian-driven solution. Microfinance in Kashmir should also become a priority of the Indian government to make employment durable over the long term. Enlisting the support of wealthy Indians, as Mr Singh has, begins a public-private partnership that infuses government-backed enterprise with free-market innovation. He should also consider contributions from civic-minded Pakistanis throughout the world who could help build up the Pakistani side of Kashmir. I will commit my own wealth in large amounts to this effort, and I know where to find other Pakistani-origin support to join hands with me. Mr Singh’s recent statements indicate that he is finally prepared to use his personal political capital to end the violence. That is a good start – but only a start. He remains the best hope for a peaceful resolution. It is time for his government and people throughout the region to get behind him and heal Kashmir’s gaping wounds. The writer is chairman of Aquarius Global Partners, a London private equity investment firm


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