Thursday, June 3, 2010

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW BRIEFING Steps Towards Peace: Putting Kashmiris First

Islamabad/Brussels, 2 June 2010: Even if India and Pakistan appear willing to allow more interaction across the Line of Control (LOC) that separates the parts of Kashmir they administer, any Kashmir-based dialogue will fail if they do not put its inhabitants first.

Steps Towards Peace: Putting Kashmiris First,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, identifies the key political, social and economic needs of Kashmiris that should be addressed on both sides of the divided state.

“Since the Mumbai attacks by Pakistan-based militants in November 2008, tensions between the two neighbours have eclipsed Kashmiri hopes for political liberalisation and economic opportunity”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “This atmosphere of hostility is undermining the progress that had been made in softening the borders that divide the Kashmiri people”.

Suspended by India after the Mumbai attacks, bilateral normalisation talks known as the “composite dialogue”, which began in 2004, led to a number of steps to normalise relations, including Kashmir-specific confidence-building measures (CBMs) to restore communications routes and promote cross-LOC trade and travel. But without Kashmiri ownership of the CBMs and control in implementing them, any gains will easily be reversed whenever India-Pakistan relations take a turn for the worse.

Despite the recent rise in militancy, clashes between separatists and security personnel and other violence, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is not the battlefield it was in the 1990s. India has pledged to reduce its military presence and has made some overtures to moderate factions of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The roots of Kashmiri alienation, however, still run deep, and outbreaks of violence occur regularly. J&K remains heavily militarised, and laws that encourage human rights abuses by security forces remain, fuelling public resentment that the militants could once again exploit.

India 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.

On the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) side of the LOC, Pakistan must 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. While Pakistan’s elected civilian leadership has expressed a desire for improved bilateral relations and for resuming the composite dialogue, it must ensure that jihadis, still backed by the military, can no longer disrupt the regional peace. Another Mumbai-like attack would have a devastating impact on bilateral relations and could conceivably bring the nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war.

“Even if India is persuaded to resume the composite dialogue, it is unrealistic to expect a solution to the Kashmir dispute in the near future”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Both India and Pakistan should focus on creating a favourable environment for cooperation”.

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