Peace in our time?


Poor Chamberlain was really not with it when he waved the one-sided Munich Agreement with Hitler at the cheering crowds on his return to London in 1938, “peace in our time”, exulted the British PM. The lessons from Munich (appeasement leading to World War 2) are very real today, compromises must never be made for the sake of appeasement. Rather than a fig leaf to paper over failure in negotiations, agreeing to have no agreement would be far better. A billion plus South Asians will be anxiously watching their TVs to decipher the body language of the leaders of South Asia. By early afternoon July 14, 2001. Musharraf will have come to know whether India was serious about talking the Kashmir dispute or whether the well staged public relations “tamasha” was an exercise without substance, this blunt person will not be able to hide his feelings for long, primetime TV or no primetime TV. The inherent polarization lies in India wanting to implement “confidence building measures” (CBM) while Pakistan wants to talk about the biggest CBM of all, Kashmir, first. A wide range of diverse personalities in the Indian capital have either a common “Pakistan-specific” perception (or lack of it) but very little knowledge about the strategy their leaders are likely to adopt at the talks, the “inner BJP government” keeping things very close to the chest. No mistake about one perception, a major percentage of both the Indian intelligentsia and masses want peace with Pakistan.

Do all the armchair strategists have their facts at hand about Kashmir? Indian Held Kashmir, (IHK), which the Indians call J&K i.e. Jammu and Kashmir comprises an area of 137729 sq kms. J&K is divided into 3 Administrative Divisions and 14 Districts viz Jammu (having 6 Districts), Kashmir valley (6), and Ladakh (2). Along population lines, the Chenab River divides Jammu, the three districts to the north having Muslim majority i.e. Doda (57.29% Muslims), Rajauri (58.28%) and Poonch (89.06%), the southern Districts having Hindu Dogra majority, Udhampur (having only 26.22% Muslims), Kathua (6.96%) and Jammu (4.30%). All six districts in the Kashmir valley, Anantnag, Pulwama, Srinagar, Batgam, Baramula and Kupwara, where almost 70% of the population of Kashmir is concentrated, have a Muslim majority, ranging from a minimum of 95% to a maximum of 97%. Kargil District in Ladakh has a Muslim majority of 77.89% (but only 2.26% Hindu), Muslims are only 15.31% in Leh, the majority (81.70%) being Buddhist, Hindus being only 2.99%.

Kargil and Surrounding Areas

Among the political parties within J&K engaged in seeking independence, the ones that matter are viz (1) Muslim Conference (MC) led by Prof Abdul Ghani (2) Jamaat-I-Islami (JI), Syed Ali Shah Gilani (3) Peoples League (PL), Farooq Rahmani with a breakaway faction of PL led by Shabbir Shah (4) Mahaz-I-Azadi, Bashir Ahmed Butt (5) Islamic Students League, Shakil Bakshi and Peoples Conference, Abdul Ghani Lone. Peoples Conference founded in 1980 is pro-Indian. Mir Waiz’s Awami Action Committee came into prominence in the last decade. Militant groups operating are Hizbul Mujhahideen (supported by JI), Jamaat-ul-Mujhahideen (MC), Muslim Janbaz Force (PL Shabbir Shah), Tehrik-ul-Mujhahideen (Jamat-e-Ahle Hadis), Jihad Force (PL Farooq Rahmani), Akhwan-ul-Muslimeen (Mahaz-I-Azadi). Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, a hard-line group led by Hafiz Saeed, has come violently forefront while Maulana Masood Azhar (who was released from Indian prison as a consequence of the Kathmandu hijack) leads the Jaish Muhammad.

Prior to Kargil, India had as much as Two Corps plus in Occupied Kashmir, HQ 15 Corps based at Srinagar with 19 Infantry Division at Baramula, 25 (Rajauri), 3 (Leh) and 28 (Nimu), but also in its complement are 8 Mountain Division, , 3 Indep Brigade, 163 Inf Brigade and 33 Inf Brigade. HQ 16 Corps is based at Nagrota with 10 Infantry Division at Akhnur, 26 (Jammu), 29 (Mamun) and 39 (Yol). They are supported by paramilitary forces, more than 75 BSF Battalions (approximately 80,000 troops) viz (1) Islamabad (9 battalions), Srinagar (32), Badgam (7), Baramula (8) Kupwara (10) and Pulwama (Not known). Since Kargil (mid 1999) both the regular and paramilitary troops have increased dramatically, two mountain divisions alone being diverted from NEFA in the east.

Ladakh (95876 sq kms) comprises 69.62% of total area of Occupied Kashmir with less than about 20% being the area of the Kargil district. Jammu has only 18.87% of the area (26000 sq km) and is divided 50:50 between Muslims and Hindus, while the Kashmir valley comprises 15853 sq km 11.51% of the whole area of J&K. Population-wise six districts of the valley, three of Jammu and one of Ladakh are predominantly Muslim. About 80% of the total population of J&K is Muslim, living in less than 40% of the land, ie. (10 out of 14 districts), almost 70% living in the Kashmir valley (11.51% of the area). Pakistan is not attempting to gain real estate, only that the Muslim population be allowed their right to choose their own destiny. The Indians have built an all-weather road from Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh so the long haul to Ladakh through Akhnur and the Kashmir valley is not the only route.

First, we must reduce tension along the high mountain ridges where physical military confrontation may sabotage any peace effort anytime. Next, fulfil the wishes of the Kashmiri population to erase the artificial lines dividing them from their loved ones. Pakistan could forego its claim over the 3 Hindu-majority and 1 Buddhist majority districts, three in Jammu viz (1) Udhampur (2) Kathua and (3) Jammu, and the primary Buddhist Leh District. All troops from Siachen can be withdrawn from both the sides. Troops must also be withdrawn from the Line of Control (L of C) to nearest peacetime cantonments, India reducing its strength in IHK to only one Corps plus. Obviously militants cannot just be wished away, so SAARC troops, a minimum of two Brigades from Bangladesh and one from Sri Lanka (plus/minus) can help maintain law and order. The international community can help by giving heliborne mobility, the ability to chase and apprehend militants if they do not come to heel. Kashmiris on both sides of the border may be given free access to each other, be allowed to do business but not allowed to purchase, own or claim property, the first priority must be to give some succour to the much besieged, much abused and much tortured Kashmiris. Pakistan could then agree to freeze the issue in the Kashmir valley for a number of years. Delhi was made the capital of entire India by the Muslims a millenium or so ago, the majority of Hindus now rule in their place and that is as it should be. Applying the same principles to Kashmir, Muslim majority districts should have the right to choose their freedom, albeit in a phased basis (with timeouts) to cater for the vagaries of history.

If someone like Advani can even think of a “confederation” proposal, let alone articulating it, our suggestions are only scratching the surface. The major CBM for the people of Pakistan would be the end of the persecution and miseries of the Kashmiri people. Given a partial solution to the core Kashmir problem, one can then go down the road to partial economic confederation. Pakistan and India would find it economically expedient to remove all tariffs on trade between each other and under the aegis of SAARC put into place a dual currency system, a South Asian Rupee. This can be followed by removing all visa restrictions so that people can move about freely in South Asia.

One of history’s tragic recurring lessons is that confrontation based on religious beliefs have never been resolved either in an amicable or lasting manner. Samuel Huntington’s future “clash of civilizations” pits Muslims against Christians in alliance with others. On the other hand, despite sporadic violent actions and reaction, there has never been countrywide killings between Hindus and Muslims except in 1947 when the British, a third and alien (to South Asia) party, was vacating their two centuries in power. We have lived together fairly peacefully until economic aspirations have triggered religious extremism from time to time as in any other place in the world. We have to start somewhere to learn to live together in the new millennium, why not start from Agra? Or is the Tajmahal only an illusion?

There is everything to gain and everything to lose in the shadow of possible nuclear conflagration, the Hindu civilization can be obliterated almost in its entirety and the Muslim civilization partly. Peace will positively affect the quality of the lives of all South Asians. Should we let a few diehard extremists on either side hold us hostage to ransom, almost a billion Hindus and more than 400 Muslims, counting Buddhists and Christians, a billion and a half plus human beings in the greatest melting pot in the world?

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.