Talks on Kashmir are stalled. Instead of discussing the Kashmir dispute. India has threatened to carry out surgical strikes at about 25 targets deep within Azad Kashmir. Indian army-chief Bipen Rawat has announced (January10, 2019) to carry out `war games’ by independent surgical fighting units in May 2019. They will be self-contained fighting backed up with air force and navy support. India claims to have carried out surgical strikes earlier on September 29, 2016. The strikes are celebrated as a national event. However, opposition, media and architect of the strikes, Lt Gen DS Hooda, now retired, considers it over-hype. In an editorial, Hindustan Times dated January 28, commented that army-chief’s statements `provided Pakistan with an excuse to build short range, nuclear-capable missiles, like Nasr, to target Indian formations undertaking conventional strikes’. `Pakistan is now flaunting Nasr’. Besides Nasr, Pakistan now has 52 Chinese Sh-15 Howitzer Guns (American equivalent M-777). These guns could fire nuclear tactical-nuclear-weapon projectiles up to distance of 53 kilometers. India is unmindful of possibility that his strikes could lead to a nuclear confrontation.
A dialogue, not more strikes, is the way out.
Let India listen to its own four foreign secretaries, if not to Pakistan. First, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, ruled out `a military solution’ as option to settle India-Pakistan disputes. Memon said so while participating in a panel discussion alongside Pulitzer Prize winning American author and academic Steve Coll and US journalist and author Peter Bergen. His remarks are an affront to civilian hawks and its army chief’s gung-ho statements.
Secondly, foreign secretary Jagat S Mehta understood India’s abhorrence to word ‘plebiscite’. So he presented some proposals to serve as requirements for evolving a solution after a period of ten years. His proposals are contained in his article “Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s” Some points of his quasi-solution are: (a) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. (b) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…” (c) Immediate demilitarization of the LoC to a depth of five to ten miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a “cold freeze”) for an agreed period. Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press, New York pp. 225-228). Let me now quote another foreign secretary JN Dixit from Victoria Schofield’s book Kashmir in the Crossfire. He says ‘it is no use splitting legal hair. “Everybody who has a sense of history knows that legality only has relevance up to the threshold of transcending political realities. And especially in inter-state relations… so to quibble about points of law and hope that by proving a legal point you can reverse the process of history is living in a somewhat contrived utopia. It won’t work.”
Let us now listen to the third foreign secretary, Krishnan Srinivasan. In an article, he outlines ‘Lessons for Kashmir from the Kuriles’ (The Hindu dated January 7, 2019). Srinivasan points out ‘Russia has for long been Japan’s hypothetical enemy’. But, the two countries are no longer at daggers with regard to Kurile Islands dispute. Four islands in the Kurile chain are claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia as successor state of the Soviet Union. ‘Despite the passage of over 70 years, this dispute has defied solution and prevented the conclusion of a Russo-Japanese peace treaty to draw a final curtain over the detritus of the war’. The Russians have deployed submarines and missile systems in disputed islands to preclude American intervention.
Moscow erects its claim on the post-war settlements of Yalta and San Francisco. Japan bases its claim on Russia-Japan treaties of 1855 and 1875.
After Mr. Putin’s visit to Japan in 2016, both leaders embarked on some joint undertakings on the islands without delving into entrenched legal position. They agreed to joint field surveys, joint economic activities and three levels of supervision. The cooperation covers marine species and aquaculture, greenhouse strawberry and vegetable cultivation, tourism, wind power generation, the reduction and disposal of garbage.
The cooperation, despite US reservations, is amazing. Moscow fears: (a) Tokyo amending Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which disallows Japan from maintaining or using a military force to settle international disputes, (b) Japan is among the world’s biggest spenders on defence. It plays host to American bases and missile systems, and plans to spend $240 billion up to 2024 on cruise missiles, missile interceptors, fighter jets and aircraft carriers.
Both Japan and Russia are pursuing greater collaboration, despite US displeasure at Japan’s accommodating attitude towards Russia. Srinivasan observes ‘although no two international problems are analogous, there are important lessons to be drawn from the manner in which traditionally hostile neighbours can identify common interests and explore unorthodox avenues along which to proceed in search of innovative solutions to apparently insoluble disputes. This requires strong leadership and a bold imagination. Neither India nor Pakistan lacks either attribute’.
Will Pakistan be a silent spectator to India’s strikes at 25 visualised targets? Will not the strikes escalate into a nuclear Armageddon? Talks are the way out.