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Bringing Peace Back to Kashmir

Friday, 22 July 2016 17:39
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by Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra (EPOS)
EPOS Insights



Recently more than thirty people were killed in Kashmir in exchange of violence between Indian security forces and Kashmiri people, after Indian forces killed the Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani. Wani had emerged a youth icon and used social network sites to recruit fellow Kashmiris to fight against the Indian rule. Perhaps this is the most violent situation that Kashmir experienced after the 2010 upsurge during which about 100 people were killed.

The ongoing violence unless addressed fast may descend into a terrible chaos of the 1990s type during which Indian forces and Pakistan backed militants engaged in cycles of violence leading to killing of thousands of Kashmiris. Unless the current violence is contained, it may escalate and plunge the whole region into deadly cycle of violence with loss of civilian life and consequent economic destruction. The violence would help neither India nor Pakistan nor the people of Kashmir. It would only help the states to score some brownie points. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif called Burhan Wani, “a leader of Kashmir.” Wani represented Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir. The terrorist organization was banned by many countries and organizations including the European Union. There is evidence that Wani was involved in violent activities in Indian part of Kashmir, and played a key role in recruiting youth to the terrorist organization. According to one report he recruited at least 30 youths to Hizbul Mujahideen.

During my visit to the Kashmir valley in July and August last year, I could see it brimming with enthusiasm with tourists from across the world flocking the beautiful city of Srinagar and Dal Lake. As I visited the border areas of Uri for my research on cross-border exchange, I could witness a similar picture. The local traders engaged in cross-border exchanges were brimming with confidence that flexible border would not only accrue economic benefits to two parts of Kashmir but eventually help make Kashmir borderless. Unless the violence is contained, all the positive capital of the past decade whether in terms of cross-border opening, meeting of divided families and decline in cross-border firing will be nullified, and Kashmir will be exposed to another cycle of violence, consequences of which may be difficult to comprehend.

The spoilers will benefit from the current turmoil. The spoilers – that include the terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the hard line separatist leaders, the hard line political leaders in India and Pakistan, the international terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda – would seize the opportunity. For the spoilers conflict is ‘normal’ and any attempt towards peace creates a ‘crisis.’ Hence, they work hard to derail peace process and create a ‘new normal.’ The Islamic State’s fledgling presence in the valley will be further strengthened. During my visit last year, I came across the youth in the outskirts of Srinagar city holding Islamic State flags. The dreaded organization may further exploit this volatile situation to its advantage. It may not be a surprise that the radical organizations across the border use their proximity to army and intelligence agencies to provoke large scale conflict.

Furthermore a nuclear conflagration – the worst nightmare not only for the South Asian community but for the whole world – may be possible. Such a nuclear apocalypse may help bring a cold, negative, stone-age peace. But, would that restore real peace to Kashmir?

In negotiation lexicon, there is an acronym BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Parties to a negotiation weigh their BATNA, and if they find they have a better alternative than to the negotiated agreement, they prefer to break away from negotiation. In case of India and Pakistan, BATNA for each is worse. They have to negotiate. In fact, the past wars between them ended after the leaders of both the countries came to the negotiation table. Again to use the negotiation language, they have to expand their pie, implying they have to be flexible, in order to have a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue.

Spoilers must be discouraged, and the gainers must be encouraged. Terrorist organizations such as Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba must be deprived of patronage and resources. Historically the method of war and violence was usually applied by a strong state against a weak state. But in case of nuclear weapon states, this old method fails. Secondly, in the age of global connectivity and active international institutions, acts of war, or promoting proxy wars, are equally antithetical to international norms of peace and security. If past is any indication, violence has always failed to reach a solution in case of the Kashmir conflict. So, while discouraging spoilers, India and Pakistan must promote the gainers – the gainers are those who gain from engagement. For example, the opening of border in Kashmir helped thousands of people. Divided families met, the local traders gained. This constituency of gainers needs to be strengthened towards a durable and positive peace.

India and Pakistan must revive the peace process. The more they procrastinate, the more the stalemate would be hardened. The more they dry the channels of bilateral communication, the more it will be opportune for the spoilers to exploit the volatile situation. There were some movements in this direction, but it seems dead weight of animosity nullifies these attempts. Despite Indian Prime Minister Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif developing personal rapport, the state to state relations could not move forward. In case of Pakistan, army is a more powerful driver than the civilian government in determining the relations with India. Unless the two countries continuously engage constructively, they will fail to appreciate each other’s apparent position. But, for a full-fledged effective dialogue, it is necessary that spoilers must be contained. It is difficult to simultaneously continue dialogue and promote the spoilers.

One of the major lacunas of Modi’s policy in Kashmir is lack of engagement with the discontented people including the separatists. Modi’s mentor, Vajpayee had initiated talks with the separatists and their leaders had talks with high Indian officials and leaders including Vajpayee’s deputy, L. K. Advani. Not talking to separatist is not a better policy option than talking to them. The primary reason is that not engaging them further contributes to the alienation in the valley. The separatists’ influence might be confined to the valley, but even then it is not a small influence as the valley has millions of people and it is the place where alienation is sustaining. Like Vajpayee, his immediate successor, Manmohan Singh too had engaged the separatists and organized ‘Round Tables’ to engage the discontented people. Modi needs to engage the moderate separatists, and encourage them to play active messengers of peace.

Deprivation, and particularly the sense of deprivation, plays a major role in a conflict situation. It is not deprivation per se, but the perception of deprivation – that the ruling power deliberately undermines the group’s identity and culture – plays a major role in generating and sustaining conflict. Some of the marks of this deprivation, in the context of Kashmir, are presence of security forces, lack of trust between people and government, and arbitrary laws. India needs to craft a sensitive policy to address all these issues. And Pakistan needs to support India’s peace efforts, while simultaneously containing, along with India, the spoilers active in any part of Kashmir and beyond.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 25 July 2016 18:01
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