LONDON: The prominent personalities from sub continent and European countries have urged the Indian and Pakistani leadership to change their mindsets and work towards resolution of the vexed Kashmir issue. They said that unless the two countries are prepared to show more flexibility in their substantive positions, the continuation of high levels of mutual distrust and hostility has the potential to unravel peace process and lead to resumption of conflict.
The Conference titled “Unfolding instability in Kashmir-A blind spot in regional security” organized by a leading British defence think tank- Royal United Services International (RUSI) at London on Monday was attended by prominent personalities, including former Army Chief General Jahangir Karamat, John Cushnahan, leader of European Parliament delegation to Kashmir, Proffesor Kamal Mitra Chenoy of New Delhi Jawaharlal Nehru University, former Senator Shafqat Mahmood, former Ambassador Arif Kamal, Professor Sumantra Bose of London School of Economics, Professor Richard Bonney, Chairman Public Policy Research Institute and Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl, Director, Kashmir Centre, London.
General Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan’s former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee, urged that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiri people to obtain sustainable regional stability which has huge and positive ramifications for the regional and global order.
Karamat noted that almost all South Asian countries were awash with internal social and security problems but he singled out the situation of Afghanistan, where the US and NATO are engaged in a costly war, as the magnet for extremists elements who thrive on mismanagement, instability and terrorism.
He said although Pakistan was doing its best to help stabilise the region by acting as the frontline state in the ‘war on terror’ but the terrorism from Afghanistan had spilled over into Pakistan and was posing challenge to Pakistani writ in its once settled and peaceful areas. “Afghanistan is the main theatre in the war on terror and the country lacks capacity to deal with the threat of al-Qaeda and Taliban.”
He said the situation, which has ramifications for the US-Pak relations, was becoming ever more dangerous and it needed to be solved as a matter of urgency, taking into account the basis of the conflict and its extensions.
He said the composite dialogue process and engagement of arch rivals Pakistan and Indian had yielded many positive results and helped stabilize the long-running borders between the two countries but he said the potential for a deadly conflict was always alive in the absence of a bilateral agreement not to use nuclear weapons against each other in the face of a conflict.
He said that military thinking that a military solution through a limited war can be achieved was also very dangerous for the region and had the potential to ignite the conflict anytime.
He said the whole problem between India and Pakistan and the resultant regional security dimension had everything to do with the Kashmir issue and that was the reason why the old-mindset needs a re-thinking in the context of new and emerging global and regional realities.
About the on-going sham elections in Jammu and Kashmir, General Karamat told the audience India had held elections many times over but it has not been able to end the dissatisfaction and alienation of Kashmiris and the indigenous movement of Kashmiris for right of self-determination has strengthened with the passage of time.
General Karamat said India and Pakistan, if they will to, can find a solution of Kashmir dispute in Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement but he said unequivocally that in any solution of the issue, Kashmiri people should have the central role in order to determine their over 6o-year-old disputed fate.
He said the normalization of relations between the two countries, opening of road and trade links and various other measures in this regard had transformed the hard-pressed lives of many Kashmiris across the disputed border and such channels shall remain open.
He suggested that demilitarization along the Kashmir border could lead to massive positive consequences and it would help both countries to concentrate on investing in their people.
“The urgency for both countries now is to find a common solution to the problems of terrorism by settling the important bilateral issues such as Kashmir as it would lead both countries to cooperate, rather than confront and would contribute massively to the region, ” he added.
John Cushnahan former MEP and leader of European Parliament delegation to Kashmir welcomed the confidence building measures between Pakistan and India, but noted its slow pace and said these discussions are far removed from a process of engaging in serious dialogue about the core issue at the heart of Indo-Pakistan relations.
“If political stability is to be established in Kashmir and its wider hinterland there has to be an acceptance that an exclusively bilateral process which fails to acknowledge the regional and international dimensions of the long running problem, is doomed to failure,” said Cushnahan.
He observed that past attempts to make progress have failed due, not only to domestic constraints on the part of both India and Pakistan but additional because of the exclusion of Kashmiri representatives from negotiations. “No permanent progress is possible without their inclusion,” he added.
The former European parliamentarian blamed the attitude of Indian Government and said if India continues to resist offer of international facilitation for peacemaking by bona fide third parties it leaves itself open to charge that it rejects genuine peace-making and has no wish to settle the Kashmir issue.
According to him a solution will have to embrace the strategic interests of both India and Pakistan while at the same time take full account of Kashmiri aspirations. “This will necessitate a re-ordering of priorities and preferred options. Ultimately progress will depend on political leadership and willingness to compromise,” he said.
Professor Chenoy in his balanced presentation said the Indian government had forced Kashmiris to demand freedom after taking away their state powers and resorting to short sighted approach.
The Indian Government policies have led to the alienation of the people of Kashmir and the recent violence in the Valley clearly showed their frustration against the Indian rule. He spoke of massive human right abuses by the troopers and said thousands of young men have disappeared and their wives turned into ‘half widows’ because the fate of their husband remains unknown to this day.
The Professor described the uprising in Kashmir Valley as purely indigenous while claiming that it had the moral support of Pakistan. Lashing out at the right-wing groups, he said India’s civil society felt ashamed about mass human rights violations against minority communities.
He said the Indian civil society understood the alienation faced by Kashmiri youth as in other parts of India Muslims are, in some cases, more excluded and separated than the Dalits and other low castes. Like other speakers, Professor Chenoy said Kashmiris must be made part of any dialogue between India and Pakistan. The veteran civil society activist said Kashmiris were hostage to the respective nationalism of Pakistan and India.
Former Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood said people of Pakistan desire to live in harmony with India but agree that there could be no lasting peace without the settlement of Kashmir issue.
He was critical of the attitude of the Indian Government and its establishment over its failure to resolve ‘doable’ issues like Siachen and Sir Creek. Mahmood said even the out of box solution presented by the former President Pervez Musharraf on Kashmir never evoked positive response from the Indian Government.
Professor Bose noted deep sense of alienation among the people of Kashmir over the denial of their rights and subjugation by the troopers deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. The Professor also observed that elections in the Jammu and Kashmir were no substitute for permanent solution.
Arif Kamal in his presentations gave a genesis of the latest upsurge and pleaded that Kashmiris reject the status quo and urge the international community to redeem their right to self determination.
He pleaded for a sustainable dialogue on the principle of inclusiveness. Kashmiris should have a role in the ultimate solution and their presence in the dialogue is basic requirement.
Professor Nazir Shawl said the India – Pakistan engagement was widely welcomed not only by the international community but also by the people of Jammu and Kashmir; and the world at large hoped the engagement would lead to some form of cooperative development for peace with a democratic future for all concerned.
The prospect of a UN envoy for facilitating a solution of Kashmir has been welcomed by Kashmiris across the political spectrum, he said. Professor Richard Bonney said the Kashmir conflict can never be solved by military repression. On the contrary it is likely that it will be exacerbated by continuing military repression which denies the legitimacy of any political action for the right of self determination of the Kashmiri people as a whole.
He further said a return to rationality, I hope, is what we may expect from the new Obama administration provided, that is, he succeeds in keeping his own neo-conservatives in check.
Former BBC correspondent in Pakistan Owen Bennett-Jones, writer and commentator Victoria Schofield, senior fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Rahul Roy Chaudhry and Alexander Neill, head of Asia Security Programme at RUSI, acted as the moderators during the different sessions.-SANA