- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Indian leader Atal Vajpayee lately have issued somewhat conciliatory statements, but the India-Pakistan confrontation is far from over. The forthcoming visit of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region may further cool down things for a while but the problem is bound to prop up again due to the nature of the conflict.
Kashmir, an overwhelming Muslim area, is a disputed land under the norms of international law. India claims that the accession letter of Kashmir's Hindu Maharaja in favor of India in 1948 and its confirmation by Kashmir's elected assembly in 1953 made it an integral part of India, whereas Pakistan challenges the credibility of the accession alleging that it was signed under duress and that the assembly, which confirmed it, was bogus. More so, the British Governor General accepted the accession conditional to holding of a plebiscite to elicit the opinion of the Kashmiris. The vote has never taken place.
Various resolutions of the United Nations Security Council (1948-51) renewed the call for plebiscite after both Indian and Pakistani militaries ran over the state. Irrespective of the fact that the relevant U.N. resolutions were under Chapter 6 (nonbinding), the provisions of the Geneva Convention dealing with the "belligerent occupation" are applicable, which have been violated by both the countries in varying degrees. According to the 1994 report of the International Commission of Jurists, "the right of self-determination to which the people of Kashmir became entitled as part of the partition has neither been exercised nor extinguished, and thus remains exercisable today."
Over the years, India and Pakistan fought three major wars, in addition to numerous limited armed conflicts all of which meant spending billions of dollars to acquire deadly weapons at the cost of economic development and progress. There has been an annual increase of 6.2 percent in the Indian military expenditure during the period 1947-1999. In comparison, Pakistan's per capita defense expenditure is around $26, more than double that of India.
Both the states have linked Kashmir issue with their national identities in such an inextricable manner that has made their standpoints irreconcilable. This narrow-mindedness has developed and entrenched a culture of hate and animosity between the people of the two countries.
In none of the nine bilateral dialogues, representatives from Kashmir were ever invited or involved. The insurgency starting in India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir in 1989 was an indigenous one, as a reaction to Indian control and "engineered" elections. This is a widely accepted fact across the board. The "guest" militants sponsored by Pakistani intelligence moved in the theater later and indeed damaged the image of the movement. In this context, Indian hands are also not clean as they used brutal force to tackle the uprising, committing gross human rights violations in the process.
Without resolution of the Kashmir issue, durable peace in South Asia is only a dream. The United States can play a very crucial role in this scenario, but it has to do more than the "balancing act" diplomacy. The public opinion in both India and Pakistan is increasingly becoming very critical of the United States, as people from both sides mistakenly think that the United States is taking the other's side.
Various countries in the region, including Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, are offering mediation role but it is U.S. interests that are really at stake, due to this instability and it is their influence and leverage which is the most significant factor.
Without a meaningful dialogue supported by U.S. mediation leading to a settlement, the region will remain on the edge of a catastrophe. The small U.N. contingent already in place to monitor the disputed border should be expanded to verify whether Mr. Musharraf's promise of a crackdown on militants is really working. India should also be told that it must improve the human rights situation in Kashmir and sit at the negotiation table. Mr. Rumsfeld's intervention will be short-lived if his idea of dtente in South Asia does not include these issues.

Hassan Abbas is a South Asian specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

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