The South Asia Program Seminar Series held a roundtable discussion on India, Pakistan and Kashmir, one of the most politically volatile regions in the international community. The discussion, entitled “After the Balloting What?: A Roundtable on the Prospects for Peace in South Asia after the Kashmiri and Pakistani Elections,” was held in Kaufman Auditorium of Goldwin-Smith Hall at 4 p.m. yesterday.
The panelists were Hussain Haqqani, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gen. Dipanker Banerjee, U.S. Institute of Peace and Walter Andersen, U.S. Department of State. The discussion focused on the recent elections in both Kashmir and Pakistan, and the ramifications of these elections on the peace process in Kashmir.
The conflicts in Kashmir began in 1947, when India and Pakistan were divided into separate states. The ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu, was given the option of choosing which nation to belong to. He decided to join India, even though the population of Kashmir was, and still is, predominantly Muslim. In retaliation, the Pakistani army attacked the region, claiming that any Indian area with a Muslim majority should be under Pakistan’s control. In 1949, the United Nations stepped in and divided Kashmir between India and Pakistan, leaving the region a disputed territory.
The panelists agreed on several issues regarding the peace facilitation process.
“I think both sides must follow three steps to facilitate peace,” Banerjee said. “First, Pakistan must make a pledge to give up violence. The perception in India is that Pakistan’s government can stop it. Second, India must accept that Kashmir is a major problem, and open dialogue with Pakistan. Finally, both sides must accept the dialoguing.”
“Both sides will have to work at it,” Andersen said. “Both countries need to give each other cover, since concessions are not popular on either side. The U.S. is working to facilitate such conditions.”
Haqqani stressed the need for moderate governments to facilitate peace.
“Extremes feed off each other,” he said. “I think that when Pakistan has hard-liners, something like that comes around in India, and vice versa.”
He further stressed the importance of both nations being able to move on from the past to accomplish any sort of peace process, likening the relationship of the two nations to a bad divorce.
The recent elections in both Pakistan and Kashmir have altered the political climate in the region. Kashmir brought a coalition sympathetic to facilitating peace to power, while hard-line Islamic parties made gains in Pakistan.
“Pakistan’s military holds the real power,” Haqqani said, claiming that the control of Pakistan could be described as “the ambitious military against the corrupt and inept politicians.”
“In Pakistan, dictators need to justify themselves. Military rulers claim they take over to make democracy work,” Haqqani said.
In the end, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s coalition received the plurality of the votes, though not the majority; the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) placed a close second. A coalition of several Islamic religious parties, the United Action Committee (MMA) also got a substantial amount of the vote.
“Musharraf tried to fix the election and failed,” Haqqani said of the outcome.
In Kashmir, the Congress party and the moderate Muslim People’s Democratic party formed a coalition under Sonia Gandhi and Mutifi M. Sayeed, respectively. Because separatists boycotted the elections, there was an extremely low voter turnout in the region.
On the national level, Shri Vajpayee of the Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP) is prime minister. Vajpayee has held talks with Pakistan, and called a short-lived cease-fire in 2000.
“Vajpayee has given up his most extreme ideas and moved to the center,” Andersen said. “The new government in Kashmir supports reconciliation. If this works, support for militants will decrease. The elections were a good first step.”
“Elections do matter,” Banerjee said, “and the government must acknowledge the electoral process.”
Andersen also noted that preventing a war between Pakistan and India was in the best interest of the United States, as both nations are nuclear powers, and the U.S. is concerned with keeping Pakistan committed to the War on Terror, citing the instability of the new government in Afghanistan.
Banerjee voiced his overall optimism that the conflict would ultimately be resolved peacefully with a leadership in India that is encouraging open dialogues.
“I’m inclined to think the glass is half full,” he said. “I believe that there can be some positive development. However, the elections in Pakistan are not necessarily a positive indication.”
The roundtable was sponsored by the Peace Studies and Contemporary Muslim Societies Programs, the government and near eastern studies departments and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
Archived article by David Hillis