11 February 2013
Tensions over Kashmir remain at the sticking point of Indian-Pakistani diplomatic relations. In today's Questions and Answers presentation, the CSS' Prem Mahadevan explains the current dynamics shaping this 'frozen' conflict and weighs the prospects for their long-term resolution.
By Prem Mahadevan for the ISN
Indian and Pakistani forces continue to clash along the ‘Line of Control’ in Kashmir. Why do sporadic outbursts of violence occur over this territory?
For several decades, the situation in Kashmir has been intrinsically linked to that in Afghanistan. After the Soviet Union withdrew its armed forces from Afghanistan in 1988, a Pakistan-backed insurgency broke out in Kashmir. The dynamics are quite straightforward: Pakistan cannot afford to fight on two fronts. It has a border dispute with Afghanistan over the alignment of the Durand Line, which has been smouldering since 1947. Whenever relations with Kabul are bad, Pakistan seeks to improve ties with India. When Afghan-Pakistani relations improve, relations with India go downhill. The mid 1970s provides another good example. Afghanistan and Pakistan were supporting insurgencies on each other’s territory, and India-Pakistan relations suddenly became very friendly.
The latest outbreak of violence is part of this cyclical pattern. Pakistan knows that the United States wants a trouble-free exit from Afghanistan. It bases such knowledge on quiet assurances from the United Kingdom, its main partner in the West, that the US is not interested in opposing a Taliban return to power in Afghanistan. Islamabad, and more particularly the Pakistani army, is calculating that a hardline Islamist government in Kabul would be more likely to let the border dispute lie, or settle it on Pakistani terms. In anticipation of such a ‘grand bargain’ that would pacify its western frontier, it has allowed jihadist groups to start raising tensions with India. It is widely believed that the Pakistani military has advised jihadist leaders to prepare for a resumption of major terrorist actions from 2014 onwards, once the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete.
What is India’s approach to managing the conflict in Kashmir?
India considers the Pakistani military to be the core problem, not the civilian leadership. It is trying to strengthen the civilian leadership in every way possible, while ignoring the military. This means it is attempting to boost economic ties with Pakistan, provide emergency aid, and also promote cultural exchanges to reduce public hostility between the two countries. In Kashmir, it has pushed for an opening of borders, having calculated that this would de-emotionalize the issue and permit a settlement which safeguards territorial integrity and allows the Kashmiris to retain a unique identity within both countries.
In military terms, Indian counterinsurgency strategy distinguishes between Kashmiri insurgents and Pakistani jihadists, whom the Indian security establishment considers as ‘mercenaries’. The distinction is sometimes difficult to maintain in urban areas, but in rural communities it is relatively easy, as Pakistani jihadists tend to stay aloof from the local population, whom they view as not sufficiently puritanical. This has worked to the advantage of Indian security forces. After years of learning on the job, they now have a detailed awareness of where and how Pakistani groups tend to operate. Kashmiri insurgents tend to be left alone, so long as their violent activities do not extend to murder. However, there is still no solution for dealing with the rear bases and supply depots of the jihadists, which are located across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistani Kashmir.
And how does Pakistan manage the situation?
Pakistan is no longer a united entity when it comes to the issue of Kashmir. There are at least three power centers whose members have either exclusive or overlapping loyalties, depending on their individual views. These power centers are: the civilian leadership, the military leadership, and the jihadists who, although supported by the military as a hedge vis-à-vis civilian politicians, retain a distinct voice for themselves. Between them, these power centers are yet to come to an understanding as to whether a military solution to the Kashmir issue is possible at all, or whether dialogue with India represents the best prospect for resolving the conflict.
One example is the 1999 Kargil conflict, which began when Pakistani troops in civilian clothes crossed the LoC and occupied positions on the Indian side. The incursion drew a sharp Indian military response, which Pakistan did not expect. Even today, the Pakistani army is divided as to whether the event was a great military success but a political disaster, or a disaster on both counts. Naturally, those involved in planning the incursion hold the former view and accuse the civilian leadership of yielding to Indian and Western diplomatic pressure, while their rivals in the army see things differently.
Accordingly, one can imagine the current divisions within Pakistani society regarding the Kashmir conflict. The extent to which different initiatives towards India are floated and then undermined by factional rivalries and interest clashes makes for a bewildering lack of consistency. In general however, Pakistani policy on Kashmir has sought to follow three principles: negotiate with India, continue to support jihadist groups in case negotiations do not yield concessions, and involve the West as far as possible by hinting at the risks of nuclear war or international terrorism emanating from Kashmir.
How do these different approaches reflect the national interests of both countries?
Both India and Pakistan are densely populated, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual countries. In the Indian case, several religions coexist within the same political space under a secular constitution, whereas Pakistan is overwhelmingly and officially Muslim. These three considerations militate against making territorial concessions on either side, since that would involve transferring populations from one country to another, and thereby transferring their political allegiance on the basis of religion.
Both sides claim the other’s portion of Kashmir and would have to make a domestic political climb down if they choose to accept the status quo. India would have to alter its official map to show Pakistani Kashmir as being part of Pakistan, and vice versa. So citizens on both sides will have to grow accustomed to seeing their respective countries 'losing' territory for the sake of peace, even if this territory was never actually in their possession. India has signalled that it is prepared to do this, for the sake of being able to focus on strengthening its economy. However, due to the multiplicity of power centres in Pakistan, New Delhi has found itself without a clear-cut interlocutor. The Pakistani army is desperate to be part of the dialogue process, if only through civilian proxies, for fear that its domestic prestige would be undercut if a deal were reached with India without its involvement. India on the other hand, is not willing to treat the Pakistani military as a negotiating partner. There has long been a sense of awareness in New Delhi, that talking with the Pakistani military might set the unwelcome precedent of allowing civilian supremacy over the armed forces to be undermined.
The conflict over Kashmir has persisted since the partition of British India in 1947. However, conflict management is not the same as conflict resolution. With this in mind, how close are India and Pakistan to resolving the Kashmir dispute?
Initially, the Kashmir dispute was contained with little damage to bilateral relations. Indeed, it has only been since 1989 that this has become an important issue that now dominates India-Pakistan relations. Domestically, both sides are utterly convinced of their own rightness, but the need for economic development generally trumps trying to impose their will upon one another. The real issue has become the role of non-state actors. Today, the main stumbling block towards conflict resolution is cross-border terrorism, and the inability or unwillingness of Pakistan to prevent this.
Tensions between India and Pakistan arise not so much from elite hostility, but public anger. Prior to the 1999 Kargil incursion and the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, both countries were enjoying a steadily improving relationship. Political talks were underway to resolve all outstanding bilateral concerns, including Kashmir. However, after the Mumbai attacks, many Indians believed that the Pakistani military was using jihadist groups to undermine civilian-led peace talks, and that Islamabad was prepared to go along with this for the sake of its own survival. Since then, while seeking to help the civilian leadership in Pakistan, New Delhi has also stipulated that Islamabad takes action against terrorist groups undermining the dialogue process. There has not been much progress on this count.
On the Pakistani side, most people feel that India has not shown empathy for the repeated terrorist attacks which have targeted Pakistani civilians. Within this context, a section of the Urdu press has created a narrative accusing India, the US and Israel of jointly sponsoring attacks on Pakistan to weaken it domestically. So, there is a widespread belief that events such as the Mumbai attacks, which targeted nationals from all three countries, are to be celebrated as glorious military victories rather than condemned. This has emboldened terrorist groups, by allowing them to claim popular support.
What does the Kashmir dispute mean for the security dynamics of South Asia and, indeed, the rest of the world?
By itself, the Kashmir issue could perhaps be resolved through the framework that both countries have already adopted. Enhanced trade and public contact, carried out under strict supervision from security agencies on both sides of the Line of Control, has already led to a massive reduction in violence within Kashmir. This is likely to be sustained, absent a complete transformation in the strategic situation.
That transformation would come about if Pakistan-based terrorist groups, taking advantage of lowered border controls, were to carry out a major act of terrorism deep within India. Public outcry would leave the Indian government with no option then, but to order a military retaliation. For a long time, plans for such retaliation focused on hitting jihadist camps in the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. However, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, a paradigm shift in strategic thinking has given weight to arguments that a strike on the Indian heartland should be matched with a strike against terrorist camps in Pakistan. The terrorists are well aware of this, and they are currently seeking to build an international support network that will allow them to escape retaliation by assuming a de-territorialized identity. In the process, they also seek to escape the close supervision of the Pakistani intelligence agencies. So in the long term, one would see the mobilization of diaspora networks among the Pakistani community in the Middle East and perhaps in certain parts of the West, to assist major acts of international terrorism. Some of these networks will be focused entirely on targeting India, while others will lend themselves to supporting any Islamic movement that they see as ‘just’.
Prem Mahadevan is a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies in Zurich.
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