Kashmir Policy Needs a Fresh Appraisal

Moeed Yusuf
Moeed Yusuf South Asia Adviser

June 13, 2003

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been disputed by Pakistan and India since their very inception. After half a century, the two countries persist in gnawing on this bone of contention and their zero-sum approach to the issue has allowed virtually no progress.

Both Pakistan and India claim the state to be part of their homeland in its entirety, Pakistan contending that Kashmiri secession to India in effect repudiates the founding “two-nation theory” which granted the Muslims of India a separate homeland, while India contends that giving up on Kashmir signifies an inability of India to exist as a secular state. Complicating the situation further are strategic factors as well as the mere fact that the two sides have held their positions long enough that any concession now from either is looked upon as a victory for the other.

While both countries continue to blame each other for continued tensions over the dispute, the Indians in the past decade have largely succeeded in bringing the heat on Pakistan for its Kashmir policy. This is despite the fact that the Indian authorities have failed to administer the Indian part of Kashmir adequately throughout its history. The resultant widespread resentment among the Kashmiri Muslims was manifested in the 1989-90 uprising in Kashmir against the Indian authorities.

The 1989-90 uprising was seen by the Pakistani authorities as a perfect opportunity to further their case with regard to Kashmir and to bring the Indian misdeeds in Kashmir to the international community’s attention. It was at precisely that time that Pakistan initiated its current Kashmir policy, “moral” support for the Kashmiri natives and later, the insurgents that decided to take up arms for the Kashmiri cause. The Pakistani authorities saw this as a low-cost, low-risk policy that they hoped would raise the costs for the Indian side to the extent that it would abandon the Kashmiri cause in due course. By bringing the Kashmir issue in the headlines, the Pakistanis sought to establish moral legitimacy to their claim over Kashmir.

Since the uprising Pakistani authorities continue to hold the position that Pakistan only provides “moral” and “political” support to the freedom fighters for the liberation of their homeland from the oppressive Indian rule. India, on the other hand, holds Pakistan responsible for actively supporting the insurgents and their terrorist activities, and also maintains that Pakistani army personnel are involved with the insurgency.

None of the desired goals of Pakistan’s current Kashmir policy have been achieved. In fact, in the last decade India has managed to highlight Pakistan’s alleged support for the insurgency and has been largely successful in selling its view to the world. Despite Islamabad’s denials, the world perceives a connection between the Kashmiri insurgency and Pakistan’s active support. To an objective analyst, it is somewhat hard to accept Pakistan’s stance, though Indian claims may also be exaggerated.

Pakistan’s support to the insurgents (if there is any) though having kept the issue of Kashmir alive, has seen no positive results. The support for extremist organizations and the presence of radicals among Pakistani elements has caused great concern in the West. Had it not been for the reversal of Pakistan’s pro-Taliban policy after 9/11, Pakistan would likely have been on the United States’ list of terrorist countries as implied by George Bush’s “with us or against us” ultimatum. The international community continues to be wary of Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Moreover, the allegations of support of the Kashmiri insurgency that India fondly terms “terrorism” has witnessed fingers pointed towards Pakistan as a security threat.

With regard to Kashmir, Pakistan today is seen as part of the problem, rather than a solution. This in itself is a clear indication of Pakistan’s failure to sell its view on Kashmir to the world.

Pakistan has even lost support within the Kashmiri Muslim population. From the inception of the Kashmir issue, when a United Nations suggested plebiscite presumably would have seen secession to Pakistan, Kashmiris now are likely to vote for independence. Just like the 1989-90 Kashmiri uprising was a result of India’s misadministration in Kashmir, the reversal of Kashmiri opinion can be attributed to a miscalculated Pakistani policy towards Kashmir, off course exacerbated by Indian exploitation.

In effect, the Pakistani policy has neither produced any impetus for Kashmiri secession to Pakistan, nor has Pakistan been able to receive any international support for its stance. Most importantly, the Pakistani policy has seen no relief whatsoever in the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims, which officially is Pakistan’s primary goal in Kashmir. On the contrary, India has largely been able to shrug off the brunt of its own misdeeds against the Kashmiri population and has managed to portray Pakistan as the aggressor. Kargil was a somber reminder for Pakistan of the lack of international support for Pakistan’s stance when even its staunchest ally, China adopted a neutral posture.

It is time that Pakistani authorities rethink the country’s Kashmir policy. The currently-in-development Pakistan-India dialogue provides a great opportunity to make inroads into this problem. While it is highly optimistic to expect a solution coming out of the present goodwill gestures, this is an opportunity for Pakistan to produce an overhauled policy that is more closely aligned with today’s realities.

The new policy should ensure a reduction in the overall strain the Kashmir issue has put on the Pakistani economy. But more importantly, the new policy should make the alleviation of the suffering of Kashmiri Muslims its top priority, even if that requires a compromise on Pakistan’s current stance on this issue. After all, alleviation of Muslim suffering is the basis for our claim to Kashmir.