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Resolving the Kashmir impasse

Kashmiris have suffered immensely in the last few decades. Given the high stakes involved, it is time both India and Pakistan demonstrate some flexibility

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War is always a lose-lose proposition. No one emerges victorious from a war. This is a fundamental axiom that has a searing resonance in Kashmir — the bone of contention between India and Pakistan for the last 70 years. I may add a caveat here: I do not mean to say that war is imminent between India and Pakistan but, given the truculence both countries have demonstrated, historically over Kashmir, and given the drift of relations between them, the possibility of going to war again over Kashmir cannot be ruled out. The mini war fought by India and Pakistan towards the tether end of the 20th century — a war in which there were neither clear winners and which too could be held to be a senseless war, regardless of the situation — is a case in point. Having said that, the conflict in and over Kashmir generates a lot of debate. But the question is: Do we need a debate or a dialogue over Kashmir?

Kashmir cannot and should not be a mere debating point. The starting point for attaining closure over the conflict has to be what is called, ‘the art of listening’. This would, allow, all parties to the conflict to understand each others’ perspectives. I may draw a parallel with interpersonal communication here, where one party has a need for the other to listen to its ideas and acknowledge them. This need to be heard also corresponds to the need to express inner feelings without the fear of evaluation, judgement, or reprisal for making these known. This parallel of interpersonal communication if scaled to group communication holds and applies to Kashmir: Had the issue of Kashmir been discussed in its inception with an open mind and had all parties listened and appreciated each others’ perspectives, thousands of lives would have been saved.

Wired to be curious

Entering into a stakeholder dialogue over Kashmir might sound cliched and trite, but there really is no other choice. Any other ‘alternative’ is bound to result in ‘blowback’. The reasons pertain to human nature itself. Humans are curious beings. We are, to employ a technology metaphor, wired to be curious. I will tie this aspect of human nature to Kashmir. Before that, let me make a broader point. Once our interest is sparked by something, we usually won’t stop being inquisitive until we get a satisfactory answer. If we don’t get closure regarding the answers we seek, conflict within and without ensues. Consider an example: If we shut someone down with a position that offers no explanation or reason, then this will create resistance and resentment. Bureaucrats and authority figures often get into the bad habit of telling people that nothing can be done because “its policy” or “it’s the law”.

In combination with the deeply held desire to be listened to and points of view appreciated, complemented by truculence in terms of not being heard and answers to questions that every Kashmiri has and the responses or non responses thereof, Kashmiris have developed conflicted selves, which then become group conflict. This conflict then becomes ‘frozen’ in both the conventional and other sense of the term. The response, by powers that be, then usually is in the nature of a ‘hard-power’ response, that employs coercive techniques to deal with the conflict spiral. This dynamic becomes a vicious spiral or even cycle, which, in the final analysis leaves everyone worse off — especially the people caught in the crucible of this vicious spiral: Kashmiris.

So what can and should be done to resolve the imbroglio over Kashmir?

There are both psychological and tangible approaches that need to be adopted to resolve the conflict. I have dwelt mainly over the psychological ones. The aim is not to denigrate the tangible ones. They are as important as psychological approaches. And both need to be addressed simultaneously.

My emphasis on the psychological is meant to draw attention to the psycho-emotional, conflicted worlds of Kashmiris who desperately need closure. In my view then, addressing the psychological dimension must be the starting point of resolving the conflict in Kashmir. This calls for an evolutionary and innovative approach to resolving the conflict.

Evolution and innovation

History bears witness to the fact that the most complex, seemingly intractable political conflicts in the world have been resolved through evolution and innovation. Tried and tested formulations of dealing with the Kashmir Issue militarily or administratively or as a diplomatic battle are bound to be counterproductive. The time has come to engage with the political sentiment in Kashmir and emulate various successful political initiatives from around the world where such conflicts were resolved, which among other things, can mean some kind of a role for United states. This may jar with some but given that India and Pakistan don’t see eye to eye on Kashmir, the role of US assumes significance.

Both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharif need to point clearly towards the need to understand the nature of the conflicts into which people are put first. Misunderstanding the conflict and the flawed approaches that flow from this could very well lead to war. This is not an alarmist scenario but, given the stakes, a high probability. So let us all make haste slowly, and do what is right. This is owed to Kashmiris who need closure the most.

Tanvir Sadiq is a politician from India. He was the political adviser to former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. You can tweet him at @tanvirsadiq.

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