Landlocked and out of luck

“Self-determination is not an option for Kashmiris. Kashmir will be a small landlocked country surrounded by three nuclear powers. It is impossible to go it alone.”

Farooq Abdullah, twice Chief Minister of Indian Jammu and Kashmir, has said this on many occasions and I have heard his son Omar Abdullah repeat the same (and quite recently in November at a talk in the UK).

The solution? Azad Kashmir (or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in his lexicon) to Pakistan, and Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) (or Jammu and Kashmir for him) to India. A “soft border” in between so that the Kashmiris would be able to live in freedom. This is the fairy-tale that the leader of the Kashmiri opposition has concocted to be better than self-determination. No wonder Kashmiris are constantly ready to rebel when this is how theirs demands are being represented. India and Pakistan can hardly administer their hard borders without regular skirmishes, what makes the leader of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference and former Chief Minister think that a soft border is even a viable suggestion? Pakistan and Afghanistan have already done the soft border experiment, and had to deal with massive complications – from cross border terrorism to Afghanistan openly disputing Pakistan’s sovereign territory.

Omar Abdullah’s reasoning is that Kashmir is surrounded by three nuclear powers, and going it alone would be stupid. Yet, in its current state, Kashmir is still surrounded, and it has no voice of its own to list its grievances. The situation is already stupid. Kashmir will always be insecure, but when has that ever stopped a state from surviving? Pakistan was once an impossibility, and India was sure it would soon be subsumed once it realised it could not survive. The same assumption was applied to Bangladesh. But these impossible states exist and survive, and are no worse than they were when not independent.

The fact is that many in IHK believe that the Instrument of Accession of 1947 makes IHK a part of India, but they also believe that the terms under which IHK is governed by New Delhi have deteriorated over time. New Delhi does not seem to care. Kashmir’s resolution is not as relevant for Delhi, as it is for Islamabad. India can put the issue on hold, since its human rights violations are masked by its soft policy and importance to the US as a goods and arms market. This is China-balancing happening, and it’s a silly idea. As much as India would like to think it is a great power in Asia, China is not threatened by India. The security risk from India is negligible in Chinese calculations. Its only exposed side is the South China Sea where America is dominant – soon to be remedied by the One Belt One Road and future investments in naval power.

It makes economic sense for India to want a peaceful Kashmir and Pakistan as a trade partner, but since when have such noble concerns of national interest been able to trump the greediness of politicians? The demon of Islamic terrorism keeps parties like the BJP alive in India, and this experiment for votes uses Kashmir as sacrifice.

There are two myths here that are inhibiting Kashmiri independence. The first is the Indian and Kashmiri fear that if Kashmir is ever declared a nation of its own, immediately after the removal of the Indian army from Kashmir, the Pakistani Army will attack and try to conquer that land like in 1947 and 1948. After Pakistan takes over, Kashmir will eventually become a breeding ground for extremist jihadi groups.

However, it is as likely that Pakistan will respect Kashmiri sovereignty for fear of an Indian invasion. Remember the concept of deterrence, the whole reason why we ostensibly have nukes in the first place? No analyst in India is willing to look at the dynamics of Pakistan’s foreign policy, and admit that things have changed since 1948. Pakistan cannot put China’s One Belt project at risk, and India is myopic not to see this as insurance for peace talks. Russia is pushing India to join in the Chinese mega-highway, which may also solve Kashmir’s concerns over being landlocked.

The second myth is that Kashmir will be a country surrounded by three nuclear powers and that is quite a precarious position to be in. In terms of resources, Kashmir will be low on human capital and infrastructure and industries will not thrive. Kashmir will start off no worse or better than it is now. Yes, landlocked countries usually have terrible economic indicators; take Afghanistan and Sierra Leone for instance. Yet, these countries would never succumb to becoming part of other territories, and somehow we recognise their right to sovereignty (give or take a few American and Soviet invasions that backfired). We are all results of the reconstruction of world territories into nation-states in the previous century. As problematic as this structure is, to come up with a radical solution like soft-borders is too utopic. Unfortunately, peoples that are not recognised as nations with claims to state territories don’t have much of a track record for survival. Even the European Union is now on the fence with ideas of cosmopolitanism. China is the only country right now that can rewrite the rules of the game, and switch the world system from wars over territories to trade wars. If this statement turns out to be at all true, India and Pakistan may be playing the wrong game.

There are two directions in which the Kashmir issue can realistically move: self-determination, or a division at the current Line of Control. No one on either side wants to see any of these two horrible scenarios play out, but as it stands, the situation is still horrible. Additionally, the future wars of this century are going to be over water, and Kashmir will see more violence. India, already an upper riparian state, may well dominate these wars. Kashmiri independence weakens the Indian position over water. With this concern, a resolution seems ever more impossible, unless China can help with a miracle solution.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More