For Peace with Pak, India has to be Strong
By M J Akbar
( The Seige Within)
The oddest fallacy within Delhi's current establishment is the conviction that Pakistan's India policy is leader-centric rather than a projection of national interest, which those in power might tinker with here, or twist there, but cannot shift from a fundamental axis: the belief that the Kashmir valley should be a part of Pakistan. Definitions of national interest take much longer to change than leaders.
The public lament of national security adviser M K Narayanan at the impending departure of Pervez Musharraf may have been well-intentioned but was ill-advised. It certainly did not help Musharraf, and may even have hurt him with his core constituency, the army and the ISI. If it is the prevailing view in the Manmohan Singh government that Islamabad's promotion of violence in Kashmir, either through directly sponsored terrorism, or encouragement of mass displays of disaffection, varies with the inclinations of individuals, then it is time to outsource Pakistan policy to less naive professionals.
Islamabad's policy towards Kashmir is calibrated on a sensitive thermometer that measures the fever between circumstance and opportunity. This was true of October 1947, when Jinnah launched a war for the Valley after the peaceful resolution of Kashmir through negotiations with Nehru and the Maharaja, with Britain as the fourth party at the table, became inevitable. All three, India, Pakistan and Britain, were agreed that independence was not on offer. Jinnah was convinced that Nehru's inexperienced government, unable to control a raging Hindu-Muslim civil war, would be incapable of fighting back a "tribal incursion" and he would be able to join the congregation on the first Friday prayers at the grand mosque in Srinagar within days of the Pak-sponsored "uprising".
In 1965, Ayub Khan saw an opportunity in three critical facts: the humiliation of the Indian Army on the China border three years before; a Congress bereft of Nehru, who died in 1964; and a Kashmir still in the tremors of an unprecedented upsurge over the mysterious disappearance (and even more mysterious reappearance) of the mo-e-muqaddas, a strand of hair from the beard of the Holy Prophet of Islam.
There is still some dispute as to who launched Kargil, but the evidence points to a still-unknown general, Pervez Musharraf. He saw a fragile coalition in Delhi led by BJP, and became convinced that he could creep up and take up impregnable positions astride vital communication lines while his prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, twiddled his hamburgers in Islamabad. The Pak army did not envisage a larger conflict because it had realized, as early as the early 1980s, that a conventional war with India was no longer winnable.
The despot who ruled the country then, General Zia-ul Haq, therefore stabilized relations on the surface and undermined them below eye-level through blatant support for secessionism in Punjab and Kashmir. The background and character of each man, whether democrat or dictator, had less to do with what he did than circumstance and opportunity. If India provides the opening, a Pakistani leader will seize the chance to change the status of the Kashmir valley. The latest Pakistani threat to take Kashmir back to the top of the agenda at the United Nations has come not from a dictator but a democrat.
War and peace are not open-ended options; both are framed by specifics. The good news for peaceniks (among whom I count myself) is that the bomb has ended the possibility of formal war. The bad news is that no one knows what peace means.
Can there be peace until Pakistan renounces its deeply held objective that the Kashmir valley cannot remain an integral part of India? Can any government in Delhi purchase peace by any compromise on the legal and territorial status quo?
We have elided Kargil from Musharraf's CV and replaced it with Agra and his periodic hints about an "out-of-the-box settlement" on Kashmir. To be fair, Musharraf always made it clear that the status quo was not acceptable as the solution. What precisely did Musharraf mean?
Musharraf's peace-drive was running at least partly on an American gear. With the Manmohan Singh government itching for its own American embrace, it made sense for Washington to have both South Asian nations on its side. The best American formula for Kashmir is obviously one that would guarantee trilateral benefits, the third interest being the American.
A model often proposed at Washington-encouraged conferences has been a Kashmir delinked from Jammu and Ladakh, over which India might enjoy at best a face-saving, limited sovereignty. Trifurcation is the first step towards an "autonomous" or "quasi-independent" Kashmir, while Jammu and Ladakh, unleashed from Article 370, integrate fully with India.
To create the psychological conditions for such an option, we need the same mindset that persuaded enough Indian Hindus to agree to partition in 1947. On one margin today is the radical-soft, human rights view that Kashmiris should be given their "azadi" because they want it. (It would be equivalent to the CPI position before 1947.) This argument is indifferent to two potential consequences. Indian Muslims, who have already paid a heavy price for the "guilt" of 1947, would be condemned to generations of discrimination for a second betrayal of the motherland by some of their co-religionists; and there would be a collateral rise in other "independence" movements in Punjab, Gorkhaland, the North-East and the South. Welcome to Balkan India. Kosovo could seem a large country compared with Gorkhaland.
On the obverse, this scenario needs a growing "enough-is-enough, to-hell-with-Kashmiris" attitude among Hindus, aggravated by anger against ingratitude - after all secular India provided Kashmiris not only the chance to join a rising economy, but also a modern education and the freedom of a multicultural society, and they rejected it. The two points of view would coalesce from different directions. Impossible? This is precisely what happened in 1947, leaving Gandhi and Maulana Azad distraught but utterly helpless. Sixty one years later, some opinion-builders in English newspapers have begun to articulate the "enough-is-enough" argument.
Dr Manmohan Singh spoke a few days ago of finding a permanent settlement to Kashmir. Implicit in the use of "permanent" is the belief that the status quo is unsatisfactory and needs alteration. The official position of India lies in a Parliament resolution, binding on all governments, that Kashmir's status cannot be diluted. The pragmatic position, which would find acceptance if ever put to the test, is that the ceasefire line should be converted into the international border. Even peace-loving Musharraf, who did not have to worry about a popular vote, was not in a position to accept the ceasefire line as the final destiny. His successors will not sign on either, when they get time from their increasingly vicious internecine battles for political supremacy. So what "permanent" solution does Dr Singh have in mind?
Peace with Pakistan is possible, but it can only come when India looks strong, not when it seems vulnerable. The health of India is what Delhi should worry about, not the health of Pervez Musharraf.
Appeared in Times of India - August 24, 2008