- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2001

Kashmir holds the infamy as the most dangerous place on the planet, according to President Bill Clinton and

his national security brain trust. The 53-year-old conflict in that disputed, divided, devastated and illegally occupied territory in South Asia could trigger nuclear volleys between India and Pakistan; it has already occasioned two wars between the two estranged rivals.

But a glimmer of hope has appeared on the horizon, like the blooming of flowers during the opening scenes of spring. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has extended a unilateral Ramadan cease-fire indefinitely; he has offered direct talks with authentic representatives of the 13 million people of Kashmir, the All-Parties Hurriyet Conference, and extended travel documents to its leadership to consult with the Kashmiri diaspora in Pakistan; and, he has not insisted that self-determination for Kashmir be taboo on the negotiating agenda. Pakistan has reciprocated India's commendable confidence building measures by reducing its military profile along the Line of Control, an artificial separation of Kashmir akin to the popularly despised Berlin Wall. The APHC is eager to strike a deal with India for a self-determination solution to the gruesome Kashmiri strife consistent with two outstanding United Nations Security Council resolutions.

These steps may seem tiny from afar, but are giant up close, as history instructs. Tucked between India, Pakistan, Russia and China, Kashmir was an independent princely state when the British raj partitioned India along Hindu and Muslim lines on Aug. 15, 1947. Princely states enjoyed the options of accession to India, accession to Pakistan, or nationhood. Authority to make the choice, according to the doctrine announced and practiced by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Hyderabad and Junagadh, devolved on the people if the ruler's creed varied with the predominant religious persuasion. In Kashmir, Muslims were 80 percent of the population, but the oppressive maharaja was Hindu, and had provoked a popular rebellion when independence arrived in 1947. That was the seed of the current tragedy and the Kashmir nuclear abyss.

On Oct. 27, 1947, the maharaja, although divested of power, pleaded for Indian military intervention to rescue his tottering regime. India responded with brigades and contrived a bogus instrument of Kashmiri accession to her sovereignty (a villainy exposed by British scholar Alistar Lamb). Pakistan intervened to bolster an overwhelmingly indigenous insurrection. India raced to the United Nations Security Council to champion a Kashmiri self-determination plebiscite conducted by the United Nations after demilitarization of the territory. The Security Council endorsed two mutually reinforcing plebiscite mandates, which India has defied for more than 50 years because she knows Kashmiris will never vote in her favor.

For more than a half-century, India has treated Kashmiris more like ink blots to be ignored than as human beings to be respected. All elections there have been rigged. An iron-fisted military rule has prevailed, featuring a staggering 700,000 soldiers and paramilitary personnel. Human-rights atrocities against non-combatants are as commonplace as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Every neutral human-rights organization that has surveyed Kashmir, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, has reported a chilling number of extrajudicial killings, rapes, torture victims, abductions, arbitrary detentions and crimes of arson, plunder and custodial disappearances. All peaceful political dissent has been ruthlessly suppressed.

So why the guarded optimism? First, India has agreed to speak with the popular opposition, the APHC. Previously, all bargaining was with Pakistan because of India's delusion that the universal Kashmiri craving for self-determination had been fomented by the government of Pakistan and outside Muslim extremists. India seems now to recognize that its Kashmir cancer cannot be cured without treating with the Kashmiris themselves, just as France came to understand that its Algerian albatross would persist without opening self-determination negotiations with the indigenous FLN.

Second, India has declined to rule out Kashmiri self-determination, which would be tantamount to an independent Kashmir nation. To make that Indian retreat politically feasible, the APHC is willing to negotiate an independence constitution for Kashmir that would safeguard all of India's national security and human rights concerns: permanent neutrality as in the 1955 Austrian State Treaty; a no-war clause like Article 9 of Japan's constitution; percentage quotas in the legislature, civil service, executive, and judiciary for religious or ethnic minorities Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs as in the 1960 constitution for the Republic of Cyprus; strong local autonomy as Spain's constitution affords its Basque region; appeals in human rights cases to the president of the World Court; and, a guarantee of the constitutional order by the United Nations Security Council.

The United States should consider several initiatives to water the peace bud in Kashmir and to turn back the nuclear clock several hours. India might be granted a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council if it honors self-determination. It might be recognized as a grandfathered nuclear power under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Relocation assistance might be offered to Kashmiri Hindus opposed to independence.

In sum, the ingredients of a Kashmir solution are there. What remains are healthy doses of statesmanship and magnanimity.

Ghulam Nabi Fai is executive director of the Kashmiri American Council.

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