Conflict Management in Kashmir


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

5 Jun 2017 – The ongoing violence in Kashmir, unless addressed, may descend into a terrible chaos as experienced in the 1990s, during which Indian forces and Pakistan backed militants engaged in cycles of violence leading to killing of thousands of Kashmiris. The current violence may escalate and plunge the whole region into deadly cycle of violence with loss of civilian life and consequent economic destruction. The violence that gained momentum after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, in July 2016, would help neither India nor Pakistan nor the people of Kashmir. Wani represented Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir. Many countries and international organizations like the European Union have banned the terrorist outfit. There is evidence that Wani was involved in violent activities in Indian part of Kashmir, and played a key role in recruiting youth to the terrorist organization.

During my visit to the Kashmir valley in July and August 2015, I could see it brimming with enthusiasm with tourists from across the world flocking the beautiful city of Srinagar and Dal Lake. During my visit to the border areas of Uri, I could witness a similar picture. The local traders engaged in cross-border exchanges were brimming with confidence that flexible border would not only accrue economic benefits to the two parts of Kashmir but also eventually help make Kashmir borderless. Unless the violence is contained, all the positive capital of the past decade whether in terms of cross-border opening, meeting of divided families and decline in cross-border firing will be nullified, and Kashmir will be exposed to another cycle of violence, consequences of which may be difficult to comprehend.

The spoilers benefit from the current turmoil. The spoilers – that include the terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the hard line separatist leaders, the hard line political leaders, the international terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda – would seize the opportunity. For the spoilers conflict is ‘normal’ and any attempt towards peace creates a ‘crisis.’ Hence, they work hard to derail peace process and create a ‘new normal.’ The Islamic State’s fledgling presence in the valley will be further strengthened. During my last visit, I came across the youth in the outskirts of Srinagar city holding Islamic State flags. The dreaded organization may further exploit this volatile situation to its advantage. It may not be a surprise that the radical organizations in Pakistan use their proximity to army and intelligence agencies there to provoke large-scale conflict. Furthermore, a nuclear conflagration – the worst nightmare not only for the South Asian community but for the whole world – may not be ruled out. Such a catastrophe may help bring a cold, negative, stone-age peace. Is that real peace?

In negotiation lexicon, there is an acronym BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Parties to a negotiation weigh their BATNA, and if they find they have a better alternative than to the negotiated agreement, they prefer to break away from negotiation. In case of India and Pakistan, BATNA for each is worse. They have to negotiate. In fact, the past wars between them ended after the leaders of both the countries came to the negotiation table. Again to use the negotiation language, they have to expand their pie, implying they have to be flexible, in order to have a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue.

Spoilers must be discouraged, and the gainers must be encouraged. Terrorist organizations such as Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba must be deprived of patronage and resources. Historically the method of war and violence was usually applied by a strong state against a weak state. But in case of nuclear weapon states, this old method fails. Secondly, in the age of global connectivity and active international institutions, acts of war, or promoting proxy wars, are equally antithetical to international norms of peace and security. If past is any indication, violence has always failed to reach a solution in case of the Kashmir conflict. So, while discouraging spoilers, India and Pakistan must promote the gainers – the gainers are those who gain from engagement. For example, the opening of border in Kashmir helped thousands of people. Divided families met, the local traders gained. This constituency of gainers needs to be strengthened towards a durable and positive peace.

India and Pakistan must revive the peace process. The more they procrastinate, the more the stalemate would be hardened. The more they dry the channels of bilateral communication, the more it will be opportune for the spoilers to exploit the volatile situation. There were some movements in this direction, but it seems dead weight of animosity nullifies these attempts. Despite Indian Prime Minister Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif developing personal rapport, the state to state relations could not move forward. In case of Pakistan, army is a more powerful driver than the civilian government in determining the relations with India. Unless the two countries continuously engage constructively, they will fail to appreciate each other’s apparent position. But, for a full-fledged effective dialogue, it is necessary that spoilers must be contained. It is difficult to simultaneously continue dialogue and promote the spoilers.

One of the lacunae of Modi’s policy in Kashmir is lack of engagement with the discontented people including the separatists. Modi’s mentor, Vajpayee had initiated talks with the separatists and their leaders had talks with high Indian officials and leaders including Vajpayee’s deputy, L. K. Advani. Not talking to separatist is not a better policy option than talking to them. The primary reason is that not engaging them further contributes to the alienation in the valley. The separatists’ influence might be confined to the valley, but even then it is not a small influence as the valley has millions of people and it is the place where alienation is sustaining. Like Vajpayee, his immediate successor, Manmohan Singh too had engaged the separatists and organized ‘Round Tables’ to engage the discontented people. Modi needs to engage the moderate separatists and encourage them to play active messengers of peace.

Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts at Boston


Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at Hindu University of America in Florida, and a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an Indian commentator and his areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.

Some of these ideas are elaborated in my forthcoming book, Conflict Management in Kashmir, Cambridge University Press, 2017.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Jun 2017.

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