Hope in Conflicts?

There have been some positive developments in two major conflicts recently. I am not sure whether these will amount to much as a little progress is often followed by a lot of backtracking. But may be I’ll be proven wrong this time.

In the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan:

  • Moderate Kashmiri separatists of the All Party Huriyat Conference have welcomed Indian offers of talks.
  • Pakistan and India have declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir after many years of constant shelling.
  • Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee says he’ll meet Pakistani PM Jamali at a regional summit in January.

Meanwhile, in the Israel-Palestine conflict:

  • Israeli army Chief of Staff Ya’alon has criticized government’s hardline security policies.
  • Four former directors of Israel’s Shin Bet security service have also been critical of PM Sharon’s policy.
  • Israeli PM Sharon has announced plans to evacuate some settlements by summer 2004.
  • According to a poll, a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support the Geneva Accords.
  • Colin Powell is meeting the authors of the Geneva Accord in Washington today.

(Links via The Head Heeb who just celebrated his first blogiversary.)

Frankly, I am not very optimistic. I have gotten very cynical and pessimistic about the prospects of peace in both these conflicts. But we’ll see.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. I won’t comment on the IP situation, as there will be plenty of more sensible views than mine available on the issue; but confining myself to the Kashmiri imbroglio I see no reason to start celebrating anytime soon. Vajpayee seems to go through these periodic bursts of trying to be seen to making some sort of breakthrough the problem is that it leads to heightened expectations where any subsequent failure is blamed on the other side (as was done after Agra) or lead to really pointless gestures that are ill-timed and tactical disaster (who can forget the bizarre unilateral Ramadan cease-fire). There is some debate as to what exactly motivates these moves; some sort of intra-party struggle within the Sangh, or whether the ‘Vikas purush’ with his Nehruvian delusions has one beady on history and wants to chalk up one semi-decent accomplishment before he eats himself into an early grave. Either way, I can’t see any real progress unless there is a willingness on both sides to have some flexibility as opposed to just try and go through the motions. The Pakistani PM’s gesture is of more note; though I assume external constraints through the WoT have something to do with it here. Still we are only progressing to a stage that should have been reached much earlier, with the current crop of CBMs at a relatively small level of significance. With the splits in the APHC and the noises now being made that the ‘Kashmiri people’ and not Pakistan, India or the UN will guide matters; I remain a little sceptical as to what positive moves will be made in this regard especially given the past refusal to engage with the Delhi appointed rapporteur; the PDP govt also hasn’t been able to do much by way of moving forward as well so far beyond reining SOG and re-extending the J&K police forces.

    Still after the recent farces of Sarp Vinash and the election victories perhaps the BJP feels the need to make some headway on this issue; but general elections are coming up so I wouldn’t expect any brave moves from this formation just as yet. Given their base in northern India and the way to whip up the saffronist programme, once the ‘Modi agenda’ is back-pedalled and the Ayodhya issue bogged down in litigation; Kashmir is the one of the few big touchstone issues left to whip up fervour here. One hopes for a good outcome but the best that will be possible is the maintenance of the cease-fire and low-level rumblings in the valley. Unless the PDP govt can revitalise itself things will limp along the way they are for the near while.

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  3. Conrad: I agree. I think the Kashmir issue is in quite an intractable phase right now. Neither Pakistan nor India have changed their positions at all but are making some gestures. Also, there is no unified Kashmiri leadership to talk with either.

    The Pakistan-India relations, however, could get better to at least their regular historical level. At this point, even that is an accomplishment. I think we are seeing some effort in that direction.

  4. Also, there is no unified Kashmiri leadership to talk with either.

    Ha, there never will be either. It is not in India (or Pakistan’s) interest for one to emerge; the historic pattern of Indian policy towards secessionist movements has always to divide them and also engage in a selective policy of negotiation as well as bribery for the more moderate elements within the leadership. The Centre has always been very good in using the carrot as well as the stick; the problem is that this leads to a heightened level of alienation amongst the mass of the population which can be dealt with in the same way and erodes the normal institutionalisation of political competition through the ballot-box. In the long-term as we have seen in Kashmir there is a breakdown; I remember in some NE states like Manipur we would be hunting down various militant outfits and a few months later after some ceasefire had led to a breakaway “moderate” element agreeing to contest the Vidhan Sabha elections that we would have to escort these worthies so that their erstwhile colleagues wouldn’t eliminate them during the electioneering! In anycase it is not necessary to have everybody on board; as a competitive bidding process starts to show who is being more consistent in adhering to the cuase of Kashmiri separatism there will always be some groups who refuse to come in from the cold; as long as the bulk of the APHC both the hardline and centrist factions come to the table I think it is enough.

    Out of interest, I thought you might like to read part of an email exchange I had a longtime back with a discussion group that included Indians and Pakistanis thinking on the Kashmir issue. It was some while back and before I had started my first posting to Kashmir so it is funny to read it now as well as a little embarassing; ah the naivety of youth:)

    Well, there is a difference on how the centrality of Kashmir can be seen to the nation-building projects of both countries. For example Ayesha Jalal examines the factors that prevent Pakistan from ceding the claim to Kashmir: firstly there is the domestic scenario and the deeply entrenched interests of the Army and the various intelligence agencies which as we noted earlier will not easily allow their logic of defence to be superseded. Secondly, there are the organisations which arm and train militants for Kashmir, these would react quite violently to any shift on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and in turn switch their attentions to internal destabilisation. Lastly there is the “moral” responsibility argument that Pakistan has a duty to support long denied Kashmiri aspirations. Her solutions include those that are unpalatable to the official Pakistani line on Kashmir: retreat from any territorial claim, be ready for all options including Kashmiri independence except for the status quo, stop the jihad rhetoric and focus on the human rights issue and of course more conventional Pakistan responses such as calls to the international community to “restrain India’s military war machine”. All except the last are not really part of Pakistani policy towards Kashmir and indicate to me some of the deeper problems in such claims. Jalal goes on to query the basis for Pakistan’s self-defined nature as the regional state in South Asia for Muslims, as an Islamic state or as a state seeking to bring its ethnic diversity together under the umbrella of religious unity. There are two problems she observes with all these definitions: the first is the their real incomplete nature: as a large part of Indian Muslims did not migrate to their new homeland, a neighbour which did not accept the two-nation theory, the earlier vision of Pakistan’s founding fathers who did not envision an Islamic republic and finally the inability to reconcile ethnic differences under a religious unity first in East Pakistan and currently in the Mohajjir issue. There are real problems here of ethnicity versus religion and trying to put the blame on India I think diverts scrutiny from this. Which leads us onto the second problem that Jalal notes: however one may interpret it, the fact remains that all these various self-definitions involve either directly or by-way of comparison a reference to India. Such a process has led to the problem of Pakistan national identity always being cast in opposition to that of an external agency. This accounts, in Jalal’s view at least partly for the incomplete nature of nation-building within Pakistan itself.

    The above is only one reading of how nationalism plays out in the region and I don’t know enough about from a first-hand basis Pakistan to evaluate it with any objectivity; however let me add my own observations which I think will be somewhat disturbing for many. If one accepts as I do the alternative narrative to partition as I do, which scholars like Jalal have sought whereby Partition could have been avoided in an alternative settlement; then this means a rejection of the two-nation theory as a way of organising the political boundaries of the region. This has very serious consequences for the foundational legitimacy of Pakistan as it questions the very ideology which brought it into being; the consequences for India are also serious as it entails a major evaluation of how internal politics would work but it does not call into question the very identity of the Indian Nation-state in the same way, as the latter was never founded on the principle of religious identity or affiliation. This is why I feel it was easier to “Islamicise” the Pakistani state (along with other reasons which I have mentioned earlier such as the untimely death of Jinnah etc) but it has proved consequently harder to “Hinduise” the Indian state notwithstanding the creeping soft saffronsim and the strength of Hindutva appeals. An explicit acceptance of the two-nation theory had already dealt a weakened blow to secularist forces in Pakistan, while the formally secularist foundations of the Indian state had given weak secular forces a much-needed prop. What this has mean is that unlike Pakistan, it has not been possible and is not possible for Religious Fundamentalists in India to communalise the polity without questioning its foundational principles and forcing a major change in its very basis; so far different political and social forces have gone along some ways with this programme but have resisted going all the way and to gain power have forced a dilution of the saffron programme. The easy elision and slippage by which national identity becomes synonymous with religious identity has not happened in India unlike Pakistan. The extrapolation of this is to consider what an adverse result to the Kashmir issue entails for the nationalisms of the two states. I would argue that though serious to both it would prove fatal for Pakistan in a way that it would not for India. In a potential scenario where Kashmir joins the “other side” as it were: for Pakistan I think it would severely undermine the central nationalism of the state itself given how Kashmir being part of Pakistan is bound up with claims of the self-identity of Pakistan itself, already weakened by the loss of East Pakistan, by the existence of a South Asian Muslim population outside its borders and by ongoing conflicts such as the MQM disturbances in Karachi. For India I think it would undermine the govt at the Centre which would have been perceived to have “lost Kashmir” in the eyes of the public (one reason why no govt wants to risk this) push the terms of political discourse further to the right for the non-Saffron but opportunist elements and be a setback for secularist forces across the polity. Yet I don’t see the critical deathblow as none of the foundational principles of Indian nationalism are quite called into question the same way here. I don’t buy this excuse of Kashmir being a Muslim majority state and “thereby proving Indian secularism can provide a place for the Muslims” enough time has passed for Indian Muslim communities in different regions of India to understand that the space and legitimacy Indian secularism can give to Indian Muslims to be both Indian and Muslim with their dignity and security intact is dependent not on the potential achievability of secularism as a principle per se but on the political dynamics of their region and of the wider conflict between Saffron and secular forms of nationalism. This is another reason why Kashmir I think is so essential to Pakistan in a way it is not for India and why it is misleading to talk of morality and the rights and wrongs of the issue in a purely legalistic fashion; were this really the bone of contention then as Jalal notes the articulation of Kashmiri policy from the Pakistani side would have been quite different and as a counterpoint I do not believe that Pakistani claims or action would have been any more subdued had their case been much weaker on these gourds.

    Two important things result from what I have argued above: firstly more than ever this puts more of a burden on India to take the initiative and shoulder more of the negative consequences for resolving the issue in a satisfactory manner given that the what is at stake is less destabilising for the Indian polity than it is for the Pakistani. Secondly it offers an insight into how nationalism works differently in Pakistan and India and accounts for the differential appeals and strengths of religious fundamentalism and secularism in the different polities without having to fall back on suspect forms of Othering or stereotyping like the irrational Muslim fundamentalist or the secular, peace-loving Hindu; needless to say both these figure and the ensuing national characterisations are largely figments of the imagination. My interest is to try and see how the secularist-fundamentalist dynamic plays out in the two countries without falling back on such reductionist cultural essentialising.

  5. Conrad: A very interesting comment. I don’t have time for my thoughts on this right now. May be later. BTW, I somewhat, but not completely, agree with Ayesha Jalal’s thesis on partition.

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