India and Pakistan have always been caught in enduring conflicts due to disagreements over Kashmir, metaphorically speaking – like that of estranged siblings. If a third person travels to both these countries, he might say that the two lands are ‘same’ which is much above being termed as ‘similar’. Any linguist would agree that the languages; Hindi and Urdu are the same. It is one language written in different scripts. Both share the same history and origin. People of both countries are of the same race and share the same ancestry. This should have been the world’s most cordial, free and open relationship but instead is one of hostility, antagonism, deep pain, hurt and wounds; all of which came as a by-product of the Partition. Hence the question, what makes it so hard to bring these two countries together on the table? What makes ‘Peace’ non-existent in Indo-Pak relations?

Indo-Pak relations for the past 72 years have revolved much around the status of Kashmir. In the past, Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu king with a Muslim majority population. Like all princely states, Kashmir had acceded to India in October 1947, although in an extraordinary scenario Pakistan had invaded Kashmir. Being the only Muslim majority province, it has received a special status in the country. For this reason, Pakistan never accepted the finality of its accession to India. For Pakistan, a Muslim majority territory should rightfully belong to its national territory.

The Indian side sees growing militancy in Kashmir as Pakistan’s strategic move to ignite secessionist feelings and movements. India tries to counter these activities through the deployment of a large number of military and other security forces. Hence the resolution of strained Indo–Pak relations would imply resolution of the Kashmir issue. But the key question remains, how should the resolution take place? Three wars and numerous military engagements have not served any purpose. What could be the next best alternative? Has the diplomatic route been fully explored?

This year, the day of love turned out to be a day of mourning for India as 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in a bomb attack in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan based terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack. On Feb. 26, it was reported that Indian Air Force surprised Pakistan with an air strike by attacking the biggest training camps of JeM in Balakot, Pakistan. Later that evening, there were reports stating ceasefire violations from the Pakistani side across three sectors along the Line of Control (LoC) in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The next day, on Feb. 27, an aerial engagement was reported between India and Pakistan when Pakistani fighter jets violated the Indian airspace in an attempt to target military installation. In the aerial dog fight, Pakistan lost a pilot and an aircraft, while the Indian side lost an aircraft and its pilot was captured by the Pakistani forces. However, Pakistan returned the Indian Air Force pilot as a gesture of peace. Altogether, it was a week full of events which bought both the countries almost at the brink of war.   

Although this is not the first incident for such tit for tat between the two countries, however, it might be interesting to see what both these countries are signaling through these events.

Pakistani state has never officially claimed that JeM is one of its sponsored terror outfits but the fact that the group is housed on Pakistani soil leads India to believe that it is nurtured by the Pakistani state. Key question that arises is – why did JeM choose Feb. 14 as their ‘D-day’ for the attack? Is it that they chose the day of love to signal that they want to keep the hatred between the two countries alive and ignited? Or was it a perfect calculation based on information that the CRPF convoy was expected to pass through that area on Feb. 14? Yet another question that lies unanswered is why did they target men in uniform rather than civilians? Was it to instigate a response from India, which ultimately occurred in the form of pre-emptive air strikes? This provoked a counteraction from Pakistan, eventually dragging the two countries in an action-reaction episode. A further escalation would have meant a full-fledged war. Was it a war that JeM planned to get Kashmir back?

Was all of this necessary?

If someone tries to understand the Indian psyche behind the Balakot Airstrike, one is reminded of the Kargil war of 1999.  During the war, India was firm on its decision not to cross the LoC (Line of Control). As a result, Air Force jets flew east to west instead on north-south to respect the Government’s decision. But now, it was surprising to see that it gathered all the guts to carry out an operation in which the Air Force crossed the LoC to strike targets almost 55-60 km deep into the Pakistani territory. The entire operation can be viewed as an absolute violation of both International Law and Pakistan’s sovereignty.

India has defended itself claiming its actions as ‘anti-terror operations’. Strategic and defense analysts in India have the following conclusions. First, Pakistan views Kashmir as its rightful territory, denies its accession to India and would try all means and ways to possess it. Second, the older generations of Pakistan’s military officers still carry the wound from the defeat of 1971 war when Pakistan lost its eastern part, which was carved out as Bangladesh. Third, Pakistan systematically passes this attitude on the younger generations through education. Hence in totality, India sees such attacks as an extension of attacks carried out according to the interest of the Pakistani state to destroy India’s sovereignty.

Diplomacy as a solution?

Both the countries accept the fact that a sustained peace process requires dialogue but with whom to have the dialogue with? Answering this question is the key part of the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Dialogue between the state officials has always been in existence. A four-point Composite Dialogue process was initiated in 1985, which had seen some success but eventually stopped. It was later revived as an eight-point Composite Dialogue in 1997 but could not continue due to the 1998 nuclear tests. Later, the Lahore Declaration in 1999, as well as the Agra Summit in 2001, also failed to achieve its objectives.  The Composite Dialogue resumed in 2004 and it did bring about a certain level of normalization of relations. However, the dialogue came to a halt with the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings and 2008 Mumbai Attacks. Although, the Composite Dialogue was revived in 2011 but has been short-lived with no long-term results.   

Further, there are several hotlines that exist between the two countries to facilitate faster communication and as a confidence-building measure, however, its effectiveness is questionable. Considering all of the failed summits and dialogues – diplomacy might seem like a failed option.

However, another workable approach toward resolving terrorism and the Kashmir issue is to have an effective dialogue with those involved in Kashmir – the separatist leaders.  Considering all the failures and numerous military engagements in the past, it would be wise to consider what was proposed by A.S. Dulat, the former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in his book, ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee years’. According to the book, the best way to approach the Kashmir issue is ‘the Vajpayee way’, that of constant dialogue and engagement with the separatist leaders who have either direct connection with the known terrorist organizations or are themselves the leaders of these organizations. Even the Americans are negotiating with the Taliban in order to end the Afghan conflict. Also, if India wants to resolve the Kashmir issue, it cannot be achieved by killing the separatist leaders but needs to start dialogues with them through different channels.

The so-called terrorists and separatist leaders are most often conveniently viewed as Pakistan based or of Pakistani origin but the fact that most of them are originated from Indian Kashmir which is overlooked by the government for political or military purposes. Hence, they deserve a chance to be heard of and communicated with at the negotiating table. Though diplomacy might seem a tedious task, it’s surely a route worth pursuing.

Image: DRDO / Ministry of Defence, Government of India [GODL-India], via Wikimedia Commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.