Welcome the proposed CBMs in Kashmir but do not overstate their significance.
The recently concluded meeting of foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan had one complete session dedicated to Kashmir. Although there were expectations about some cross-LoC CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) being announced at Islamabad — increasing the frequency of existing Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, a new bus service between Kargil and Skardu, a banking mechanism to replace the existing barter system, and increasing the number of trading days across the LoC from two to four every week — the joint statement resulted in only the announcement of a working group to study these issues.
Both sides agreed to convene a meeting of the Working Group on Cross-LoC CBMs to recommend measures for strengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the LoC and propose modalities for introducing additional Cross-LoC CBMs. The Working Group will meet in July 2011.[Link]
In all likelihood, these additional cross-LoC CBMs will be adopted by both sides and would probably be announced with great fanfare when the foreign ministers of two countries meet in Delhi next month. Just because these CBMs are low-hanging fruits on Kashmir that can be picked up by the two countries, it would be imprudent to dismiss these as meaningless. They will bring solace to some people on both sides of the LoC, however few in number, and should be welcome solely for that reason itself. It is precisely for this reason that the Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah has been vocal in welcoming these CBMs — they help some of the residents of his state.
However, to expect these limited initiatives to provide a springboard for a permanent solution of the Kashmir “problem” would be delving into flights of fancy. Let me divert here a bit.
Do you remember the first woman US Secretary of State, Madeleine Korbel Albright? Her father, Joseph Korbel was the chairman of the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) until 1949. In his book Danger in Kashmir, he argued nearly 57 years ago that:
…the real cause of all the bitterness and bloodshed, all the venomed speech, recalcitrance and the suspicion that have characterized the Kashmir dispute is the uncompromising and perhaps uncompromisable struggle of two ways of life, two concepts of political organization, two scales of values, two spiritual attitudes, that find themselves locked in deadly conflict, a conflict in which Kashmir has become both symbol and battleground.[Book]
This means that while the character of the conflict between India and Pakistan may have changed over the last 63 years, its essential nature persists. And those intractable differences are now deeply ingrained in the DNA of the two nations, the two states and their respective societies.
A couple of other points on Kashmir. Pakistan’s strategy towards India, particularly on Kashmir, has been the composite of hostility, chance and purpose. In contrast, there is a dissonance between the national narrative and national actions on the Indian side. The Indian political leadership has never made any attempt to sell its narrative to the world, or even to its own public. Often this is an ongoing process and as fatigue and distraction sets in, it demands that the national narrative on Kashmir be refined, redefined, or at least re-explained to all the stakeholders.
The Indian failure can also be phrased differently. A nation with a surplus of strategic resources can be sloppy or inefficient in its strategy and India has been a victim of this strategy-resource paradigm on Kashmir. India thus needs a coherent strategy to maximise the results from any expenditure of strategic resources. It must apply its power resources where they will have the greatest impact.
To start with, India can begin by not only focusing on good work done in Jammu & Kashmir but also by contrasting it with the abysmal state of political, social, religious, economic and human rights in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, including the Northern Areas (now called Gilgit-Baltistan).
Finally, those who hope to bring the Kashmir “problem” to a final and sustainable conclusion in a few months or a few years are sadly mistaken; largely because they have misunderstood the character of this conflict and have thus attempted to impose a convenient framework rather than the one which reflects reality.
The bottomline is simple. Let us continue to undertake the cross-LoC CBMs that help some sections of the population in Jammu & Kashmir. But let us neither overstate their significance nor bank on them to miraculously solve the Kashmir “problem”.
We are in it for a long haul. Modern public policy wonks would probably phrase it as a cause that warrants Strategic Patience.