by Gautam Navlakha
Since 1947 India and Pakistan have fought three and half wars over Kashmir and held more than 60 rounds of talks to bilaterally resolve the dispute which has its origin in the partition of British India into two countries. There have also been several unilateral efforts by the Indian government to solve the conflict through some arrangement within the Indian constitution. All these efforts have proved incapable of resolving it. In six decades, reality has mutated, as a movement for independence has grown and the terms of public discourse over the right of self-determination in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have been expanded. And now the rulers of India and Pakistan are working out a deal on J&K, with the people of J&K reduced to being mere recipients of their decision.
Up until now, the only effort that appeared to break new ground was the back channel dialogue between the military regime of Pervez Musharaf in Pakistan and National Democratic Alliance and United Progressive Alliance governments in India between 2002 and 2007. It imagined a solution which would involve no change of border but some kind of joint control. However, the military regime’s illegitimacy in Pakistan sank this effort.
Now India is attempting a mix of the two: it is resuming talks with Pakistan where they left off, while carrying on with unilateral efforts. While efforts to bring about a peaceful and democratic solution are necessary, this “peace process” is flawed on three counts. For one, it is not a “people’s” agenda that is being promoted but rather a deal being thrashed out between India and Pakistan. This process has the blessing of the United States, which cheers these efforts even as the Indian government marches on with its own attempts to create new facts on the ground in the shape of a patchwork agreement with pro-Indian parties in Kashmir. In the second place, those who claim that self-determination is passé, for whatever reason, do not realize that what they are giving up is something which is not theirs to give away: the right of self-determination is a right of the people, not a commodity which can be bartered in exchange for what some believe is a realizable solution. Finally, and most importantly, the “peace process” will end up legitimizing and consolidating oppression.
The Indian government perceives itself as magnanimous in exploring solutions within India’s constitutional parameters and agreeing to discuss a possible agreement with Pakistan, but it has not made a single gesture to show the subjugated people that it is even contemplating rolling back the repressive regime in J&K. Instead there is a lot of noise about “battle fatigue” and “the primacy of economics in today’s international relations.” If there is any “battle fatigue,” it is probably over the vacillation of the various leaders rather than over the basic demand for realizing the right of self-determination.