Tuesday February 27, 2024

Kashmir: the case for alternate strategies

October 11, 2016

Kashmir is and will remain a flashpoint between India and Pakistan because the powers-that-be of the world wish it to remain so – although it going nuclear may not be their will.

In this real world, the strong have an inherent edge over the weak. So the strength of players and not the justice of the cause is the ultimate determinant. India is stronger than Pakistan, China is stronger than India and the US is the strongest of all, though in the constant fear of losing its hegemony sooner than later – probably to China. We need to revisit the Kashmir issue in the backdrop of the emerging equation among the different competing powers and adjust our strategies accordingly.       

The intermingling of various strategic goals of the big powers ultimately determine the fate of issues like Kashmir. Strategic theories revolving around the concepts of ‘sphere of influence’, ‘balance of power’, ‘strategic counterweights’ can well explain why the big powers – especially the sole superpower – want the Kashmir issue to remain unresolved.

India is a strategic counterweight to China. But in the Machiavellian world of inter-state relations, there has to be a counterweight to a counterweight. And there enters Pakistan. Was it mere good luck that India after inflicting a crushing defeat on us in the East Pakistan chose not to attack West Pakistan? There has to be a reasonable strategic explanation why India – which had high morale, a superior conventional war machine and far higher numerical strength, and hatred towards Pakistan – stopped short of crushing Pakistan forever. Was its restraint of its own making or was it imposed on it forcefully from the outside?

One explanation is that the world powers knew that India might rise one day as a big power and would be required to be checked then – and hence the need of a strategic counterweight to India. And the Kashmir issue has to be preserved as a sore point till then.

India clearly is in the US sphere of influence and Pakistan lies somewhat in the Chinese sphere of influence. It suits both big powers not only to maintain their respective spheres of influence but also to sharpen their edges so as to remove the ‘somewhat’ part. So the existence of flashpoints between the countries falling in the respective spheres of influence of the big powers tilts more towards the benefit side than the cost side.

For the big powers to acquire or maintain their hegemony it is better if other potential common rivals remain under specific thresholds. And this end can be achieved by exploiting the existing sore points or even by creating new ones if required. So by cleverly exploiting the flashpoints, the big powers not only maintain a delicate balance of power inter se but also between the countries falling in their respective spheres of influence.

It should be abundantly clear by now that it is in the interest of the big players on the world stage that the Kashmir issue remains unresolved. Had that not been the case, the Kashmir issue would have long been resolved like the water issue was through the active participation of big players through the World Bank in the form of the Indus Waters Treaty.

So we have three competing interests on Kashmir. India wants the status quo on Kashmir to remain intact; it would rather the status quo be accepted as a permanent solution. Pakistan wants to get all of Kashmir but lacks the strength to do that. The big powers want Kashmir to remain unresolved. Here is why Pakistan’s consistent requests regarding Kashmir go unheeded by the bigger powers, which maintain that Pakistan and India should resolve it bilaterally – knowing full well that, left to their own devices, they would not agree on a solution.

In a situation where the status quo on Kashmir suits only India, what options are we left with? After 9/11, jihad took the sole superpower by the horns and bled it bad. Not only this, China and Russia also started facing a jihad wave. So, in this way India was lucky to have found itself aligned with all the big powers of the world – simultaneously confronted with the common enemy.

That was the time when our strategists should have started thinking of alternate strategies. They, however, went a step ahead. Unlike Hizbul Mujahideen which is an indigenous Kashmiri organisation, Pakistan-based jihadi organisations like JeM and LeJ started surfacing as active players.

India was quick to get the support of big powers against all these jihadi organisations and got them branded terrorist organisations. The pressure on Pakistan was so intense that it had to officially ban the JeM and LeJ. Then the TTP emerged and inflicted heavy losses on Pakistani state and society. Even then alternate strategies were not looked into. And now India has openly tried to isolate Pakistan. How much more is required to make our strategists give a thought to alternate strategies?

The writer is a former diplomat and currently practises law.