Kashmir, which is the bone of contention between Pakistan and India, has seen many phases of negotiations in the past six decades. These nuclear neighbors in South Asia have fought three wars over Kashmir. The genesis of the Kashmir conflict goes back to 1947, when both India and Pakistan obtained independence from the British. A lot has been written about the nature of this conflict but less attention has been given to resolving it. Pakistan considers Kashmir as the fundamental subject of political dispute with India whereas India does not consider Kashmir as an international dispute; in fact, it considers it an internal affair.

KashmirSouth Asian history has witnessed many phases when both countries come to the negotiating table to discuss the complex issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The past few years in particular have seen many negotiations on Kashmir, but none of them was a success. These negotiations were either proposed by Pakistan or by India. The question we are left with is: Why do these dialogues fail? This question needs to be examined in a broader political context of Kashmir i.e. politics within Kashmir and outside Kashmir (India). Indian political leaders are of the opinion that the issue should be discussed bilaterally, while Kashmiri political leaders propose that the discussion should involve Kashmiris. Before I address this central disagreement I shall briefly outline a history of negotiations on Kashmir and their conceptual pre-suppositions.

On August 15, 1947, the Indian subcontinent won its independence from the British rule. Rulers of the princely states were encouraged to accede their states to either India or Pakistan, taking into account factors such as geographical contiguity and the wishes of their people. The Maharaja of Kashmir delayed his decision in an effort to remain independent. Being a Muslim majority State and adjacent to Pakistan, Kashmir was expected to accede to Pakistan. When the Maharaja however acceded the territory to India, it resulted in a dispute. According to the 1948 Indian White Paper, India provisionally accepted the accession until such time as the will of the people could be ascertained by a plebiscite. In fact, the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made it clear in a speech on All India Radio that the people of Kashmir were free to choose their future and accede to either of the Domains:

We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja has supported it not only to the people of Kashmir but the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a fair and just Reference to the people, and we shall accept their verdict. I can imagine no fairer and juster offer.[1]

He subsequently reiterated:

I wish to draw your attention to broadcast on Kashmir which I made last evening. I have stated our government’s policy and made it clear that we have no desire to impose our will on Kashmir but to leave final decision to people of Kashmir. I further stated that we have agreed on impartial international agency like United Nations supervising referendum.[2]

In November 1947, India proposed that Pakistan withdraw all its troops first, as a precondition for a plebiscite, which Pakistan rejected on the grounds that the Kashmiris may not vote freely given the presence of Indian army and Sheikh Abdullah’s friendship with Nehru. Thus Pakistan counter-proposed simultaneous withdrawal of all troops followed by a plebiscite under international auspices, which India rejected. Pakistan therefore continued sending regular forces to Kashmir, and the first war over Kashmir broke out.

On March 17, 1948, Sheikh Abdullah became the first Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh was dismissed as Prime Minister by the then Sardr-i-Riyasat Dr. Karan Singh on August 8, 1953. Sheikh Abdullah was immediately arrested and later jailed for eleven years, accused of conspiracy against the State in the infamous “Kashmir Conspiracy Case”[3]. On April 8, 1964, the State Government dropped all charges in the “Kashmir Conspiracy Case” against Sheikh Abdullah (Sheikh Abdullah; M.Y.Taing (1985), p752). Sheikh Abdullah was released and returned to Srinagar where he was accorded an unprecedented welcome by the people of the valley” (Sheikh Abdullah; M.Y.Taing (1985), p755-757). Kashmiris saw Sheikh’s dismissal as a shift in the Kashmir policy by Nehru. The dismissal was understood in the valley as the beginning of a central control over an alienated populace.  However, Indira Gandhi’s shrewd observation in May 1948 proves that it existed even as Indian troops were fighting the raiders and Pakistan’s troops in the State. The word “alienation”, which implies an earlier affection, is a misnomer. Kashmiris were never for the state’s accession to India. Realization of this bitter truth rent two devoted friends apart. Nehru could not risk holding the plebiscite he had promised, harried as he was by the Jan Sangh and the right-wing in the Congress. He pressed unwisely for a closer union. Sheikh Abdullah could no longer swear by accession and retain his popularity.[4]

Nehru’s promises remained promises on paper and were never pressed to realization. India feared that if a referendum took place, it would lose Kashmir, although Nehru thought that Sheikh Abdullah’s popular figure would be a boost to the Indian state in winning the referendum. In a letter to Nehru sent on May 14, 1948, Indira Gandhi wrote, “they say only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite.”  However, the fear of losing Kashmir remained President Rajendra Prasad wrote in a note to Nehru on July 14, 1953:

Last year, [Vice-Presdident] Dr. Radhakrishnan, on his return from a visit to Kashmir, came and told me that even Sheikh Abdullah thought that we would lose in a plebiscite as Sheikh Abdullah himself had told him that … but whether we win or lose in a plebiscite, with our commitments it is not possible to say that we shall not have a plebiscite if the other side presses for it.[5]

Sir Owen Dixon, the UN representative, came to the subcontinent in order to pursue UN Security Council resolution 1950 on Kashmir. Dixon got much closer to obtaining peace than any representative before or since. Dixon’s proposal assigned Ladakh to India and northern areas and Pakistan administered Kashmir to Pakistan. He split Jammu between the two, and a plebiscite would decide the status for the Kashmir Valley. Dixon’s plan failed, although Pakistan agreed to it, because Nehru did not accept the conditions in which plebiscite would be held. The Dixon Plan figured in discussions in the National Conference’s Working Committee on June 9, 1953. Chief Minister, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed was emphatically of the opinion that this should be put up as first and the only practicable, advantageous and honorable solution of the dispute.

Following the overthrow of Sheikh Abdullah, his lieutenant Mirza Afzal Beg formed the Plebiscite Front on August 9, 1955 to fight for the plebiscite demand and the unconditional release of Sheikh Abdullah, who had been arrested after his removal. The activities of the Plebiscite Front eventually led to the institution of the ‘Kashmir Conspiracy Case’ in 1958 and two other cases[6]. Having put Abdullah behind bars on August 8 in “Kashmir conspiracy case”, Nehru could hardly risk a plebiscite. He said as much to Karan Singh and sent A. P. Jain to Bakshi[7] to explain matters.

On October 17, 1949, the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted Article 370 of the Constitution, ensuring special status and internal autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir with Indian jurisdiction in Kashmir limited to the three areas agreed in the Instrument of Accession (IOA); namely defense, foreign affairs, and communications. Five years passed without a referendum, and in 1954 the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir ratified the accession to India. The legal authority of the Constituent Assembly and the ratification of the accession remained questionable. On October 30, 1956 the state constituent assembly adopted a constitution for the state declaring it a part of India. But soon, on January 14, 1957, the United Nations passed another resolution stating that such actions would not constitute a final disposition of the state. India’s Home Minister G. B Pant during his visit to Kashmir, for the first time, declared Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India shattering all the promises which the Indian Union and Pandit Nehru had made with Kashmiri people.

By 1961, the conflict resumed and the second Indo-Pak war was fought. After three weeks, the war ended with a UN facilitated ceasefire, and both the countries signed an agreement—the Tashkent Agreement. Both nations agreed to return to the status-quo ceasefire-line negotiated previously, and pledged to refrain from the use of force to resolve the dispute. After the Tashkent Agreement, both India and Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement in 1972, which was not primarily concerned with the Kashmir dispute, but was nonetheless important. It stated that both the countries would resolve all the outstanding issues bilaterally, including that of Kashmir. From July 1972 onwards, the Shimla Agreement became the cornerstone of Indo-Pakistan relations though both have tended to give different interpretations to the Agreement at times.

After a few years of relative quiet, a widespread armed insurgency started in Kashmir with the controversial rigging of the 1987 election. Since 1987, the Kashmir dispute has claimed thousands of lives, mostly of innocent civilian Kashmiris. In the due course of time, both countries have attained the status of nuclear powers. The dialogue between the two stopped after 1987, as India took a different direction, saying that Pakistan should stop cross-border terrorism, while Pakistan denied that it is involved in any such activities. The hostilities between the two South Asian neighbors have left Kashmiri people to suffer. The dialogue between India and Pakistan resumed in 1999. The Indian Prime minister A.B. Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif signed the Lahore Accord in February 1999. The Accord reaffirmed the desire of both countries to settle the dispute on the Kashmir issue. However, the Lahore Accord held only until May 1997, both countries fought a small-scale war in Kargil between May and July 1997 and all the dialogues came to a halt. Shortly after the Kargil war, General Pervez Musharraf toppled the Nawaz government and became the military ruler of Pakistan. Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee met at Agra in July 2001, but failed to produce any agreement on Kashmir dispute.

On July 24, 2000, the Hizbul Mujahideen, largest militant outfit operating in Kashmir, announced a unilateral ceasefire and publicly expressed a willingness to initiate talks with the Government of India. The Government of India responded positively to the offer. The people of Jammu and Kashmir enthusiastically welcomed the development. But soon after a few days, on August 9, 2000, Hizbul Mujahideen announced its withdraw from the ceasefire. The reason for withdrawal, according to the group, was unwillingness on India’s part to involve Pakistan in the talks. Majid Dar, a leader of Hizbul Mujahideen in Srinagar, had made the offer of ceasefire. Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, in Islamabad withdrew it.

On April 18, 2003, in Srinagar, Prime Minister Vajpayee made his own overture to Musharraf. By May, India had agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties with Islamabad, and by October, some road and rail links were resumed between the two countries. India also made an important concession by agreeing to open a line of dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, whereas talks with Kashmiri groups had previously been denied outright. On November 26, a ceasefire offered by Pakistan to India went into effect in Kashmir territory. The year 2004 began with renewed dialogue between Musharraf and Vajpayee at a summit meeting of the South Asian nations. The then Indian National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra, in an interview said, “It is a victory for peace and prosperity for the people of India and Pakistan and South Asia. In my view, it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”[8]

In 2004, the Government of India for the first time invited the Hurriyat Conference for a roundtable discussion on the Kashmir issue. However, the Hurriyat Geelani group (G) refused to enter into any summit until India accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory and not its integral part. But the other faction, the Hurriyat Mirwaiz group (M), accepted to enter into the dialogue. Hurriyat leaders went to Delhi for talks with the Government of India to resolve Kashmir issue. The first round of talks was held on January 22, and the second on March 27.  However, both the sessions produced little more than photo shoots. Critics in Kashmir lampooned the talks as encounters between a shopkeeper who had no desire to sell and a customer who had no money to spend.  After two rounds of discussions were held, the Hurriyat stopped pursuing the dialogue process with India without going into the third round, questioning the sincerity of India in the processes.

In May 2006, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh invited the Hurriyat Conference for talks on the Kashmir dispute. The Prime Minister and the Hurriyat agreed to establish a system to discuss solutions to the dispute over Kashmir dating from the partition of the Indian subcontinent in the late 1940s. Hurriyat (M) came up with a list of preconditions for the resumption of talks between the two sides that India rejected. In a statement to the press, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said, “I am hopeful that a process will restart and yield results fast if India releases prisoners, gradually withdraws troops and repeals the black laws,” referring to draconian laws giving security forces expanded powers against insurrection.[9]

However, the Hurriyat boycotted the May 2006 round table conference in Srinagar, which pro-India leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Prime Minister of India attended.

In between these years back-channel political discussions were going on between India and Pakistan. However, none of them has been fruitful. The New Yorker on March 2, 2009 reported that for several years, special envoys from Pakistan and India had been holding talks in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai, and London. Musharraf and Manmohan Singh had encouraged the negotiators to seek what some involved called a “paradigm shift” in relations between the two nations. The agenda included a search for an end to the long fight over Kashmir, a contest that is often described by Western military analysts as a potential trigger for atomic war.

On May 2, 2009, Dr. Manmohan Singh revealed that, “Gen Musharraf and I had nearly reached an agreement, a non-territorial solution to all problems but then Gen Musharraf got into many difficulties with the chief justice and other forces and therefore the whole process came to a halt”. Pervez Musharraf proposed a four-point plan to resolve the Kashmir problem. In an hour-long interview over Pakistan Television, he said that the first stage should involve a dialogue at the highest level between the two countries and that the process of his invitation to Agra should be maintained with similar talks. The second stage required an agreement on the centrality of Kashmir as the main issue between India and Pakistan. In the third step, both sides would have to eliminate all the formulas not acceptable to each other. The last step is the discussion on the actual solution. In June 2009, Musharraf said he had convinced the entire leadership in Kashmir, except hardliner Ali Shah Gilani, about his four-point formula that envisaged demilitarization and joint control of the region.

In this context let me go back to the question, which I raised in the beginning of this paper: what then actually has lead to the failure of all these attempts towards reconciliation? An honest answer to the question will point to a trust deficit between the two blocks.

When one goes back into the history of the dispute, it becomes obvious that it was a dispute between India and Pakistan in which Kashmiris be given the choice either to accede to India or to Pakistan. However, as the time passed the dispute took a different turn, and a different school of thought came into existence which demanded a free Kashmir. Sovereign Kashmir is more common in the recent Kashmiri imagination than accession to either of the countries. The situation took a different turn after last year’s Amarnath land issue. Most of the Kashmiris came on the streets demanding freedom. Most of the Indian intelligentsia supported this popular demand of Kashmiri people. Arundhati Roy in her article “Land and Freedom” (The Guardian, Friday, August 22, 2008) wrote, “The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimize Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir. India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India.”

The peace process between India and Pakistan stopped after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which was carried out allegedly by Pakistani nationals. Since then both the countries are trying to start afresh a peace process to resolve all the bilateral issues including Kashmir. Due to growing international pressure to resolve the Kashmir issue, Indian government again invited Hurriyat to discuss the Kashmir issue, in 2009. Home Minister P. Chidambaram on June 11, 2009 during his visit to Srinagar, said “We would like to take small, baby steps one by one and no great leap in Kashmir.” On October 28, 2009 Dr. Manmohan Singh reached out to Kashmiri separatists, offering to resume peace talks to end decades-old insurgency in the Himalayan region[10]. Soon after the PM’s offer of talks, Hurriyat (M) welcomed the step and said they are ready to participate in the dialogue whereas Hurriyat (G) rejected any such proposal. Dr. Singh also offered unconditional talks with Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue. Ahead of the PM’s visit to Valley, on October 15 2009, P. Chidambaram announced a quiet dialogue with all the political shades of Kashmir. What lacked in this programme was the degree of quietness. New Delhi, backed by the Jammu and Kashmir state government, kept releasing press statements that it is engaging Hurriyat (M) in the quiet diplomacy, which the latter refused.

The past three years have seen a shift in the political scenario of Kashmir. Year 2008 saw agitation against transfer of some hectares of land to the Shri Amarnath Shirine Board, resulting in the death of nearly 60 people. The resistance died after the state government revoked its decision of land transfer and the cycle of deaths was put to a halt. Peace remained elusive for some time. Soon into the summer of 2009, security forces in the South Kashmir district of Shopian saw people on the streets of Kashmir after the alleged rape and murder of two women. The anger and the resistance died after a few months. Unfortunately, the relative peace could not survive even six months, and people were seen on the streets of Srinagar again after the killing of a youth, Tufail Matoo, allegedly at the hands of security forces on June 11, 2010. These protests against human rights violations have resulted in the deaths of 25 people so far. AK 47s and other modern sophisticated weapons are seen nowhere on the streets of Kashmir; instead, the baton has been transferred to youths (as noted by APHC (M) chairman, Molvi Umar Farooq in one of his statements) who come onto the streets of Kashmir with stones in their hands as a mark of protest. Many political analysts see it as ‘intifada’ against the Indian state?

In the pretext of development and regional cooperation, India and Pakistan have once again met at the table, resuming the dialogue between the two nuclear powers that was suspended after the Mumbai attacks. Dr. Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of SAARC summit in Bhutan, and both leaders agreed that relations between the two countries should be normalized and channels of contact should work effectively. Recently, on July 15, 2010, the Foreign Ministers of both countries met in Islamabad. The talks between Krishna and Qureshi ended in a deadlock, with the latter accusing India of selectively focusing on terror and ignoring its vital concerns on issues like Kashmir. India says that it will go in for gradualist, incremental approach revolving around trust-building humanitarian measures, before moving on to enlarge the scope of dialogue. However, the question remaining with us is whether this change of attitude by both the countries will come to the rescue of Kashmiris who have suffered in the last six decades. The concept of independent Kashmir makes Kashmiri people the primary stakeholders in the dispute, which is to be resolved between India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan should take into account all the sections of Kashmiri societies, pro-freedom leaders (both moderates and extremists) and pro-Indian leaders, irrespective of their opinions. Dialogue without any of these stakeholders will be a useless exercise.

[1] On 2nd November, 1947, broadcast to the nation over All India Radio, Pandit Nehru, PM of India

[2] Nehru’s reiteration of plebiscite pledge in a telegram to Liaqat Ali Khan, November 03, 1947

[3] Abdullah, S. M. (1986). Atish-e-Chinar. Ali Mohammad and Sons.

[4] A.G. Noorani; Harsh truths about Kashmir, Frontline Volume 20 – Issue 16, August 02 – 15, 2003

[5] President Rajendra Prasad’s letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on July 14, 1953

[6] http://www.kashmirtimes.com/archive/0706/070613/feature.htm

[7] SWJN; Volume 23; page 346

[8] India’s National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra, in a interview with Margaret Warner, Talking Peace; January 6, 2004

[9] Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of the separatist alliance All Parties Hurriyat Conference, to a press conference at Srinagar, January 2009.