Resolving the Kashmir Conflict: Thinking Outside of the Box
It is now almost 65 years since the end of colonial rule in South Asia, nevertheless, India and Pakistan remain embroiled in a long-standing dispute over the territory of Kashmir. While the commencement of the US-led 'War on Terror' has had the effect of drawing attention away from the Kashmir quagmire, nevertheless, the issue remains, and will continue to be an eyesore until a sustainable solution is achieved. On the one hand, while the official Indian posture retains the idea that Pakistan should withdraw her troops from both Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas; in private, the Indians are undoubtedly aware of the difficulty of such proposals. Despite this official stance, the Indians would much rather prefer the conversion of the Line of Control (LoC) into an international border. On the other hand, the conversion of the LoC into a border is highly contentious from a Pakistani perspective, since it would involve Pakistan relinquishing its claim over the Valley. Further still, the proposal would fail to satisfy those seeking independence from both. It is clear that the conflict in Kashmir is intractrable to the extent that attempts at reconciliation and settlement have historically failed. However, despite this context, India has largely pushed forward the notion of bilateralism; the idea that a just and sustainable solution to the Kashmir conflict can be arrived at through negotiation between the two main protagonists. Arguably bilateralism is not an option, and past experience has demonstrated the futility of such methods. The truth is that bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan cannot work since the 'truths' of both countries are diametrically opposed on the subject of Kashmir. India's 'truth' is that Kashmir is an integral part of its country, while at the opposite end Pakistan argues that, given that Kashmir is a Muslim majority state, Pakistan was its natural inheritor in light of the territorial arrangements of 1947. Moreover, bilateralism cannot work in a credible sense owing to the legacy of mistrust and hostility between India and Pakistan that spans generations. While Indo-Pak relations have over the last decade seemingly improved, nevertheless the issue of Kashmir is a sure recipe to cause hostility in the future. However, given the extreme importance of improving and sustaining IndoPak normalisation and cordial relations to both economies and domestic budgets, it is important to redress the main bone of contention. In this sense it is critical that India begins to move away from its rigid insistence on solving the dispute with a bilateral framework. Rather, third-party intervention, providing mediation between the two countries, has much potential. Pakistan has, for much of the history of the Kashmir dispute, encouraged such mediation and intervention. Fortunately, there is a framework in the shape of the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement constituted a major political development between the British and Irish governments and was endorsed by most of the politicised groups in Northern Ireland. While the intricacies cannot be rehearsed here, nevertheless the point is that the framework was able to foster genuine change in Northern Ireland by bringing transformation in the conflict. An important point here is that the Agreement acknowledged the centuries of hostility and ill feeling between Ireland and Britain, and thus validated the need for external mediation if some semblance of peace was to be achieved. Thus the mediation role played by US senator George Mitchell was a clear recognition of the historic rivalry between Britain and Ireland. Arguablywithout such mediation the conflict in Northern Irelandwould have not ceased. On a second note, the Good Friday Agreement was characterised by its accommodation of a range of political hues and opinions. Thus groups considered by Britain as 'extremists' and 'terrorists', like the Sinn Fein, were included in talks, as were more moderate groups like the SocialDemocratic Labour Party (SDLP). In short, theAgreement provided space and voice to all the stakeholders in Northern Ireland. While there remain rumblings questioning the 'success' of the Good Friday Agreement, it is clear that the framework, however, flawed, provided the impetus for change. With reference to the Kashmir conflict, there is indication, both in policy and academic circles, for steps to be taken modelled on the Good Friday Agreement. In addition to Pakistan's openness to these ideas, the Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has also responded positively to drawing upon the framework of theGood FridayAgreement. However despite this, India has seemed less interested in such proposals, instead preferring to stick to its original stance of bilateralism. However, such rigidity is unlikely to bring any useful change in the Kashmir conflict. Moreover, while the Good Friday Agreement represents a useful framework, it is certainly not the only framework or option. Rather there can be amultitude of different ways of engaging with the Kashmir conflict in order to find a solution. However, solutions require openness and a willingness to think outside of the box; and outside of established and entrenched positions. At the moment, India seems unwilling to do this and arguably, in this way, contributes to the extension of the conflict. Analogies between conflicts can be dangerous. Different conflict have different protagonists, different sources, issues, history, nature and so on; nevertheless what is useful to the debate here is the kind of interlocking, multidimensional, and incremental approach taken via theGood FridayAgreement. The point here is not to argue for a rigid application, rather that the framework provides a broad blueprint on which engagement can be modelled. Of course, a first step here must involve India moving away from its utopian notion of bilateralism with reference to Kashmir.