The conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir is soluble only if pragmatic, realistic and tangible strategy is established to help set a stage to put the Kashmir issue on the road to a just and durable settlement. Since, we are concerned at this time with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, we believe that it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage controversies about the most desirable solution of the dispute. Any attempt to do so at this point of time amounts to playing into the hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of Kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace in South Asia; and also amounts to playing into the hands of those who would like to give an impression that Kashmir is the most complex issue. Complexity is in the eyes of the beholder. There is not a single international issue which is not complex. If there is an interest to resolve the issue then complexity becomes a motivating factor. If there is none, then complexity becomes an instrument of passivity and inaction.
The United Nations is in a unique position to play a more activist and mediatory role in regard to Kashmir by initiating a peace process. This can take the shape of: Six-party talks—United Nations, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Kashmir; or an appropriate use of the newly developed procedures and mechanics at the United Nations.
In neither case would the handling of the dispute be a rehash of the old arid and acrimonious debates at the United Nations. The United States by itself or through the United Nations, would supply the catalyst that is needed for a settlement. There are alternative courses of action which can be spelled out and involve a sequence of interactive steps over a period of time. None of them would put the peace process in the straitjacket of rigid adherence to old texts. But if a solution of the problem will be a graduated process, consisting of incremental measures, the violence in Kashmir needs to be brought to a quick end in order to set the stage for a solution.
It is interesting to note that when the Kashmir dispute erupted in 1947-48, the world powers championed the stand that the future status of Kashmir must be determined by the will of the people of the territory and that their wishes must be ascertained under the supervision and control of the United Nations. The United States was a principal sponsor of resolution # 47 which was adopted by the Security Council on April 21, 1948, and which was based on that unchallenged principle. The basic formula for settlement was incorporated in the later resolutions.
Today, the urgent necessities are:
a. To demilitarise the area of conflict—the state of Jammu and Kashmir—through a phased withdrawal of the troops (including paramilitary forces) of both India and Pakistan from the area under their respective control.
b. To take the sting out of the dispute by detaching moves towards demilitarisation of the state from the rights, claims or recognised positions of the three parties involved. In order to do this, it might be necessary to make the demilitarisation of the State the first step towards the reduction of Indian and Pakistani forces on their borders outside of Kashmir. It is after the peace-process is set afoot that the rights and claims of the parties can be considered in a non-violent atmosphere.
At times, various proposals have been made by different people to set a stage for a settlement of the long-standing conflict of Kashmir. Most of them seem to be absolute non-solutions. However, regarding the solution, I would rule out one thing and that is doing nothing. Because time is not on the side of Kashmiris. Time will never heal the problem. Time has made things worse in Kashmir. Let me mention some of the so-called ‘solutions’ here. Convert the existing ceasefire line into a permanent international boundary. This is the ideal non-solution. One cannot imagine a better formula for sowing a minefield in South Asia that will lead them to a nuclear disaster. To a Kashmiri, the line of control is a line of conflict. To talk about converting it into an international border is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Kashmir.
An India-Pakistan condominium over Kashmir. This is not a cynical idea. But it needs two things, first a maximum sense of cooperation and goodwill on the part of both India and Pakistan and an absence of friction within the State of Kashmir. If either or both of these conditions do arise, the arrangement will not only collapse, it will create crises no less grave than those already existing.
I believe that any future negotiations between India and Pakistan can be meaningful and successful if all parties concerned—Governments of India and Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership—take the following steps:
First, the Government of India must rescind the Domicile law which was enacted in 2020 simply to change the demography of Jammu and Kashmir. Until it is done, the people of Kashmir are on the brink of genocide. Second, there has to be a ceasefire from all sides that must be followed by negotiations. Negotiations cannot be carried out at a time when parties are trying to kill each other. Third, there cannot be and should not be any precondition from any party, other than commitment to non-violence and to negotiations.
Fourth, as James Wolsey, former Chief of CIA has said correctly, both India and Pakistan have lost faith in each other. And we all know that it is true that they don’t trust each other. Therefore, the time has come that there must be a third-party mediation or facilitation or engagement to make sure that the talks between India and Pakistan remain focused. The third-party facilitator does not need to be the United Nations or the United States, it could be a person of an international standing.
The history of the last 73 years testifies to the fact that the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan have been fruitless. In fact, any attempt to strike a deal between any two parties without the association of the third party will fail to yield a credible settlement. The arrangement between Jawahar Lal Nehru (then the prime minister of India) and Sheikh Abdullah (then the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir) in 1952; and the pact between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah in 1975 sought to bypass Pakistan, leaving the basic issue of Kashmir unsettled. Likewise, The Tashkent Agreement of 1966 between India and Pakistan, the Shimla Agreement of 1972, the Lahore Declaration of 1998 sought to bypass the people of Kashmir and it resulted in a failure. So, the time has come that talks must be tripartite. The reason that talks must be tripartite is that the dispute primarily involves three parties—India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. But the primary and principal party are the people of Kashmir because it is ultimately their future, the future of 23 million people of Jammu and Kashmir that is to be decided.
Seventh, we want to emphasise that the Kashmiri people are for democracy. They believe that their leadership and the future disposition of the state must be ascertained through the democratic process. Kashmiri people will participate in the election if they are part of a process, which would eventually lead to the Kashmiris’ goal of self-determination. The election process must be organised and monitored by the United Nations. The elected representatives should have the mandate to enter into negotiations with India and Pakistan. Impartial and neutral monitors should supervise the whole process of election including the preparation of voter registration. The constitutional requirement for candidates to take an oath of allegiance to the Indian Constitution has to be waived.
These ideas need refinement, but they build on the ineluctable truth that nothing fruitful is possible in Kashmir without the primary participation and willing consent of the Kashmiri people. Schemes and negotiations that neglect that truth are doomed to failure, as proven by 73 years of grim conflict in Kashmir with no end in sight.
Finally, history will testify that the final settlement of the Kashmir conflict undoubtedly brought peace and security not only to the State of Jammu and Kashmir but also to the whole region of South Asia—home to one-fifth of total human race.