The crux of the Kashmir problem is very simple. The Kashmiris want a voice in their future. Since 1947, when it was occupied by India, many generations of Kashmiris have delivered the same message.
Moreover, it is fair to say, given the half-million plus security forces holding the population in the vice, the Kashmir people do not wish to be ruled by India. Here is another fact seldom mentioned: the part of Kashmir that is now in Pakistan has been mostly calm and peaceful and well-integrated, although occasionally subject to shelling from Indian troops across the border that fractures their land.
The world has changed since 1947 when India first engaged militarily in Kashmir. Yet once again the choreography of violence is being staged. This time the spark lighting the accumulated tinder has been the killing of a popular militant leader, the 22-year old Burhan Muzaffar Wani. And the ‘elected’ officials cowering inside their guarded residences bear silent testimony to the electoral validity of the state’s democracy.
Crowd control is not the usual remit of the military. Yet long periods of occupation with a restive, angry population requires an iron fist. Even in Israel rubber bullets are preferred. Not in Kashmir, where live fire is their response against rock throwing children and young men. This time the official casualty count is 36 killed and 1500 wounded — a little too lopsided a ratio and no doubt the killed column will keep increasing as media attention tires. Estimates of civilian deaths since the troubles began range from 40,000 to 100,000.
Why is life so cheap? With avenues to a normal life closed for the most part, young men have not much to live for, while the trigger happy security forces often suffering casualties among their own comrades have little love for the Muslim Kashmiris. Small wonder then that India refuses to hold a plebiscite allowing Kashmiris to decide their own fate, a plebiscite mandated by the UN more than six decades ago.
And so the stalemate with Pakistan, where up to recently the nuclear weapons (as in India) were never on a hair trigger. That has changed. In response to India’s new ‘cold start’ doctrine — meaning the Indian army groups at the Pakistan border always attack ready without the two or three day (or more) marshaling of forces — Pakistan has placed small tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of local commanders … while India maintains use of any nuclear weapons will bring a strategic response, namely nuclear ballistic missiles.
Is the world ready for a nuclear winter?
Clearly not. Perhaps a threatening posture like ‘cold start’ needs to go. Still the crux of the problem, Kashmir, appears insoluble, at least in the foreseeable future. The closest anyone ever came was Pervez Musharraf. Soft borders without altering maps to anger constituents was the central idea. Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh, his counterpart, hesitated. And then Musharraf, left too long with his own advisers, got cold feet.
For India there is another caveat: Before Jawaharlal Nehru intervened militarily in Kashmir, he was punctilious in ensuring legal justification, possibly because the Governor-General was the UK’s Lord Louis Mountbatten. Maharaja Hari Singh was thus required to accede to India, which he did, signing the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947.
To make the railroading of the Maharaja less unseemly, Nehru added the proviso that the whole matter would be submitted to the people who alone could legitimately decide their future. Thus it was a temporary accession. The Maharaja died long ago in 1961, and no temporary accession lasts a near 70 years. Moreover, no court would accept an accession by a despot which violates also the plebiscite provision. The accession has therefore become a de facto occupation, and therein lies the legal problem for India.
The occupation of territory is governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and India is in serious violation of several articles. Thus reprisals and “intimidatory measures to terrorize the population” are expressly forbidden under Article 33 and such collective punishment constitutes a war crime. India is also in violation of Articles 3 and 5.
Of course, airing the issue brings moral pressure and the added attention of NGOs defending human rights. To be realistic however, India’s diplomatic and political clout on the world stage makes prosecution not very likely, and even the mass graves and tens of thousands of deaths will not make much difference in a world inured to human misery.
So what are the options now? The status quo, but that is the problem. In a plebiscite the Kashmiris tired of a repressive security apparatus are likely to vote against remaining tied to India. That, India is unwilling to accept. It is also the real reason India has reneged on its 60-plus year promise to hold a vote. One can of course add a third option, namely, a measure of autonomy for Kashmir. The bitter pill will have to be sugar-coated with the Musharraf-Singh soft borders but without the two countries’ joint control of Kashmir’s resources.
Over time, as in the case of Europe, trade and its economic benefits will diminish the draw of the nation-state. As it is, global trade agreements are already eating away at the legislative powers of individual states. Look at NAFTA and the proposed TPP. In longer memory, current disputes will appear trivial and the sub-continent might even have a shot at catching up in per capita GDP with independence contemporaries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Even Sri Lanka despite a long civil war is way ahead.
Another thing: Most articles on Kashmir seldom offer any kind of solution except the non-functioning status quo.
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US.