A mutually recognised border between states is a prerequisite for stable relations. Its presence will not guarantee good neighbourly relations, but its absence will almost certainly guarantee tension. This is as true of the Af-Pak border as of the India-Pakistan border, not only along the international frontier but equally along the dividing line in Jammu and Kashmir. Good fences make good neighbours, provided they are built on a line accepted by both.
It should be in the interests of both India and Pakistan to settle this long-festering problem. Both are investing large amounts of human and material resources. For India, we should want to resolve it since it has compelled us to deploy significant numbers of our security forces; it gives a handle to Pakistan to rake up the issue every now and then internationally on human rights grounds; and since it adversely affects the lives of citizens there in many ways. For Pakistan also, it ought to make sense to want to resolve the issue.
Both countries say they want to settle the issue. But if each side maintains its position undiluted, it is as good as saying that they do not care if the problem keeps festering. This implies that neither India nor Pakistan has given up hope of achieving its maximum: for India, recovering the third of Kashmir still in Pakistan’s possession, and occupying the whole of J&K, especially the Valley, for Pakistan. It is not as if each side does not recognise the utter futility of achieving its territorial ambition, but because of domestic political compulsions, they feel obliged to maintain unchanged their impossible-to-realise objective.
For India, stating that we are prepared to discuss all issues including Kashmir, no longer sounds convincing. For Pakistan, the formula of invoking UN resolutions might work domestically but is counterproductive from India’s perspective and only shows that Pakistan is not really interested in looking for ways to resolve the issue. The time may have come to tell Pakistan that there is no point in talking about Kashmir if it persists in its inflexible stand of UN resolutions, etc. The international community will understand and appreciate such an approach. Many in India are convinced that Pakistan is not keen on finding a solution since this is one issue on which the government and military there can easily mobilise public opinion and whip up anti-Indian propaganda. Also, the removal of the Kashmir issue from the Indo-Pak agenda would eliminate the rationale for the Pakistan army’s preeminent position. However, in view of the current critical situation in Pakistan, a mutually acceptable solution would or ought to weaken the jihadist elements who exploit it to raise funds and recruit more people to their ranks.
Jawaharlal Nehru, in a note to Sheikh Abdullah dated August 25, 1952, described the problem: “The state (of J&K) is of importance, from strategic and other points of view, to both India and Pakistan. Hence, the conflict between the two.” He did not stop there, but went on to think of possible ways to avoid war and arrive at peace. His proposed solution needs to be revived.
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“We are superior to Pakistan in military and industrial power. But that superiority is not so great as to produce results quickly either in war or fear of war,” he continued. His conclusion: “the only possible way of putting an end to this conflict is by accepting, more or less, the status quo.” Nehru added: “We were not prepared to give up any territory that we possessed to Pakistan, but we might, for the sake of peace, agree to their holding what they had then had.” Nehru told Abdullah that this conclusion was not a pleasant one for him but “logically I could not help arriving at it”. He also conveyed to the Sheikh that he had mentioned this to Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin in London in the last quarter of 1948, that is, even before the ceasefire came into existence on January 1, 1949. He had also mentioned this to Pakistan’s prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan.
Nehru did not hesitate to openly air his idea. In a public meeting in Delhi on April 13, 1956, he declared: “I am willing to accept that the question of the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan should be settled by demarcation of the border on the basis of the present ceasefire line, we have no desire to take it by fighting”. (All quotes are from A.G. Noorani’s book, The Kashmir Dispute.)
The Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks in 1962-63 were serious, though perhaps not sincere, negotiations, with maps exchanged and lines drawn. India made a generous offer of giving 1,500 square kilometres more than what Pakistan occupied at that time, but Pakistan was greedy. It felt that India was so weak after the war with China that it would yield to international pressure and agree to its terms. Bhutto was ready to offer only the district of Kathua to India, keeping everything else, including Ladakh, for Pakistan. No wonder the negotiations led nowhere.
What Nehru said in 1952 about war or threat of war not being the solution is even truer today, with both countries possessing nuclear weapons. Hence, if the logic of the desirability of finding a solution is valid, some effort to revive his prescription would seem to be called for. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi too favoured such a solution. From all published accounts of the Shimla meeting between her and Bhutto in July 1972, the latter had promised her that on return to Pakistan, he would initiate the process of turning the LoC into an international border. When he failed to keep his promise, we in India criticised him, accusing him of bad faith, etc. This suggests that most people on our side would have accepted the settlement.
When Nehru broached the idea of a settlement on the basis of status quo to Atlee and Bevin in 1948, he was perhaps indicating to them that he would be prepared to accept their help in striking such a deal; otherwise, why should he mention it to the British leaders who had been far from helpful to India in the Security Council? Was he, in a not too indirect way, hinting at their mediation? Nehru was definitely opposed to arbitration but he did not seem to have the same attitude towards outside help in some form.
As for the militants in Kashmir, if they care for the wellbeing of fellow Kashmiris, they too must come to terms with reality. They know, or ought to know, that Pakistan is only using them for its attempt to destabilise India and is not in the least concerned about the suffering of Kashmiris.
India and Pakistan never tire of saying that their main concern is the welfare of the Kashmiri people. In that case, both countries must move out of their entrenched positions. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee too had spoken of “bold and imaginative” steps in his “Musings from Kumarakom” in January 2001. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has categorically declared that there was no question of territorial compromise or concession. Pervez Musharraf had declared that “borders should be made irrelevant”. But for the border to become irrelevant there must first be a border. So long as there is no settled border, the temptation to secure territorial advantage will always remain. Hence, some formula, such as the one Nehru was prepared to countenance, including external help, will have to be considered. Many would say that the time is not propitious now. But will there ever be a right time? Civil society in both countries might have to take a lead in the matter.
Chinmaya R. Gharekhan is India’s former permanent representative at the UN, is adjunct senior fellow, Delhi Policy Group. Views are personal