Crafting Peace in Kashmir Through a Realist Lens
At last a book from India, which objectively, comprehensively and compassionately looks at the prospects for peace in the trouble torn province of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The perspective of a former Admiral helps. It is strategic and international as well as dispassionate. An Army General perhaps would have had personal prejudices of long personal engagement a forbidding challenge. Koithara is also an erudite scholar and a diligent researcher as both the bibliography and notes reflect. His service background and experience provides the degree of authority and credibility often necessary in such an analysis.
The first five chapters competently examine the broader dimensions of the India-Pakistan conflict. The approach is balanced and almost neutral, not seen often in Indian books, though it would still not satisfy some Pakistani views. There are better analyses of course of India-Pakistan relations and examination of the Kashmir conflict in its myriad dimensions over the last fifty five years. Nuclear Danger is dealt with competently in a separate chapter. A work the author had undertaken in a different context and which perhaps does not relate directly to this study.
Where the book really scores is in examining other conflicts from around the world and drawing lessons from there to J&K. Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and Israeli-Palestine conflicts are examined. Their succinct histories and the complex issues involved in each come through very well. Internal conflicts are each distinct and different, this is the law of nature and sociology. No two situations will ever match and success in dealing with one can never be quite accurately replicated elsewhere. Strategies always have to be situation specific, else they lead to disaster as proved so often in history. Yet, there are common principles and approaches that will apply and must be sought. Lessons must not have to be learnt anew every time. This comparative analysis is competently done. Pity that South Africa was not considered though as a case study, for it is one successful peace effort in recent years which has enormous value. It seemed so easy afterwards, but the process had to be crafted painstakingly and pursued relentlessly.
The real payoffs come in later chapters from an analysis of the case studies and their implications for J&K. Verghese rightly concludes;
No non-capitulatory peace process has succeeded without the parties going through an exercise in strategic re-thinking and coming to the mutual conclusion that achieving a settlement is both desirable and feasible�?��?� A Peace process needs perseverance, it cannot be an on-off process. Protracted conflicts have rarely been settled with a few rounds of negotiations. Nor have they been settled with negotiations stretching interminably. Finally, without a solution zone being jointly identified before public talks begin, success is very unlikely.
This is where possibilities for peace diminish in Kashmir. There is as yet no war weariness on either side and no strong desire for a viable and lasting peace, apart from clamours from the victims of violence and from peripheral groups, which both states can easily ignore. Even the function to release the Book held at the IIC and the substantial discussions that followed reflected no desire for compromise or reaching a genuine settlement that will have to include concessions and accommodation. Clearly the battle remains engaged.
Verghese calls for crafting a peace strategy, but he comes out with nothing entirely new. Nor does he suggest an approach that may be realistic and possible. Essentially he recommends preserving the status-quo. A situation that India would accept and Pakistan find great difficulty in conceding. Verghese had earlier talked of four approaches in dealing with conflicts; management, settlement, resolution and reconciliation. Clearly resolution and reconciliation are still a far cry. What is sought perhaps is better management which will provide a semblance of a settlement.
Verghese calls for a peace process in Kashmir, that �??must involve a series of steps�?? which will create a �??peace path in Kashmir�??. A path which he concedes cannot be covered instantaneously but which must not be tread too leisurely. The basic ingredients to bring this about are cessation of violence and pursuit of a relentless path of dialogue. Such a process seems to have indeed begun. The Line of control is quiet since November last year. Last two months have seen much to and fro between capitals. What is lacking still is a clear peace path. A way not trod before and which genuinely offers new alternatives that are clear win-win-win for all.