By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai

The struggle for self-determination of the people of Kashmir is at a critical juncture. A youth-led, indigenous and spontaneous mass movement is underway. This movement is both internal, within Kashmir, and external throughout the world. It is mostly non-violent, pluralistic and resilient. This movement reverberates with cries of freedom and believes in a simple truth: a fair and impartial referendum in Kashmir. Time and time again, Kashmiris have surprised even the most hardened of their detractors. Attempts at delegitimizing the Kashmiri struggle have fallen entirely on deaf ears. No amount of wishful thinking has successfully persuaded growing international opinion that Kashmir, is not an integral part of any society other than its own. This belief is unshakeable, consistent and formidable.

The latest re-polling in Srinagar – Budgam Parliamentary constituency that took place on April 13, 2017 has given enough indications by now to the Government of India that its attempts to assemble some fake leadership in Kashmir on a collaborationist or capitulationist platform will take it nowhere. Kashmir has had enough of traitors and opportunists. These so-called leaders are so thoroughly discredited that they could not even get 2 % of the votes in this re-poll. By persisting in these attempts, Indian leadership betrays not only cynicism but also an uncharacteristic lack of political sense. This latest election is the proof that the resistance in Kashmir has not weakened, and will not weaken, on account of the paucity of its resources. The hunger of the people of Kashmir for the freedom, which has been denied to them supplies it an inexhaustible store of strength.

Fresh thinking is needed to cut the Gordian knot in Kashmir, which has been flailed at for more than half a century bilaterally between India and Pakistan without result. I do not mean to suggest, however, that tackling Kashmir will not be difficult. I do not want to expose myself to Hotspur’s derisive retort to Glendower when the latter boasted he could call spirits from the vastly deeps: Yes, but will they come when you call for them?

We are fully aware that the settlement of the Kashmir dispute cannot be achieved in one move. Like all qualified observers, we visualize successive steps or intermediate solutions in the process. It is one thing, however, to think of a settlement over a relatively extended period of time. It is atrociously different to postpone the beginning of the process on that account.

The people of Kashmir also understand that it cannot move immediately into a plebiscite. They have watched other processes in East Timor, Montenegro, Bosnia, Southern Sudan, Kosovo and recognize that a transitional period is necessary to build the confidence of all parties and to create a conducive atmosphere for stability.

We owe it to our people to take a rational and responsible position. Accordingly, we have confined ourselves to demands only for those actions at the preliminary stage, which do not involve any prejudice to the claims of any party to the dispute – India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. However, if India or Pakistan or any other power would like to bring pressure on the people of Kashmir to capitulate, or to agree to any terms which will compromise their freedom, then any so-called peace process is foredoomed. The people of Kashmir wish to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind on that score.

It is known to all that any talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir will be a charade unless some basic conditions are fulfilled. There must be the end to the campaign of killing of innocent civilians. The representatives of the Kashmiri resistance must be associated with the negotiations. The talks between India and Pakistan must be held at the level of their political leadership.

We do not wish the future dialogue on Kashmir between India and Pakistan to stagnate or be broken off. Nor do we want it to be just make-believe. We remind all concerned that there are equal dangers for peace in the two possibilities. Each of them can be averted only by the mediation of an impartial third party or the United Nations or a person of an international standing, like Kofi Annan or Bishop Desmond Tutu, etc.

Here are my thoughts about a new approach to set a stage for the settlement of the Kashmir problem.

An intra-Kashmir dialogue between the leadership of All Parties Hurriyet Conference, Dogras, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Pandits. This kind of dialogue is not only desirable but also possible because Kashmir is a pluralistic society. It has a long tradition of moderation and non-violence. Its culture does not generate extremism. Can anyone deny the fact – of no small significance – that while the Subcontinent under British rule was the scene of recurrent murderous strife, communal riots were unheard of in Kashmir? That unquestionable fact brings out the real character of Kashmir’s heritage.

Both India and Pakistan should be persuaded to issue relevant travel documents to enable the representatives of the different components of the population of Jammu and Kashmir (The Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir and Gilgat-Baltistian) to meet at a place outside South Asia and formulate their proposals for the procedures of a just and lasting settlement. Our concern goes beyond the Kashmiri speaking majority of the State. We are mindful of the interests of the Dogra and the Buddhists communities as well. We demand the establishment of genuinely peaceful conditions in which we can earnestly welcome Kashmiri Pandits back to their homes. Their future as a community lies in Kashmiriyyat with us. They too have suffered, though in a different way, because of then the Governor of Kashmir, Jagmohan’s cruel and shortsighted policies.

India does not want to give up its claim that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan insists that Kashmir is its jugular vein. And the people of Kashmir do not want to compromise on their right to self-determination. That means a deadlock, which has proved catastrophic not only for the people of Kashmir but for both India and Pakistan as well. Only an impartial mediator can help initiate a process of ‘negotiations without pre-conditions’ whereby all sides can sustain the necessary political support in their respective constituencies to participate in the process. Without an intermediary, our differences will forever keep us divided.

The negotiations should leave aside the question of the end result of efforts towards a settlement. This is most wise. We must stress it again and again that the immediate question is not what is the best solution of the problem but how the problem should be put on the road to a comprehensive solution. Since, we are concerned with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, we believe it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage, controversies about the most desirable solution.  Any attempt to do so amounts to playing into hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of Kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace in South Asia.

It is equally true that the peace in South Asia will not come without sacrifices. Each party will have to modify her position so that common ground can be found. It will be impossible to find a solution of the Kashmir problem that respects all the sensitivities of Indian authorities, that values all the sentiments of Pakistan, that keeps intact the unity of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and safeguards the rights and interests of the people of all the different zones of the State. Yet this does not mean that we cannot find an imaginative solution. However, a workable solution demands some compromises and modifications from each of the parties.

The world powers should be persuaded to play a more activist role in regard to Kashmir by strengthening a peace process. This can take the shape of:

i).         a polygonal dialogue – USA, China, India, Pakistan, and Kashmiri leadership; OR

ii).        an appropriate use of the newly developed procedures and mechanisms at the United Nations.

In neither case would the handling of the dispute be a rehash of the old arid and acrimonious debates at the U.N. The U.N. would supply the catalyst that is needed for a settlement.  There are alternative courses of action, which can be spelled out and involved in a sequence of interactive steps over a period of time. None of them would put the peace process in the straitjacket of rigid adherence to old texts. But if a solution of the problem will be a graduated process, consisting of incremental measures, the violence in Kashmir needs to be brought to a quick end in order to set the stage for a solution to the problem.

These ideas need refinement, but they build on the ineluctable truth that nothing fruitful is possible in Kashmir without the primary participation and willing consent of the Kashmiri people. Schemes and negotiations that neglect that truth are doomed to failure, as proven by 70 years of grim conflict in Kashmir with no end in sight.

Finally, win-win solutions are further important because they safeguard against prospective bitterness or humiliation that are the fuel of new conflict. If one party to a solution feels exploited or unfairly treated, then national sentiments to undo the settlement will naturally swell. We must not belittle, embarrass, or humiliate any party.  Every participant should be treated with dignity and humanity. Charity, not the triumphal, should be the earmark of the negotiating enterprise. Also, we should not sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect.  Compromises are the staple of conflict resolution. To achieve some good is worthwhile even though not all good is achieved.

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