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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Some dangerous liaisons in July

M.J. Akbar
A turbulent whisper is surging through Washington. Barack Obama wants peace in the life of his first term. He has discovered the magic potion that will kill the roots of two poisonous plants, Palestine and Kashmir. He told Israel that he wants a definite route map towards an independent Palestine state by July. July is also the month during which Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit the Indian subcontinent. In her baggage will be a war manual for Af-Pak and a peace prescription for Ind-Pak.
Here is some good news for Hillary Clinton. The Kashmir problem has already been solved.
It was solved on January 1, 1948, the day India and Pakistan froze their troops along a Cease Fire Line recognised by the United Nations. In 1972, through the Shimla Agreement, they renamed this the "Line of Control." There are few international pacts that have stood the test of so much turmoil. This one has been tested by war in all its forms, regular and irregular.
Pakistan tried to change the map of Kashmir in 1965. In January 1966 it sheepishly reaffirmed its relevance at Tashkent when India and Pakistan exchanged territories won and lost across the Cease Fire Line in the battles of 1965.
Six decades of conflict have not shifted six inches of grass from one side to the other. Six more decades of furious sabre-rattling or squalid impotence will not change the geography either. Hillary Clinton could sort it all out in the minute it takes India and Pakistan to affix their signatures to a document converting de facto into de jure, and declaring this Line an international border. Punjab and Bengal were slashed; Kashmir will become the third major province to be formally divided, and the ashes of 1947 can finally be interred with the bones of Partition.
India is ready to accept this reality. Pakistan might need persuasion. It has to be told that there is nothing to be gained by the complications of discussion, and everything to achieve through clarity.
What about the aspirations of independence widely attributed to Kashmiris? This is a chimera. The terms of British departure in 1947 were unambiguous. No part of the British empire or its surrogate dependencies, the princely states, was offered independence. The list of those who flirted with the possibility is long: Jodhpur, Junagadh, Travancore-Cochin, Hyderabad, Baluchistan, Swat, to name only those states that come readily to mind.
Hassan Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sarat Chandra Bose thought an independent, united Bengal would be a splendid idea. Pakistan did not arm and send tribal raiders towards Srinagar in October 1947 in order to create an independent Kashmir. Karachi wanted to absorb the Muslim-majority valley into Pakistan. It began to promote independence only when its dreams of acquisition were aborted by the intervention of the Indian army. These are cold facts, and 60 years of heavy breathing by Kashmiris have not boiled them into a different concoction.
Pakistan could have opted for a peaceful resolution in 1947 and 1948. The final status of Jammu and Kashmir had been kept in abeyance. Nehru, in a note to Lord Mountbatten, suggested that talks could begin after the spring thaw of 1948.
It is possible that Pakistan might have gained a shade more territory through a negotiated partition of Kashmir than it did through violence. But history does not offer premiums for stupidity. The sensible thing to do now would be to close this hideously expensive chapter on the page where history left its bookmark.
It is common knowledge that Washington acutely wants the next round of Indo-Pak talks to be between the chiefs of the two armies, rather than the heads of the two governments. There is a substantive challenge, from terrorists and ideologically motivated theocratic groups like the Taliban, to the stability of the region between Kabul and Delhi.
This can best be met by cooperation between Indian and Pakistani forces. That will not happen until the warriors are tired of war without objectives. India does not want any parcel of land inside Pak-Occupied Kashmir. Pakistan cannot get a yard of what India holds. So what is the conflict about except a self-destructive ego?
The elimination of war, even were it to come about, is not synonymous with the arrival of cooperation. It will take time before India and Pakistan fully appreciate how much they can mean to each other. Trade, the true lubricant of prosperity, is susceptible to more factors than Islamic identity. Dread of India's industrial power and capital will need to be carefully eased through sedatives.
Terrorists who hate everything India stands for will not disappear quietly into a soft sunset. But nothing could be potentially worse than two nuclear nations trapped by intrinsic virulence on the one side and contemptuous indifference on the other.
The obvious can stare you in the face, but you must also have the vision to recognise it. Hillary Clinton would do well to pack some specially-powered spectacles in her handbag. They would make a good present for her friends in Islamabad.
M.J. Akbar is Director of Publications, Covert.


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