Route to Peace in Kashmir

THE standoff, finally ended, between India's security forces and certain Kashmiri Islamic militants at the Hazaratbal mosque in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, presents an interesting irony.

In December 1964 miscreants broke into the same mosque and stole the Mo-e-Mogdas, a relic of the Prophet Muhammad. Yet though riots followed in Srinagar and elsewhere in northern India in the wake of the theft, Kashmiris remained loyal Indian citizens. Pakistan's efforts to woo them failed miserably. Today, however, Islamic militants holed up in the mosque have significant support among Kashmiris; indeed autonomist and even separatist sentiments are widespread in the Kashmir Valley.

It is imperative that Indians, Pakistanis, and the Kashmiri militants open talks about fashioning medium- to long-term strategies to end seemingly endemic conflict. Failure to do so will result in the loss of more blood and treasure, perhaps leading to another Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir.

The 1964 events at the Hazaratbal mosque contain lessons for the current crisis. Agents of the Indian Intelligence Bureau, in cooperation with the local Kashmiri police, were able to track down the perpetrators and restore the holy relic to the shrine. Meanwhile, riots broke out throughout the valley, as well as in a number of India's cities. On the other side of the Kashmir border, President Ayub Khan and other leaders of the Pakistani military mistakenly construed the disturbances in Kashmir as indicating support for Pakistani intervention. Accordingly, in the summer of 1965, they sent lightly armed Pakistani troops disguised as local tribesmen to wreak havoc in the valley.

Although some Kashmiris may have been disaffected with Indian rule, most remained loyal Indian citizens and turned in the infiltrators to the authorities. Despite the failure of this plan, war erupted between India and Pakistan in September 1965. The limitations of firepower, a US arms embargo, and Soviet mediation helped to end this conflict.

Today neither Indians nor Pakistani actively contemplate starting another war. Nevertheless, two factors increase the threat of conflict. First, segments of the Kashmiri militants, particularly the Hezb-ul-Mujahideen, have strong allegiance to Pakistan. Second, considerable uncertainty exists about military doctrines in India and Pakistan. Cut off from their cold-war patrons, the military machines of both sides are in a state of flux. The situation in the region is uncertain.

Before the larger issue of Indo-Pakistani relations can be addressed, certain steps need to be taken to defuse the insurgency in Kashmir.

* The Indian government needs to significantly alter its current counter-insurgency operations. The harsh ``mailed fist'' strategy that it adopted in dealing with the militants in the Punjab is inapplicable to Kashmir. In Punjab, deep-seated disaffection with Indian rule and support for an independent state of Khalistan was limited to a minority of the Sikh population. In the Kashmir Valley, however, the vast majority of people have some grievances against the Indian state. Unbridled police brutality only adds to the reservoir of disenchantment.

* Persistent charges of torture and other human rights violations on the part of security forces need to be investigated and acted upon.

* The government should consider offering an unconditional amnesty to the militants in exchange for a cease-fire for a specified period of time. During the cease-fire, serious negotiations can be started with the militants.

* The government should move to restore Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to its original strength. Among other matters, Article 370 prohibits non-Kashmiris from purchasing land in Kashmir. Any restoration effort will generate considerable hostility on the part of the militant Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. Nevertheless, their claim that the Muslims of Kashmir have been ``pampered'' is essentially without merit.

* India should offer to hold an election in Kashmir in the presence of international observers. Nongovernmental organizations from the United States and other nations can make a useful contribution to this end.

* India needs to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the change in government in Islamabad to renew talks Pakistan. In this regard too, the US can play a useful role. It can continue its pressure on Pakistan to cease support to the insurgents. Simultaneously, it can prod India to investigate charges of human rights violations and begin a meaningful set of negotiations with the militants.

None of these actions will be easy or popular for the weak regime of Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. But maintaining the current strategy in Kashmir will restore neither law nor order. Instead, at best, India will continue to lurch from one crisis to another. At worst, the subcontinent may witness yet another costly war over Kashmir. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.

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