Kashmir: The Roads Ahead

Stephen P. Cohen

This chapter was first presented to a MCISS-South Asia seminar in 1992, and revised as a note prepared for the Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs of the Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State. Both were based upon research conducted during the course of a joint U.S.-Russian study of Kashmir and Afghanistan in Nepal, India and Pakistan in March-April, 1992. See Stephen P. Cohen, Sergei Kamenev, Vladimir Moskalenko and Leo Rose, Afghanistan and Kashmir (New York: The Asia Society, and Moscow: The Russian Oriental Institute, 1993). I have made some minor additions in view of a year in residence with the Ford Foundation, New Delhi, 1992-93.

“What standing does Pakistan have in this dispute? What is their legal standing? Pakistan is not a party to the dispute; let’s get our facts right, then we can discuss it!”
— A senior Indian strategist, New Delhi, mid-March, 1992

“My view is that if India continues on its present course, then consequences cannot be foreseen. I cannot say where boundaries will be drawn, but certainly the present boundaries will be changed. India must be prepared to make a reasonable agreement, then the process of partition begun in 1947 will be completed.”
— A senior Pakistani foreign policy official, Islamabad, a few days later.

Kashmir and South Asian Security
Since late 1989 the Kashmir problem has become intimately linked to the larger question of war and peace in South Asia. A virtual insurrection among Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley, and in Srinagar, the largest city in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir-created a serious crisis between New Delhi and Islamabad. From that date onward the United States, echoing the Pakistani argument that the only point of conflict between India and Pakistan was Kashmir, has regarded the disputed state as one of the few places in the world where large-scale war could break out soon. American officials and experts have built a scenario that leads, ultimately, to the horror of nuclear weapons falling on Indian and Pakistani cities. According to this scenario a local crisis in Kashmir could trigger off a military response by either India or Pakistan; then, the other side will overreact, leading to a direct clash between regular Indian and Pakistani forces; after that, the war could escalate to an exchange of nuclear weapons, since both states are thought now to be nuclear-capable-even if they do not have deployed nuclear forces.
In a refinement of the scenario, it has been argued that even the suspicion of escalation might lead to a nuclear strike, presumably by the weaker or more vulnerable of the two countries (in this case, Pakistan) since it would not want to risk having its small nuclear forces destroyed in an Indian pre-emptive attack.

This scenario has led to a great deal of diplomatic activity, much of it by American officials, and very recently (September, 1994) by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. There have been three strands to to this diplomacy. First, the Kashmiri problem has been addressed directly by several American officials. In a series of speeches and informal addresses, the traditional American position on Kashmir was subtly altered, so that the US now openly declares all of Kashmir to be disputed territory (in the past the US had never publicly challenged the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to India, only its wisdom). Second, both India and Pakistan were urged to engage in additional “confidence building measures”—CBMs—that might prevent, or slow down the escalation process described above; third, both incentives and sanctions have been wielded, in an attempt to get the two countries to talk directly about their nuclear weapons programs.

It can be said that after four years none of these efforts have shown significant results. The Kashmir crisis is no closer to resolution than it was in 1990; there have been a few new CBMs introduced into South Asia, but there is some indication that the old ones have fallen into disuse or distrust; the nuclear dialogue that was to have begun a number of years ago has yet to commence, and public statements by officials and former officials on both sides seem to indicate a slow escalation of the nuclear arms race in South Asia, not any serious official dialogue on containing or managing it.

This chapter takes a somewhat different view than that of American officials and many strategists and journalists who see Kashmir as a “flashpoint” that could lead to conventional war and even a nuclear exchange.
Without belittling the importance of the Kashmir problem, it argues, first, that this crisis is far more complex than has been admitted by most American officials, and, therefore, that resolving the crisis—and addressing the supplementary problems of nuclear proliferation and regional distrust require a more sophisticated strategy than has hitherto been apparent. This chapter offers a strategic overview of the Kashmir crisis. It differs from other recent studies in that its primary focus is on a strategy for achieving a solution, not on the merit of individual solutions.

The Several Kashmir Problems
The Kashmir problem is a mixture of terrorism, state violence, subversion and general horror that rests upon several layers of history. If the field existed we could use the skills of a political archaeologist to entirely unearth it. There are at least five different components of the Kashmir problem, each with its own origins, each with its own consequences:

  • Kashmir originally came into dispute because of a British failure of will when they divided and quit India in 1947. The mechanism by which the princely states were sorted out was inadequate. Each prince or ruler was to decide whether he would accede to India or Pakistan, presumably taking into account the makeup and interests of his population; but there was no adequate mechanism for ensuring that each ruler would make a fair or reasonable decision, or to ensure that the “third option,” independence, would not be a temptation (the British, the Indians, and the Pakistanis all agreed that the further partition of the subcontinent would be wrong, and that the princes had to go to one state or the other). In the case of Kashmir, a Hindu ruler governed a largely Muslim population, but was also considering independence. While there were other failures in the partition process, none so crippled the successor states as Kashmir—and the British were no longer around to repair the damage. Indians and Pakistanis have lived with the consequences for forty-five years, but currently blame each other, rather than a faulty partition process.
  • The leadership in both countries compounded the original problem when they turned Kashmir into a badge of their respective national identities. For Pakistan, which defined itself as a “homeland” for Indian Muslims, the existence of a Muslim majority area under “Hindu” Indian rule was grating; the purpose of creating Pakistan was to free Muslims from the tyranny of majority rule (and hence, of rule by the majority Hindu population); for Indians, their state had to include such predominately Muslim regions to demonstrate the secular nature of the new Indian state; since neither India nor Pakistan, so-defined, could be complete without Kashmir. This raised enormously the stakes involved for both.
  • Subsequently, Kashmir came to play a role in the respective domestic politics of both states—but especially Pakistan. For Pakistani leaders, both civilian and military, Kashmir was a useful rallying cry and a diversion from the daunting task of building a nation out of disparate parts. Further, there were and are powerful Kashmiri dominated constituencies in all of the major Pakistani cities; on the Indian side, the small, but influential Kashmiri Hindu community was over-represented in the higher reaches of the Indian government (not least in the presence of the Nehru family, a Kashmiri Pandit clan that had migrated from Kashmir to Uttar Pradesh).
  • Kashmir acquired an unexpected military dimension. After India crossed the cease-fire line during the course of the 1965 war it became a strategic extension of the international border to the south. Further, China holds substantial territory (in Ladakh) claimed by India, and New Delhi itself has made claims on regions which, historically, had been subordinated to the rulers of Kashmir (Gilgit, Swat, and the Northern Territories) but which are now under Pakistani governance. More recently, advances in mountaineering techniques have turned the most inaccessible part of Kashmir—the Siachin Glacier—into a battleground, although more soldiers were cruelly killed by frostbite than bullets.6
  • Finally, there is a contemporary dimension to Kashmir: the stirrings of a national self-determination movement among Kashmiri Muslims. Encouraged by neither India nor Pakistan, it burst into full view in late 1989, and threatens the integrity of both states. There are two or three new generations of Valley Muslims, educated and trained in India, but with a window open to a wider world. Angry and resentful at their treatment by New Delhi, and not attracted to even a democratic Pakistan, they look to Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe for models, and to émigrés in America, Britain, and Canada for material support. Further, in an era when the international economy is fast-changing (including the advent of self-sustaining “tourist-destinations”), and the prospect of the direct linkage of Central Asia to Kashmir, the old argument that Kashmir is not economically self-sufficient unless it is attached to a major state has lost credibility.

Ironically, we can now see that Kashmir was less of a Cold War problem than some in the region had thought. Americans and Soviets certainly armed India and Pakistan (often both at the same time), they certainly supported one side or the other in various international fora, but the Kashmir issue has outlived the Cold War—indeed, the forces of democracy and nationalism that destroyed the Soviet Union and freed Eastern Europe were at work in Kashmir itself.
Other models were the liberation and revolutionary movements in the Islamic world—Iran, Afghanistan, and, most strikingly (since it was extensively covered on Indian and Pakistani television services) the Palestinian Intifada.

As a strategic issue Kashmir has waxed and waned. It was the central objective of the first two India-Pakistan wars (1948, 1965). But it was not an issue of high priority for either India or Pakistan from after the 1965 war until late 1989—and the birth of a Kashmiri separatist movement. What is striking is how little a role Kashmir played in the large-scale 1971 conflict (which was fought over the status of the separation of East Bengal from Pakistan), and even in the 1987 crisis that developed during a major Indian military exercise along the India-Pakistan border, Operation Brasstacks. A recent study of Brasstacks indicates that the two countries were much closer to war in January, 1987 than in 1990 (when Kashmir was the point of contention), yet Kashmir had little to do with the origin or evolution of the Brasstacks crisis.

The Simla Summit of 1972 had seemed to offer a solution: defer a formal settlement, in the meantime improve India-Pakistan relations. In 1984, when the first major India-Pakistan conference to be held after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, several American participants argued that both sides had ignored Kashmir. But the conferees were told by Indians and Pakistanis alike that Kashmir was “an American preoccupation, we don’t think it is a problem; let another generation handle it.” Some who attended that conference disagreed—precisely because Kashmir was not then a subject of great controversy that it was the best time to tackle it.
If India and Pakistan could not solve the problems of the 19th century (their border dispute with each other, and with China and Afghanistan, respectively) and those growing out of partition then how could they cope with emerging problems such as the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets and the incipient nuclear arms race?

Since then, both regional instability and regional nuclear programs have continued on their respective paths, and are now linked to the Kashmir conflict. Many Indian policy makers believe that Pakistan intends to use its new nuclear capability, which makes escalation to conventional war risky because that in turn might become a nuclear conflict, to make a grab for Kashmir. They also point to the connections between the Afghan war and the training of Kashmiri militants, and thus the American responsibility for India’s Kashmir problem.10 Pakistanis believe that India will not negotiate over Kashmir because of Delhi’s advanced nuclear capabilities—a Pakistani bomb, or at least a Pakistani bomb in the basement, is one way of getting India to the bargaining table. There is also a faction in Pakistan that does not want to negotiate Kashmir, but is content to let Delhi “bleed” until India itself collapses into civil war—a view held of Pakistan by some Indian hawks.

In both countries the greatest hawks on Kashmir are journalists, politicians, academics, and other civilians, and some of the intelligence services, especially Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Ironically, in both countries the regular armed forces are very cautious, since both armies have calculated the risks of a large-scale war and conclude that its outcome would be very uncertain, that collateral damage would be very great, and that the possibility of escalation to a nuclear conflict is unacceptably high. This is one of the lessons that both sides drew from their retrospective studies of the 1987 crisis over Operation Brasstacks.

What is to Be Done?
There is a Punjabi saying: “Three things are improved by beating: women, wheat, and a Jat.” The two quotations that begin this chapter are not dissimilar in spirit, and illustrate the difficulty of achieving a solution to the Kashmir dispute. The quotes are representative of wider views to the extent that many Pakistanis believe that India only responds to pressure and that many Indians deny that Pakistan has any legitimate role in Kashmir except to end its support of the militants. Kashmiris themselves—both Hindu and Muslim—have now tasted violence of a sort never experienced before as they undergo a terrible ordeal.

After 1971 Kashmir ceased to be the cause of bad India-Pakistan relations, but it remains a cause. It is also a symbol of their inability to compose their differences and live in peace. Kashmir is thus both cause and effect, which makes it so difficult to conceptualize as a political issue. Yet there is no shortage of solutions. Partition, plebiscite, referendum, UN trusteeship, “Trieste,” “Andorra,” revolutionary warfare, depopulation (and repopulation), patience, good government, a revival of “human values,” and doing nothing have all had their advocates.11

Before we turn to a strategy for thinking about solutions, three points may somewhat clarify the matter. Physicists approach a problem by first “sizing” it. What are its parameters and contours? Here, “Kashmir” assumes an unusual shape.

First, while the Valley Muslims feel aggrieved that they are dominated by outsiders from India proper, other Kashmiri groups, especially the Valley Hindus and the largely Buddhist population of Ladakh, fear the dominance of the state by the Valley Muslims. Thus, a number of proposals have suggested the possibility of separating the Valley from other regions (Azad Kashmir, Ladakh, Jammu), and allocating parts of Jammu and Kashmir to India and Pakistan, leaving to the end the intensely disputed Valley. Here, the appropriate analogy is the Middle East peace process, where the overall strategy is to leave to the end such very contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem.

Second, there are, outside the propaganda mills of Delhi and Islamabad, remarkably diverse views on Kashmir in both India and Pakistan. Kashmir is not viewed in the same light by all Pakistanis and all Indians. Anyone who traveled throughout South Asia during the height of the 1990 Kashmir crisis quickly became aware that the further one was from Delhi and Islamabad the less passion there was about Kashmir. In Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Bombay, Kashmir was, and is seen as New Delhi’s obsession; in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Hyderabad (Sindh), it is seen as a secondary issue, relations with Islamabad and the Punjab come first. Indeed, the size of demonstrations on behalf of the Kashmiri revolution in all Pakistani cities are in direct proportion to the presence of large Kashmiri populations. “Kashmir” is neither a homogeneous issue within the states of Azad Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir, nor within India and Pakistan.12

Third, it is important to recognize the crucial role of time, and timing, in resolving the Kashmir problem. Ironically, one of the obstacles to reaching a solution is the belief, on all sides of the dispute, that “time is on our side.” Since the Kashmir problem has been mismanaged by two generations of Indians and Pakistanis (and Kashmiris must accept responsibility also, for their own errors of omission and commission), there is no age-group, except perhaps among the newest generation of South Asians, who believe that the time has come for a solution. And, timing is crucial. We do not know what steps should be taken first, what should be taken second, third, and which should be reserved to the last. Like proposals to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, “solutions” to the Kashmir problem must operate at many levels. This suggest both caution and flexibility. But it does not suggest that doing nothing is the best course. The examples of the Middle East, South Africa, and, perhaps, of Ireland, indicate that seemingly intractable disputes can be resolved, or ameliorated, by patience, outside encouragement, and, above all, a strategy that will address the many dimensions of these complex disputes. Not too many years ago Indians and Pakistanis took a disparaging view of these other conflicts, and argued that they were successfully managing South Asia. Now their region stands out as conflict-ridden, nuclear prone, and on the edge of war. The remainder of this chapter suggests the outline of a such a strategy of conflict resolution.

Parallel Processing
In looking at strategies for achieving solutions (as opposed to management strategies and getting through the next month or year), we can draw on a model from the world of high-speed computers. We need a strategy that allows for parallel processing of the many issues, disputes, and tangles that make up the Kashmir problem. This approach has the virtue of honesty. We should not now pretend that we know what a suitable solution will look like. Certainly, it will protect the vital interests (including the quite conflicting identities) of India and Pakistan. Certainly, it will recognize the ambitions and legitimate interests of the Valley Muslims. But a just solution will also acknowledge the interests of other Kashmiris-not least the tens of thousands of Hindu and Muslim refugees who have fled the valley in fear, and the ethnically quite different Muslim population in Azad Kashmir, that has its own grievances with the Government of Pakistan. Indeed, a situation in which these refugees returned, and again lived in harmony and under democratic norms could be defined as an acceptable solution. Sadly, some of the Hindu groups have already given up on the idea of a secular, multi-ethnic Kashmir, and are either seeking resettlement elsewhere in India or abroad, or have begun to support the creation of a Kashmiri Hindu “homeland” within Kashmir proper.

Which of these problems do we address first? Or do we work on “building confidence” between India and Pakistan, and wait until a more opportune moment? Or, do we go back in history and attempt to untangle grievances which have their origins in the 10th century, or earlier? Or do we look to the law for a framework, or do we bring an international organization (or an outside power) on to the scene, to either offer friendly persuasion or to knock heads?

The only solution that should be ruled out is doing nothing. Time will not heal the Kashmir problem. Time has made things worse in Kashmir. If a strategy for resolution of this conflict had begun in the early or mid-1980s then we probably would have averted some of the crises that arose later in that decade, and certainly would not regard Kashmir now as one of the world’s nuclear flash-points. To those who would argue that the situation is not ripe for a solution (a view expressed by senior officials in the Bush Administration) it should be pointed out that not only are one hundred million Indian Muslims held hostage by the fate of Kashmir (oddly, a favorite argument of those Indians who do not want to do anything), but in reality a billion people are held hostage by the dispute itself. Imagine what South Asia would be if India and Pakistan were to cooperate, not only on bilateral trade, water, and population issues, but on preserving the strategic unity of South Asia? Each would, then, be truly counted among the great regional powers. It would not be a question, as it is now, of Indian power minus Pakistani power, but of a formidable block of states, with some differences, but with even more in common.

As Lewis Carroll has suggested, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. That has been the quality of many proposals to deal with Kashmir. They suggest action on one or another aspect of the Kashmir crisis. But we do not know, now, which of the Kashmir-related problems must be solved first before we can tackle a second, third, or fourth. Thus, we should begin to move down several paths at once. Some will be clear right to the end, on others there will be obstacles. Certainly, it is better to find out where the obstacles are sooner rather than later. It would be prudent, therefore, to pursue the following six paths simultaneously. After a few years an assessment of how far we have gone along each route, and where, if any, are the shortcuts to a settlement.

First: A Helping Hand, Not a Foreign Hand
The Kashmir issue needs an outside perspective because Indian and Pakistani strategists are locked in a mindless competition over tactical advantage and scoring diplomatic points. 13 There is little strategic thinking on Kashmir. No one is looking beyond the immediate events and short-term calculations of gain and pain. A solution cannot occur until it is supported in both states—and by Kashmiris of several varieties—but in the meantime it is important to have a place, or an institution, where ideas, possibilities and pressures can be focused. There needs to be a helping hand, a facilitator, with no direct interest in the Kashmir conflict, yet with an interest in its resolution.14

Should the United States take the lead? Or should there be a joint U.S.-Russian effort, perhaps backed up by the threat of UN sanctions? Probably not, at least not soon.15 Washington and Moscow lack expertise and interest in Kashmir and neither are likely to make it a high priority item—although the new South Asia Bureau in the Department of State is acquiring expertise.

However, the United Nations is already engaged in Kashmir. Its role is sanctioned by numerous Security Council resolutions, and it maintains a peace keeping presence along the cease-fire line. There might be a plausible role for a UN fact-finding mission undertaken by a personal representative of the Secretary General. This was the pattern followed in the 1980s in the Afghanistan crisis. Such a representative could develop independent expertise, and his/her own line of communications with all of the contending parties, states, and factions. An expanded UN peacekeeping force or trusteeship is premature, and would not have the support of at least one major party, India. Nor could such a force be imposed on India. But a UN personage that coordinates and consolidates various diplomatic efforts now underway might, in three, four or five years, bear fruit.

The possibility of an enhanced UN role in Kashmir has contributed to the Government of India’s interest in a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council, and in 1993 Indian officials put forward a number of arguments why India should be considered for such a seat. However, India could then veto any UN action on Kashmir. Obviously, the Kashmir problem must be settled before India is admitted to the Security Council, but such membership could be part of a larger package of incentives and assurances for India, Pakistan, and responsible Kashmiri groups.

Second: Adjust India’s Federal Balance But also Pakistan’s
Nowhere in the Constitution of India does the term federal appear. But there have been reasoned discussions in India about changing the balance between the center and the states in India—for good political and economic reasons. India already has a hierarchy of federalism: with some Union territories directly ruled from Delhi, and with some variation in the nature of the Indian states. Kashmir itself is the biggest variation: it has its own constitutional status in the form of Article 370. As many have suggested, India should now move in the direction it was headed anyway: towards greater autonomy for its component units. Within Jammu and Kashmir, there will have to be a further differentiation between those regions that want to become Union territories, and those that might arrive at a different constitutional structure.

The same process should be undertaken by Pakistan. Ideally, as some have suggested, the looser federation of the two parts of Kashmir with their respective states, along with increased flow of goods and people between them, would create a “soft” frontier where both the physical and cultural boundaries between India and Pakistan were somewhat fuzzy.

Third: Agreement on one Principle, But Honest Disagreement on Another
In the past, high principle divided India and Pakistan as far as Kashmir was concerned. Pakistanis argued that India’s control over most of the state violated the right of self-determination of Kashmiris. Indians argued that Pakistan, more often than not a military dictatorship, was hardly a credible advocate of democracy. Pakistan’s position ignored the agreed-upon basis for the division of British India (and Pakistani diplomats shamelessly try to paper over the terms by which the princely states were to go to one side or another), and Indians cannot bring themselves to recognize Pakistan as a democracy. But this change in Pakistan is important. It suggests a principle that both states should accept. They can do so without any joint statement or formal agreement. This principle is that legitimacy will only flow from the ballot box, not the gun. Both in the past have argued that “the voice of the people” should be respected—Pakistan in Kashmir, India in Hyderabad. Both have taken the opposite position where necessary, and have used force. But forty-plus years of preaching one principle and acting upon another have led nowhere. India and Pakistan should want to settle the Kashmir problem with Kashmiris who share their own commitment to democracy—a commitment that must include the protection of minority rights. Getting agreement on this principle keeps open the door to a wide range of possible future relations between India, Pakistan, and Kashmiris. It would help ensure that the future will rest on the consent of the governed, not the coercion of the gun.

As desirable as it is to help India and Pakistan move towards agreement on democratic principles as a way to solve the Kashmir problem, it should be borne in mind that another principle will continue to divide them. New Delhi is not likely to give up the belief that its secularism would be damaged and that millions of Indian Muslims would be put at risk if a settlement of Kashmir took place on the basis of religion. The argument deserves serious consideration: it cannot simply be dismissed by Pakistanis as blackmail. Pakistanis must think of ways they can reassure India that a change in the status of Kashmir (or parts of that state) would not be seen as acceptance of the two-nation theory; Indians should likewise think of a way of peacefully accommodating Pakistani sensibilities and Kashmiri demands without damaging the core principles of Indian secularism.

Fourth: Back to the 19th Century?
The Kashmir crisis has deep historical roots. Particularly egregious are those elements of the crisis that stem from imperial conflicts of the 19th century. The British acquired Kashmir, but did not make it part of British India; they established a boundary with China (and with the Afghans), but the boundaries were never fully demarcated. It seems absurd that two billion people should be entangled by conflicts generated by imperial governments that no longer exist. There are still border disputes apart from Kashmir. In Kashmir itself the line of actual control was never fully determined, which provided the opportunity for a bizarre struggle over the Siachin Glacier. Finally, China and Pakistan have come to a temporary agreement over a part of the border which is contested by India.

None of these border or territorial issues are strategically vital; all could be settled tomorrow without any loss of sovereignty or national identity. None involve significant domestic populations or ethnic rivalries. While these issues are not central to the Kashmir problem, they are related to it. Thus, prudence suggests that all of the concerned parties take more seriously the negotiations already underway to resolve the India-Pakistan and the India-China border disputes. In the long run, it would be important to associate Kashmiris themselves with such negotiations, and this might be one inducement for them to help restore order within their own state. But India, Pakistan, and China should, for their own reasons, attempt to eliminate such disputes, if only because there are more serious challenges awaiting them ahead in years to come.16

Fifth: Invest in Stake-Building
In the most interesting debate that the U. S.-Russian study team heard while in India and Pakistan, a group of Pakistanis argued back and forth as to whether Kashmir was the cause of India Pakistan tensions, or whether those tensions were the cause of the conflict. Both statements may be true—or we may never know what is the balance of truth. Our very ignorance about these matters suggests a heavy investment in two processes.

One is stake-building: increasing the number of people in India, Pakistan, and in all parts of Kashmir that have a stake in normal relations and in a process that moves the region towards a settlement. This is one side of CBMs: “confidence building measures.” Democracies that have bilateral problems need to encourage lobbies in each other. They are the bridge-builders who influence the internal debate in both countries, and make it possible for governments to actually do something useful. The growth of interest