DR. ALI AWADH ASSERI January 18, 2022
India and Pakistan have enormous social capital and the economic potential to develop themselves and make their mark in South Asia and the world. Yet their perpetual conflict over Kashmir, which has led to many wars, continues to keep them and the region mired in poverty and calamity. In 1998, this conflict assumed a nuclear dimension. A decade later, the two countries stopped talking to each other. That continues to this day.
Last year, the UAE’s mediation between Islamabad and New Delhi helped restore the ceasefire along the Line of Control in the disputed region. Unfortunately, in the past decade, the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and the continuing political instability in Pakistan have prevented the resumption of the peace process known as the Composite Dialogue.
Now, however, Pakistan seems amenable to peace. Its national security policy for 2022-26, unveiled on Friday, states that “Pakistan, under its policy of peace at home and abroad, wishes to improve its relationship with India,” if New Delhi agrees to a “just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”
By annexing Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the stakes in the disputed region and undermined the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, which is enshrined in several resolutions passed by the UN Security Council. This is a fact that Pakistan has been trying to highlight in its diplomatic campaign ever since.
India is yet to officially respond to Pakistan’s stated willingness to pursue conditional peace. The two countries’ civil societies are, however, getting serious about pushing their respective leaderships toward resuming the long-abandoned dialogue. Some 50 opinion leaders from both sides have joined hands to pen a book titled, “In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations,” which was launched in New Delhi on Saturday. Among its writers are former foreign ministers Yashwant Sinha of India and Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri of Pakistan.
Having served as the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad during the tumultuous period post-9/11, I know how close India and Pakistan were to fighting a war in 2002 and reaching a peace in 2006. Kasuri, a smart and intelligent person, was able to chalk out a workable framework for a settlement on Kashmir with his Indian counterparts, including Sinha, on the basis of the four-point formula of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Under this framework, the Line of Control would freeze; the Kashmiris living on both sides would attain self-governance; India and Pakistan would gradually demilitarize the conflict zone; and India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris would work out a joint mechanism to monitor the Line of Control and the concomitant trade and movement of people. After 15 years, a treaty of peace and friendship would be signed if all the outstanding issues had been addressed.
For Pakistan, this was a great departure from its official stance on the implementation of UNSC resolutions on Kashmir, while it was also a departure from India’s 1974 Simla Agreement with Pakistan. Why was this historic opportunity missed? In his book, “Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove,” Kasuri mentions the political crisis that gripped the Musharraf regime after the dismissal of the Supreme Court chief justice as one reason, while underscoring that the military genuinely wanted to normalize relations with India. The other factor, in his opinion, was the lack of political resolve on the part of the Indian government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two countries were also close to concluding a deal on the Siachen Glacier, a relic of the Kashmir dispute, where their military forces have been stuck fighting an unnecessary battle in one of the most inhospitable terrains in the Himalayas since the 1980s. But the Siachen deal met the same fate as the Kashmir framework.
India and Pakistan have made peace before, bilaterally and multilaterally. They still uphold several nuclear confidence-building measures. But, left alone, they have a great tendency to fight and put their own futures and that of the region at risk of a nuclear catastrophe.
I remember that the Americans wanted Pakistan to focus on the war in Afghanistan after it began in October 2001. But the terrorist attack on India’s parliament two months later, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants, led to New Delhi amassing a million soldiers along the Pakistani border. Pakistan subsequently moved its own forces. Another attack on an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in June 2002 could also have resulted in war if then-US Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks had not intervened in time. The follow-up US diplomacy eventually paved the way for the Kashmir ceasefire in 2003, but that would only last until 2008.
The only clue that the above narration about Indo-Pak relations offers is that, unless Kashmir is settled amicably in a manner that is satisfactory, although not necessarily idealistic, for each side, the fates of these two major powers and the other countries in South Asia will continue to hang in the balance. Therefore, something must be done, and urgently, to resolve this conflict and liberate the people of Pakistan and India, as well as the Kashmiris, from the bitter legacy of the partition of 1947.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan had offered to mediate between the two countries during his visit to New Delhi last September. This was the right proposition to make. The Kingdom hosts millions of Indian and Pakistani workers. Each year, millions of Muslims from the two countries perform Hajj and Umrah. The level of Saudi trade and investment in both nations, especially in India, has also grown significantly in recent years.
Unfortunately, the Saudi leadership has to walk a tightrope while diplomatically dealing with the two countries due to their rivalry. It can neither ignore brotherly Pakistan nor overlook rising India. In the past, Islamabad and New Delhi sustained their rivalry by jumping on the bandwagon with one great power or another — at both their own cost and that of the region. Ultimately, India and Pakistan have much to gain from cooperation. So have their neighbors. South Asia is a region of immense opportunity, sharing a common, historically rooted cultural identity like few regions do. It must not be on the receiving end of Indo-Pak hostility.
The two countries’ civil societies are getting serious about pushing their respective leaderships toward resuming the long-abandoned dialogue.
Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri
I have personally been an ardent supporter of Kashmiri rights, which India has consistently denied by violating the will of the international community. India’s present government has exceeded all limits, to the extent of reshaping Kashmiri demography. It must take Pakistan’s official proclamation of normalizing relations seriously, especially since its conditional focus on the “just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute” leaves the option of Kashmir settlement open-ended.
The leaders of India and Pakistan should also pay heed to fresh pleas for peace by civil society, especially by eminent former envoys like Kasuri, who have already mapped out a viable settlement to the Kashmiri dispute. This can become the basis for the Composite Dialogue once again, with additional safeguards to permanently reverse India’s settler colonial efforts of the past two years.
Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations — where sizable workforces from India and Pakistan live, enabling them to contribute to the socioeconomic development back home through remittances worth billions of dollars — must extend their vital support in this process. The UAE has already set the trend by reviving the ceasefire in Kashmir. The Kingdom has expressed its interest in mediating this conflict thereafter. The Gulf Cooperation Council can follow this up by launching a tangible initiative in this regard.
- Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2009 and received Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Hilal-e-Pakistan, for his services in promoting the Saudi-Pakistan relationship. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Beirut Arab University and authored the book “Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror” (Oxford, 2009). He is a board member of Rasanah, the International Institute for Iranian Studies, in Riyadh.
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