“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

CBMs: Help or Hindrance for Resolving Kashmir Conflict?

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

24 February 2005

Text of speech delivered at the International Kashmir Peace Conference entitled “Peace Initiative in South Asia: Exploring Possible Options for Kashmir”, organized by the Kashmiri American Council, (KAC) held in New York City on February 24-25, 2005.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss what we all agree is the most pressing issue of the day. This conference is taking place after a very successful visit by Mr. Natwar Singh to Pakistan where India and Pakistan announced a number of confidence building measures (CBM’s) that have received world-wide acclaim and have been hailed by most people of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is not my intention to repeat what has been already said about the outcome of meetings in Islamabad or dwell on previously announced CBM’s. But apart from Jaish-e-Mohammad (Masood Azhar), Al-mansoorian/Lashkar-e-Tayiba (Umer Mukhtar), Hizbul Mujahideen (Syed Salahuddin), All Party Hurriyat Conference – Geelani Faction (Syed Ali Shah Geelani) and Duktaran-e-Millat (Asiya Andrabi), the announcement of starting the bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar from April 7 has been universally applauded. Perhaps no other characteristic defines the value of this major CBM more than the very fact that all terrorist organizations have denounced this announcement while masses in both Kashmirs have celebrated the news with joy and hope. So in pursuing this CBM, India and Pakistan have served the cause of peace as this news has isolated various merchants of violence and demonstrated how far they are out of touch with the reality in Jammu and Kashmir and with the rest of the world.

In taking up the CBM’s in a broader context, one can see value in the two neighbors developing ideas and jointly agreeing on new schemes that strengthen peace and decrease chances of conflict and violence between the two countries and within the two countries. Such a climate is necessary to encourage serious dialogue between officials of the two countries and to build the trust so essential to reaching an agreement on the “final solution” of the Jammu and Kashmir problem.

But will these near-term or even long-term CBM’s help settle the Kashmir conflict? To answer this question, one has to understand why the Kashmir conflict has remained unresolved for so long. Here I wish to make three points. First, there is practically no possibility that a solution can be imposed from the outside. If such a solution could not be imposed when both countries were in their formative years, there is clearly no possibility of imposing a solution when both are nuclear powers and one country is on its way to becoming the economic powerhouse of this century. Second, both countries are determined not to gave an inch of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under their control and insist that Kashmir problem deals with the disputed territory that is currently occupied by the other country. And third, the new momentum in the peace process has come from two countries themselves, who now realize that the final solution of the Kashmir conflict is likely to be people-centric, rather than land-centric, as was the tradition in the past. The net effect is that CBM’s will continue until the time is ripe to reach a settlement that involves a lot more than simply the real estate of Jammu and Kashmir.

When you go beyond the issue of real estate (recognizing that Kurds, Pashtuns, Balochis and even Punjabis are in a similar situation geographically), the resolution of Kashmir conflict translates into protection of Kashmiri identity, restoration of peace and tranquility, and development of human values worthy of the “first world” countries on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir. This is the scenario where CBM’s can be of greatest value. It will require not only CBM’s between governments of India and Pakistan, but also CBM’s among the constituents of Jammu of Kashmir in their own respective regions as well as across both sides of the border.

The first step in any conflict resolution process is the total and complete rejection of “gun culture,” so that violence will end and the people of the State can express their views openly and freely without the threat of death hanging over their heads. In the December 2004 Kashmir Conference held in Kathmandu (arranged by the Pugwash Conferences) that brought players from India, Pakistan and the two Kashmirs together, there was the usual desire for “sustained dialogue,” but there was also this cry from valley based representatives at the meeting: “If the whole of J&K is disputed, why is there violence only in our side of Kashmir?” The elimination of gun culture will not only require a strong denunciation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, but it will also require the public in both Kashmirs to stop making collections in the name of Jihad, for authorities in Pakistan to close the 67 terrorist training camps (some in the guise of religious training schools as reported by India Today in the February 7, 2005 edition), and for Indian security forces to stop using excessive force on civilians. Once violence subsides, it will put the onus on governments to improve the quality of life in Jammu and Kashmir.

But peace and development are intertwined with poverty and economic hardships that most people on both sides of Jammu & Kashmir have to face today. I did an assessment for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) last year that looked at economy, budget and governance in the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir. Many have suggested in the past that the Indian side of Kashmir is primarily being kept “financially afloat” either by remittances from Kashmiri Diaspora overseas (about Rs. 200 million annually), or by overseas Jehadi funds pumped covertly into Kashmir (about Rs. 500 million annually as estimated by the Indian government). Even if these figures are doubled to Rs. 1.5 billion, it is still only a tiny fraction of the official Jammu and Kashmir annual budget of Rs. 150 billion. In principle, such an enormous sum should be more than sufficient to improve the lives of about 12 million people that live on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, but in reality nearly 75% of the people – mostly villagers and rural communities – hardly see any changes in their daily lives in spite of such huge budget outlays. The analysis indicated that on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, there are three broad classes of people that are served by the “trickle down” economy – the top 5% consists of State bureaucracy and politicians (in power, out of power or even those fighting for power) who get to keep most of the pie; the next tier consists of small businessmen and urban professionals who constitute roughly 20% of the population living a middle class life; and the bottom 75% are a mostly rural population that see very little of the trickle down effect. Thus many people in the State are alienated, despondent and bitter with the existing situation that does not seem to improve with changing governments. The situation on the Pakistani side is probably identical.

And therein lays the biggest challenge and opportunity for developing CBM’s that will result in a marked change in the human development of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Because no matter who gets elected, including separatists within Hurriyat if they were to win in a future election, the majority of people of Jammu and Kashmir will not see much change in their lives. Why? Data clearly indicates that governance in Jammu and Kashmir is extremely poor and there is a nexus between corrupt bureaucracy and opportunistic politicians that circumvents democratic processes, creating a feudal system where oligarchs keep getting rich and poor masses keep getting poor. Specific to the Indian side, I can say that many of the problems exist because the independent Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir lacks adequate protections related to transparency and accountability in governance, development of civil society, due process, worker safety and environment, etc. On the other hand, some of the Indian national laws extended to the State to rectify such deficiencies have been mostly ignored by the State (a collective process of indifference involving politicians, bureaucracy and the local Press) as an act of defiance against usurping the Article 370, which grants political autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. In the era where the Indian economy is booming and yet hardly touching the lives of most Kashmiris, it is obvious that the Article 370 has been abused by powerful lobbies in Srinagar to enslave Kashmiri people into mediocrity, destroyed their entrepreneurial spirit and made corruption and hustling as a way of life. Quality of life can improve only by reducing state bureaucracy, reducing the control of government on commerce, and encouraging private sector growth. Instead, the powers that be continue to harp on additional autonomy or independence without addressing current inadequacies or even setting a personal example of accountability and transparency in their own personal lifestyle or political organizations to which they belong.

On the Pakistani side there is a unique situation where a major portion of the Pakistan administered Kashmir lacks direct representation. Even though a senior High Court judge in “Azad Kashmir” gave a ruling that the Northern Areas (NA) should be incorporated in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan has ignored public aspirations within the NA. In a recent assessment made by the independently run Freedom House, titled, “Freedom of the World Report 2005”, it rated Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir as having relatively more political freedom than the Pakistani side of Jammu and Kashmir. And yet the same Kashmiris who demand more freedom on the Indian side talk so little about the lack of any such freedoms on the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

Then there is the concern about protecting Kashmiri identity. Pakistan is alleged to have eroded Kashmiri identity on their side of Jammu and Kashmir by resettling many retired or retiring security personnel from other parts of Pakistan. On the Indian side, Kashmiri identity is under threat not because of people who have moved in the area, but because of people who have moved out of the area. While most Muslims in the State live in the valley of Kashmir, there were also a significant number of minorities, especially Pandits (Hindus), Sikhs and Christians who until recently cohabitated in the valley. The term Kashmiriyat implied a certain composite identity that drew on major religions of South Asia to define a culture that was uniquely in harmony with heavenly surroundings of the Kashmir valley. But following the rise of insurgency and terrorism in 1989 and subsequent massacres, most minorities have fled the valley.

The issue today in the valley is one of Kashmiri identity. It is, by and large, a Muslim identity, and the way things are going it is unlikely to change without specific community-to-community CBM’s to bring back Kashmiris of non-Muslim faith. If valley based Kashmiris want a return to pluralism and religious tolerance that was once the hallmark of Kashmiri identity (Kashmiriyat), then a lot needs to be done to create conducive conditions for the return of Pandits. The majority of community CBM’s should not merely address security aspects of the problem, but address real issues dealing with sharing of political and economic power in the valley so that Kashmiri Pandits feel that they are also true stakeholders in the future of Jammu and Kashmir. So even after the gun culture ceases, unless and until Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits do not hold a composite political dialogue, I do not believe there will be any large-scale return of minorities back into the valley. In the famous words of Tip O’Neill, “all politics is local”.

I have addressed CBM’s related to the Kashmir conflict on multiple levels and brought up contentious issues involving the people of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Governments of Pakistan and India. Resolution of these issues taken together will eventually help resolve the Kashmir conflict. We expect the two governments to announce further CBM’s in the future to sustain peace and promote trade and commerce between the two countries.

But the real benefit to the people of Jammu and Kashmir will come from CBM’s that are people-centric and address anomalies created by tortured history and ongoing insurgency that have come to represent the Kashmir conflict. For example, the road between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar is welcome news that will promote movement of people and invigorate trade between two Kashmirs, but why not also open road links between Sialkote-Jammu and Skardu-Kargil? And what about a direct road link (even though it has to be constructed) between Muzaffarabad and Gilgat? People of Jammu and Kashmir have a right to convenient and accessible travel not just between the two Kashmirs, but also within each region.

Similarly, there should be new CBM’s to alleviate economic imbalances, alienation and hardship among rural Kashmiris by undertaking a major overhaul of the way the two Kashmirs manage their annual budget. Both sides of Kashmir rely heavily on the federal government to subsidize their annual spending – In Jammu and Kashmir, the subsidy from the central government is in excess of 75%, whereas in Azad Kashmir the subsidy is about 50%. Besides a redirection of priorities to promote rural economy and promote private sector in the two regions, major structural changes are necessary in bringing true democracy to the people, including new laws to increase transparency and accountability, improve rights of minorities and women, and strengthen civil society in both regions. Serious problems exist on both sides of the border. We need to redirect the focus from macro issues related to Kashmir conflict that have received most attention in the last half a century, and focus instead on micro issues that will bring greatest benefit to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Finally, the CBM’s must address strengthening of Kashmiri identity that transcends religion as a determining factor for such an identity. The majority community in Jammu and Kashmir, not merely the State government, bears the burden of developing appropriate CBM’s to address this issue. A serious inter-community dialogue is only a starting point in a confidence building process that should address long-term retention of minorities in the valley to play an integral part in furthering democracy, nurturing diversity and revitalizing economy of Jammu and Kashmir.

In summary, CBM’s constitute an important component of the peace process that will not only advance the cause of peace and normalcy in the subcontinent, but also bring together the diverse people of Jammu and Kashmir in creating new opportunities for economic growth and human development within their respective regions on either side of the border. Once that happens, the two countries can finalize the resolution of the Kashmir conflict at a time of their choosing.

An edited version of this speech was published on the Outlook website.

About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.

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