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Signposts for peace in South Asia

By L. Ramdas

As a gesture of honest intent, India and Pakistan must reduce the levels of their security forces on the border.

FORTUNATELY, INDIA and Pakistan have stepped back from the brink of war and nuclear holocaust. But the danger remains and the two sides remain at the mercy of events they cannot fully control. Fundamentalist elements in Pakistan bent on violence directed at India and matched likewise by right wing groups in India, both of whom aim to provoke war, hold the future of the region in their hands. They will continue to do so unless the two Governments institute measures to de-escalate the current confrontation and get down to a dialogue.

The following objectives are interlinked and must be achieved: To stop permanently infiltration from Pakistan into the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir; to stop all forms of human rights violations by militants and security forces alike; to resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully, keeping in mind the legacy of Partition and the ground realities at present: the existence of the Line of Control as a virtual boundary since the Shimla Agreement of 1972; to identify a process for ascertaining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir regarding their future; to defuse nuclear tensions and eliminate the risk of nuclear war; and to open up the two countries to normal movement of people and trade and create a climate, socially and politically, that would promote good relations between the people of India and Pakistan as well as in South Asia.

The elements that would pave the way for resolving these long-festering issues could be as follows, keeping in mind the history of the various agreements that India and Pakistan have signed or almost signed, but have so far failed to implement. The approach also factors in the new and overwhelming reality in South Asia — that the acquiring by India and Pakistan of nuclear arsenals means the threats of conventional and nuclear war are now inextricably linked. If Indian and Pakistani leaders want peace, which is more than the absence of war, resolving the issues of the relationships between the people and in the communities within countries with equality, tolerance and friendship is necessary for a sustained peace.

Pakistan has pledged to stop the infiltration into Kashmir permanently. This will require monitoring. India has proposed a joint patrolling of the border. This has not been agreed to by Pakistan. The situation is further complicated by India's `allergy' to any big power/third party interference in the Kashmir question. However, a substantial role is already being played by the United States and others in facilitating a communication between the leadership of the two countries. It is therefore proposed that a force drawn from among the members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) under a mutually agreed leadership could provide the necessary compromise for the monitoring to be established. This force could be provided with technical data gathered by other countries, including the U.S., to better perform its duties. As a first step, India should show its goodwill by beginning to reduce its forces along the border and restoring all communication links including road, rail and air traffic between the two countries. The aim should be to bring the forces at the border to the pre-December 13 levels as rapidly as possible.

There are three parties to the Kashmir question — India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and it is essential that India recognise this. By the same token, India and Pakistan must understand the ground reality of a de facto partition of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir by the acceptance of the Line of Control (LoC) as the international border between the two countries. There is no denying the fact that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have suffered a great deal due to the India-Pakistan `tug of war' over five decades. They seek peace and a cessation of all forms of violence. As a first step in this direction and as a gesture of honest intent, India and Pakistan must reduce the levels of their security forces on the border in Kashmir. Pakistan should also close down all militant training camps on its soil.

Central to any solution to the "Kashmir problem" must be a process of ascertaining the wishes of the people of the entire erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, keeping in mind the ground realities of the de facto partition of the State.

To facilitate the emergence of peace in the region as early as possible, the following process as a via media could be considered: First, Kashmiris on both sides of the border should be given the choice of being the citizens of either India or Pakistan, and, if they want to move from one side to another, be given the opportunity to do so in peace and security. To implement this, both countries should agree to some form of international supervision. This role could be performed by a SAARC monitoring team as proposed earlier. Second, the people displaced from their lands and homes by the current conflict, such as the Kashmiri Pandits, should be allowed to return in peace and security. Third, the border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir should be kept porous to enable Kashmiris on both sides to cross it for personal, family and business reasons without too many hassles.

Both countries should reaffirm the pledges to negotiate all outstanding issues between them peacefully and not resort to war, proxy or otherwise. This formulation should meet the concerns of the two countries adequately. This means, first of all, a ceasefire along the LoC. Pakistan should agree to a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, which India has already adopted. This is the equivalent of a nuclear ceasefire. India and Pakistan could tap their best and deepest traditions and not only avert war but make a real peace between themselves. They could verifiably de-alert all nuclear weapons with bilateral or SAARC monitoring and, in that context, invite all other nuclear weapons states to do the same and together take up leadership in the cause of global nuclear disarmament.

Only sustained peace can lift the clouds of war and the threat of nuclear incineration of South Asia. At the dawn of the nuclear age, Albert Einstein called on humanity to develop a new way of thinking or perish. Leaders in the West have recklessly failed to heed that warning and remain on the edge of a nuclear abyss, with the U.S. and Russia maintaining between them more than 4,000 nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, though they claim to be friends and at peace.

In a recently concluded workshop 'Initiative for Peace - Focus on Kashmir' at the United World College in Singapore, 40 young people from India and Pakistan came together for a week, and agreed on an inspiring Statement of Common Ground. The final paragraph of the statement reads: "We believe that we have the power to make this generation and the generations to come, the best ever in the history of humanity, or the worst. The choice is entirely ours; we have made the choice for a better and peaceful world." This, rather than the perpetual state of quasi-war that the countries are now maintaining, would befit the region that gave the world Badshah Khan and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the most unique freedom movement the world has known.

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