Finding elusive peace in Kashmir | Pakistan Today

Finding elusive peace in Kashmir

The Manmohan-Musharraf formula will still work

By B Z Khasru

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is driving the Kashmir train on the wrong track of ultranationalism. But it’s not yet too late to change the course to find lasting peace and prosperity for all. The nirvana lies in a blueprint secretly drafted a decade ago by two former leaders of India and Pakistan who failed to execute it because they left office.

The idea, developed by aides to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Gen Parvez Musharraf through secret talks from 2004-2007, still remains a win-win realistic approach for everyone —India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over it since Independence in 1947. In 1948, after the first war, India raised Kashmir in the UN Security Council, which called for a plebiscite on its status. It asked Pakistan to withdraw its troops and India to cut its military presence to a minimum. A ceasefire came into force, but Pakistan refused to withdraw. Kashmir has remained partitioned since then.

The USA has pushed the two since the Kennedy Administration to make the existing division their permanent border, but the idea went nowhere because of a fatal flaw— it gives nothing to the victims, the Kashmiris. India loves the idea, but Pakistan wants no part of it, and the Kashmiris outright hate it.

Under the Musharraf-Manmohan plan, India and Pakistan would withdraw soldiers from Kashmir, Kashmiris would be allowed to move freely across the de facto border; Kashmir would enjoy full internal autonomy; and the three parties— India, Pakistan and Kashmir— would jointly govern the state for a transitional period. The final status would be negotiated thereafter.

The main problem that stands in the way of achieving peace in Kashmir is chauvinism in both India and Pakistan. It has cost tens of thousands of lives and prosperity of both the nations as well as their neighbours. Modi’s extremist party has always opposed a negotiated settlement. It operates on a misguided dream of reuniting the subcontinent into one Hindu nation

Instead of picking up from where the two leaders left off, Modi has allowed himself to be drugged by the hypernationalist vision of the late VD Savarkar, who proposed nearly 100 years ago to keep minorities in subjugation in an India ruled by the Hindu majority.

He would let Muslims and Christians stay in India only if they agreed to be subservient to Hindus; they would not enjoy any special rights that might infringe upon Hindu rights. India today is a nation of 1.3 billion people, with 14 per cent Muslim and two per cent Christian.

On August 5, keeping Kashmiri Muslim leaders under house arrest and deploying tens of thousands of soldiers in heavily fortified Kashmir, Modi moved to snatch away their special rights— their own flag, own law and property rights—granted by India’s Constitution in a blitzkrieg exercise in a matter of hours. By scraping Kashmir’s special autonomy status and dividing the state into two parts, Modi has taken a dangerous step toward implementing Savarkar’s dream.

The fallout from his manoeuvre will reverberate far beyond India and Pakistan. India’s smaller neighbours, which have historically opposed India’s heavy-handedness, already see a danger sign in Modi’s action. They wonder how India will deal with them in bilateral disputes. It is disconcerting to learn the world’s largest democracy has turned into a mobocracy.

Bangladesh is India’s most friendly neighbour now, with vastly improved relations in recent years. Still it has concerns about several bilateral matters. One of them is an assertion by Modi’s Nazi-type saffron party that there are 40 million Bangladeshi migrants illegally living in India who must be pushed back. During just concluded talks in Delhi, Bangladesh flatly rejected India’s claim. The matter was acrimonious enough to stop a joint communiqué being issued.

Also, India is seeking to expand its third largest Tripura airport into Bangladesh. This will certainly run into stiff public resistance. India also is watching China’s move to build a submarine base in Bangladesh. Delhi’s standing policy is to bar Dhaka from granting Beijing a military base on its soil.

Nepal has border disputes, too. China this with Delhi by boosting trade.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was the only neighbour who openly supported India’s step. He needs India’s help to stay in power. Colombo’s endorsement comes at the expense of its Tamil minority.

Modi’s move has stoked regional tensions within India as well, with some restive ethnic groups seeking autonomy. One of them is demanding that West Bengal be divided, as Delhi has done with Kashmir, to grant tribal minorities special rights.

Modi’s hyper-nationalist campaign in Kashmir will fire-up the already inflamed Savarkar disciples to browbeat India’s Muslims and Christians. It will refuel the Islamic extremists in the region and beyond, who will seek to counter Hindu nationalists.

Given the region’s history, the Musharraf-Manmohan concept offers a realistic solution. It gives the Kashmiris near-independence, allows India to maintain sovereignty over Kashmir and lets Pakistan claim it has freed Kashmir from Hindu domination. India must not repeat Pakistan’s mistakes in East Pakistan, which led to a war in 1971. Both India and Pakistan must dig themselves out of the mass hysteria of jingoism they have created during the past 70 years over Kashmir.

The main problem that stands in the way of achieving peace in Kashmir is chauvinism in both India and Pakistan. It has cost tens of thousands of lives and prosperity of both the nations as well as their neighbours. Modi’s extremist party has always opposed a negotiated settlement. It operates on a misguided dream of reuniting the subcontinent into one Hindu nation. Because of this faulty doctrine, when Singh invited his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to lead the peace talk with Pakistan, he refused. He cited stiff opposition from the BJP. The Indians have a hard-time to accept a negotiated settlement because they have the notion that Kashmir is already theirs.

Modi’s latest power grab is unlikely to end the crisis. To achieve lasting peace, the M-squared formula should be revived, even though it may be political suicide for anyone doing so, especially in India, where Hindu radical hysteria now reigns supreme. Still, someone must make the sacrifice.

The writer is a freelance columnist.



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