Solving a 63 year old problem to solve an 8 year old problem is no solution
‘Tis the season of giving and Jeffrey Stern wants India and Pakistan to “give peace a chance” in Kashmir. Jeffrey is the international engagement manager at the National Constitution Center and has apparently spent much of the last two years traveling around South Asia.
But his sojourn to South Asia has left him none the wiser on matters relating to the Kashmir issue. Jeffrey presents the same tired, blitheringly idiotic arguments on Kashmir that many before him have presented. There are two main themes in his article — first, he highlights what he calls “Wahhabism…sweeping through the valley..” and second, draws attention to the need to “resolve” Kashmir so that Pakistan can begin to be the “partner the US needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies..”
During his field trip to Kashmir, Jeffrey based his understanding of the conflict and of the people’s aspirations by speaking with “former militants” and separatists, most prominently Maulala Shaukat Shah of the Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees. Most in India will remember Shah as central to the uproar on the Amarnath Shrine Board last year. By any measure, the Jamiat plays a prominent role in Kashmir, which has a support base of 1.5 million followers and is patron to 600 mosques and 150 schools.
But by focusing almost entirely on the Jamiat, Jeffrey has either intentionally excluded other actors in what is a complex and sensitive issue, or has been entirely blindsided by them. Although the situation in J&K remains fluid, developments are afoot outside the realm of the Jamiat that could fundamentally alter the dynamics of the issue.
Quietly, Manmohan Singh’s government has proceeded with back-channel talks with moderate members of the Hurriyat, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq clearly emerging as the international face of the Hurriyat contingent for talks.
These talks come at an advantageous time for India. Despite an increase in ceasefire violations by Pakistan, terrorism in J&K is at a five year low. The insurgency is not what it once was. The people of Kashmir defied separatists’ calls and militants’ threats to vote in the state elections in December 2008 (Voter turnout was 62%, with 55% in Kashmir Valley. Contrast this against the 42% voter turnout in Mumbai, in the country’s first general elections post-26/11). India today, is able to dedicate political and economic bandwidth on the Kashmir issue.
Manmohan Singh’s government is in the process of implementing a series of confidence building measures to signal its intent at quiet diplomacy. Chief among these include amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSP) and withdrawal of some para-military forces from the state, with gradual transfer of responsibilities to state police.
But importantly, significant progress on talks with separatists and consequent reorganization of Centre-J&K relations are happening at a time when Pakistan is mired in conflict and is unable to dedicate sufficient bandwidth to stall or retard such progress. If and when the time does come for an Indo-Pak “settlement” on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan may not find itself in a very advantageous bargaining position.
There is clearly more at work in Kashmir than Jeffrey knows about or wants you to believe. His second issue dealt with resolving Kashmir to allow Pakistan to focus on al Qaeda. Readers of The Filter Coffee will know how poorly conceived this idea is. Kashmir is only a symptom of the myriad complexes the Pakistani state suffers from vis-a-vis India, which kinder folks attribute to the postpartum trauma of Partition.
In other words, Jeffrey wants Obama to solve a 63 year old problem as quickly as possible so that he can spend the next two years trying to solve an 8 year old problem. Jeffrey’s ideas on resolving Kashmir confront the same cul-de-sac as other such prescriptions — there is no mention of just how Obama or anyone else can go about “resolving” Kashmir.
Mercifully, for every Jeffrey Stern there are the Lisa Curtises and Stephen Cohens who try to keep insanity at bay. The United States would do well not to muck around in Kashmir. Despite being impoverished and politically and economically stunted for decades after independence, India managed to stave off international pressure on entering into disadvantageous compromises on Kashmir or readjusting its borders along the LoC with Pakistan.
Today, given its economic and political leverage in the world, India acquiescing to such a compromise is even more unlikely. The United States will need to very carefully consider the negative repercussions of any overt involvement in the dispute on the future of the Indo-US strategic partnership.