Towards Understanding South Asia – A Comparative Study of Kashmir Conflict in Regional and Global Perspective

Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, peace activist and a freelance journalist. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, peace activist and a freelance journalist. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution.

By Nayyar Niaz Khan

The State of Jammu Kashmir has been at the vanguards in India-Pakistan relations since the abrupt withdrawal of Great Britain from sub-continent and formation of two States. Since 1947 Pakistan and India have gone to war thrice, Kashmir perceived to be the main dispute. In 1999 Kargil crisis again brought both newly nuclear rivals to brink of war. The then US administration led by President Clinton intervened promptly and timely negotiated to deescalate the overwrought situation when both were at fighting an impromptu war at the peaks of Kargil in Jammu Kashmir. After US led war against terrorism in Afghanistan (2001), the genre of global politics exclusively transformed and it also influenced the South Asia and anywhere else in the world. Due to the changing global political scenario and new fronts of confrontation after the end of cold war, both India and Pakistan advanced their bilateral relations during the Musharraf and Vajpayee’s regimes in their respective countries. Back door diplomacy led them to take some sort of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) including a direct bus service across the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed State of Jammu Kashmir. South Asian politics of guns and arsenals was replaced by composite dialogues, negotiations, reconciliations, sports and exchanges of cultural, intellectual, academics and musicians. But all this could not last long due to absence of a democratic system in Pakistan and history of mistrust among the rivals. Musharraf regime, which was already fragile and lacking public support, became weaker due to his confrontation with judiciary in Pakistan in the first quarter of 2007. The unfortunate and untimely death of Benazir Bhutto was a blow in the forthcoming regional politics of South Asia. As a result of February 2008 general elections in Pakistan, Musharraf lost the power but successive governments of President Zardari and then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not show mature judgments on various key issues regarding the future of South Asia including the resolution of Kashmir conflict. On the other hand victory of Hindu nationalist BJP led by Narindra Modi in 2014 general elections in India altered the corridor of Indian politics and secularism. Even the major party to the conflict could not stand for the “Ownership Building Measures” and trusted the CBMs which was a colossal error on behalf of Kashmiri leadership across the LOC.

The real question is: what would be best for both countries, for the South Asian Region at large and for the wider world would be a peaceful negotiated solution. However, we should not expect any more from bilateral talks than a replay of leisurely, theoretical and protracted CBMs leading nowhere practically. Peace in South Asia is a long way off and there is no adequate political will on either side to change the impasse. One could argue why not India and Pakistan negotiate in a positive way to finally sort out the Jammu Kashmir conflict which has held both the countries hostage for more than six decades and give Kashmiris, caught in the crossfire, the rights and peace they deserve? Pakistan has an alp of domestic and foreign policy impediments, beginning with the unstable border region with Afghanistan and its liaison with the United States’ war as well as increasing political instability with home-grown armed militia. The Pakistani army prefers to avoid conflicts on two fronts. India inclines to be self-righteous about Pakistan’s wobbly condition; sometimes whispering about a failed state, but it should also have a close look at home – where not all is well either although politicians and media is portraying to disillusion the world. Increasing poverty, declining social mobility, an increasing segregated gulf between haves and have nots, identity crisis and social diseases like discrimination on cast basis are the severe internal challenges India is going through.  New Delhi has been flooded by a sequence of corruption disgraces and many of India’s rural areas are under some form of insurgency. Poverty and rising differences are prevalent in both countries and both need all likely possessions to sort out the domestic and the international issues.

The extensive wave of radicalism and belligerency in Tribal Areas, Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi and organized insurgency in Baluchistan have exposed the poor infrastructure of various states’ institutions and lack of co-ordination and commitment in tackling extremism and solving the issues by political means. Although the present day extremism has evolved from the series of events and wars in the neighboring Afghanistan, yet possibilities of connections between secret services of Pakistan and extremists at one hand and material support across the international borders at the other hand cannot be ruled out.

However, it will be unfortunate to create or find any link between the situation in Pakistan and Kashmiris people’s demand for international attention and intervention. Because Kashmir was declared disputed by the United Nations in 1948 and both India and Pakistan agreed to give Kashmiri people a chance to determine their political future through free and fair plebiscite under the UN patronage. Kashmiris have a shared history of peaceful co-existence and seeds of segregation were only strewed by the “Political Religions” of India and Pakistan.

The struggle over Kashmir is enduringly rooted in national identity, political, cultural and economic rights of Kashmiri people across the Line of Control under three interim administrations, Srinagar, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit. The Kashmir conflict has also influenced the politicization of Pakistan’s army, religious radicalism, and nuclearization in both countries.   The governments in Delhi and Islamabad have their own contradictory agenda over Jammu Kashmir. But these are the people of South Asia paying the ultimate price in form of extreme poverty, uncertain future, diseases, fear of any possible military confrontation and absence of peace and security in their lives, as both the countries have been increasing their defense expenditures every fiscal year. With the growing paradigms of regional integration and disintegration on political and social considerations and increasing interdependence of nations for their economic developments in the modern era of globalization, people living in different administrative set ups in the South Asian region need to redefine their identities in a rational way to be aligned with modern concepts of economic development and shared values of contemporary norms. One can argue that after the end of Cold War and triumph of Western Liberal Democracy our political world is still in the transitional phase. We can find the examples of economic integration and political disintegration in the last decade of 20th century. Former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia disintegrated politically and at the same time the fall of Berlin wall reunited the German Nation. Economic Integration of nations in Europe by the name of European Union (EU), in Africa, African Union (AU), Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a growing unity among the Latin American nations around the new paradigm of Democratic Socialism are the hallmarks of the present day world.  At the same time the economic miracle of Peoples Republic of China in a globalized world opens new chapters in the historical evolutionary journey. Prior to 1990, the global system was run by the balance of power between two blocs, each led by two super powers of the time i.e. USSR and the United States. This balance of power due to rivalry between two blocs opened the gates for national liberation and independence for many nations present on the map of contemporary world. Between the end of WWII (1945) and end of cold war (1990¢s), more than 130 nations emerged as independent and sovereign nations by dumping colonialism off their native lands. Ironically we can name only a couple of nation states winning independence after the cold-war.

Disintegration of USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia sent a strong message that nations desire to live independently without oppressive and forcible gear of slavery. Fall of iron curtain (Berlin wall), was not an abrupt step, rather a strong and deep desire of historically well-developed nation to be reunited. What used to be the blocs in Europe and Asia were characterized by divergent tendencies and were influenced by opposing forces, which can be traced into the past and remain part of the tumultuous present of the post-cold war world. Empires formed and collapsed, ideologies were embraced, imposed, and rejected, boundaries shifted and identities redefined, solidarities broke and new commitments were made, policies were implemented and challenged together with the governments that put them into practice.  If the problems of the South Asian region are to be addressed, and the successes to be understood, it is necessary to improve our understanding of this dynamic region through an interdisciplinary approach. The problems of the South Asian region are ethno-nationalist centered coated and painted deceptively with religious induction in many spheres of life ranging from an individual to society and then engulfing the whole region in a variety of stereotypes. Being part of this volatile region the struggle of Kashmiri people has always been manipulated, diverted and exploited in unrealistic fashions. Realistic approach towards understanding the real issue has never been exercised and champions and self-claimed leaders of this unfortunate region have always disillusioned the innocent masses with their fake slogans and impractical commitments. And the suffering of the ordinary people is getting worse with every passing electronic moment. The people living in India and Pakistan need to understand the ground realities and urge their respective governments to end their so called rivalry due to their baseless claims over the ownership of the State of Jammu Kashmir by accepting the norms, principles and values of human freedoms, international law and factors necessary for the lasting peace because the international community and civilized world has recognized the geographical boundaries of the former princely State in 1948. All the ethnic groups, cultural entities, religious factions and linguistic groups living in the area declared disputed by the United Nations is part of one geographical and political unit, whose future is yet to be decided through the democratic will of the people.

Unfortunately, the fog of political correctness now obscures the policy making institutions and other truths about weak political will of the actors. Mainstream politicians and military administrations find common national cause (on either side) in assailing “trust-building and peace efforts” as the defining characteristics. Guilt-ridden South Asian leaders and public figures display their egoist elitism patrimony in disparaging terms. And in the “self-created mistrust” environment they tend to flatter the ordinary masses into believing they have nothing really to learn from teachings and practices of “non-violence and mutual co-existence”.

Today–with the entire South Asia imperiled and jeopardized as never before by the regional war mongers and threats from outside and elsewhere–defending the South Asian harmony and regional peace has become an urgent imperative: if we don’t value what we have and what we have to share for common benefits, we will surely lose it. The Politically correct approach to conflict resolution by negotiations and reconciliation is an essential ingredient for the lasting peace and respectful co-existence. The real solution lies in addressing the real issues. For decades people in Kashmir, India and Pakistan have suffered due to unrealistic approach of Delhi and Islamabad. This is the time when civil society actors, human right activists, political, democratic, secular and progressive forces of Kashmir, India and Pakistan should stand shoulder to shoulder and demand for the restoration of permanent peace in the region by urging Delhi and Islamabad to accept the fundamental right of the Kashmiri nation. There is an imminent need for the people living across the South Asian region to stand for social justice, equality and fairness, rule of law, democracy and ultimately bridge the gaps of religious and communal divide, shatter the barriers and obstacles and achieve the goal of human freedoms and peace by accepting the political independence of Kashmiri people by removing the iron curtain of so called LOC.

The ongoing strife, will lead Kashmiri people in particular and the entire South Asians in general to nowhere but self-destruction, division, divergence, deviation and finally the war mongers will be the victorious.  Till the stalemate and impasse is going on between the two nuclear rivals of South Asia, the progressive and secular democrats in all the South Asian region should facilitate and urge their governments to focus on the eradication of poverty, hunger, disease and extremism, the common and major threats of 21st century. The forces of integration and disintegration are at parallels in all the regions of South Asia as they are in entire globe. There is no doubt that the nation states are the center of power in decision making processes in the contemporary world system, but it is also the reality that struggle for the basic human rights, including the right to self-determination are universally accepted and recognized values respected by all the International Covenants and International Law. The question is whether the people of South Asia are conveying it to the nation states and International Institutions in a democratic, unified and convincing way or not?

At the crucial juncture of history, when the regional and international politics is becoming violent for the benefit of “privately owned enterprises” the working class of the region needs to understand the dangers and stand firm towards ending the tense environment between the two nuclear rivals of sub-continent. There is always a ray of hope and a faded light at the end of the tunnel and this vital point needs to be resonated. At the heart of any sustainable peace is the condition and process of reconciliation: the restoration of entirety. There are structural conditions that can promote reconciliation, but integral to the process is that elements of compassion, assistance, understanding and clemency; the capacity to let go of the hatred and hurt of the past and begin to envision common futures.  Peace in sub-continent will not be lesser than any blessing after the decades of stress, strain and destruction. The poor masses of both the rival countries must demand for some solid measures taken by their rulers to bring dawn on the dusk of sub-continent.  No matter, as a Kashmiri, one can still doubt the transparency and sincerity of the debating actors. Because both are fragile regimes with their own domestic problems and contradictory claims over the future of the state of Jammu Kashmir.  Our commitment to a sustainable and durable solution to Kashmir issue during the negotiations should be crystal clear that there can be no bilateral solution imposed on Kashmiris. The only one solution can open the doors of peace, prosperity and democracy in sub-continent and that is to accept the Kashmiris living in all the three regions as one nation and to accept their basic right to be a free nation. A secular, democratic and peaceful Kashmir can guarantee the peace in the region. The entryway leading towards the solution of all the problems passes through the Himalayan region of Kashmir and any oversight at this sensitive brink of history can alter the corridor of future in South Asia. .

(Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, human rights, peace activist and a freelance journalist of Kashmiri origin. His major focus is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at globalpeace2002@hotmail.com)

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