US Signals Concern for Kashmir Dispute – What Does It Mean?

by Haifa Peerzada

A very significant development took place over the Kashmir issue, which can prove to be a game changer for India as well as Jammu and Kashmir. This longstanding dispute has been for the first time been introduced as a part of institutionalized US-Pakistan strategic dialogue. Sartaj Aziz and John Kerry met on 29th February, 2016 and came out with a Joint statement emphasizing on the importance of taking steps towards resolving the outstanding disputes in South Asia, including Kashmir. Kashmir dispute which is considered to be a bi-lateral issue by the international community and the United States are now showing growing concern over the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. This eventful step by the US clearly shows its insecurity and fear over the impending instability in the South Asian region, underscored by the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. With Pakistan seeking to internationalise the issue, India’s aggressive stand to not engage with pro-freedom factions in Kashmir and Kashmir’s internal deterioration has given room to Pakistan for engaging with the US on Kashmir issue. India needs to take note of it and get proactive about resolving the dispute.

Flawed or No Strategy – A Recipe for Complete Disaster

Strategy is a means to reach the ends. In other words it’s the strategy that makes means meet ends and unfortunately in case of Kashmir as between India and Pakistan, there has been no goal oriented strategy. In default of this, we have seen rise in ceasefire violations, infiltrations, terror attacks, intelligence failures, disconnect between civilian-military leadership and security breaches. In the past also, crises between the two have remained at the brink of an all out war. This accompanied with blame games from both the sides exacerbated by media posturing is adding fuel to fire, postulated in growing trust deficit between them. Though de-escalation of tensions between the two can provide grounds conducive for the resolution of Kashmir dispute but it seems unlikely at the moment.

India considers the Kashmir dispute a bi-lateral issue and therefore does not even consider Kashmir a party to the conflict. Such a strategy is flawed one which would in any case, not make means meet end – the end being resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It would be pertinent to know here that the peace dialogue between the two hit snags primarily due to concerns relating terrorism and Kashmir dispute. This just goes on to say that till Kashmir is not resolved, India and Pakistan cannot move ahead with any other bi-lateral issues. Cooperating on super ordinate goals can only help if the major issue is negotiable between the two but that does not seem to be the case with the political symbolism attached to Kashmir shrouded in negativity for both India and Pakistan.

Internal dynamics   

In the meantime, alienation in the Kashmir Valley has reached its peak seen in increasing human rights violations and a rise of new wave of militancy. The wave of new militancy seems to have quality in terms of dedication and radicalization as this generation of militants is very well aware of the history and consequences of the militancy in the past. This seems to be more strategic and therefore to be gaining more support from the local population as well. It is also due to a complete breakdown of institutional mechanism of dealing with Kashmir politically. People feel betrayed and this sense of betrayal has accumulated over a long period of time, which has made internal deterioration in Kashmir palpable.

With no proper government in place and governor’s rule imposed after the death of Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmir seems to be in a state of flux. In such a scenario, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would not just lose its popularity further but such political uncertainty would also lead to polarization of already polarized politics in the region and create more divisions in Kashmir, increasing the rate of imminence of trifurcation of the state. In the prevailing circumstances this may have disastrous consequences, which we might not have even envisioned.

Kashmir is at a very crucial juncture at present. Symptoms should be cured and the cure of all the symptoms is resolution of the Kashmir dispute.  An involvement and concern in this from the US would require careful handling and that is possible only when J&K has a proper government in place. Since US has signaled their involvement means that another challenge for the next J&K government, which would take over, is how well would they participate in this political process and serve the end of resolving the Kashmir dispute. This requires India and J&K to buckle up and get proactive in having a strategy to deal with this issue, which seems to be missing at present.

No knee-jerk reactions depicting a post-colonial mindset, will serve any purpose anymore. It also means that they need to keep in mind that Kashmir is an important party to the conflict and with US making such a historical initiative it is high time that India must stop playing exclusionary politics. Although this should not have been India’s choice for so long, but now it’s not even an option. It remains to be seen how the regional parties with an autonomist ideology will seek to reconcile their differences with the more integrative national parties, especially with PDP-BJP coalition in the state. This reconciliation of completely divergent ideologies is the biggest challenge now, not just for Jammu and Kashmir but also for India especially as regards competing notions of self-determination be it internal or external self-determination vis-à-vis integration.

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