Kashmir conflict, Azadi Kashmir, Kashmir human rights violations, India Kashmir policy, Pakistan Kashmir policy, Indian army Kashmir, Line of Control Kashmir, India-Pakistan border, Bharatiya Janata Party India, Hindu extremism India

KARGIL, JAMMU AND KASHMIR, INDIA, September 2014 © Rudra Narayan Mitra

The Solution to the Kashmir Conflict

To those who say that peace is never possible in Kashmir, remember that no one could predict the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Let’s take the example of two landlords, A and B (India and Pakistan), first cousins, both very powerful, with large families who cause confusion because everyone has a different opinion. In between their lands live two farmers, C and D (Kashmir), whose land has been respectively claimed by both A and B. In fact, they have divided C and D’s land with a fence. C and D are brothers who are not allowed to cross over this fence or talk to each other and are told that they have no real rights to their land; if they want to stay there, they better shut up and do as they are told.

Both A and B don’t really talk to each other because of their oversized egos, and they occasionally put up an act of trying to sort out the problem without any real intention. They sometimes fire their guns at each other to keep the issue alive.

The question to be answered is: If we really want to solve the problem of these two landlords, what do we need to do?

The first solution is for A or B to kill each other and take over the land of C and D completely. This is very difficult to do because both sides have guns and bombs, and it is likely that both A and B, along with their families, would be completely annihilated.

The second solution is for A and B to split the territory, telling C and D that the fence running through their land is permanent and to beat them up whenever they open their mouths. But C and D won’t accept this solution because they are real brothers.

The third solution is for A and B to allow C and D to live peacefully, giving up their respective rights. But this is unworkable because of the strong views of their families and their own personal egos.

The fourth and only real solution is for A and B to stop firing at each other and let C and D live in peace, meet and talk to each other, while taking some of their farm’s produce in taxes. They also help these farmers so their farm yield — and so their taxes — are higher. Everyone benefits. This is the only long-term solution to the Kashmir problem.

BACK TO REALITY

Let’s start with acknowledging the truth that most Kashmiris want independence (azadi) from both Pakistan and India, whether openly or secretly, even if they don’t admit this to the media. This is the third (and not workable) solution of a Kashmiri plebiscite under United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, which requires Pakistan to first withdraw from Kashmir. India would also never give its consent for this because it would be politically unacceptable in the country and disastrous for any election, aside from legal issues of secession needing careful management.

At least some Kashmiris acknowledge that this is never going to happen, albeit youngsters cling on to their pipe dream of independence, with many losing their lives in this quest. There is no doubt that the youth of Kashmir hates both India and Pakistan because of the loss of their basic freedoms as human beings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs states in its annual report for 2017-18 that, since the start of militancy in 1990 and up to December 31, 2017, in India-administered Kashmir 13,976 civilians and 5,123 security personnel were killed in various incidents. Separately, it confirmed that 21,965 militants were killed from 1990 to March 31, 2017. However, human rights groups, such as Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, put the number of civilian deaths from 1990 at a much higher figure of 100,000. According to the UN, the Kashmir conflict “has robbed millions of their basic human rights.”

The reality on the ground in Indian-administered Kashmir is that India has deployed one soldier for every 12 Kashmiri (Jammu and Kashmir) civilians — an estimated 700,000 security forces consisting of the army, paramilitary forces, Jammu and Kashmir police and other security agencies — to fight around 250 to 300 freedom fighters.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency field manual says that experts recommend ratios close to 25:1,000 residents, which the US has never met in Afghanistan. Compare this to India’s 59:1,000 ratio, bearing in mind that the US Army is better trained and has better weapons and equipment.

Pakistan faces similar charges of human rights abuses in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, ranging from political repression, electoral fraud, forced disappearances, torture and suppression of freedom of speech. Neither country has allowed the UN high commissioner for human rights unconditional access to their respective protectorates.

The “Other”

Both India and Pakistan, first cousins and nuclear states, are currently in a quagmire of the first and second solutions, fluctuating between them depending on which government is in power and, particularly in Pakistan, how much the army chief or the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) exercises power over the civilian government. The genocide of the Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh War, along with other conflicts, have institutionalized hatred toward the “other” within the government.

This is reflected in the armed forces’ and intelligence services’ approach, even if Indian and Pakistani civilians get along perfectly well and are the best of friends abroad. It may be stated that the Kashmir issue is an intricate web that serves the interests of all in power and that nobody is actually interested in a permanent negotiated solution in which they compromise on their stated positions. Religious radicalization, nationalism and territorial ambitions have together created a bloodbath in Kashmir.


The BJP being in power is actually a fantastic opportunity for Pakistan to engage in a fruitful manner while bringing multiple stakeholders within its country to the table. It is virtually impossible to achieve a political solution in Kashmir with a weak coalition government at the national level.


Pakistan is described by academics as being an “ideological state” that is “persistently revisionist,” seeking to acquire territory in Kashmir that it does not need for security reasons, and also to reverse India’s emergence as a global power. The army dominates its foreign and domestic policies and projects its conflict with India in civilizational terms in a face-off between “Muslim Pakistan” and a “Hindu” enemy, with itself as Pakistan’s savior. It has undermined efforts by civilian governments to normalize relationships with India, including through trade and investment.

Further complications occur because of the considerable hold that Pakistan’s army has over the country’s economy. The army controls one-third of all heavy manufacturing in the country and up to 7% of private assets. The Pakistan armed forces run over 50 commercial entities worth over $20 billion. Key appointments and public sector posts normally occupied by civilians are given to senior retired and serving military officers. With this size, scale and power, it needs a constant enemy to define itself in relation to. This complicates problems because India’s traditional approach is to talk to the civilian government on the issue of Kashmir, whereas the army and the ISI — and even Islamists — run parallel governments in Pakistan. If India does not talk to all the relevant people at the same time, then it is simply not talking to the correct people, and the peace process will ultimately be derailed.

Strong Government

While India’s nationalist ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, a right-wing, Hindu nationalist volunteer organization), are driving the country toward “saffronization” — a militant Hinduism — partly with political objectives and partly in genuine fear of Islamic militancy, Pakistan is caught up with the problem of Islamic radicalization. Whatever the historical reasons for the spread of Islamic terrorism across Pakistan, it is certainly clear that this is a long dark path that will ultimately implode Pakistan. It is not in India’s interest to have a Pakistan caught up in the throes of militancy because of the risk of it spilling across the border. There is also the risk that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (in an end-game scenario) find their way into the hands of Islamic militants with disastrous consequences.

Yet in India’s history there has arguably never been as powerful a government as the RSS-backed BJP that, for all its muscular approaches both in Kashmir and in its 2019 electoral strategy, has the right intentions to make a difference in India — whether it is on the right track or not is a different question. Currently, its tough policy in Kashmir — through a political alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now in the form of governor’s rule imposed in June — has not wielded the desired results; it is basically solution two from the above example.

India wrongly perceives the Kashmir conflict as a security issue and not a political one that needs a tripartite agreement that would include Kashmiri leaders and separatists. The BJP being in power is actually a fantastic opportunity for Pakistan to engage in a fruitful manner while bringing multiple stakeholders within its country to the table. It is virtually impossible to achieve a political solution in Kashmir with a weak coalition government at the national level. Assuming the BJP gets a second term in 2019, by 2020 it would have a majority in the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, making a deal with Pakistan easier to pass in both houses.

From 1947 to AK47

It is also important to look at the demographics in India to understand the overall context for a peaceful coexistence between its Hindu majority (80%) and Muslim minority (14%). In history, Islamic fundamentalists have been driven by an ideology of hatred and the desire to convert the “other.” However, India’s Hindus have resisted conversion through 800 years of Muslim rule. Moreover, the bulk of conversions to Islam in India happened in the hinterlands (and not around the capital cities of the Muslim sultans) as a result of the secular Sufi movement that Islamic fundamentalists denounce.

Kashmir was historically a land of Sufi Islam. Sufism is a good fit with Hindu-majority India because of its focus on love and humanity and the fact that almost all schools (barring the Naqshbandi School) do not require or pursue conversion to Islam actively. Mainstream Islam, on the other hand, will find itself in perpetual conflict with a nationalistic and determined Hindu population, particularly in the hinterlands. This fact needs to be accepted by the institutions in Pakistan (civilian government, army, ISI) and respected in order to have any long-term peaceful solution in Kashmir and also to manage its relations with India.

Historically, the bravest warriors in India were Sikhs who were mostly Hindus inspired by the Sikh beliefs of justice, righteous action and martyrdom for a just cause. The current wave of nationalism gripping India is arming and training Hindus in the hinterland for self-defense against Islamic fundamentalists, creating a new breed akin to the Sikh soldiers of the past. The bloodbath of radical Islamic militants facing these Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the RSS) Dharam Yodhas (religious warriors) head on is left to the reader’s imagination.  

India has followed the same strategy in Kashmir since 1947 — in the words of a Kashmiri “from 1947 to the AK47” — that fits the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Pakistan is no different. Its support for cross-border terrorist attacks in India via proxies have effectively labeled the Kashmiri freedom struggle as a terrorist movement and caused them to lose Western support. People on both sides of the border suffer from fatigue with their governments’ approach to Kashmir. Ordinary civilians in both countries are sick of powerful politicians and generals talking big on nationalism and painting the other as the enemy.

It’s a false narrative, and people are now beginning to understand this, especially those civilians who interact with people across the border. Besides the issue of human rights violations, the amount of money wasted on the armed forces of both countries, the energy expended by its leaders on developing strategy and policy to counter the other, the misuse of the issue to whip up fear and animosity before elections — all these could be avoided if the institutions were more sincere about dealing with the issue through negotiation. They need to focus on growing their respective economies and eradicating poverty both in Kashmir and more broadly within the two countries.

It is important to underscore that India is less of a country and more a subcontinent, where diverse peoples coexist, as do multiple religions. Its diversity is both its strength and weakness, because there have been various separatist movements against the union at different points of time. The Khalistan movement of the Sikhs, insurgencies in India’s northeast states, the far-left communist Naxalite rebellion and the Kashmir insurgency are four key examples of such movements. Whilst some movements are more under control — the Dravida Nadu movement, for instance, is defunct — than others, the Kashmir issue cannot be seen as being anything special or different from other independence struggles, each of which has its own grievances and logic.

Similarly, Pakistan also has prominent ethnic nationalist movements, including the Bengali nationalist movement (which led to the creation of Bangladesh), Sindhudesh, Pashtunistan and the Free Balochistan movement. Realistically, what the Kashmiri people need to expect as an end-goal is a solution within the status quo and a return of peace and economic prosperity to the two Kashmirs. To ask for more is a denial of both the complexities and realities of the Kashmir issue.

Toward a Solution

So let’s look at the key components to construct a tripartite agreement implementing the fourth solution in which India and Pakistan stop firing each other and let Kashmir live in peace while both countries add value and levy taxes in their respective administered Kashmirs. This requires letting go of the past and moving forward in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, focusing on the future rather than being held hostage by the past.

First, we need to get the engagement model right. There needs to be time-bound engagement on both sides with multiple stakeholders, including the civilian government, army, intelligence, separatist leaders and civil society. This needs to include the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley and a cessation of Islamic fundamentalist activities and disarmament.


Ultimately, the land being fought over in Kashmir is not as important as the people and their right to peace, security and to enjoy the fruits of development — to lead a normal life that we take for granted.


Over 100,000 Kashmiri Pandits fled the violence in India-administered Kashmir in the 1990s. Currently, the numbers in India are around 62,000; 40,000 of these live in Jammu, 20,000 live in Delhi and its satellite cities. Kashmir traditionally had a peaceful composite culture called Kashmiriyat, signifying the centuries-old indigenous secularism of Kashmir that demanded religious and social harmony and brotherhood. This needs to be restored to the valley. Interestingly, Muslims in the valley want the Pandits back and not in segregated townships. While ghettos are undesirable in the long term, for reasons of security it is likely that initially a mix of new townships and restoring Pandits to the areas originally inhabited by them is needed.

Second, the powers and constraints placed on the armed forces need review and modification. India needs to address the humanitarian concern around Kashmir by repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in its current form, replacing it with a version that recognizes and protects human rights of innocent Kashmiris. This is unlikely to offer protection to known terrorists, putting a brake on enforced disappearances of innocent civilians detained for questioning.

However, it also means that new legislation is likely to bring in stronger military and criminal measures to protect the rights of the Indian security forces who have had to face stone-pelting, to bring the stone throwers in line with the law (the law in countries like the US and Israel is far more stringent). The consequences of stone-pelting should be made clear to the civilian population in advance so that if they indulge in this, it would be at their own risk and responsibility. It is also good to involve parents to control their underage children from inadvertently becoming casualties. This should be part of the civilian outreach and is absolutely essential to the long-term success of any peace agreement.

Pakistan also faces charges from Kashmiris that intelligence agencies trap poor Kashmiri youth into a cycle of terrorism and frequent human rights violations, including enforced disappearances of people who live in villages close to the Line of Control (LOC). Hence, on both sides of the LOC, the armed forces would need to have similar powers and constraints imposed by humanitarian law.

Third, India and Pakistan need to issue a joint person of Kashmiri origin card, a 25-year multiple-entry visa entitling Kashmiris (from Greater Jammu and Kashmir) to travel for up to 180 days and invest anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir, whether in Pakistan or India. Controls can be there initially for periodic reporting to the local police stations every 15 days, but this can be dropped as the plan becomes a success and peace is restored. Moreover, where a Kashmiri is buying and selling goods from another Kashmiri across the border, it can be agreed that there would be zero import duties, but other customs checks on the nature of the goods would continue as normal.

Fourth — focus on autonomy alongside integration. India’s Kashmir currently enjoys a high degree of autonomy on paper through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution (except for defense, foreign affairs, finance and communications), and Pakistan-administered Kashmir also has significant autonomy, although actual practice differs in both parts. Specifically, it needs to be examined whether a higher degree of financial autonomy is required for both Kashmirs and how this would work.

It is currently unclear whether Article 370 can be legally dropped altogether or not. Irrespective of that, Indians would want at least limited property rights, such as 99-year leasehold, in India’s Kashmir. Pakistan should do the same on its side. This also helps in national integration with mainstream Indians and Pakistanis. Avoiding ghettos of any sort is necessary for long-term peace, particularly in an Indian context.

Fifth — build focused law and order arrangements. Personal and religious freedom must be protected in both parts of Kashmir. India and Pakistan need to create a joint mechanism that agrees a common minimum plan for the entire Kashmir area including, for example, enhanced monitoring (such as using artificial intelligence) of radical preachers in mosques and madrassas, including publications distributed by them.

A minimum curriculum for madrassa students, including the secular teachings of Sufi Islam on love and humanity, should be introduced, and limitations placed on sharia courts to provide non-binding arbitration/mediation judgments on civil matters related to family disputes such as inheritance or divorce cases, review of fatwas issued on religious matters to ensure that they do not infringe upon the rights of individuals guaranteed under law; training for judges is needed. Websites and chat rooms need to be monitored and/or blocked to curb radicalization, as well as clamp down on the sale and distribution of extremist DVDs. Hawala funding needs to be monitored, including the use of cryptocurrencies on the dark web. Exchange of intelligence information and joint security operations must be undertaken across both sides of the border to flush out any remnant terrorist pockets.

Sixth — eventually, demilitarization is needed. This can be considered on both sides of Kashmir based on a phased approach once peace is firmly established, leaving sufficient armed forces to maintain law and order (including riot control) and counterterrorism on both sides.

Seventh — make investments and expect returns. India and Pakistan need to come out with a plan to invest in Kashmir’s industry, agriculture, services and tourism. There needs to be a budget and a new joint development body to execute these plans through both direct infrastructure investments, building institutions (such as popularizing high-yield agriculture) and lending via existing banks. It should be the same integrated plan with each country’s money being spent on their respective areas. Of course, central governments should recover these investments through taxes. The free ride for Kashmir has to stop in order to deal with the resentment that non-Kashmiris have for their tax money being used in mollycoddling Kashmiris who enjoy autonomy unlike most other states.

Eighth — establish the international border. Of course, the LOC would need to become a permanent international border in the context of the above (including Kashmir territory under Chinese control) legitimizing the status quo and ideally solving India’s other border disputes on its northeastern border with China in the same deal. India would need to make its peace with China on its Belt and Road initiative running through Kashmir, using it to benefit its half of Kashmir and the rest of India economically.

The full list of disputed territories in the area includes Jammu and Kashmir (also Ladakh), administered by India and claimed by Pakistan; Azad Kashmir — Pakistan-administered Kashmir, claimed by India; Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan) part of Kashmir administered by Pakistan and claimed by India; Siachen Glacier, administered by India and claimed by Pakistan; Aksai Chin administered by China and claimed by India (India’s 1962 war with China was fought here); and the Shaksam Valley administered by China and claimed by India.

Ninth — create a role for the UN. In the context of an agreement between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders and separatists, unconditional access needs to be given to the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights on both sides of the new international border. Both countries need to agree to act on any recommendations from the UN commissioner, wherever possible. Jammu and Kashmir has hitherto been treated as a “bilateral issue” under the Simla Agreement of 1972, albeit this only referred to the process of building a political solution.

Tenth — focus on building other bridges. Within Kashmir, engaging with the civilian population to get their buy-in for the peace agreement and to help them alleviate grievances is absolutely essential. A sustained campaign is needed, not a one-off effort, and to work it needs to be well thought through (involving social psychologists) and well managed. Beyond Kashmir, an economically resurgent India also has a role to help eradicate poverty in South Asia. Hence, a similar 25-year multiple-entry visa needs to be issued to prominent businessmen and other prominent persons (artists, writers, musicians) in both countries to cover travel, investment, trade (part of, but not a solution in itself) and working anywhere in India and Pakistan. Automated immigration services could be set up in key cities.

Eleventh — recognize that friends don’t fight. It obviously follows that Pakistan would need to give up its “bleed India with a thousand cuts” policy using proxies, and India would need to stop interfering in Baluchistan altogether. Both would need to release all Kashmiri political prisoners from their respective jails. Pakistan would need to remove extreme messages inciting religious hatred against Hindus from all school textbooks and cease all training camps for Kashmiri freedom fighters.

Twelfth — lead the transition with professional project management. Both India and Pakistan are notorious for their shoddy implementation of otherwise good ideas. What is needed is a systemic approach with a jointly appointed team consisting of professional managers, members of the civilian government, army and intelligence, with proper authorities responsible for information and transparent discussion of policies, identifying all the changes needed and rolling them out systematically. It also needs a high-level project governance committee consisting of the respective prime ministers, heads of the two parts of Kashmir, key central government ministers and army and intelligence chiefs meeting once a month via video conferencing to monitor progress.

The solution is as simple as we want it to be or as complex as we want it to be. It can take six months to agree or 60 years. But certainly without recognizing the existence of multiple stakeholders and having a time-bound negotiation, we can never expect to see peace in Kashmir or in the region as a whole. India’s approach of closing its porous border and treating Kashmir as a security problem is a short-term stop-gap solution that does not recognize the humanitarian cost, nor does it treat Kashmir as the unfinished business of Partition.

Pakistan’s approach of funding cross-border fighters is ultimately a piecemeal and failing strategy that achieves nothing long-term other than trouble for the local Kashmiri population. It remains to be seen whether both countries have the political will, wisdom and compassion needed for an actual solution. Thoughts, words and deeds have to come together for this. We cannot say one thing and do something else. To those who say that peace is never possible, please remember that no one could predict the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Ultimately, the land being fought over in Kashmir is not as important as the people and their right to peace, security and to enjoy the fruits of development — to lead a normal life that we take for granted.

*[Updated: August 5, 2018, at 16:15 GMT.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Rudra Narayan Mitra / Shutterstock.com