More than one reputed security analyst has made alarming predictions that the spate of recent border violations by both China and Pakistan signifies a complicit strategy and design leading to major conflagration. It is of course theoretically possible that China could be helping Pakistan to grab Kashmir by extending logistic support through a twin pronged attack. However that seems unlikely. Creating the extreme situation of war may not be the real objective of Beijing and Islamabad. More likely serious pressure is being exerted on New Delhi before the prime ministers of India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in the last week of September 2013. That might explain the dual policy of simultaneously brandishing both carrot and stick being pursued equally by China and Pakistan. Perhaps military pressure is being used to achieve diplomatic gains. Therefore while making all military and diplomatic preparations for confronting the worst − India should also formulate a clear policy about protecting its core interests in the event of meaningful peace talks. What might be our core interests with Pakistan and China for a stable peace? Consider both nations in that order.
It is reasonable to believe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif does genuinely want peace in order to stabilize his tenure. But he is facing severe constraints that need to be understood. He cannot ignore the wishes of the army. He cannot ignore the anti-India sentiment nurtured over the years by fundamentalist forces. He has to achieve peace by showing tangible Pakistani gain. That is why he harps on the compelling need for a Kashmir solution. Kashmir remains the core issue and the key to defusing domestic opposition to a final Indo-Pak settlement. Pakistani public opinion needs to be dispassionately assessed. People believe that Kashmir is unsettled territory in which Pakistan has a genuine claim. It cannot be denied that New Delhi’s past follies and historical events have created a confused situation that does encourage such Pakistani sentiment.
When the princely states were given the option of joining India, Pakistan or remaining independent by the British in 1947, Kashmir was a Muslim majority state ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. The state had contiguous borders with both India and Pakistan. That is why Maharaja Hari Singh, Dr. Karan Singh’s father, wanted independence. That move was feasible but it was pre-empted by Pakistani raiders backed by the Pakistan army with tacit encouragement of the British to invade Kashmir. Whitehall at that point of time had its own strategic calculations to support Partition that would ensure the permanent division of the subcontinent. Kashmir as a permanent bone of contention between India and Pakistan served that purpose. This was accomplished by British Generals who led both the Indian and Pakistani armies. That is why a junior Major Brown belonging to the state’s border scouts could bypass the army high command of both nations to arbitrarily declare that Gilgit was part of Pakistan.
The confusion was compounded by Nehru approaching the UN for intervention instead of driving out the raiders which was militarily achievable. Confusion was further compounded by India accepting the UN Resolution on a Kashmir Plebiscite. Things deteriorated beyond repair by India foolishly opposing for decades the Plebiscite instead of insisting on implementation of its preconditions that virtually crippled Pakistan’s prospects. Thereby India became embedded in public consciousness across the world as being guilty and defensive on Kashmir while Pakistan was perceived as the wronged party representing Kashmiri sentiment. The army help extended by India to create Bangladesh further inflamed anti-Indian sentiment in Pakistan. With all these factors Pakistani public opinion will not reconcile itself to peace with India without evening the score. It is futile to discuss the merits or demerits of such thinking. This feeling exists. And for any realistic attempt to stabilize relations with Pakistan New Delhi will have to address this problem if it at all desires peace.
What can India do?
Obviously New Delhi must formulate an explicit policy to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Credible opinion surveys have established that the people of Jammu, Ladakh and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) are content to remain as they are. Only, both sides desire soft borders and free movement of people across two sides of the border. The real dispute pertains only to the Valley. Here the vast majority want independence. A few prefer India. Even less want to merge with Pakistan. It is in relation to the Valley that New Delhi must formulate a mutually acceptable formula for settlement. After its complex history clearly the only credible and honourable solution would be for the people of the Valley to decide their own fate. Indeed, while accepting the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir to India Nehru had added the caveat that it would be “in accordance with the wishes of the people”.
However since then and now much has changed.
Therefore the Indian government must insist that the offer of self determination to people in the Valley must be accompanied by a clear acceptance in principle that India, Pakistan and the Valley, whatever is its fate, become over a period of time part of a South Asian Union having joint defence and common market with free movement of goods and people across all borders. The entire process may be phased over a specified time frame to culminate eventually in joint defence between the armies of India and Pakistan. Thereby the security of both nations would be safeguarded. If Pakistan does not accept in principle this perfectly reasonable proposal, it may be concluded that its government’s motives are suspect.
As for China, it followed up its several recent encroachments in Ladakh with an advance into Arunachal Pradesh. It is likely Beijing really seeks legitimate access between Xingjian and Tibet which it can obtain only through Aksai Chin in Ladakh. In 1960 Zhou Enlai had suggested Beijing accepting legitimacy of the McMahon Line in the east in exchange for Aksai Chin ceded to China in the west. There is no question of entertaining any Chinese claim over the people of either Arunachal or Ladakh who are firmly with India. India should be prepared to consider a long lease to China for the narrow passage required to connect Xingjian to Tibet in return for Beijing renouncing its claims on Arunachal. After all, Beijing had given a written assurance to India in 2005 that in settling border disputes no settled populations would be disturbed. Beijing is now brazenly reneging on its written assurance by laying claim to Arunachal Pradesh.
These proposals that have been voiced before are repeated prior to the projected meeting between Mr. Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Manmohan Singh in New York next month. India should not wait for Pakistan’s demands to give its reaction. It should take the initiative and state clearly its own minimum demands. At the appropriate stage the same can be done with Beijing. If the response from either Beijing or Islamabad, or from both, is negative India should abandon efforts for a settlement. It can then pursue other effective options to deal with either nation, or if required with both nations. It would be premature to dwell on these options at this stage.