From frozen to soft borders

October 16, 2016

Attempting to answer some key questions in order to understand the dynamics of the Kashmir conflict and the age-old schism between India and Pakistan

From frozen to soft borders

On August 7, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh while speaking to media in Jaisalmer said that, "India would completely seal border with Pakistan by December 2018." Singh after a security meeting with the Ministers of four Indian states bordering Pakistan proposed to set up a border security grid including the use of technology to seal borders with Pakistan.

Following the Uri incident of September 18, postponement of the 19th SAARC summit and the so-called surgical strikes claimed by the Indian Army on the Pakistani side of Line of Control on September 27, one can observe a sharp escalation in the already tense Indo-Pak relations. Standoff in Indo-Pak relations is not a new phenomenon.

What will be the implications of frozen or sealed Indo-Pak borders on South Asia? How the Indian mindset, which tends to become hawkish, intransigent and hard line vis-à-vis Pakistan will impact on its western neighbour? Why does Pakistani mindset hold the narrative of Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of the partition of the Indian sub-continent? Why has Islamabad failed to get substantial international support to legitimise its policy of Jammu & Kashmir? How can Pakistan cope with the existential threat from India and Afghanistan and why has it not been able to deal with its own fault lines?

These are the questions which are raised in order to understand the dynamics of the Kashmir conflict and the age-old schism between India and Pakistan.

Four major realities exists which neither India nor Pakistan can escape in terms of their more than seven decades of fragile and hostile relations.

First, the level of mistrust, suspicion and paranoia which shapes the Indian mindset about intrusion and infiltration from Pakistan to destabilise the under soft belly of Jammu & Kashmir. Earlier, Pakistan was consistently accused by New Delhi of its support to Khalistan movement in the Indian Punjab during 1980s. Likewise, Pakistani mindset since its creation as an independent country is also shaped by perceptions about India’s sustained policy to undo with the partition by first playing a pivotal role in separation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh and in the post-1971 era providing support to the secessionist groups in Balochistan and Sindh.

Unfortunately, such type of a mindset, which has been devoid of rational and pragmatic thinking, is a fundamental cause of retrogressive and hostile relations between India and Pakistan and a major impediment for promoting regional cooperation in South Asia.

Why has Islamabad failed to get substantial international support to legitimise its policy of Jammu & Kashmir? How can Pakistan cope with the existential threat from India and Afghanistan and why has it not been able to deal with its own fault lines?

Second, sealing or freezing borders with Pakistan is not a solution as far as security threats are concerned. The failure of state of the two countries to uplift their people from the menace of poverty, illiteracy and social backwardness cannot be covered up by fencing or erecting walls on their borders. Sealing off borders means to deny interaction among people and the flow of trade in the form of goods and services, and is also a violation of the Charter of SAARC and World Trade Organization. Singh’s assertion about sealing of borders will be counter productive because it will create a precedent for other countries and will have a negative impact on the process of regional cooperation in South Asia.

A lot of research had been done on the dynamics of Kashmir conflict and several rounds of track-I, track-II and track-III dialogue have taken place in the last 26 years on seeking a peaceful solution of the Kashmir conflict while ensuring win-win situation for all the stakeholders of the conflict, particularly those representing to Jammu & Kashmir. Yet, despite such efforts, both India and Pakistan are back to square one thus further complicating and deepening the quandary of the Kashmiri people living both sides of Line of Control. It is a major reality which cannot be hidden and ignored and the stakeholders of the Kashmir conflict must take cognizance of the situation which prevails in the Valley and its surroundings since last many years.

Third, the reality that despite its legal, legitimate and moral standing on the Kashmir conflict, Pakistan has not been able to internationalise the issue or to get substantial support on the issue from powerful international actors needs to be objectively examined. Neither Pakistan has been able to call a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss critical situation in the Valley prevailing since July this year nor its envoys which were sent by the PML-N government to different leading world capitals have succeeded in influencing the policy-makers and public opinion of countries in favour of Pakistan which they visited in the recent past.

One fundamental contradiction which vitiates Pakistan’s campaign for exposing Indian atrocities in the Valley of Kashmir is the existence of various militant and jihadi organisations, whether banned or legal. International media has not properly highlighted the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination as it has given more coverage to terrorist, militant and extremist groups operating from Pakistan whether it is Jaish Muhammad or Jammat ul Dawa or other banned organisations. When Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar are allowed by the government to carry out their activities launched from the organisations which are banned, the international community will not support Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s previous support to Taliban and the killing of Osama Bin Laden from his hideout in the garrison city of Abbotabad by the US navy seals in operation Geronimo on May 1, 2011 still raise questions about Pakistan’s policy to eradicate terrorism now carried out under the National Action Plan.

It is the paradoxical situation which has so far prevented the world from supporting Islamabad on its stance against India on the Kashmir issue. The support rendered by OIC and China is symbolic and far from the reality. Moreover, as a member of the UN, Pakistan according to UN’s charter has a right to request to call a meeting of Security Council, Special Session of General Assembly and Emergency Special Session. Yet, Pakistan has not exercised its right because it is not sure about the support which is required from respective members or such organs if their sessions are held.

Finally, Pakistan cannot deal with the existential threats from India and Afghanistan, if the country is politically polarised, economy is on dole from external and internal lending agencies and is far from accomplishing the goals of social and human development. Its per capita income, GDP and Human Development Index cannot be called impressive from international standards.

Likewise, the dream of "shining India" will be in jeopardy if India is unable to resolve its contentious issues with neighbours and pursue a hegemonistic policy in the region. Any armed conflict with Pakistan will cause a major setback to Indian economy and pull foreign investment from that country.

The plight of Kashmiri people or their right of self-determination cannot be effectively raised unless Pakistan puts its own house in order and deal with the fault lines which cause a serious threat to its existence. Sending envoys at taxpayers’ money can provide a leisure break to those representing the political and security elite of Pakistan but will certainly not help alleviate the miseries of the people of Kashmir. Otherwise, the Kashmir committee, whose task is to mobilise international public opinion and expose India on its brutal suppression of popular Kashmiri uprising, would have rendered positive results.

Pakistan’s predicament is two-fold. First, it is still not able to emerge as a nation state and is unable to deal with the issues of lingual, ethnic and sectarian discords. Second, the post-1971 Pakistan is unable to learn lessons from the past political debacles and keeps on repeating mistakes by not focusing on empowering the marginalised segments of society in Balochistan, Sindh, KPK, southern Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan. Its failure to eradicate corruption, nepotism, ensure good governance and the rule of law can be termed as a major impediment to pursue a successful foreign policy.

And, how a country can run an effective foreign policy when it is without a foreign minister and some of the vital areas of foreign policy are considered as the domain of military-security establishment?

Since frozen borders can deprive the concerned countries of normal relations, social and human development, it is imperative that India and other members of SAARC move in the direction of soft borders ensuring free movement of people, goods, services and capital so that the future of the region is better than its past. As far as Kashmir is concerned, it is better if India and Pakistan leave it to the people of Jammu & Kashmir to decide about their future giving them the right of self-determination. 

From frozen to soft borders