The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 24, 2002

Solutions to Kashmir
Parshotam Mehra

Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947
by Sumit Ganguly. Oxford University Press. Pages 187. Rs 3951

WHETHER or not one accepts the Pakistani formulation about Kashmir being the "core" issue between the two far-from-friendly neighbours, the fact remains that it has all these 50-odd years and more so since Independence been in the forefront. A way out of the imbroglio—by no means an easy or simple proposition—may not end all our disputes with Pakistan but would certainly go a long way in easing tensions.

Sumit Ganguly’s slender volume, tightly-argued and well-researched, is designed largely not so much to proffer a solution as to explain why the two states have remained, since their very inception, locked in a "seemingly endless" spiral of hostility and conflict. In the event, his sharp and crisp narrative straddles four major conflagrations—the first and second Kashmir wars (1947-8, 1965) as well as the Bangladesh and Kargil wars (1971, 1999), and brings us up-to-date on the post-11 September scenario, the overthrow of the Taliban and a complete reversal of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

The study underlines the fact that from the very outset, Pakistan’s inability to make India budge or cede ground on the Kashmir question made its leaders, not once but "several times," to formulate military strategies to wrest the state from hostile hands. A quest, in which Islamabad "frequently" exhibited false optimism, exaggerated the support of potential allies and bolstered its self-image on the basis of "dubious and flawed" inferences. New Delhi, on the other hand, steeled its determination to hold on to Kashmir if only to demonstrate its commitment to secularism and ignored Pakistan’s demands while steadily tightening its grip on the state.


In the case of the Bangladesh War, Pakistan’s intrinsically inverted "priorities, choices and policies," which had brought about the crisis, remained largely unexamined. Rather than confront the flaws that hobble their polity, all latter regimes heaped scorn on individual choices and acts. The Indian track record in Kashmir has been equally inept, especially from 1984 onward when it resorted to "extraordinary clumsiness, thoughtlessness and downright deceit", culminating in an ethno-religious insurgency in December 1989 that gathered strength in the tumultuous decade that followed.

Even though the aftermath of the Simla Agreement (1971) witnessed a period of relative peace, it was rudely shattered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (December 1979). Not long after, there was the pre-emptive Indian strike in Siachen (1984) that had imposed substantial human and material costs on both sides and later became intractable in the wake of the Pakistani incursion across the Line of Control in Kargil (1999). Meantime, the nuclear dimension has added its own complications. Happily the war in Kargil did not show any evidence of either side contemplating use of nuclear weapons, nor did New Delhi resort to prompt horizontal escalation. Instead, it limited the war to the Kargil sector and did not attempt to cross the LoC into Pakistani territory after dislodging its troops from Indian positions.

New Delhi’s "extraordinary intransigence" on the prospect of any significant territorial concessions arises from the fear of internal "dominoes." For should Kashmir be allowed to secede, other disaffected states may well consider exiting the Indian union as a viable option. In the final count, the author poses some vital questions. Will Islamabad "finally" abandon the quest to wrest Kashmir through the use of force? Will New Delhi be willing to settle the dispute by legally ceding the portions of Kashmir, now under the control of Pakistan and China? Above all, will the vast majority of the Kashmiris in Indian-held Kashmir in the aftermath of their first truly free and fair elections, settle for a substantial degree of autonomy in the larger whole of India’s existing constitutional framework? The study posits the view that much will depend on the evolution of US policy in the foreseeable future as in the wake of its war against terrorism and sizeable military clout, Washington is now in a "unique position" to forge a durable peace in the subcontinent. Will it, perhaps?

Professor of Asian History and Government at the University of Texas, Sumit Ganguly, whose earlier work The Crisis in Kashmir appeared in 1999, enjoys considerable exposure in the US media. An American Indian, his adopted land understandably looms somewhat larger than life in his presentation.