Dont Fret About Those Observers

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Aug 1 2002, 05:30am hrs
It is a mystery why major political parties and successive governments in Delhi remain wedded to an antiquated, insecure and petulant stance on Kashmir, especially when geopolitical trends are going in our favour, more than we expected or deserve. The cacophonic debate over Kashmir in recent years marked by grandstanding, hair-splitting, self-defeating logic and expert advice from a new bunch of unknowns every second day has only made us miss the woods for the trees. In the past, Indias continuous ducking over Kashmir in international fora cast doubts over our moral and legal claim; now, we risk missing a golden chance by pointlessly keeping foreign observers away from the Kashmir elections.

The Kashmir issue has become so entangled with specious propositions and delaying tactics that some home truths are urgently required. First, Kashmir is the central issue between Indian-Pakistan, even if because of Pakistani actions. Yes, Pakistan will remain a hostile and problem neighbour for long, but once Kashmir is resolved we will gain immeasurable global support and leeway. Second, Kashmir has been internationalised, by default than by our design, but this is a good thing. Kargil, Taliban, the nuclear standoff...all these have pushed Kashmir to the front pages. Western countries are now less concerned by finer points of law, history or UN resolutions, and want a practical solution that can stop this conflict from spiraling.

International opinion in favour of the LoC solution has perhaps now assumed critical mass. Influential voices, such as Stephen Cohen, Michael Krepon, Jean-Luc Racine, are now publicly saying that plebiscite is not a viable option and the best solution lies in going for the status-quo. Many of these are past critics of India, especially our security and nuclear policy, and their utterances have held that plague on both your houses kind of condescension. But in the current mood, no one really wants to reward Islamic militancy. Even the US media has finally caught on to Pakistan, courtesy the Daniel Pearl killing and a number of other censorious and threatening acts. In fact, the public mood in the US liberals and conservatives alike is such that the odds are better than half that future James Bond movies will feature villains from either Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

So India appears to have (almost) got what it wanted. Except that the US cannot seen to be pushing a LoC solution unless a) India removes its opposition to international mediation and b) New Delhi responds honestly to flailing cries from Kashmir. Call it by whatever name autonomy, self-government, pre-1953 status, post-1953 status but the US can publicly back such a deal only if some amount of honest dialogue takes place between the centre and Kashmir, and only if some genuine and truly representative voices from Kashmir back such a proposal. Clearly, Farooq Abdullah is not that voice. Which is why it is crucial to involve the Hurriyat, to conduct elections fairly, and to ensure high voter turnout. But we will fail to capitalise on all this unless foreign observers endorse it all, formally of informally. They will come anyway, but being invited graciously and provided with a modicum of logistical help and access creates much goodwill. In fact, it is the western press that has provided India with its big edge, by establishing and documenting Pakistans direct role in fomenting militancy and a hateful jihadi culture.

Lastly, any long-lasting solution in Kashmir will have to be arrived at with public support on all three sides of the aisle, and certainly not by stealth or furtive, cloak-and-dagger kind of diplomacy. There is no dearth of imaginative, even honourable and face-saving, ideas that have worked elsewhere. One such is the border Italy-Austria dispute over the Germanic-speaking region of South Tyrol. This dispute endured for over 50 years and poisoned relations. Italy charged Austria with sponsoring terrorism, while Austria took the matter to the UN. The Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement was arrived at in 1946 which allowed the region to remain with Italy but have autonomy and direct cultural links with Austria. The final burial to the dispute was reached only, and incredibly, in 1992. The Americans are now whispering to us again: look at South Tyrol.

The author is an analyst of Indian political and business trends and the editor of India Focus, a political risk report for international investors