Nathalène Reynolds: Jammu-Kashmir conflict – History, identities and resolution

Introducing Nathalène Reynolds

foto ReynoldsDr Nathalène Reynolds obtained a doctorate in the History of International Relations (Panthéon-Sorbonne, Université of Paris I), after finishing her masters in International Relations (Paris I) and Political Science (Paris II). She currently works as Research Associate at the Centre for Asian Studies in Geneva. Furthermore, Ms Reynolds works as Visiting Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.

In this interview, Ms Reynolds gives her views on the emergence of the Jammu-Kashmir conflict, the role of national identities and the prospects for a resolution of the conflict. In a related interview, Ms Reynolds gives her views on the position of women on Pakistan’s society and the achievements of Benazir Bhutto in this respect.

Interview

Emergence and status quo of Jammu-Kashmir conflict

How did the Jammu-Kashmir conflict start?

The Jammu and Kashmir conflict forms part of a long-standing difference, that of the founding theories of two nationalisms, the ‘two-nation theory’ (that is to say a Hindu nation and a Muslim one) that brought about the creation, on August 14th 1947, of Pak-i-stan (the country of the pure), whereas the India of the Congress Party, which Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had come to symbolize, sought to promote a state in which secularism would be the key principle, permitting the various religious communities to co-exist.

It is difficult to give a succinct account of the origins of the Kashmir conflict, since it is important to look at the political, economic and social issues at stake in the princely state on the eve of the invasion by tribal groups coming from Pakistan at the end of the month of October 1947. In the space available, I will simply make brief reference to some of the elements important to understanding the conflict.

In the aftemath of the independence of India and of Pakistan, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who, as President of the Boundaries Commissions of Bengal and Punjab, had the power to settle disputes as to the line the border should take, awarded Batala and Gurdaspur, two of the three tehsils (administrative sub-divisions of a district) of the Gurdaspur District in Punjab, to India. The two tehsils had a Muslim majority.

The newly independent India thus gained a much easier access to the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its Hindu Maharaja, Hari Singh, was offered a choice between accession to either India or Pakistan. For his part, it seems he wished to work towards independence for his state, although, like all the princely states – they numbered 562 – he had acknowledged British ‘paramountcy’; the arrangement according to which the British Crown retained control over defence, foreign affairs and communication. Pakistan, meanwhile, continued to emphasize that Jammu and Kashmir, its ethnic heterogeneity not withstanding, had a Muslim majority and should thus become part of its federation.

Did the Jammu and Kashmir dispute arise as a result of a strategic error on the part of the Liaqat Ali Khan’s government? Did Pakistan decide to send tribal groups from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP [1]) to bring support to their Muslim ‘brothers’ in Poonch – which in fact and in law amounted to an invasion of the principality? Such is the most widely accepted version of events – especially in India, but the reality is less straightforward.

It was apparently not an initiative taken by Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, who, like the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was conscious of New Delhi’s desire to bring Jammu and Kashmir firmly into its fold and its readiness to take advantage of any pretext to do so. More junior officials of the North West Frontier Province, however, were probably aware of the operation.

[1] The tribal agencies would be grouped together the following year as the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Which countries (groups) have benefited most from the decade-long status quo?

Before replying to this question, I will digress in order to make brief reference to the fragile status quo that was to be challenged at the end of the 1980s. With the tribal groups almost at the gates of Srinagar, Maharaja Hari Singh had no choice but to solicit the aid of the Indian Union – which insisted upon the signature of a treaty of accession as a pre-condition.

This treaty, dated October 26th 1947, comprised two documents. The first was more or less identical to those contracted between other princes and India, under the terms of which India, as successor state to British India, assumed control of defence, foreign affairs and communications. The second document was a letter addressed to the Maharaja by the Governor-General of India, Mountbatten, that expressed the wish that the Jammu and Kashmir issue, once peace and order had been re-established, be settled through a ‘reference to the people’. The phrase is ambiguous; the nature of the consultation is not clearly defined.

On November 2nd, Jawaharlal Nehru declared himself nonetheless ready to organise a referendum under international auspices, although here again the details were not laid out. The Cold War had very much begun, and UN mediation struggled to reconcile the Indians and Pakistanis[2]; to simplify, the former tried to avoid the organisation of the plebiscite called for by the latter.

UN mediation did, however, lead to the declaration of a cease-fire on January 1st 1949 – the cease-fire line was defined the following July, and allowed the populations of India and Pakistan, including that of the whole of Jammu and Kashmir to benefit from a fragile peace, that was nonetheless interrupted by a series of conflicts between India and Pakistan. At the end of 1980s, India was confronted by a ghost from the past: Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir had never given up hope of a plebiscite being organised, and now began to clamour for one.

[2] It should be acknowledged that India, in referring the matter to the Security Council on January 1st 1948, did not seek mediation, that it considered to be interference in its internal affairs. In effect, it accused Pakistan of supplying weapons and assistance to groups that had invaded a part of its territory, the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

To what extent did the acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan change the status quo in Kashmir?

Analysts and those familiar with the Sub-continent tend to think that, confronted by the sudden rise of militancy in the Kashmir Valley at the end of the 1980s, India rejected the option of attacking Pakistan out of fear that the latter already possessed nuclear weapons. Although accusing Islamabad of launching a ‘proxy war’, New Delhi limited its action to the struggle against militancy, even as the latter grew in extent to affect Jammu Division in the middle of the 1990s.

Islamabad carried out its first nuclear tests in May 1998 – a response to those conducted by India a few days earlier. On December 31st 1998, the two governments signed an Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities, each party commiting itself not to attack, either directly or indirectly, each other’s nuclear sites. But it seems to have been only the following year, with the eruption of the Kargil conflict (a district in Indian Ladakh), that the two states really became aware of the difficulty of sticking within the framework of conventional warfare.

At the end of 2003, if not completely wholeheartedly, they started negotiations. Apart from the absence of armed conflict – in itself a breakthrough, the results so far are modest, but the two states are at least in a position to keep open the channels of communication that they now, without acknowledging it publicly, deem indispensable.

The role of national identities in the Jammu-Kashmir conflict

What role does Kashmir play in the national identity of India?

India is tending to ease up a little on what at times had seemed an over-zealous nationalism – a position to which the state had been long attached. Three factors serve to explain this change. First, the at least partial success of the economic liberalisation undertaken at the beginning of the 1990s. Moreover, the gradual progress made by the Indian Union towards the rank of world power, abetted by its admission to the nuclear ‘club’, albeit by the back-door, since it still refused to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Lastly, New Delhi considers the Kashmir issue as already partially settled. It has become accustomed to pursuing its ‘struggle’ against armed militancy; the militants themselves and most of the Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir refer rather to ‘repression’.

India has thus felt comfortable in modifying its nationalist discourse: it celebrated the October 1947 accession -in its view freely consented to- of Jammu and Kashmir that exemplified India’s chosen path of secularism; it condemned the insurrection that began at the end of the 1980s, not hesitating to qualify it as a proxy war launched by a vengeful Pakistan.

What role does Kashmir play in the national identity of Pakistan?

It has become difficult to reply to this question. Kashmir was for many years a principal component of Pakistani nationalist discourse. Of late, the country’s attention is consumed by a variety of other issues. I will limit myself here to mentioning two of them: the political challenges facing the divided civilian government as the army is reluctant to remain confined to barracks; and what one may call the extension of the Afghan war not just into Pakistan’s FATA, but further into heart of the country. Although the ‘international community’[3] continues to consider Pakistan to be a regional actor which cannot be ignored, the country is frustrated by the increasing rarity of references to the Kashmir conflict. Other issues cause concern in Islamabad: the strong Indian presence in Afghanistan and the worry that New Delhi may be pursing an encircling strategy. It also accuses India of providing weapons to the secessionist movement that has been destabilising Pakistan’s state of Balochistan.

[3] Any attempt to define the concept of ‘international community’ would at the very least include the idea of the existence of a group of nations, indeed the great majority of Western nations, acting in a concerted fashion, and in agreement over key decisions. Following the Indo-American agreement on nuclear energy for civilian purposes that was initiated at the start of 2005, India seems to have been gradually integrating itself into this ‘international community’.

Does a sense of national identity exist among the Kashmir population?

I should begin by looking at the term ‘Kashmir’ itself. Researchers and commentators even today tend to use it to refer to the whole of the population of Indian Jammu and Kashmir and of Pakistan Azad Kashmir (‘Free Kashmir’). They sometimes neglect to depict the diversity within the original borders of Jammu and Kashmir.

The insurrection that began in the late 1980s quickly revealed the existence of a Kashmiri Muslim nationalism of hegemonic ambitions, since it claimed to take in the whole population of Jammu and Kashmir, even though little effort was made by its promoters to take into account the wishes of the ethnically and religiously heterogeneous region of Jammu, while the Pandits of the Kashmir Valley saw themselves as having been forced into exile.

Resolution of Jammu-Kashmir conflict

What factors have stood in the way of conflict resolution?

The Kashmir conflict has various dimensions that taken together explain the difficulty of putting forward a settlement that would satisfy the two parties. There is no question that both countries have instrumentalised Kashmir in order to consolidate their respective nation-state – when many had doubts as to their durability.

But the governments of India and Pakistan – already keen to underscore their ambitions to become regional or even world powers – were equally aware, already in 1947, of the strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of its location. Apart from its position between India and Pakistan, the principality was a natural frontier, neighbouring China (Tibet and Xinjiang), and separated from the USSR only by the thin strip of Afghanistan’s Wakhan. A further significant aspect is the reserves of fresh water in Jammu and Kashmir, as evidenced even today by the dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi over the construction of a dam.

What has been the role of the international community in attempts to end the conflict?

After the Security Council opted to attempt to mediate when the matter was referred to it by India on January 1st 1948, the world powers quickly came to be convinced that the differences between Indian and Pakistani positions were irreconciliable. Following the failure of UN mediation, there were various peace-making efforts, most of which sought to encourage the two enemies to start a process of dialogue.

In the limited space available here, I will merely emphasize that the two adversaries have come to consider – particularly given the nuclear threat – the maintenance of dialogue as necessary. At the end of 2003, they agreed to start a process of dialogue that India wished to be ‘composite’, i.e. treating a variety of issues. Islamabad replied to the Indian request that Kashmir was simply one issue among many others. The results achieved are modest; however India has sought to adopt a firm but moderate line, contenting itself with a temporary suspension of the composite dialogue in the aftermath of the attacks on the city of Mumbai.

Like the ‘international community’, India wonders as to the stability of a Pakistan heavily destabilised by the Taliban movement. The recent meeting of Prime Ministers Yusuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh does not appear to have been as fruitful as anticipated. Large numbers of Indian and Pakistan troops remain posted along the border separating the two countries.

Which conflict resolution mechanisms would you recommend to end the conflict?

India has stuck to the position outlined by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the course of 1956: it wanted the Line of Control separating ‘its’ Jammu and Kashmir from Azad Kashmir to be transformed into an international border. Moreover, it continued to call upon Pakistan to stop all support to the militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

Islamabad has always insisted that it has provided only diplomatic and moral support to the movement shaking the region under Indian control. Without any doubt it was at the very least keen to keep a low-intensity conflict going, in the hope that it would thus push its neighbour into offering an honourable solution and thus allow Pakistan to agree to bring the Kashmir dispute to an end.

In such circumstances, it is tricky to suggest ‘conflict resolution mechanisms’; Pakistan’s current situation allows India to stick to tough negotiating positions – the latter is also genuinely concerned as to the stability of its neighbour.

In looking towards the future, one should not ignore the American pressure exerted discreetly with a view to reinforcing dialogue between the two countries in order to free the Islamic Republic of Pakistan from the threat of conflict. The White House is above all keen for Islamabad to devote all of its efforts to the battle in the tribal zones on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Barack Obama, prior to his election to the US presidency, apparently intended that his country’s diplomacy would be openly involved in settling the Kashmir dispute. The United States did not pursue such a course: it could not upset what had become a favoured ally (India) which would react negatively to foreign interference.

Since the signature by India and Pakistan on July 2nd 1972 of the Shimla Agreement, New Delhi has rejected Pakistan’s interpretation, insisting that efforts to settle the issue were to be made solely through bilateral negotiations.

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One thought on “Nathalène Reynolds: Jammu-Kashmir conflict – History, identities and resolution

  • 2015 (January) at 12:09
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    Hello respectful and great persnality i m really glad to read the reality about history of india and pakistan and on kashmir conflicts.I mThankful to u.

    Reply

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