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Kashmir may be Tougher to Resolve than Palestine
One of the byproducts of the American war on terrorism is the growing recognition in Washington that outstanding conflicts such as the dispute in Kashmir and the Arab-Israeli struggle cannot be allowed to fester indefinitely. Increasingly disparate voices in the administration as well as in the Congress have expressed their acknowledgement that the tragic events of Sept. 11th and its aftermath has opened a window of opportunity to bring peace to these beleaguered regions.
From Michigan for example, Congressman Nick Smith (7th District) who is a prominent member of the House International Relations Committee has been taking proactive steps to explore the possibilities of brokering peace between India and Pakistan and resolving their longstanding dispute over Kashmir. He has in recent weeks met with the President of Pakistan Parvez Musharraf, he has met with representatives of India, Pakistan and Kashmir and he has sought the counsel of experts to develop a framework for peace building in Kashmir.
While there are those who believe that terrorism is essentially a security matter and should therefore be handled militarily, there are saner voices that argue that sources of terrorism are vastly complex and while immediate threats from groups like Al-Qaeda must be dealt with militarily, promotion of justice, peace, democracy and development is the only way to minimize terrorism in the long term.
Having said that, I must point out that the Kashmir dispute is not an easy mess to unravel. Ethnicity, religion, nationalism, state repression, systematic human rights violations and terrorism are all important ingredients of this hot South Asia curry. In many ways it is similar to the Arab-Israeli conflict but its military implications are more sinister since the primary adversaries in the Kashmir dispute India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers.
In both these conflicts the role of religion, Muslim-Jewish tensions in the Middle East and the Hindu-Muslim rivalry in South Asia, add complexity to a geopolitical struggle. The presence of occupied peoples in both areas further heightens the humanitarian tragedy of the conflict. The historical memories of three wars in each region have developed entrenched sentiments of hatred that make rational compromises very difficult to pursue. While Kashmir is not as vital to Hindu and Muslim faiths as Jerusalem is to Jews and Muslims, nonetheless the involvement of religion exacerbates the conflict and makes resolution very difficult.
There are at least four significant issues that make resolving the Kashmir dispute a more difficult challenge than Palestine.
US Role in Peace Making: First of all unlike in the Middle East where all parties involved recognize the centrality of the US to any peaceful outcome, India is opposed to any third party involvement in the Kashmir dispute. While Pakistan and the Kashmiri liberation movements have actively sought to internationalize the dispute to invite third party arbitration either from the Muslim World, the US or from the UN, India has steadfastly maintained that the dispute is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and a solution must therefore come without intervention from outside the region. The ability of any US initiative to find a resolution to the problem depends on the willingness of all parties to recognize it as either an agency for arbitration or a facilitator of peace negotiations. Basically it hinges on the question; will India accept a new and larger involvement of the US in Kashmir? As of now indications are that India would like to use the US to legitimize its military activities in Kashmir as a war on terror without subjecting itself to any kinds of US pressure on its regional postures.
Until recently the US had imposed sanctions against India and Pakistan for doing things they thought was necessary for their national security and something that the US has already done develop nuclear weapons. Now that the US needs the two nations for its own security, it is cozying up to them. While these two countries realize that they can use the US for their own purposes, they may not be willing to trust it as yet.
Highly sophisticated Indian and Pakistani lobbies inside the US are more interested in encouraging the US to adopt a partisan role and their influence will also impede the US from acting as an honest broker. These are important barriers to an influential role for the US in the resolution of the Kashmiri crisis.
No Infrastructure for Peace making: In the Middle East crisis there are two important assets for peace making; one, the existence of a foundational principle for peace land for security and two, the presence of well developed institutional framework for peace making. We know who are the peace negotiators for Israel, for Palestine and for the US. There is no such development in South Asia and peace making will first necessitate the development of tools/frameworks for peace making.
There are two potential principles for peace; The UN resolution demanding a plebiscite in Kashmir that is advocated by Pakistan and rejected by India. The other alternative is the Simla accords of 1972 that India maintains as overarching and Pakistan disagrees. Neither of these two potential principles treats Kashmiris as an independent voice and that could scuttle any resolution between the nuclear powers if Kashmiris themselves are not allowed to represent their own interests.
Two Level Games: Unlike the two main parties in the Middle East conflict, both India and Pakistan are developing democracies. Pakistan is currently going through an undemocratic stage, but nevertheless the presence of well developed political parties and relatively free and widespread media mean that the government cannot take too many decisions without public consent. In the Middle East while Israeli public opinion and the positions of all internal factions is included in the peace process, Palestinians who have a position different from Arafats are marginalized. The political development of both India and Pakistan makes peace negotiations a two level game. Which means that not only will the two parties have to negotiate terms with each other, they also will have to negotiate their own positions with opposition factions.
In India the Hindu nationalists and in Pakistan Islamic militias will remain a significant challenge to peace making. Thus negotiations will necessarily become two level games internal negotiations as well as external negotiations. This is definitely an added complexity making the South Asian dispute very difficult to arbitrate.
Kashmiri Diversity: While India and Pakistan often pretend that Kashmiris themselves do not have much voice in this dispute, any final status negotiations will have to incorporate Kashmiri concerns. Unfortunately for all Kashmiris do not speak with a single voice. First of all there is a displaced Hindu minority, the Pundits, who would like to return to their homes in Jammu and it is safe to assume that unlike the Kashmiri Muslims they have no desire to either become independent or to join Pakistan. Within the Kashmiri Muslims themselves there are pro-India, Pro-Pakistan and pro-independence factions and if Kashmiris are invited to the table, they will have to reach an internal consensus first. That is easily said than done.
If the US genuinely seeks to resolve the Kashmir dispute as part of its overall strategy to eliminate the reasons for terrorism, then in this case the challenge is quite daunting. The US will have to quickly develop a relationship of trust with both India and Pakistan and set things in motion to first build an infrastructure for peace, so that peacemaking can begin in earnest. It will also have to convince both India and Pakistan to allow an open and free dialogue within Kashmir to allow them to arrive at some kind of consensus about their own future so that they will be able to represent themselves effectively.