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Syed Atiq ul Hassan: Sth Asian Stability & Kashmir

South Asian Stability And Kashmir Dispute


New Hopes and Aspirations
By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney, Australia

Since the hi-tech innovations transformed the world into a global village, the earth has also been threatened by the inventions of deadly nuclear and thermonuclear warheads. The weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which were introduced and warehoused by the big powers on the name of security of the state, dragged smaller nations into the race of developing the same deadly weapons aiming to abreast with superpowers.

Unfortunately, the two key and rival countries of South Asia, India and Pakistan, following the trails and convictions of superpowers became the competitors in the development of deadly atomic warheads due to their reciprocal fears and threats on their 50 years old geo-political disputes.

During his last visit to Pakistan, US President George W. Bush said, "The best way for Kashmir to be resolved is for leaders of both countries to step up and lead".

In today's global situation where United States already occupies much in its foreign policy, it is hard to conceive that United States would dictate Pakistan or India on Kashmir. Pakistan is playing a vital role in United States global war on terrorism; on the other hand, United States needs India to be on its side to deal with the rising power of China in the region. Therefore, US administration needs the support of both Pakistan and India.

During his last visit to India, President Bush said, "India and Pakistan have an historic opportunity to work toward lasting peace. Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf have shown themselves to be leaders of courage and vision. And I encourage them to continue making progress on all issues, including Kashmir".

President Bush has been found vigilant to speak on any firm stance on Kashmir except emphasizing India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute with bilateral negotiations. He demonstrated more balance of interest between India and Pakistan while advancing on US interest.

South Asia, which is home to the most ancient civilizations, beautiful cultures, age-old traditions, an important trade market with major agriculture cultivation landscapes and pool of the most multi-skilled people, remains one of the most disadvantaged parts of the world. The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and the political flux in other states of the region are the major causes of instability of South Asia. The Indo-Pak border skirmishes; Religious and caste-based ferocious politics in India; Corrupt and undemocratic ruling powers in Pakistan, Sinhala-Tamil ethnic violence in Sri Lanka; military dictatorship in Burma; political shakiness in Nepal and Bangladesh are the major obstacles in South Asian stability.

One-third of South Asia's 1.4 billion people live on less than $1 per day. Only 55% of the adult population is literate with the literacy rate for adult females is only 44 percent.

Rather than working for the welfare of the people by improving the quality of life, accelerating economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the country the ruling forces of the individual states spend their public funds for territorial safety. Feeling proud by testing and stocking ballistic missiles every now and then both India and Pakistan spend part of their annual budget, which could be spent on human development and to maintain better environment. In 2005, India's defense expenditure was $19.04 billion with 2.5% of GDP whereas Pakistan's defense expenditure was $4.26 billion with 3.9 % of GDP .

The major stumbling block in the regional stability is the unresolved issue of Kashmir since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 when British rulers dismantled their Indian empire and left the subcontinent with the creation of Pakistan and India.

Kashmir is historically a unique and heavenly land where Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists once lived in relative peace and harmony. Kashmir is the most beautiful place on earth. It is home to a culturally tolerant and religiously hybrid people. Due to a Muslim-majority status of Kashmir Pakistan claims that Kashmir should have been a part of Pakistan and demands to leave a decision on the will of the people of Kashmir whereas India argues that Kashmir belongs to India because of the instrument of accession signed by the Kashmiri Maharaja who handed over the powers of defense, communication and foreign affairs to Delhi in October 1947. The Kashmir dispute has been in turmoil since India and Pakistan had the first war (on Kashmir) in 1948 and took their dispute to United Nation. The Representatives for Belgium, Canada, China, Colombia, the United Kingdom and USA jointly submitted the dispute in UN Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC passed the resolution 47 at its 286th meeting held on 21st of April 1948 which states; "both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite".

Initially, Pakistan and India had agreed to the resolution, later India not only denied to implement the resolution and called it as unfeasible but also refused to accept any third party arbitrator role. In 1949 the Security Council had established a "line of control" (LOC) between the part of Kashmir forcibly seized by India in 1948 and the part of Kashmir under Pakistani influence (Azad Kashmir). On 18 July 1949, India and Pakistan signed the Karachi Agreement establishing a cease-fire line to be supervised by the observers. These observers formed the nucleus of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) . Since then India and Pakistan have not shown any flexibility on their standpoints except that both the countries had 3 wars with unrelenting tension on the border and the divided people of Kashmir have been paying unrecoverable cost for their destiny of freedom.

India controls Indian-side of Kashmir through its army and Pakistan controls Pakistani-side of Kashmir backing the activists and influenced groups fighting for the self-determination of Kashmir. Especially, in the last 2 decades there have been numerous reports and documentaries released on thousands of incidents of brutal human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings, mass murders and gang rapes by international human rights organizations like Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights, Asia Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Committee of Initiative in Kashmir, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre and Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights; Yet, no serious attempts have been made neither by United Nation nor by any super power to push India and Pakistan to implement UNSC resolution and give the people of Kashmir their right of self-determination.

In fact, we are living in the world of double standards. On 20th of May 2002, a new country 'Democratic Republic of East Timor' was created under the ruling of the United Nations and handed over to the East Timorese by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a historic world event where leaders from 92 countries were present. This new independent State was previously the 26th province of Indonesia called 'East Timor'. East Timor was a Portuguese Colony until December 1975 when Indonesian forces invaded East Timor and declared it as the 26th province of Indonesia. Recognizing 24 years of sufferings and hard struggle of freedom by East Timorese, in December 1975, the Security Council passed its resolution 384 for the self-determination and independence and called upon Indonesia to withdraw its forces from the territory (Article 2). Eventually, on May 5, 1999 Indonesia and Portugal signed a landmark accord to hold plebiscite in East Timor. In result 78.5 percent people supported for an independent East Timor and self-governance on their land was successfully delivered to the people of East Timor.

East Timor's case was identical to Kashmir's case. As a colonial territory, East Timor was invaded forcibly by Indonesia just as India attempted to occupy the entire Jammu and Kashmir by its armed forces. The United Nation also reaffirmed the right of the self-determination of Kashmiris same as it did for Timorese. The case of Kashmir before the UN is even stronger than East Timor as the occupying power (India) herself took the issue to the United Nation. Both Pakistan and India agreed to have UN intervention and to the plebiscite - as stated in the 1948 UNSC resolution.

The world powers and the United Nation compelled Indonesia, forcefully implemented the UN resolutions and deputed the peacekeeping forces and international monitoring cells which finally led the process to the Independent East Timor. Why can't the same type of measures be taken for the rights of the people of Kashmir? Why couldn't India be pressurized to hold the plebiscite in Kashmir?

No doubt, in the past, US Presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton did approach Indian and Pakistani governments and stressed them to find a possible solution of Kashmir that could be acceptable to both India and Pakistan, however, no serious accouterments have been really used to bring India and Pakistan on the table. Traditionally, United States always sees its own strategic or economic interest before it jumps into others' matters and this time, growing power of China in the region may be the reason of interest. The current Bush government has shown much interest to increase its relations in South Asia.

>From 1998 to 2005, the two-way trade between India and United States has grown from $16 billion to $26 billion. United States export to India grew almost 30 percent in 2005. One of the most important aspects of US-India relationship is the recent US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation deal, which has been signed during the last visit of President Bush to India. The current Pakistani government is working very closely with the United States' war against terrorism. United States will provide aid of $3 billion on economic, education and health projects to Pakistan in next five years, which has started in 2005. United States has increased its assistance to Bangladesh for promoting democracy and good governance and combating corruption to over $8 million in this (2006) year. The US Government is providing assistance of $134.6 million to Sri Lanka for tsunami-related relief and rebuilding.

This might be the only time when Bush administration is trying to extend relations with both India and Pakistan, at the same time, wants to bring these countries together. These US economic, trade and technology projects in South Asia may produce intended outcome for the United States in marketing and investing its interest in South Asia. However, these investments cannot be proliferated in the interest of the South Asian people until there would be peace and stability in the region, which is at a greater extent linked to the settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Now in the situation where United States doesn't want to overture for India and Pakistan on Kashmir; United Nation is unable to force India and Pakistan to comply the passed UNSC resolutions and India has always refused for any third party role of arbitrator on Kashmir; one cannot think of any option left except that the Kashmir dispute will have to be resolved by India and Pakistan through bilateral means.

Since a significant drift has been observed in the attitude of India and Pakistan in other areas at the government and leadership levels in recent times and both the countries have established communication and opened borders for people-to-people contact as well as for civil diplomacy, the mutual and reciprocal activities are being conducted by the people of both the countries. This change has generated new hopes and aspirations not only among the people of the region but around the world. The demonstration of benevolent and sharing interest in sports, art, entertainment and trade by both the nations indicate that the people of India and Pakistan want to live with pacifism and tranquility. They want to enjoy sharing and promoting their common history and culture.

Corroborating peoples' aspirations, the Government heads of India and Pakistan are also found fervent in winning the game in their accounts. The mindful attitude of the Indo-Pak leaders shows that their respective governments have significant pressure, internally and externally, to move forward in the direction of seeking solution on the core and flashpoint issue of Kashmir.

Talking about the ultimate solution of the settlement on Kashmir, eventually and at appropriate stage, both the countries will have to enter in the mode of 'give and take' with the prime focus on the interest of the people of Kashmir. So far, leaderships of both the countries are unable to demonstrate flexibility on their prime standpoints on Kashmir.

During his first visit to Kashmir, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh loudly repeated Indian stand on Kashmir by recalling Kashmir as an integral part of India and refusing to accept any Line of Control as permanent border in Kashmir neither he agreed to hold plebiscite in Kashmir. On the other hand, in the last few years, though Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has led a far-reaching theoretical change in Pakistan's stand on Kashmir and often found vocalizing various options like demilitarizing the entire or parts of Kashmir, parceling Kashmir into seven geographical regions (five currently under Indian control and two with Pakistan) yet he didn't seem formable on his stand that the Kashmir issue should be resolved according to the will of the people of Kashmir which signals to hold the plebiscite.

Nonetheless, half a century old bitter and enmity relations will require time to develop maturity to understand each others' stand points in the current situation and any pre-mature discussion on a sensitive issue of Kashmir will have a greater risk of miscarriage. Therefore, there is still a need of obtaining consensus from the people of India and Pakistan before their leaders commence for bilateral talks on the issue. More forums, debates and open discussions of the people from different walks of life are required to be conducted at different levels on Kashmir.

It is good to see that the heads of both India and Pakistan are making efforts sensibly and cautiously to build friendly relations. However, still more people-to-people contact is required at different levels. The steady and progressive interactions, for some time, in the fields of sports, trade, technology, art and media are required to generate mutual interest and confidence at the public and government levels before negotiating on the core issue of Kashmir.

There is also a need for the governments of both the countries to provide opportunities to their thinkers, scholars, journalists and politicians to meet and discuss the Kashmir issue in a fair and free atmosphere and bring their suggestions to the public. Most importantly, there is a need of engaging the representatives of all the parties and groups representing the people of Kashmir of both (Pakistani & Indian) sides into the process of analyzing and seeking the solution. These representatives of both sides of Kashmir should be allowed to freely meet each other and pave way towards the resolution of Kashmir. Then there is a need of continuous tripartite dialogues between the representatives of India, Pakistan and Kashmir (of both sides).

The leaders of both India and Pakistan must realize that the stability on the borders of India, Pakistan and Kashmir will lead to the stability in South Asia. The social & economic development in South Asia is directly linked with the peaceful relations between India and Pakistan. The awareness of human safety is more questioned than the promotion of wars, the need for co-operation and political stability has never been realised to such an extent, as it has been the matter of concern, today.

The entire South Asia region is going through great demographic changes. In the last 50 years the population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh became almost double. The alarming situation of population growth of between 6 to 8 percent per year leads to social unrest. Therefore, South Asia needs lot of investment and reform in economic and social infrastructure. There is a need to diversify exports, modernize industrial base, human resource development and better macroeconomic management. Time is ripe to put meaningful regional co-operation into practice on the basis of 'give and take' and in a purposeful manner to achieve positive results. This would help to build a common future for the people of South Asia.

[About Author: Syed Atiq ul Hassan is a Sydney-based senior journalist, a media analyst and foreign correspondent. South Asia particularly Kashmir is one of his main areas of interest in his media work. He was interviewed with the former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral on Indo-Pak relations by Voice of America in February 2005.

He is a regular column writer. He has written many articles on Kashmir, which have been published by international print media. He has been invited as an expert and interviewed, time-to-time, by Voice of America, SBS Australia, Radio Pakistan, PTV. In Australia, he is the pioneer of organising and mediating forums on Kashmir.]

Reference

i) US President George W. Bush joint press conference with President Musharraf, at Aiwan-e-Sadr Islamabad, Pakistan, March 4, 2006

ii) US President George W. Bush press address with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Mughal Garden, Hyderabad House, New Delhi, India, dated: March 2, 2006

iii) World Bank Annual Report 2003

iv) CIA World Fact book on India and Pakistan

v) United Nation Security Council Document No. S/726, dated: 21-04-1948

vi) Source: Information on United Nations Military Observer Group (on India and Pakistan) United Nation

vii) US State Department, the official report of department of International Relations on Asia

viii) Voice of America web site: LINK

ENDS

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