Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

What emerges is that many in India and even more in Pakistan have not grasped the tremendous significance and geo-strategic potential of the “make borders irrelevant” proposal and are still content to look at it through ancient and distorted lenses

Kashmir, through an old, distorted prism

The Kashmir Dispute: Making Borders Irrelevant, by P RChari, Hasan Askari Rizvi, Rashid Ahmed Khan, S Suba Chandran. Samskriti. New Delhi, 2009. 130 pages.

By B G Verghese

For the Book Review, 26 June, 2009

Joint studies of conflictual issues by the protagonists is always a useful exercise in conflict resolution. This little volume, was sponsored by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Delhi and has been authored by two Pakistani scholars, Hasan Askari Rizvi and Rashid Ahmed Khan, and two Indian counterparts, P.R, Chari and Suba Chandran. The danger, however, is that the contents may be rendered anodyne in an effort to avoid displeasing the contending parties. Sixty-two years after the event, nothing is to be gained by once again circling the mulberry bush. Some things have been said; but much has been left unsaid.

The study may have been far more productive if each side had set out its case frankly and forcefully and then, in a third section, sought to find common ground or at least common principles on the basis of which to proceed further. It can be argued that posing hard questions would be a recipe for a stalemate and thus frustrate the very purpose of the endeavour. On the other hand, nothing is going to be achieved by begging the question. As a member of some Track-II cross border dialogues, one has seen protracted discussion spread over many sessions and long year yield little or nothing on account of excessive politeness. Most audiences would be inclined to walk out of a concert if they got the feeling that the choristers were not singing from the same sheet of music.

One possible reason for this outcome is that the joint study was presented by the two principal investigators at a joint meeting of the US Institute for Peace and the Brookings Institution in Washington “on the basis of which (we are told) the Report was finalized”. Unfortunately, on J&K the Americans have been as much a part of the problem as they are now trying to be part of the solution. The latest testimony to this comes from the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, who confessed to Congress just some weeks ago that she found that US policy towards Pakistan over the past two decades or so had been “incoherent”. Indeed, US policy on J&K has been “incoherent” almost from 1948-49, and for much the same reason, for that is when Pakistan first became a “frontline state” and Washington (and the UK) began to look at J&K through a distorting mirror. Much received wisdom on J&K and the “dispute” tends to be seen through the US-UK prism in the international circuit in the face of India’s superior and supremely silly silence and needs to be junked.

While the volume seeks to discuss the issue of “making borders irrelevant”, it properly attempts to set the background in a potted history of the “dispute”. The so-called Poonch revolt against a local jagirdari is cited as the trigger for the entry of irregular forces into J&K from Pakistan followed by armed tribesmen on October 22, 1947. This sequence completely ignores the overwhelming weight of the by now well documented “tribal invasion” by Pakistan Army regulars under Brigadier Akbar Khan, Director Weapons and Equipment, on the orders of the Pakistan Government which he himself later documented in his “Raiders in Kashmir”. This was formally confirmed by Sir Own Dixon, the UN Representative for J&K. No consequences followed. Aggression triumphed. The Northern Areas (Baltistan and Gilgit) were invaded and occupied against a UN injunction. Again, no consequences followed, nor again in 1965 when yet another invasion was staged in the guise of Operation Gibralter.

The volume under review states that Pakistan’s case rests on strict implementation of the UN Resolution which enjoined a plebiscite. True. But what did the governing resolution of August 13, 1948 state? The first part called for a ceasefire (which was accomplished on January 1, 1949). The second called for a truce under which the first order of business was the disbandment and disarming of all “Azad Kashmir” forces followed by a total withdrawal of all Pakistan forces from every part of J&K. The third part envisaged a plebiscite the modalities for which were elaborated in a UN Resolution of January, 1949. This provided that “a plebiscite will be held when it shall be found … that the cease fire and truce agreement …. have been carried out”. Part 3 was observed in the breach. The Pakistan Army and AK battalions not merely stayed put but were augmented and rearmed many times over, aided by the West, and reinforced by ever new cadres of jihadis, Taliban and non-state terrorist actors created by Pakistan and, in their “incoherence”, assisted and protected by the US until fairly recently.

Many might cite earlier rigged elections, human rights violations and some erosion of autonomy on the Indian side. But subsequent “sin” cannot justify prior crime. Nor are the scales in the least comparable. And the argument breaks down completely when juxtaposed against the far graver and more consistent derogations on the Pakistani side. Not that this extenuates any Indian failing. But treating both sides on par as Siamese twins is to colour judgement and to seek a pre-determination of outcomes on Pakistan’s terms rather than on merits. One cannot afford to forget history while not being mired in it.

Reference to “Kashmiris” wrongly equates a part with the whole and to give centrality to the much-divided and discredited Hurriyat is further to confuse a tiny part of that part with the whole of that part.

India has moved forward to take a pragmatic stance on a final settlement of the J&K question. It is on this basis that the “make boundaries irrelevant” solution has been posed. This entails sharing Kashmir through varied patterns of cooperation and collaboration, including joint mechanisms for governance of the entire region encompassing totality of the erstwhile Maharaja’s domain. One should certainly give credit to Musharraf for showing a certain pragmatism in accepting “out of the box” solutions when cornered after 9/11 and more especially in January 2002, when his double talk and double speak were exposed. But the concept of soft borders and a possible J&K confederation were first mooted by Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in 1964 and canvassed by the latter in Pakistan and Muzaffarabad.

This offers a viable and just solution and takes into account the interests of all parties – not least of all the peoples of J&K. The corollary entails grant of autonomy to and within Indian J&K and of POK and the Northern Areas. The Indian side already enjoys greater autonomy than the other part of the State under Pakistan’s control – by far. The Northern Areas in particular is the last remaining pure colony in the world with scarcely any freedoms or democratic rights. And it is not without significance that the Pakistan survey of responses to the “make borders irrelevant” proposition is confined to POK and excludes the Northern Areas.

By and large, the opinion surveys, limited as they are - 50 students in POK - seek more bus connections, simpler travel documents and visa formalities, wider criteria for travel eligibility than just “divided families”, enhanced trade and so forth. This is only to be expected. But the sense that this would legitimize India’s “illegal occupation” and confirm the status quo, thus nullifying the sacrifices of the “freedom fighters” is the kind of humbug that emanates from the distorted history of the J&K “dispute” that has been propagated and sought to be written in stone.

The same applies to alarms in Pakistan and abroad about India’s use of Indus waters in its part of J&K. Baglihar and other Indian projects have been cited. All these are consistent with the Indus Waters Treaty and come well within what India is permitted under that Treaty. Less than 0.5 million acre feet of water has been ponded (not stored) by India on the three Western rivers as against the 3.60 m.a.f permitted. Similarly, only half the area allowed has been irrigated in J&K thus far. Yet Pakistan has been tireless in raising objections and seeking to block every project proposed by India. The Indian “making borders irrelevant” proposal includes joint exploration, construction and operation of projects on the three Western rivers by both sides on either side of the LOC. This is in some ways the most far reaching proposal in the package but has attracted little debate in Pakistan which, like India, confronts grim prospects within the Indus basin on account of glacial melt and climate change. Pakistani scholars and negotiators simply have not grasped the implications of the impending crisis that will impact them even more than India. The “survey” ignores the issue.

What emerges is that many in India and even more in Pakistan have not grasped the tremendous significance and geo-strategic potential of the “make borders irrelevant” proposal and are still content to look at it through ancient and distorted lenses. The present volume offers some perspectives. One wishes it had gone much further in setting out what could be a dramatic win-win situation for the people of J&K, Indians, Pakistanis, SAARC and the entire region and the cause of global peace.

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