The barbaric situation in Bosnia has outraged the world, which regrets that the enormous toll of human lives and suffering was not averted by timely action at an earlier stage. The failure of the international community can be explained but not denied.
Yet in another part of the globeéthe Indian-occupied region of Kashmiréatrocities of a similar nature are being perpetrated by the Indian army and paramilitary forces without fear of a corrective international response. To date no power or combination of powers has blown the whistle on India.
Certain characteristics of the situation in Kashmir distinguish it from other deplorable human rights situations around the world. First, it prevails in what is recognized under international law and by the United States as a disputed territory. According to an agreement between India and Pakistan negotiated by a United Nations commission and endorsed by the Security Council, the territory’s status is to be determined by the free vote of its people under U.N. supervision.
Second, the situation in Kashmir represents a government’s repression not of a secessionist or separatist movement, but of an uprising against a foreign occupation.
Third, the fact that Kashmir met with studied unconcern by the U.S. administration has given a sense of total impunity to India. It has also created the impression that the U.S. is selective in its application of human rights and democracy, and will condone even a blatant breach of these principles if it wishes to protect the offending party. During the Senior Bush administration there was a glaring contrast between the outcry over the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the official silence over the killing and maiming of a vastly greater number of human beings in Kashmir. Reliable estimates of Kashmiri civilian casualties put the number at 32,O00 since 1990. Women and children are particular targets of the organized sadism of Indian security forces.
Finally, it is a case of the U.N. being unable to address a situation to which it has devoted a number of resolutions and where it has established an official observer presence, though with a limited mandate. The Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), stationed in Kashmir to observe the cease-fire between India and Pakistan, is one of the U.N.’s oldest peacekeeping operations.
These peculiarities become more baffling because the mediatory initiative which would halt the violations of human rights and set the stage for a solution would entail no deployment of U.S. troops, no financial outlays and no adversarial relations between Washington and New Delhi.
A 51-Year Dispute
The status of Jammu and Kashmir (the official name of the state) has been in dispute between India and Pakistan since both became independent in 1947. A U.N. commission obtained acceptance by both parties of a peace plan involving a cease fire, demilitarization of the state and a plebiscite under the supervision of a U.N. appointed administrator. The cease-fire took effect accordingly, but the plan bogged down when India balked at implementing the demilitarization phase, which envisioned a synchronized withdrawal by the forces of both countries. The situation lapsed into a stalemate.
A popular uprising against Indian occupation of the Valley of Kashmir and adjacent areas has changed the character of the dispute in recent years. It highlights the centrality of the role of the people of Kashmir in the determination of the area’s status, a factor previously recognized only marginally.
Two paradoxes helped spark the uprising. First, if the U.N. can resolve other intractable issues, why is it unable to fulfill the pledge made to the Kashmiris that they would be able to decide their own future? Second, if honoring U.N. resolutions and the use of U.N. mechanisms in the settlement of international disputes is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, how can the peace plan worked out by the U.N. and affirmed in nearly a dozen Security Council resolutions be ignored?
Virtually all of the moderate Kashmiri leadership recognizes the need to adjust the peace plan to the current circumstances.
What is not acceptable is any erosion, much less a negation, of the role of Kashmiris in determining their own status.
Although India has very skillfully cordoned off the Kashmiri situation from international scrutiny since the start of the uprising, sketchy reports that have pierced the curtain of silence point to a campaign by India to brutalize the Kashmiri population into submission. This campaign has been documented by Amnesty International, Asia Watch, Freedom House, India’s Committee for Initiative on Kashmir and even the Human Rights Report of the U. S. State Department. The apparent lack of American concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir has sustained India in carrying out its repression.
The Diplomatic Front
On the diplomatic front, the U.S. has maintained that the dispute should be settled bilaterally by India and Pakistan in accordance with the 1971 Simla Agreement between the two states. However, the Simla Agreement, unlike the U.N. peace agreement, does not deal directly with the Kashmir issue but merely talks of negotiations for a final settlement over Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, India’s interpretation of the Simla Agreement would eliminate a role for the Kashmiri people in resolving the crisis.
The experience of the last 51 years demonstrates that no major dispute between India and Pakistan has ever been resolved through bilateral negotiations. The Simla Agreement has been a dead letter as far as Kashmir is concerned because India, the occupying power, has little incentive to negotiate a settlement. The U.N. Charter stipulates that if parties to a dispute fail to resolve it bilaterally, they are obliged to submit it to the Security Council. It is undeniable that such a failure exists in the case of Kashmir. To insist that the Kashmir issue be settled bilaterally, therefore, is tantamount to recommending that it should be left unsettled.
During the Cold War, India maneuvered itself into a privileged position by playing the superpowers against one another. Now the Indian lobby is pursuing the line that New Delhi shares common security concerns with the U. S. against militant Islamic fundamentalism. Yet resistance against the Indian occupation of Kashmir is not motivated by fundamentalism, but by a desire for self-determination.
India argues that a vote by the people of Kashmir in favor of either independence or accession to Pakistan would be a serious blow to India’s secularist system and could threaten the cohesion of the Indian Union. By advancing these positions, India tacitly acknowledges that it holds Kashmir by coercion and that if Kashmiris were given the ability to decide their fate, they would not vote in favor of India. The existence of disintegrative forces within India itself must also be taken into consideration. India might better keep those forces in check by settling the dispute over Kashmir, reducing military expenditures, cooperating in the effort to de-nuclearize South Asia and concentrating on its economic potential.
U.S. Policy Options
The Bush administration faces two options with regard to Kashmir. First, it can continue the Clinton administration policy of ignoring the Kashmiri dispute while warning India and Pakistan against going to war with each other. Besides condoning the atrocities being committed in Kashmir, this policy rests on a tacit agreement between India and Pakistan that war between them is unacceptable. With the growth of extremist parties in India, however, such an agreement is extremely vulnerable. Even now, India has refused to join the proposed five-power conference (made up of the U.S., Russia, China, Pakistan and India) for the de-nuclearization of South Asia. The prospect of a nuclear exchange in the subcontinent, which contains a fifth of the world’s population, cannot be dismissed in the event of an outbreak of hostilities.
The second U.S. option is to play a more activist mediating role by initiating a new peace process for Kashmir. This could take the shape of a quadrilateral dialogue involving the U.S., India, Pakistan and Kashmir, or an appropriate use of the new mechanisms and abilities of the United Nations. In either case the U.S. would supply the necessary catalyst for a settlement.
In any solution, the violence in Kashmir must be halted. Initially the state of Jammu and Kashmir must be demilitarized through a phased withdrawal of both Indian and Pakistani troops. In order for this to be accomplished, New Delhi and Islamabad must understand that the process of demilitarization is a separate issue from the rights, claims and recognized positions of the parties involved. After the peace process is underway, the rights and claims of the actors involved in the dispute can be considered in a nonviolent atmosphere.
To succeed, the American response to the Kashmiri situation must be based on the principles of the right of a people with a distinct historical and cultural identity to decide their own future; the sanctity of international agreements worked out by the United Nations; a peaceful and stable subcontinent free from the possibility of a regional nuclear exchange; and the consistent application of human rights standards. Such an approach could lead to a just and peaceful resolution of the 51-year old dispute that would be a lasting credit to U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration. On the other hand, reluctance to undertake such an initiative neither contributes to a long-term strategy of global peace and security nor answers the demands of human conscience and the principles of justice.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the executive director of the Washington, DC-based Kashmiri American Council.