The Way Forward in Kashmir

By Sundeep Waslekar
23rd December 1998

The writing on the wall is clear. Leading Western scholars, known for their proximity to American and British governments, have indicated that they would not bail the Kashmiri leaders out of the present imbroglio. The Kashmiris must take their future in their own hands. The only viable way forward for them is a serious dialogue with the national leaders of India and publication in the political and democratic process.

If Kashmiris do not engage in talks or polls, they should not expect any succor from the outside. Lord Avebury, a long time champion of human rights in Kashmir, recently visited the valley and urged the Hurriyat to participate in future elections. In September, Dr. Michael Krepon, head of the Washington based Stimson Center and a critic of India's security policy visited Kashmir and observed that violent militant ways would not help.

A few months ago Kashmir Study Group, comprising prominent American scholars such as Professors Ainslie Ambree and Rubert Wirsing, among others, concluded: 'The Team believes that India should initiate formal and unconditional talks with a broadened state of Kashmiri leaders including the Hurriyat. Equally important is the successful restoration of normal civil life in Kashmir with a clear commitment given by all of the armed militant and counter-militant Kashmiri groups of their willingness to eschew violence and to participate constructively in the process of political dialogue.

The Kashmir Study Group has also emphasized bilateral dialogue between India Pakistan. Even Dr. Shirin Tahir-Kheli, a scholar and former US diplomat of Pakistani origin, said at a public seminar in Mumbai that India and Pakistan should promote trade and set aside controversial Kashmir issue. The most striking example of the Western position is the message Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief received during his visit to the United States. President Clinton flatly refused to offer mediation.

These developments have lessons for the Indian government, the Pakistani government, and most important, Kashmiri leaders.

The lessons of the Indian government is that transparency is valuable. Earlier, the government discouraged visits of critics like Avebury, Krepon and others. But a direct exposure has helped outside observers to form their own opinion, rather than depending on Pakistani propaganda.

The lesson for the Pakistani government is that bilateral talks with India have no alternative. Earlier, the Indian government had refused to include Kashmir in the agenda. Now that it has accepted its inclusion, Pakistan should use the opportunity to find a solution. Driving the talks towards failure would not be bought by Pakistan's donors.

The most important lesson is the Kashmiris. They have no hope of support from the West if they do not eschew violence and engage in talks or elections. Otherwise, one day they might wake up to find that Indian and Pakistani governments have made a deal on their own.

The possibility of such a deal is not impossible. The Pakistani State is very fragile. Even the army is not willing to take over the reigns of power. If Pakistan needs external aid to avoid default, it will have to prove to Western powers that they are the good guys. If Pakistan, for whatever reasons, shows willingness to compromise, India would find it impossible to carry on the conflict.

It is therefore imperative that the Kashmiris engage in talks with the national leaders. The National Conference has already announced its loyalty to India the only matter open to negotiation is the degree of autonomy. The Hurriyat has not accepted the fully Kashmiri's status as a part of India. If the Hurriyat wants to present its views successfully it should adapt the following strategy.

First, Hurriyat should prove its credentials by asking for the dissolution of the assembly for fresh elections and winning them with the two-third majority. The National Human Rights Commission should arrange for monitoring to prevent any possibility or rigging.

Second, the Hurriyat should eschew violence and completely distance itself from any groups which do not renounce violence.

Third, the Hurriyat should cooperate with the authorities in identifying non-Kashmiri elements involved in engineering violence and negotiate with National Human Rights Commission a plan for honouring the human rights of the Kashmiri people.

If the Hurriyat, and other Kashmiri groups, show willingness to find a non-violent solution to the problem, the government should consider dissolving the assembly to hold fresh elections and also selectively reducing the forces from the Valley. At the same time, the government should give full freedom for forces on the ground to provide a tough response for foreign mercenaries and others who are not interested in a non-violent approach.Such a firm attitude is not politically feasible for any government in power. It is therefore essential that the leading national political parties, and Kashmiri parties committed to the Indian union, initiate multi-party consultations to develop a process consensus. A consensus on the process should be distinguished from a consensus on substance, which would be the end-result of the process.

The people of Kashmir have made it clear to may fact-finding missions that they want peace. The outsiders have indicated that they are not interested in mediating in a violent conflict. The future is now in the hands of the Kashmiri a luxurious life while studying in the United States.

About Author:
Sundeep Waslekar, born in 1959 and educated in Oxford, combines research, action and consultancy experience in the fields of governance, conflict resolution and regional co-operation. He is the founder of the International Centre for Peace Initiatives, based in Mumbai and New Delhi. In his work at the Centre, he was engaged global, regional and national leaders in consensus-building initiatives on vital policy issues. In addition, he has provided consultancy, addressed seminars and published articles in thirty countries. He is the author of South Asian Drama: Travails of Misgovernance(Konark, 1996), among other books.

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