Qunfayakoon

Red lines in the valley

In South Asia on 31. August 2016 at 20:56

Had the conflict in Kashmir only been about a popular rebel or defiance against indigenous rulers, it would be much easier to portray for what it is – the fight for rights, representation, dignity and freedom. Such is not the case, but it does not stop there – this small landlocked valley in the semi-Himalayan terrains with its about 15 million individuals involves the 190 million sized Pakistan, 1, 3 billion strong India and even the ever so populous China. All three of them nuclear powers, and all with stakes in South- and Central Asia. Call the Palestinian issue a Gordian knot, but the locks in this small valley will put to shame the legend by large margins.

Line_of_control_by_Cecko

By occasion, the valley gives out some shouts. We hear about some protests, stone pelting and strikes, followed up by assassinations, terrorism and police violence. Tension then brews on more when political parties and elected officials in Delhi and Pakistan try to fight their cause in the name of Kashmir in order to gain political legitimacy. A realistic solution is not a topic of the day, but facts are clear, Kashmir is in a stalemate, and there is nothing else to do, other than the obvious.

A lasting solution is what should be discussed – not one painted by ideologies or die-hard nationalism, but a solution that is hard to digest, yet realistic. It should be a talking point in the societies of Pakistan and India so that one day it has enough political leverage to give the politicians in charge room for signing some peaceful notes, and finally settle this red line on the map.

Charge

The historic legacy of a hastily prepared division of a people into two states stands out as the major reason for why the region is still at war. There are several other factors from before the Raj ended in 1947, and post-division came even more reasons to keep this flame ablaze.

At current, the Kashmir issue might be the only military involvement in where Pakistan keeps the strongest moral card on the board – that of a UN administrated plebiscite for the people of this region on what kind of future they want. India’s moral guideline is in its foundation as a secular democratic state that opposes divisions based religious lines.

However, that is all of the novelties and good intentions in this conflict. Since its origin, the Kashmiris in question have had little or nothing to say in the unfolding bloody political theatre.

India keeps on enforcing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) which gives forces in the highly militarized region special powers and de facto a martial law when it comes to right to trial, investigation and detention. India has been criticized for the use of excessive violence, yet what is termed non-Lethal weapons loaded with pellets blind protestors and bystanders. In addition, use of fake encounters, rape and torture during house searches, jail of individuals because of their opinions and persons who suddenly disappear creates everlasting resentment. Such acts does make a bleak contrast to the charming wishes Delhi has for the valley.

Cross the Line of Control situation is no better. Pakistan administers parts of Kashmir dubbed Azad Kashmir, and the northern areas known as Gilgit-Baltistan. These two regions are not represented in the National Assembly in Islamabad, neither do they have a stake in national politics, and while they elect their own assemblies (as de jure they constitute Autonomous regions), they are under the de facto power of the Government in charge in Islamabad.

Any hint of opposition to the popular narrative among Kashmiris in Pakistan is repressed. It is not of interest for the state to know of locals to be against a Pakistani administration. The Kashmir issue is after all entrenched into the country’s national identity. Kashmir, is for Pakistan an unfinished project, one if given up, will nullify the need for a separate Pakistan – even after the loss of what was formerly known as East Pakistan. For India, it has been the legacy of Nehru to display Kashmir as the crown of a multi-ethnic and religious society.

Yet the bloody, bullet ridden and tortured line of control is still there – yet a million strong presence of soldiers is ready for combat in the hills, and peace is nowhere to be seen.

Cease of fire

Reality is that neither Pakistan can fight its way into the valley, as tried so many times before, neither can India invade to take hold of what it claims. And if it is not enough then China has one border with India, and several claims alongside this border, including some parts in the territory in question.

Both countries nuclear doctrines are defensive, while the military doctrines are supposed to be an armed conflict with maximum damage for in the end to be negotiated at table. There is a deterrence that keeps the risk of an escalation to a tolerable level.

But the status quo is not an idle situation either. India can afford a troops deployment alongside Line of Control as it has a much larger budget, but still, both the countries use billions of dollars annually to keep forces at alert, just to know that an eventual conflict cannot give any form of a military result.

What both countries know is that the border in evidently has to become permanent. It is not an easy statement to give, but something that is possible – all other options are utopian or catastrophic. This kind of solution will also rule out the moral right of Kashmiris for a plebiscite in where they have the option to declare independence. As tragic as it is, this legal claim will in a realistic scenario have to be sacrificed, in order to de-militarize the region, and create a normal civil border that ensures peace to one people divided.

In the report Kashmir: Paths to Peace (Chatham House 2010) by Robert W. Bradnock there are some interesting facts regarding Kashmiris on both sides of the border. The findings of this report might explain why both India and Pakistan consider talks of independence from both the nations to be a treasonous act, one punishable by law.

While Kashmiris (both Azad Kashmir and Jammu & Kashmir) think the dispute to be of personal importance (80%), the thing they thought of being of significant importance was unemployment (81%), followed by Corruption and poor economic development. The Kashmir conflict itself was of lesser importance (24% AK and 36% J&K).

But given the option to vote, and decide their future, one find the legitimate wishes this people has, and therefore the cost of actually denying them this right. Almost half (43%) of kashmiris on both sides said they would vote independence from both Pakistan and India, the sample gave almost the same amount of support on both sides. 21% would opt for India while 15% for Pakistan. The least favored option (Line of control to be permanent border) by 14% is the most likely.

Adding that only 24% of the population thing it is likely this conflict can be solved by violence, it is no doubt that a negotiated settlement is wished for, one which grants them the right to vote.

But Kashmiris will never vote.

Not in the sense of it being free and fair. For a real plebiscite to occur, international monitors has to be present, military presence be removed and a free campaign with media and political speech to be guaranteed. That is too much a pill to swallow for both the democratic sister nations.

As both war and a plebiscite is ruled out, there is no other solution than to mark this red border black, and make possible the free movement of people and goods. This will require a whole deal of change in narrative, commanded by the major political parties in both the countries.

Kashmir will be part of Pakistan is the slogan which rallies under popular demonstrations led by militant groups involved in infiltrating the valley. While Kashmir an integral part of the holy land for Hindus is chanted by Hindu nationalist groupings during their events. These are the attitudes that are mainstream – they are an effective way to sway the public, to prove ones nationalism, zeal and to carry the vote.

But for a solution to come, one needs to change these discourses, and currently, none other is better fit to do so than the conservative Governments of both nations. The Hindu nationalist BJP led by Narendra Modi and Islamic conservative PMLN led by Nawaz Sharif have the guts, will and political capital to paint peace on paper without the severe consequences any other party would fear. For in the end, it is these conservative and nationalistic groupings who would have been the major angry crowd had a secular or leftist party signed a peace plan.

However, there is another hinder to this whole debacle. Pakistan is a smaller part in this, and given its size, its army has easier sway over its political discourses, especially when it comes to Kashmir – a conflict that is the backbone of how its soldiers and strategies are trained and formed.

If there is goodwill in Islamabad, then that needs the support of Generals cadre in Rawalpindi. For that, one needs to popularize a narrative that is pro-Peace and pro-Reason. One that tells of the benefits after a hard compromise, rather than the glories of dying for their flags. Both India and Pakistan have strong and committed human rights activists and civil societies, their voices needs to be heard both by mainstream media and by the international community – after all, it took several decades in between uncle Tom’s cabin was published and the societies accept of slavery to be morally wrong.

Outcome

The benefit from a lasting peace, following a permanent border, is a reduced budget share to military deployment, and more on education, health and development. Pakistan forms alongside Afghanistan the key to trade between Central- and South-Asia. A strong trades union and growing trade routes will change the economic dynamics in the entire region.

With the Chinese visions for a revival of Silk-Road (OBOR), there will be a major development and a new political and economic shift that will make the insignificant regions a major powerbroker. It will also strengthen the democratic nature of especially Pakistan, but also India. A stronger voice for civil society will make it harder to punish dissent, criticism and alternative voices. And as is case with democracies, a strong democratic South-Asia will infect to the region, more especially Afghanistan and Central-Asia. The latter is a hotbed ready to explode, and needs a cushion to land on somehow safely.

A de-escalation of a conflict of this magnitude will strengthen the ties of countries in the entire South-Asian region and give the world an economic union that will be bigger than ASEAN or EU. Its impacts and strength will benefit the wellbeing of billion and a half individuals. And the solution, alongside the given formula, will guarantee a lasting peace and strengthened democracy in the region.

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