Kashmir - Prospects for Peace

The recently announced steps to normalize relations by India and Pakistan are a positive development and offer a window of opportunity to move forward. There is a greater realization in India and Pakistan that they need to settle the Kashmir dispute for their well being and that of the region. The conflict over Kashmir has been the chief source of tension between the two great nations and has resulted in tremendous costs for the region - mounting death toll, impact on economic growth, military buildup, rise in extremism and psychological stress, especially in the Kashmir region itself.

All sides now understand that their stated positions of the last fifty-five years are not realistic and that compromises will have to be made. There is also a realization that the views and involvement of the peoples of the Kashmir region are important to any lasting solution. The International community is involved. Peace in South Asia is an important international issue and, while the parties in the region have the primary responsibility of developing a peace process, it is also recognized that they may not be able to do so without the help of friends from the international community.

Prospects for peace will be greatly enhanced by acting upon the following suggestions. Before “negotiations” start, dialogue is necessary. What is needed for peace in Jammu and Kashmir and for the whole region is for beginning of a dialogue in which representatives, both official and non-official, of the groups concerned, will participate before fruitful negotiations can succeed. To provide a basis for fruitful negotiations, dialogue must be characterized by three features. One is the absence of coercion, with all parties agreeing to treat the others as equals. A second requirement is for participants to respond with empathy, to think someone else’s thoughts and feel someone else’s feelings. The third requirement is that dialogue must be concerned with bringing forth the people’s most deep-rooted assumptions in order to overcome misunderstandings. There must be a genuine desire for peace.

In my view, the prospects for peace will be greatly enhanced if the leadership of the region were to agree, as a first step, that they are committed to three principles that have guided the work of the Kashmir Study Group (KSG) - a solution must be peaceful, honorable, and feasible. Too much suffering has taken place, especially in the Kashmir region. Wars, insurgency, and counter-insurgency have failed to solve the problem. The region cannot afford the conflict that has kept its people from realizing their potential. A peaceful resolution is recognized as the only viable option. Kashmir is an emotional issue, and thus a solution has to be perceived as “honorable” by the most concerned parties. A “solution” in which one party declares “total victory” cannot bring peace. There is a growing realization by all parties that compromises will have to be made. There is increasing understanding that a solution must be not only honorable, but also implementable.

In this regard, the KSG’s work has contributed to change the paradigm of the last fifty-five years - that Jammu and Kashmir, as it existed in 1947, is an indivisible unit. India, Pakistan, and some leaders claiming to speak for Kashmir, have asserted that the whole region, as it existed in 1947, must belong to them alone. The United Nations, in its resolutions, also appeared to endorse the indivisibility of the erstwhile state.

A feasible solution needs creative and practical approaches. In the final analysis, it is the parties themselves who will need to consider and discuss various options. The KSG has also developed ideas and options for the consideration of the parties. The KSG, through its report, KASHMIR - A Way Forward ( has depicted the historical, demographic, geographic, and linguistic background of the Kashmir region. These presentations provide opportunities to study various options for dispensation of the Kashmir region that could generate solutions that are implementable and also be perceived as honorable by the concerned parties.

The 1998 Livingston Proposal was developed by some members of the KSG in consultation with well-informed Indians and Pakistanis. In brief, the Livingston Proposal envisages a future dispensation for Jammu and Kashmir that departs from the paradigm of “indivisibility” and suggests constituting an entity (or entities) from one (or two) portions of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir that would have its own democratic constitution(s), as well as its own citizenship, flag(s), and legislature(s). The legislature(s) would act on all matters other than defense and foreign affairs. India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defense of Kashmir, which would itself maintain police forces for internal law and order. India and Pakistan would be expected to work out financial arrangements for the new Kashmiri entity or entities.

One of the main elements of the proposed dispensation involves the ability of the Kashmir region to have liberal access to and from both India and Pakistan for the transit of people, goods, and services. In this connection, the KSG and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) announced recently that the institutions will undertake a study of the economic dimensions of peace in Kashmir. The project will map out a vision of how Kashmir would fit into the regional and world economy following a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem. One can and should address the economic dimensions of Kashmir’s plight even before the political aspect has been settled.

As mentioned above, the first step is for the parties to agree to a solution that is “peaceful, honorable and feasible”. The second step is to consider a number of confidence-building measures including: a cease fire along the Line of Control; steps to reduce infiltration and violence; withdrawal of military forces to a distance of 10-25 kilometers and replacing them with police; mutual withdrawal of troops from positions along the Siachen glacier; beginning reduction of military units from both Indian- and Pakistani-controlled areas; more frequent visits by the Indian Human Rights Commission and initiation of visits by international human rights organizations; reestablishment of rural schools and clinics; reconstruction of roads and bridges; reinforcement of courts; installation of a program of family reunification and visits; relaxation of travel restrictions; issuance of state travel documents; establishment of army-to-army and police-to-police “hot lines” and liaison meetings; and opening the Line of Control to transit traffic and trade. As a first step, opening the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road will be seen as a positive development. Shortly thereafter talks should deal with the most just and viable disposition of the territory of the state and related changes in its constituent political regions. At a proper time, elections in Jammu and Kashmir should be held under international observation and new governmental bodies should be empowered to join India-Pakistan negotiations.

The leadership in the region has a great opportunity to move forward. Courage and wisdom are required on all sides. There exists an opportunity to start the process and work out solutions that could satisfy the vital interests of the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. It is important to end civil strife and the tragic destruction of life and property in Kashmir. Resolving the principal issue that could lead to further armed - and potentially nuclear - conflict between India and Pakistan, would go far toward diminishing dangerous political tensions in South Asia.

Farooq Kathwari is Chairman of the Kashmir Study Group and Chairman/CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc.

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