India and Pakistan have consistently subjected Kashmiri interests to their own national security agendas and silenced calls for greater autonomy. With the start of their composite dialogue – comprehensive negotiations to resolve all contentious bilateral issues, including Kashmir, launched in February 2004 – both appeared willing to allow more interaction across the Line of Control (LOC) but failed to engage Kashmiris in the process. As a result, they did not take full advantage of opportunities to enhance cross-LOC cooperation by identifying the most appropriate Kashmir-specific confidence-building measures (CBMs), and bureaucratic resistance in both capitals resulted in uneven implementation of even those that had been agreed. India has suspended the composite dialogue since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistan-based militants, but neither New Delhi nor Islamabad has backtracked on these CBMs. Nevertheless, the CBM process will only achieve major results if the two sides devolve authority to Kashmir’s elected representatives and take other vital steps to win over its alienated public.
Despite the recent rise in militancy, clashes between separatists and security personnel and other violence, Kashmir (known formally as Jammu and Kashmir, J&K) is not the battlefield it was in the 1990s. The Indian government has pledged to reduce its military presence there and has made some overtures to moderate factions of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). It has also refrained from the blatant election rigging that characterised J&K polls in the past. The roots of Kashmiri alienation, however, still run deep, and outbreaks of violence occur regularly. J&K remains heavily militarised, and draconian laws that encourage human rights abuses by security forces remain, fuelling public resentment that the militants could once again exploit.
In Pakistan, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government has taken some action against operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), responsible for the Mumbai attacks. The alleged masterminds of this action are being tried, the first time in the country’s history that criminal charges were levied against the perpetrators of terrorism on foreign soil. Pakistan-based militants, however, still regularly infiltrate the LOC, and the military, which retains control of Kashmir policy, continues to support Kashmir-oriented jihadi groups, including the LeT/JD and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. A second Mumbai-like attack in India by these or other Pakistan-based jihadis would bring relations to another low, indeed possibly to the brink of war.
Post-Mumbai, mounting tensions between the two neighbours have eclipsed Kashmiri hopes for political liberalisation and economic opportunity. Given the Kashmiri political elites’ subservience to New Delhi or Islamabad, this atmosphere of mutual hostility is widening the gulf between J&K and Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), undermining the progress that had been made in softening the borders that divide the Kashmiri people. Moreover, the corrupt and dysfunctional state governments in both Srinagar and Muzafarabad are failing to provide basic services and are reluctant to solicit voices from across the political spectrum, thus contributing to the fractures in Kashmiri society. In India-administered Kashmir, for instance, Ladakh and Jammu are increasingly resentful of the Valley’s monopoly over J&K’s relations with New Delhi.
The Indian government cannot afford to postpone crucial decisions to improve centre-state relations. It should revive the “special status” guaranteed by the constitution and repeal all draconian laws. Replacing military-led counter-insurgency with accountable policing and reviving an economy devastated by violence and conflict would instil greater confidence among Kashmiris. It is in New Delhi’s interest to be regarded as a sincere partner committed to improving Kashmiri lives, not as an occupying force.
While Pakistan’s elected civilian leadership has expressed a desire for improved bilateral relations and to resume the composite dialogue, it must ensure that jihadis can no longer disrupt the regional peace. Islamabad must also make certain that civilian institutions, particularly AJK’s elected bodies, drive the normalisation process. Likewise, policymakers in both the national capital and Muzafarabad should prioritise reforms that open political debate to all shades of Kashmiri opinion, stimulate the local economy and end AJK’s over-dependence on the centre.
This briefing resumes Crisis Group reporting on the Kashmir conflict after a four-year gap, assesses existing cross-LOC CBMs and identifies the key political, social and economic needs of Kashmiris that need to be addressed on both sides of the divided state.
(c) 2010 International Crisis Group