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Importance of Kashmir issue in Af-Pak policy: Fundamental or marginal

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized a Focus Group Discussion, Importance of Kashmir Issue in Af-Pak Policy: Fundamental or Marginal, at a local hotel in Islamabad on 7 July 2009. General (Retd.) Talat Masood, convener PUGWASH, chaired the session. Speakers included General Asad Durrani, a strategic and defence analyst, Mr. Muhammad Amir Rana, director PIPS, Ms. Marjan Lucas, a Dutch expert on Kashmir affairs, Dr. Shaheen Akhtar, Institute of Regional Studies, Mr. Ershad Mehmood, a renowned expert on Kashmir affairs and Mr. Amjad Yousuf Khan, CEO Kashmir Institute of International Relations. Among the discussants were Mr. Sheikh Tajamul, Director Kasmir Media Service, Ms. Shabana Fiyaz, assistant professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, and Mr. Abdul Latif Bhatt, Chairman Kashmir Watch. Mr. Rafiq Dar and Advocte Pervez Shah, who represented Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), were also among the discussants.

Following are excerpts from their discussion:

General Asad Durrani: The main objective of the Af-Pak policy is to prolong American stay in the area to protect American interests. The Af-Pak policy gives a cosmetic treatment to the issue of Kashmir. War on terrorism should be linked to the resolution of Kashmir. There should be a composite dialogue between India and Pakistan and one must establish an enabling environment where all sides understand the format of the conflict. This is the only way to resolve the lingering issues. It will take time.
Looking at the events of last seven years, I think there should be a realistic and reasonable objective. Whenever one wants to leave under these circumstances one should not be seen as being defeated or been forced to abandon the area. But for that before one leaves the area one should have established some stability there. There should be a reasonable exit.

So militancy in Pakistan has a number of dimensions. Afghan militants, locals, political, ideological, drug mafias, timber mafias and so on try to make use this of this opportunity presenting themselves as a franchise of the Taliban movement. You have a complex situation because you don’t know which group is involved in these activities. For counterinsurgency you have to take care about these groups and deal with them accordingly.

Now comes the main point. The excuses of Pakistan are great. It doesn’t really matter who is supporting the militants. Although you have to take care of them because it is in your area. Then come to the angle, which is restricting us from carrying out full-fledged operation against insurgents. We cannot follow these models due to Kashmir.

So how can the Kashmir be resolved? It is older than Af-Pak, older than present turmoil in Afghanistan. It is a very complex one. It needs resolute stands. It has to be done in different ways. You have to improve the environment by taking care of the fundamentals and then go for the resolution. Conflict resolution is a slow and gradual process it needs the understanding of the format of the dispute, it needs a delicate balancing act and plenty of wisdom.

Muhammad Amir Rana: Islamabad has always argued that an end to insurgency in the tribal areas is tied to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Islamabad expects that a negotiated end to the Kashmir standoff would reduce the incentive for terrorist networks to continue using violence.

What does the resolution of Kashmir mean? What is the role of international players and regional stakeholders? How can Pakistan improve its case on Kashmir? These are some questions that need to be looked into.

General Talat Masood: The resolution of the Kashmir issue will help stem out terrorism in the region and this is the best opportunity for Pakistan to work out a political settlement of the issue. I personally feel that we have to adopt the way of negotiation even if they are your enemies. Because the other option is war. So it is much better to adopt the way of dialogue and understand each other. The statements and the policies that have been pursued by Omar Abdullah and other parties today are different as compared to couple of years back which is a very positive sign. So my own assessment is that it is always beneficial and today I will advise the same that unless you meet how can you find a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.Marjan Lucas: Despite all the lobbying in US and Europe and seminars and conferences, the international discourse is focused on Afghanistan, not on Pakistan and least on Kashmir.
The Obama administration’s strategy to upgrade Afghanistan – Pakistan to the level of a major security priority is in the paradigm of state security, not human security.

Chinese experts on the Sino-US relationships see that China has to be included:  they aim to make Af-Pak a principal focal point of the Sino-US dialogue. This means, all regional actors understand they have to hang on to the Af-Pak  paradigm,  notwithstanding  their grief that their own region is not mentioned  in the terminology of the Af-Pak document,  and/or despite their hesitations or even disagreement with the very approach.

Af-Pak is an over-simplification and not useful as a strategic concept to stabilise the region.

The fact is that the Kashmiri people felt they were being taken for granted not only by India but also Pakistan in the endeavour to resolve the conflict. That was 2007. We are in 2009. We do not have a four-point formula any more but we have the Af-Pak approach. I came here to interact with you on this new formula  and repeat my ever itching question  ‘What is in it for Kashmir?’ .

In my opinion, it is not simply a matter of changing the mindset of Pakistan but it is on resolving the conflict on the basis of the UN Resolution of the Right to Self Determination for the Kashmiri people.

Ershad Mehmood: A number of statements of the US president Barak Obama ask Pakistan to resume talks with India and move eastern border forces to combat with Taliban and Al Qaeda. So the characterization of national security of Pakistan has been changed totally over the last decade. While Barack Obama urged the greater role of India in international affairs, a number of think-tanks and intellectuals also link the termination of terrorism in the region with the resolution of Kashmir dispute. So Obama administration and EU may help to stabilize the region. Most probably they can offer unique opportunities to India and Pakistan to overcome their disputes.  Pakistan is no more apprehensive of Indian threats of invasion. But Indian conventional weapon status, a large economy, a large democracy, strategic ties with Israel, Afghanistan and America shape Pakistani establishment’s threat perception. India’s continuous violation of Indus water treaty compelled Presidents Asif Ali Zardari to take up the issue in his latest published article in Washington Post in which he sought international community’s help to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Amjad Yusuf Ali: If we follow the statements of the US present during the election campaign and after election I think things have been changing, statesmen’s have been changing. This is not that the policies have been changing. In my view we have to see the ground situation in the region. First, we have to see the situation on western border of Pakistan and the role of India in Afghanistan. In my view, on the western border the policy of Pakistani government before the Swat agreement was different and the mindset and the body language of the western community were different. They use to say that Pakistan in not doing enough. But after waging a full-fledged war in Malakand and FATA, I think the position is different now. I think the US Af-Pak policies always change.

We cannot say that the Kashmir issuer is nowhere in the Af-pak policy. In 2007 there was a different concept of Kashmir movement internationally. It was not seen well due to the cross border infiltration from the Pakistan side of Kashmir. But after the economic blockage and indigenous uprising by the youth in 1989, who came out in the streets in peaceful demonstrations there was a totally different view internationally.

In my view in the 2008 elections we saw their stance was changed. They used to say that we are contesting the election for local governments, issues etc and people voted for that. Now it is up to the Pakistani government how it handles the negotiations on Kashmir. In my view, the situation depends on the outcome of comings months in Pakistan and Afghanistan, how India is going to react and how Kashmir is non-violent. If the international community, the EU, UN, Af-Pak policy or India are not going to address the Kashmir issues then there is a potential that Kashmiris will pick up guns.

Dr Shaheen Akhtar: The basic question is how Kashmir figures in the Af-Pak strategy. How best Pakistan can make use of this in advancing its own perspective on Kashmir or resolution of Kashmir. To me importance of Kashmir in Af-Pak policy is neither fundamental nor marginal. It lies somewhere in between. So if we look at the statements of Barack Obama during his election campaign he talked about the regional approach to stabilize Afghanistan. At that time he said that we couldn’t stabilize the situation in Afghanistan unless we have a regional approach.

I think if we want to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan we need Indo-Pak cooperation. If Pakistan faces threats from its eastern border then it is not possible that it can entirely focus on western border. So India is not happy with regional approach. It shows strong reaction to that approach. But still when the policy was announced, Kashmir did figure but in a different way. When President Obama announced the policy he talked about constructive engagement and said that we must construct diplomacy between India and Pakistan. So America cannot ignore that the issue of Kashmiris can get them space in this Af-Pak policy.