Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

‘Softening’ the Border in Kashmir

Posted in Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia with tags , , on July 11, 2013 by michaelkeating


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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

One of India’s federal ministers, Farooq Abdullah, who earlier served as chief minister of  the Indian part of Kashmir, recently argued for ‘softening’ the border in Kashmir. Drawing inspiration from the European Union, Abdullah argued, “This (soft border) has transformed the socio-economic landscape of entire Europe and I do not see any reason why Indo-Pak region will not progress and prosper once there is mutual trust and strong bonding between the two nations.”

Abdullah’s argument may no longer sound novel as a number of arguments and steps over the last decade have been made for a softer border in Kashmir. Some of these have produced significant results. What is important is that despite recent border skirmishes or developments, like the death of an Indian citizen in a Pakistani jail, the leaders of India and Pakistan have not resorted to the old saber-rattling. Rather, they have focused on those aspects of bilateral relations which can be cultivated despite the persistence of the conflict. India and Pakistan can mutually gain in trade without sacrificing their national interests. The leaders realize that in the post-cold war globalized world territorial conflict and rigid borders cannot be perpetual drags on the path towards development. Therefore it is no surprise that the Line of Control (the official name of border in Kashmir) is increasingly viewed as a line of cooperation, communication and commerce. As Abdullah rightly argued, “Opening of roads will herald a new era of understanding, give boost to trade, commerce and tourism and above all open new vistas of people-to-people contact, which he described held key to peace and stability in the region.”

The election of a new government in Pakistan in May 2013 can be considered significant for the discussion on Kashmir’s borders. The Indian leader’s pronouncement can be seen in light of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif’s indication that he would take effective steps to address contentious issues between the two countries. In one of his recent interviews to an Indian reporter, Sharif narrated how his parents, both Kashmiris, had migrated from Kashmir to Punjab before partition of the Indian subcontinent. Sharif’s intention to develop cordial relations between the two countries can be seen in his invitation to his Indian counterpart to his swearing in ceremony few weeks back. It was during Sharif’s tenure as prime minister in late 1990s that India and Pakistan had initiated a number of significant confidence building measures including the cross-border bus service between Indian capital New Delhi and the Pakistani city Lahore in 1999.

It was after 1999 that the peace process gained momentum. In 2005, one border crossing connecting the capitals of both parts of Kashmir (Srinagar and Muzaffarabad) was opened. This step was called the ‘mother of all peacebuilding measures’ as it was in the wake of a six decade old conflict that such a step towards softening the border was taken.  In 2006, another cross-border point connecting Poonch, in the Indian part of Kashmir to Rawalakote in the Pakistani part of Kashmir was opened. Initially these two crossing points were opened for people-to-people contact but in 2008 they were opened for trade. There are many other cross-border points (some of which are branches of the Silk Road), which were operational before the partition and Indo-Pak wars. These can be reopened. Kashmir is well connected from within and as an economic unit the parts under the control of India and the parts under the control of Pakistan complement each other, and their reopening will foster economic growth in the region. A flexible border will also facilitate meeting of thousands of divided families who have been separated since decades due to abrupt division of Kashmir after the wars. The rigid border has sliced their culture and identity because Kashmir as a whole had enjoyed an integrated identity (called Kashmiriyat) for centuries.

It may appear farfetched to argue that a flexible border in Kashmir implies resolution of the conflict. But, it certainly implies management of the conflict by focusing on common interests of the rivals in a non-zero sum game framework. There is considerable literature which argues that poverty and underdevelopment contribute to conflict. Addressing these problems help in managing the conflict and opening ways for its resolution. The two routes (mentioned above) have already proved effective in not only facilitating meeting of divided families and helping them to think out of state-centric frameworks, but also in promoting trade between the two parts of Kashmir.

Sharif is likely to adopt policies to make the border more flexible. The initiatives to make the border flexible will prove beneficial for both India and Pakistan. For Sharif, it will boost his image in India and in the world that he is serious about cultivating peace in bilateral relations. For the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, known for his statement “India will go an extra mile (for peace with Pakistan),” Sharif’s peace initiatives will silence hardliners in India and help his political party in the forthcoming general elections. Such policies will also help the people of both parts of Kashmir as they will bring them closer and help improve their economic condition. A flexible border, in sum, will benefit all stakeholders to the conflict.

 

 Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also a fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy in the same university.

Sharif Victory Offers an Opportunity for Improved Pakistan-India Relations

Posted in Conflict Resolution, India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Peacebuilding with tags , , , on May 20, 2013 by michaelkeating

Arvind Mahapatra's profile photo

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

Pakistan last week completed democratic elections with the political party Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) emerging victorious. Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh congratulated the leader of the party, Nawaz Sharif, even before formal announcement of election results. Sharif invited the Indian Prime Minister to attend his swearing-in ceremony and accepted India’s invitation to visit New Delhi. He will be prime minister for the third time. The Indian political class expressed hope that the new establishment in Islamabad will accelerate a peace process between the two countries, which has been moving laggardly since the Mumbai attack of 2008.

The good news is that the outgoing government is the only democratically elected government inPakistan’s 66 year history that lasted for constitutionally defined five years. Most of that history witnessed rule by the army. Though Sharif was elevated twice to the post of prime minister, he could not complete the terms. Last time he was deposed from power in 1999 by then army chief, Pervez Musharraf. The same year in February Prime Minister Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee had met in Pakistani city of Lahore to sign the Lahore Declaration to foster bilateral relations and move forward to resolve contentious issues. Within four months of the declaration, the bonhomie in relations evaporated as war took place along the line of control inKashmir. The war was allegedly initiated by Pakistani army chief Musharraf without Sharif’s agreement. It was only after US President Bill Clinton intervened and summoned Sharif toWashingtonand told him to withdraw forces that the war came to an end but at considerable loss for both the countries. The differences between Sharif and Musharraf increased and as a result the powerful army under Musharraf removed Sharif from power in October 1999. The world was not surprised at the development asPakistanhad a history of the army overthrowing democratically elected leaders. While Sharif is now poised to be the leader of the country, Musharraf is now under arrest due to various charges.

Sharif is a businessman turned politician. He belongs to the most populous and wealthy state ofPunjab. He emerged as a political leader under the rule of another military dictator, Zia ul-Haq, who ruledPakistanfor 11 years after deposing the democratically elected founder of thePakistan’s People Part (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. For Sharif, coming to power after a gap of 14 years, the challenges have increased manifold. When he was deposed from power there was no Pakistani-Taliban link on the horizon, there was no 9/11 or the desire to oust the Taliban from power inAfghanistan. There was no large scale proliferation of home grown terrorist networks with links with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Though these may pose new challenges, the old challenges in the form of the power rivalry between army and government, managing relations withIndiaand addressing contentious issues likeKashmirwill be equally daunting.

The Indian political class hopes that Sharif can play an effective role in fostering bilateral relations. The PPP led government was perceived weak and plagued by corruption. It was engaged in a power tussle with judiciary. The leader of PPP, Asif Ali Zardari was perceived a weak leader, accused of corruption. The Supreme Court of Pakistan had insisted on pursuing cases against him. Sharif, based inPunjab, is perceived to be a strong leader and has a relatively clean image. However, the challenges before him are numerous. With regard to extremism and terrorism, Sharif has to checkmate their mushrooming growth and their impact on Pakistani polity and society.

During the election campaign, Sharif had promised to initiate dialogue with the violent groups, and hopefully he would fulfill his promise in initiating dialogue with these groups and bring them to the path of peace. But this will be a daunting task. InPakistan, there are large number extremist groups with different ideologies. On the basis of their targets they can be categorized as India-centric (Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad), Pakistan-centric (Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan), Afghanistan-centric (Taliban, Haqqani network), ethnic-centric, targeting Shias and other ethnic minorities (Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan) and world-centric (Al Qaeda). Sharif will have to use his political acumen in tackling these forces, while taking on board the army and other political parties in crafting policies against them. He may face problems in this regard. Some sections of the establishment, particularly the intelligence agencies and sections of army, may be inclined to shelter some terrorist groups as a strategic tool.

In the case of Pakistan’s relations with India, Sharif has to resume his old policies of promoting friendly relations with its most important neighbor. As India’s Prime Minister stated in his congratulations to Sharif, “The people of India also welcome your publicly articulated commitment to a relationship between India and Pakistan that is defined by peace, friendship and cooperation.”  The relations during the last four years have not been that cordial and particularly after the border skirmishes in the beginning of this year, and the death of an Indian prisoner in Pakistani jail this month, the relations have soured further. Sharif and Singh will have to build the relations in areas which are less controversial like trade, and gradually move towards addressing contentious issues like Kashmir. The forthcoming visit of Sharif to India will hold a lot of promises for the bilateral relations.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also a fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy in the same university.