Has the Kashmir dispute been temporarily resolved? 29 January 2014
Having been in Islamabad for a few days, I have been pondering whether the Kashmir dispute has been temporarily resolved. In the last few years, we have seen little substantial diplomatic movement by either India or Pakistan to actively try to resolve this vexed and seemingly intractable issue. Indeed, India-Pakistan relations have worsened in the last year due to some serious and unsavoury incidents across the Line of Control that have upset Indians, particularly some in the Indian Army. Most recently, in J&K itself, trade across the Line of Control has ceased due to India’s arrest of a truck driver from the other ‘side’ who allegedly has smuggled narcotics. In response or retaliation, Pakistan has detained 27 truck drivers from the Indian side. Trade has been suspended for two weeks as officials locally and in New Delhi and Islamabad try to resolve the matter.
More broadly and despite Pakistan’s new leadership, New Delhi has been occupied dealing with other international and domestic issues. Internationally, India is engaging with, and being wooed by, an array of nations seeking to couple their bilateral relations with, and to benefit from, India’s seemingly slow but inevitable progress towards being a great power. Locally, Indian politicians have been positioning themselves and their parties for the forthcoming Indian elections. Consequently, New Delhi seemingly has little time or interest to deal with Islamabad in a serious or substantive way on advancing any of the major India-Pakistan issues, with the possible exception of trade. Similarly, some Pakistanis are concerned that India’s potential prime minister, Narendra Modi, who they believe is a hardline anti-Pakistani, may not ‘give an inch’ on any issue, especially J&K.
It is too early to predict the outcome of the Indian elections. Furthermore, given the nature of politics, it remains to be seen how hardline Mr Modi will, or actually can, be, should he become India’s prime minister. Currently, however, Islamabad has not been able to advance the India-Pakistan relationship, except rhetorically. Nawaz Sharif has talked of wanting to normalise Pakistan’s relations with India, which has been helpful. Yet, despite being a businessman and politician, he has not been able to bring himself to grant India the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status that would normalise the India-Pakistan trade relationship. This is partly because some Pakistanis object to this terminology, believing (incorrectly) that such a move will grant India special privileges. Equally, Sharif’s seeming reluctance to deal positively with India may partially be explained because he is waiting to see which Indian leader with whom Pakistan will eventually have to deal.
Sharif’s reluctance also reflects some indecisiveness in Pakistan as it grapples with a number of other issues. These include whether to fight the anti-social Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistan Taliban) or to negotiate with them or to undertake both activities simultaneously; how to successfully, and as painlessly as possible, address Pakistan’s major internal economic, social and political woes, particularly in places such the ethnic and political hotspot of Karachi, the backward and Taliban-infested Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in perennially disgruntled Balochistan; and, dealing with the inevitable tension and instability that will arise in post-ISAF Afghanistan and which invariably will impact on Pakistan, most probably negatively.
The serious matter of post-ISAF Afghanistan is, arguably, the issue engaging Islamabad’s strategic planners the most. It seems to me that they are very concerned about Pakistan having to deal with some potentially serious instability on its western wing while still having to confront a somewhat assertive India on their heavily-militarised eastern border. The recent United States-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue will make Pakistanis feel a little more comfortable with their strategic situation—but only a little. They remain terribly concerned about, and focused on, India, about which they obsess and to which they invariably, but unnecessarily, compare Pakistan.
As a result, we are seeing a short term, and somewhat clever, strategy by Pakistan in relation to the Kashmir dispute. This strategy involves seeking stability in the east by not pushing to resolve the J&K issue with India while, concurrently, saying publically and more often that Pakistan does not want J&K but that, instead, it wants ‘Kashmiris’ to be able to have an act of self-determination to decide their international status. By Kashmiris, the Pakistanis seemingly mean all of the people of J&K, although Islamabad’s focus appears to be on the Indian-controlled Kashmir Valley and the serious human rights violations there. This is the clever part of the strategy: Pakistan is attempting to take the ‘high moral ground’ by focusing on what it considers to be India’s serious and diabolical actions in the Kashmir Valley against ethnic Kashmiris. New Delhi is assisting Islamabad by not actively and openly pursuing human rights violations and by recently allowing the Indian Army to close an investigation into five soldiers accused of killing five supposed ‘terrorists’ in Anantnag in 2000.
Equally, clever, Islamabad is magnanimously wanting to empower the long-suffering but politically-expendable people of J&K (particularly those in the clearly non-pro-Pakistan regions of Jammu and Ladakh) to let them decide their fate. This makes Islamabad appear to be a paragon of virtue in relation to empowering ‘native’ peoples (i.e. J&K-ites) and their inalienable rights to self-determination. Nevertheless, only two options appear to remain available to J&K-ites: join J&K either with India or with Pakistan. Independence, which some, perhaps many, J&K-ites desire for J&K is not an option.
Pakistan’s strategy is likely to be in place until Afghanistan becomes sufficiently stable or until a regime emerges in Kabul that is to Pakistan’s liking. While clever, it could backfire as others highlight Pakistan’s own human rights violations and/or lack of allowing self-determination to people in places such as Balochistan. In relation to the Kashmir dispute, it means that we are unlikely to see very little movement in the next few years. This could change if there is a major post-election political and mindset shift in New Delhi. Otherwise, there is no pressing imperative for India and Pakistan to resolve their dispute over J&K. Therefore, effectively—although neither actually nor efficiently—the Kashmir dispute would appear to be ‘resolved’ for the next few years.
29 January 2014