India and Pakistan in a Security Community

A historical review – an oped by Prof. Kanti Bajpai on India – Pakistan bilateral relations:

Can India and Pakistan ever be friends? Or are they doomed to dislike, fear, and violence? It would be easy enough to predict that their future will be more or less like, or even worse, than their past.

And yet…

…a different interpretation of the past should give us hope. Did you know that between 1947 and 1964, when Jawaharlal Nehru died, India and Pakistan had solved every bilateral problem, except Kashmir, through negotiation and cooperation? They came to agree on the division of the Indus rivers, arguably one of the most important river water accords in existence anywhere in the world, in 1960. Before this, they had agreed on the division of assets between the two countries in the wake of Partition. After Mahatma Gandhi reproached the Indian government, India also released the hard currency it owed Pakistan. In April 1950, the Nehru-Liaquat Pact was signed to allow refugees to return to dispose of their property, to let abducted women to go back to their homes, to restore looted property, to negate forced religious conversions, and to institute minority rights in both states.

Even on Kashmir, India and Pakistan came close to a negotiated settlement. From 1948, when the first war over Kashmir ended and the UN stepped in to help the two warring sides to settle the dispute, to the late 1950s, the two countries tried through the good offices of the world organization to find a solution. Early mediation efforts by Admiral Chester Nimitz of the US and A.G.L. McNaughton of Canada failed, but in March 1950 the two governments agreed to demilitarize Kashmir, hold a plebiscite, and further mediation. Sir Owen Dixon of Australia led the mediation effort. In February 1951, after Dixon’s report, India began arrangements for a plebiscite. This did not work out for a variety of reasons, and so a new mediator, Dr. Frank Graham, an American, was appointed. On August 20, 1953, after the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammed Ali, Nehru announced his willingness to hold a plebiscite under a plebiscite administrator. Again, for a number of reasons relating to the modalities of a plebiscite and the conditions under which it could be held, the offer never went forward. When Nehru died in October 1964, Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of Jammu and Kashmir, was in Pakistan, at the Indian Prime Minister’s request to reopen talks on a final settlement of the quarrel.

Since then, India and Pakistan have repeatedly shown that they can cooperate. Cooperative agreements include the Tashkent agreement after the 1965 war, the Simla agreement after the 1971 war, the return of 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, the Salal Dam agreement in 1978, a number of military confidence building measures in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Lahore agreement of 1999. In 1993, they were close to signing agreements on the Siachen, Sir Creek, and Tulbul/Wular disputes as well. After the 1965 war, they agreed to arbitration in the case of the Rann of Kutch dispute, and in 1967 their differences were resolved on the basis of the Rann award handed down by the arbitration tribunal. So also, in accordance with the provisions of the Indus Rivers Treaty, they have turned to arbitration. India got a decision substantially in its favour on Baglihar in 2007 and will probably also get a relatively favourable decision on Kishenganga in 2013.

Of course there is no denying strife. India and Pakistan have been to war with each other in 1948, 1965 (twice), 1971, and 1999. They have blundered into crisis, under the shadow of nuclear weapons, in 1986-87, 1990, and 2001-2. And they are only the second pair of states to fight a war when they were in possession of nuclear weapons (the other pair is China and the Soviet Union in 1969). In 2008, after the terrorist attack on Mumbai, they could have confronted each other again, but the Indian government wisely held back from threatening to go to war.

The presence of nuclear weapons has made cooperation and long-term peace between the two countries an imperative. Nuclear weapons have emboldened those in Pakistan who want to bleed India through terrorism. They are counting on Indian patience and the protection of nuclear weapons. But India’s patience is not unlimited and in the event of a future attack Indian leaders will face monumental pressures to retaliate. If India retaliates, the pressure on Pakistani leaders to counter the Indian attack will be hard to ignore. And so on, in an escalatory spiral that could end in nuclear war which could kill millions on both sides of the border.

This is the greatest reason that India and Pakistan must cooperate and build a permanent peace. There are at least three other reasons that they must resolve conflict and agree never again to use force against each other.

First of all, South Asia, including India and Pakistan, is perhaps the most horribly poor region in the world. On various developmental indicators, our region is worse than sub-Saharan Africa which has always been counted as the greatest developmental challenge on earth. India and Pakistan do worse than some of their neighbours including Bangladesh – for instance, on child mortality, maternal mortality, and women’s literacy. One reason we do so badly is that we are spending huge amounts of money on defence, money that could be used for development and for productive investments. In 1947, India and Pakistan had about the same standard of living as Southeast Asia and East Asia. Today, even the poorest Southeast Asian countries, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, do not feature the kind of grinding, merciless poverty and deprivation that one sees in India and Pakistan. The irony is that in terms of the infrastructure we inherited from colonial rule and in terms of fertile, arable land, India and Pakistan rank very high. India, for instance, has more than twice the arable land of China even though China is two and a half times India’s size in overall land area. China though produces far more food than India because it has invested in productive agriculture.

Secondly, India and Pakistan must cooperate and make peace is that the challenges of the future are so immense that our present situation, terrible as it is, will seem a happy one. Climate change, environmental change more broadly, as well as rapidly declining potable water could lead to total economic, political, and social collapse. The day of reckoning may be much nearer than we think.

Thirdly, the conflict is taking a cultural and moral toll on both our societies. Perpetual conflict inevitably debases one’s values and practices. There is no doubt that political and social life in India and Pakistan has been degraded by the sense of anger, fear, and frustration arising out their differences. With each war, crisis, and terrorist attack, we add another layer of bitterness to our already substantial layers. The rise of religious fundamentalism and internal strife in both countries and the tolerance we have developed for human rights violations in the name of national unity are symptomatic of the degradation of our values and practices. We are both democracies, but it would be hard to say that today there is much to admire in either one of our political systems and the general social intercourse that prevails. The position of religious minorities and of disadvantaged groups – caste, tribal, women, and the poor – are appalling. Compassion, gentleness, and the sense of restraint and refinement have gone out of our lives, and this is related to the India-Pakistan quarrel that has so ruined our collective existence. We may pretend that the gradual corrosion of our values and practices are unrelated to our international relations; but in fact they are deeply related.

Can India and Pakistan make peace? Yes, though it won’t be easy. India and Pakistan have been negotiating almost continuously since 1991 when Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. The agenda is a rich and integrated one, featuring two key issues – Kashmir and security and six secondary though also very important issues (rivers, Siachen, Sir Creek, trade, people to people, and so on). There is no doubt that Kashmir is the biggest problem for both countries. We in India may find it hard to accept this, but given the number of people who have died, been injured, or have disappeared in Indian Kashmir and given that the quarrel over Kashmir feeds extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, there is little doubt that this is the primary cause of our present and future differences.

Is there a solution to Kashmir? And will a solution to Kashmir lead to a permanent peace? I suggest that there is a solution to Kashmir and that though a Kashmir solution by itself will not deliver long-term peace, it will provide the essential ingredient for what International Relations scholars call a “security community” in which states no longer expect to use force to settle their differences (e.g. Canada-US, the European Union).
What are the key elements of a Kashmir settlement? First, all parties – the Indian and Pakistani governments as well as Kashmiri separatists – should agree that the Line of Control will be left as it is for a period of 20 years. If there is one thing that everyone agrees on, it is that the Line of Control (LOC) is not a final boundary. Certainly the Pakistani government and separatists do not agree to the division of Kashmir. In addition, the Indian government formally lays claim to all of Kashmir including territories on the Pakistani side of the LOC.
Second, all sides should agree to a demilitarization of Kashmir. This means a significant reduction in the presence of troops and heavily armed paramilitaries to the point where Kashmir has only lightly-armed forces at the LOC and police personnel who should be from the state. The militant separatists should give up their arms, and they should be rehabilitated. They should be given loans to start small business ventures (including retail shops), government employment, and absorbed where possible into the police force. Those militant separatists who do not agree to give up their arms will of course have to be disarmed by both India and Pakistan and Kashmir police.
Third, India and Pakistan should move towards a similar constitutional relationship with their respective Kashmiri governments. In the case of Pakistan, this means centrally the holding of elections. At the core of the new constitutional status of the Kashmiris should be as much autonomy as is commensurate with good governance. Another key aspect of constitutional convergence would be guarantees of minority rights on both sides of the LOC.
Fourth, the two parts of Kashmir should allow citizens of the two halves to move freely to the other side via a system of identity permits rather than requiring them to carry passports and apply for visas.
Fifth, the two Kashmir governments should begin to deal with each directly and collaboratively on issues such as trade, environment, tourism, and other municipal functions (perhaps power, water).
Sixth, and more challengingly, the three parties should consider some kind of reconciliation process with regard to those who were killed or injured during the militancy.
Seventh, at the end of 20 years, there should be further consideration of the status of Kashmir including the possibility of shared sovereignty.
What are the advantages to India, Pakistan, and the separatists of such a compact? To the extent that Kashmir stays within the Indian Union, New Delhi can claim that it has not lost Kashmir and has a say in its affairs, especially its defence. For Pakistan, the advantage is that it too has a say in Kashmir affairs and can argue that it helped demilitarize Kashmir and thus end the violence there. And for the separatists, they get the substance of a united Kashmir, a chance to live a normal civilian life again, and to enter democratic politics and share power by participating in elections and administration if they so choose. It is no one’s best solution; but it is no one’s worst solution either. It is vital to be clear about the advantages and about what each side is giving up or forsaking if the agreement is to be sold to Indian, Pakistani, and Kashmiri publics.
With Kashmir settled in this way for at least two decades, a lot of the bitterness, fear, and suspicion that has dogged India-Pakistan relations will abate. The situation will then be ripe for further cooperation – on other aspects of security, river water use, the lowering of trade barriers, enhanced movement of people and cultural and social contact, and so on. Common challenges for the future including dealing with the effects of climate change and other environmental problems, the flow of narcotics into the region, cooperation for disaster management, and so on will cement ties further. At last, India and Pakistan, like Canada and the US, may usher in a security community in which the use of force against each other becomes unthinkable. The benefit to common Indians and Pakistanis will be enormous; indeed the whole of South Asia will be psychologically, socially, politically, and economically transformed.
India and Pakistan can resolve their differences – as they have shown in the past. A solution to the most pressing and costly conflict, namely, Kashmir, is within sight. Interestingly, India and Pakistan have recognized that something like the solution proposed in this essay is the way forward. Both sides have endorsed the idea of softer if not soft borders. Soft borders are the essence of a putative Kashmir agreement outlined here. It will take courage and shrewdness for the two governments to move ahead and to defend such a course of action to their own publics and to the people of Kashmir. Both have shown that they do have the courage to take bold decisions. It is not beyond them to do so again in light of the many other daunting challenges that will confront them in the decades ahead. If they do not set aside their differences, they risk chaos and collapse in the long term, as they are overwhelmed by natural, economic, political, and social problems. They must begin to make the case for a Kashmir settlement and an India-Pakistan security community, and the sooner the better.

The author is Professor and Vice Dean Research, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.