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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Asia > South Asia > Kashmir > Kashmir: The View from Islamabad

Kashmir: The View from Islamabad

Asia Report N°68 4 Dec 2003

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

More than five decades after independence, Pakistan is no closer to a resolution with India of the dispute over Kashmir. Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two of them over the status of Kashmir. They have been on the brink of war on several other occasions, including in Siachen in 1987 and in Kargil in 1999. From December 2001 to October 2002, the nuclear-armed protagonists came close to war once again when India mobilised along its international border with Pakistan following the terrorist attack on the parliament in New Delhi. Intense diplomatic and political pressure by the U.S., in coordination with other G-8 countries, averted what could have been a catastrophic clash.

The agreed ceasefire at the Line of Control (LOC) produced by Pakistan’s unilateral announcement on 23 November 2003 and India’s acceptance the following day, and confidence building measures (CBMs) proposed by India in October 2003, have raised hopes of an improved environment for negotiations. Nevertheless, the potential for yet another Kashmir crisis that could result in armed conflict looms large, since mutual distrust and hostility remain high, and both countries’ substantive positions are rigid. Meanwhile the Kashmiri people are caught in the crossfire between the militants and Indian security forces.

This report lays out the public and private position of the government in Islamabad on Kashmir and relations with India. It also examines the way the issue is tackled by Pakistani politicians of all parties and the media. ICG is releasing simultaneously reports that look at how the conflict is seen in New Delhi and at the history of the crisis and past efforts to resolve it. An earlier report examined views from within the Kashmir Valley. Taken together, the series analyses the positions and looks at the constraints in terms of ending the conflict as they are perceived on all sides.  A subsequent final report in this series will offer extensive recommendations on how to move forward with a process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan and within Kashmir.

Islamabad is under military and diplomatic pressure from India and the international community to stop the infiltration of militants across the LOC into Indian-controlled Kashmir. Stressing that his government has lived up to its pledges to prevent cross-border incursions, President Musharraf has asked India to reciprocate by engaging in a substantive dialogue on the Kashmir dispute, which, his government believes, India has thus far avoided. In the perceptions of influential international actors as well as India, however, Pakistan has yet to curb all cross-border infiltration across the LOC.

Pakistani governments have depicted the Kashmir conflict as a clash of the same competing national identities that lay behind the creation of two separate states, India and Pakistan, out of British India. Pakistan insists that India has no legal or moral right to Muslim majority Kashmir and rejects its attempts to gain international acceptance of the territorial status quo.

Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir is shaped by perceptions of an Indian threat and a history of war but also by the wider question of its relations with India. It is also influenced by domestic imperatives. The conflict is placed on the backburner when relations improve. Some governments have used the Kashmir conflict to reinforce Pakistani nationalism and others to strengthen pan-Islamism. Pakistani governments have also used the dispute to acquire domestic legitimacy or to ensure regime survival.

Pakistan governments would prefer the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that envisaged the Kashmiri people determining in a plebiscite, under UN auspices, whether to accede to Pakistan or India. Conscious that a plebiscite is unacceptable to India, Pakistan is also exploring, albeit unofficially, other solutions, including the possibility of restructuring the current LOC in a way that would best promote Pakistan’s strategic and political interests.

Any progress towards a negotiated settlement of the dispute with India, however, depends on a Pakistani reassessment of the internal and external costs of the confrontation, including the growth of sectarian violence, a by-product of Islamabad’s support for religious extremists in Kashmir. Above all, the military would have to abandon the belief that the insurgency in Kashmir benefits Pakistan by undermining India, politically, economically and militarily.

While sympathy and support for the Kashmiri people is fairly widespread in Pakistan, the politically dominant military and the religious parties are the strongest proponents of claims to the state. Previous attempts by elected governments, headed by centre-left or centre-right parties, to normalise relations with India have been derailed by the military. Since the Pakistani military continues to dictate Kashmir policy, its retention of power and the increasing salience of the religious parties after the October 2002 national elections have further complicated relations with New Delhi. Conversely, a democratic transition in Pakistan would likely improve the prospects of a substantive and sustainable dialogue between Pakistan and India on all contentious issues, including Kashmir.

The international role could be crucial. The Security Council’s aversion to mediating the Kashmir dispute notwithstanding, influential actors, particularly the U.S., have been pro-active in reducing tensions between Pakistan and India, given the risk of nuclear war. U.S. facilitation could help to create an enabling environment for negotiations on the Kashmir dispute. The ultimate responsibility for resolving the dispute will depend, however, on reciprocal willingness by the two parties to bridge the wide gap in their positions.

Islamabad/Brussels, 4 December 2003

 
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