Blueprints from global hotspots leave seasoned statesmen cold


January 30, 2004

Given the recent thawing of relations between India and Pakistan and their agreement to a joint dialogue on issues of outstanding differences, it is inevitable to want to reflect on how the longest dispute on the United Nations' books might be resolved. This book claims to cover the roots of the Kashmir conflict and to provide "compelling comparisons with other global hotspots".

Most of the narrative covers well-trodden ground from the pre-independence period. Despite the author's efforts to weave in eyewitness statements and the more graphic accounts of human-rights abuses in the 1980s and 1990s, the coverage is a largely uninspiring reproduction of a diet that is familiar to South Asian specialists. Little, if anything, of substance is said of post-1947 developments in Azad Kashmir (controlled by Pakistan), and even less of global developments such as the second Gulf war, which promoted the recent rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

The three key themes that inform the work - that the post-1989 crisis is rooted in the "denial of the democratic rights and institutions of the people of (Jammu and Kashmir)" since 1947, the need to question the centrality of Kashmir in the national imaginings of India and Pakistan, and recognition that the Kashmir problem is "not unique" - can hardly be described as original insights.

What is more questionable, however, is Sumantra Bose's claim to provide a framework for peace by drawing on the recent examples of Bosnia, Sri Lanka and, in particular, Northern Ireland. Doubtless there is much that Indian and Pakistani negotiators can learn from these examples, but one wonders whether these hardened practitioners of realpolitik are likely to welcome the advice of political engineers who ply their trade through "success" stories. Bose's suggestion that the Northern Ireland peace process provides a possible template overlooks the differences that make Kashmir a complex case: the nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan; the culture of undemocratic and authoritarian rule, both in Indian and Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir; and the internecine factionalism that pervades all forms of organised patrimonial politics in the two states. Peace-making in developed democracies, however flawed (Northern Ireland), or under the supervision of external powers (Bosnia), is one thing; peace-making bilaterally by two relatively young states with a history of hostility, is quite another. The logic of Bose's argument would require at least prior democratisation in Pakistan - not likely under present conditions.

It is for these reasons that Bose's template is unlikely to be realised.

Neither President Pervez Musharraf nor prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for all their "statesmanship", command sufficient national support to de-link the Kashmir question ideologically from the realms of practical national politics in India and Pakistan. Whereas for Vajpayee resolving the Kashmir question might well be his swansong and, if undertaken, will certainly be done in the name of legitimising India's democratic mission in South Asia and strengthening the prospectus for her economic development, for Musharraf entering into negotiations would be a demonstration of weakness, a desperate attempt to rescue Pakistan from becoming a failing state. In such an uneven relationship, statesmanship and templates have limited utility.

Gurharpal Singh is professor of inter-religious relations, University of Birmingham.

Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace

Author - Sumantra Bose
Publisher - Harvard University Press
Pages - 298
Price - £16.95
ISBN - 0 674 01173 2

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