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Can there be peace now
between India and Pakistan?



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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January 15, 2010

Last week the Indian minister for home affairs, P.Chidambaram, surprised many when he said that the year 2009 was remarkable for its lack of terror attacks. His statement came just over a year after Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai’s great hotel, the Taj Mahal, and killed more than 160 people.

What he didn’t add was that this was the moment that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he was waiting for before he signed up for a peace deal with Pakistan over the disputed northern province of Kashmir.

Kashmir has been torn in two ever since India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain in 1947. Independence provoked a mass exodus of Muslims to Pakistan and Hindus to India resulting in a massive carnage of both. At independence the ruler of Kashmir announced that the state would be part of India even though the large majority of its people were Muslims. Pakistan claimed the territory belonged to it and that the Indian chief minister had no authority to go against the popular will. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru trying to defuse the situation offered a referendum at some future date.

The dispute has led to three wars, the latest of which, according to former American president, Bill Clinton, nearly became a nuclear one. Today, much to the chagrin of Washington, Pakistan still keeps the bulk of its military on the Indian border supposedly to deter an Indian attack to claim the Pakistani part of Kashmir. Washington would like to see the army transferred to Pakistan’s northern border with Afghanistan where Islamic militants close to Al Qaeda are waging guerrilla war against the central government and using it as a base to attack Western troops in Afghanistan.

The situation is even more complicated than that. These extreme Islamic organisations produce many of the militants who aid the militants inside Kashmir who in turn are active in Afghanistan in support of Al Qaeda. There is a traffic of militants both ways.
The key to peace has never been found, although just three years ago it came tantalisingly close when the then military ruler of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, extended the olive branch to India meeting most of the Indian demands, in particular that Pakistan would no longer claim the Hindu dominated part of Kashmir. (As a result of the first war a UN brokered peace initiative drew a “line of control” between the two halves. This has become the de facto border.)

India appeared to reciprocate but then when a deal was almost done drew back. It was hard to understand why. Singh was known as a dove on this issue but for reasons still unknown he collapsed before the combined onslaught of the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the military. Maybe he judged that Indian public opinion would not listen to him.

As Pakistani and home grown militants piled on the pressure including an attack on the parliament building in New Delhi, Singh drew in his horns further telling me that he could not be expected to stand against public opinion in such a poisonous atmosphere. When I told Musharraf this he replied smartly that Singh was “putting the cart before the horse. Peace is the tool to end violence, not the other way round.”

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After Musharraf was ousted the civilian regime has struggled with the issue. On the one hand the government wants to resurrect the Musharraf deal, not least because the militants who attack India are the same ones who assassinated President Asif Ali Zardari’s wife and the candidate prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. On the other hand his government is weak and divided and without Musharraf’s military hold would have difficulty in selling the deal to the ultra Islamists although most people clearly are more than ready for a deal.

The would-be deal in its essentials is straightforward. It is the Northern Ireland solution. Both sides maintain their own occupied parts of Kashmir on either side of the line of control. The military are mostly withdrawn, the militants de-fanged and the borders made totally porous. (At the moment thanks to the earlier negotiations two major crossing points have been opened and a through train service inaugurated.)

Given Indian intransigence until now and the weakness of the Pakistani government this is the time for Singh to reach out and close the deal. It would be also be a significant contribution to weakening the guerrillas inside Afghanistan.

2009 was the first peaceful year for a long time. This must be the time to move fast before the atmosphere sours again.



Copyright © 2010 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
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Jonathan Power's 2001 book

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