In the aftermath of the ravages caused by the Taliban and Kashmiri Jihadi groups within the country and across the border in India, over the last 20-25 years, there is a growing consensus in Pakistan that activities of these groups, if allowed to go unabated, could endanger the State’s very existence. There is an ongoing debate on the continued viability of key objectives of policy with regard to Kashmir and Afghanistan and more importantly the strategy adopted for their achievement.
With Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s party getting an overall majority, the recent statements by the Pakistan Army Chief that the real threat to Pakistan does not come from across the Indian border but from the Taliban and other militants groups within Pakistan, the civilian Pakistan government has the political power and space to come start meaningful discussions with India on the resolution of
the Kashmir dispute.
A key corner stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy has been that it strives to improve its diplomatic position and capacity to enforce United Nations resolutions that would enable the inhabitants of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to exercise the right of self-determination. Inherent in this policy is the assumption that given a choice, the people of Jammu and Kashmir would want to, either
join with Pakistan, or establish themselves as a separate country which would be friendly towards Pakistan.
Much water has flown under the bridge and the ground realities have changed quite significantly since our Kashmir policy was first formulated. It may be time to test the underlying assumptions of this policy.
Both countries have hopefully realized after three wars that a military solution is not the answer. This leaves an independent Kashmir and division along the Line of control (LOC) as other possible options.
Over the period 2005- 2010 several attempts have been made to test opinion in Kashmir itself about attitudes to key issues in the dispute.
a) A survey conducted in August 2007 and sponsored by media groups, Indian Express –The Dawn- CNN-IBN showed that: “ 87% of the people in the Kashmir valley wanted independence. However, joining Pakistan figures nowhere as a first preference for Kashmiris and India is only
b) Another survey conducted in May 2010 in Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, taken on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) by Robert Braddock – an associate fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London, showed that: “ opinions on an independent state of J&K were sharply divided by geographical distribution.
In the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley in Indian-administered Kashmir, the proportion in favor of independence ranged from 74%-95%. However, in the predominantly Hindu Jammu part of Indian-administered Kashmir, there was virtually no support for independence at all. This survey also indicated that If the movement across the LoC were to be fully liberalized, support for keeping the LoC rises dramatically to 85% overall.
In the Kashmir valley it rises to over 80% and in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to over 90%”.
c) An earlier survey reported by Dawn in April 2005 and conducted by a marketing research firm, Synovate India, showed that:
“Overwhelming opinion both within Indian Kashmir and outside in Indian metropolitan areas that it’s better to live ad – and 55% of respondents in Srinagar and Rajouri think the de facto position of the LoC as the effective border should be made de jure as well. Considering that the poll in J&K was restricted to Kashmiri Muslims, that’s a revealing reflection of the popular mood”.
It appears that the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir are not as keen to join Pakistan as the Azad Kashmiris are for them to do so. Over time, the interests of the people of Azad Kashmir have become different from those of their brethren on the other side of the border.
Furthermore, in view of the evolving political dynamics of the different groups within Occupied and Azad Kashmir and changes in the ethnic and religious mix of the population of Occupied Kashmir, the relative position and political voice of the Azad Kashmiris in an independent Kashmir may not be as important compared to what they enjoy in Azad Kashmir.
Given the low desire of the people of Occupied Kashmir wishing to join Pakistan and the uncertainty of the political disposition of an independent Kashmir vis -a- vis Pakistan and even Azad Kashmiris, one needs to ask the following question. Can it taken as a given that the relations between Pakistan and an independent Kashmir, were it to be created, would be as close as those between Pakistan and Azad Kashmir today? It seems that there is a high probability that while Pakistan and the Azad Kashmiris will lose control over Azad Kashmir, they may gain very little in return, in such a transaction.
If this realization gains ground within the Pakistan establishment, the Pakistani public and the Azad Kashmir population, it would drastically reduce the support the Jihadi groups receive in Pakistan.
This in turn will lead to a reduction of hostilities and activities across the border, which could go a long way in ending the repression in Occupied Kashmir and help the Kashmiri people live a more peaceful life. A new environment built on these principles will improve the chances of free cross border movement across the line of control which seems to be the desire of the Kashmiris on both sides of the border.
Please note that this change in policy can be implemented by Pakistan unilaterally since it is the interest of Pakistan and the people of Azad Kashmir. It does not require formal agreement with India. Needless to say this change will take time in view of the long history of acrimony between the two countries. It would require that serious measures are taken to stop the activities of the Jihadi groups , which have now taken on a life of their own. However, over time, such a change in policy will reduce the tensions on the eastern border.
India is already unwilling to consider an independent Kashmir as an option and Indian Kashmiris would settle for the status quo with easing of travel restrictions across the LOC.
It therefore suits both India and Pakistan and the Kashmiri populations on both sides of the borders that the status quo be formalized.
If the Pakistani and Indian leadership is able to sell these realities to their respective constituencies they may well become candidates for the next Nobel peace prize.
Let us give peace a chance for a change instead of engaging in jingoistic polemics.