After a 15-month hiatus, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan got together in New Delhi in March. The meeting served as an icebreaker and is expected to open up the way for resumption of the composite dialogue.
If this happens, it will be a welcome development not only due to the desirability of continuing the bilateral dialogue per se but also because there is reason for genuine optimism in terms of finding breakthroughs on the key issues.
Notwithstanding the salience of terrorism as a talking point, Kashmir is certain to be on top of the Pakistani agenda. And while many have argued that both countries have lost the opportunity to resolve the dispute - the two are said to have been close to a deal in 2007 - in reality, the prognosis is not as bleak. Few realise that the events surrounding the Kashmir dispute have been transpiring - for some time - in a manner that makes the situation 'ripe' for resolution.
Ripeness increases the potential for conflict resolution and occurs when the subjective perceptions of all parties converge to create a window of opportunity; the latter represents moments in policymaking processes during which breaking the stalemate becomes possible. Ripeness does not guarantee resolution, but it does mean that there is an opportunity and the potential for possible headway.
We have recently conducted a major analytical review (details of the analysis were published in the scholarly journal Third World Quarterly) that seeks to understand the dimensions of the current window of opportunity by identifying the zone of convergence, that is, elements of a potential solution on which there is growing consensus among the parties as well as independent experts. An understanding of these dimensions can point us towards the potential ingredients of a final resolution.
Having analysed nearly 50 proposals recommended throughout the dispute's history, the research has highlighted an emerging trend in opinion among policy experts. We find that the zone of convergence has increased significantly since the 1990s. Perhaps the most consequential dimension of convergence is the emerging trend on the issue of autonomy as the central pillar of any final resolution. Since the onset of the insurgency in Indian Kashmir in 1989, granting autonomy to all or part of the state has by far been the most recurrent theme in the proposed solutions. This reflects the realisation that the current context does not allow either India or Pakistan to dominate Kashmir through a tightly monitored, centralised formulation.
That said, the level of convergence is still in debate. The notion of autonomy continues to hold varying meanings for different proposing parties. The Indian sources - official and independent - have preferred separate autonomy, implying that both India and Pakistan will provide autonomy to the part of Jammu and Kashmir under their control. The Pakistani sources tend to prefer a jointly governed, autonomous Kashmir while the Kashmiri sources have mentioned both as workable solutions. Even going beyond this, the specifics of how any of these formulations would be implemented and verified remain an outstanding question for negotiations.
On the other hand, there is a virtual consensus on the notion of Kashmiri involvement in any negotiations and decisions undertaken with regard to the future of the state.
The demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir is another aspect that finds support across the board. Making any border, temporary or permanent, irrelevant in order to increase - and ultimately completely liberalise - human and economic exchanges within Jammu and Kashmir is also acknowledged as a necessary element of any workable plan by analysts of all persuasion.
Further, there is a shared sense amongst leading analysts that the real territorial problem is limited to particular parts of Jammu and Kashmir, not the entire state. Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan and the Hindu-majority areas of Jammu and Ladakh are only part of the equation in that their ultimate fate is dependent on the final solution agreed upon by all stakeholders. The heart of the debate is now overwhelmingly focused on the Kashmir Valley, the Muslim-majority districts in Jammu, and Pakistani Kashmir.
The research itself is far more detailed in the individual analysis of possible solutions presented since the beginning of the dispute. The general findings highlighted in this article are only to stress that although the issue may be 'ripe' today, it will not remain ripe forever. Like other windows of opportunity that have existed in the past, this too will have an expiry date. The key challenge is to move quickly from the broad consensus around autonomy towards specifics about the nature of autonomy, means of actual implementation, defining the precise roles of India, Pakistan, and Kashmiri authorities in an autonomous Kashmir, and mechanisms for future dispute resolution.
There is an urgent need to hone elements that will ultimately have to be included in any solution. Windows of opportunity, by definition, are temporary. Unutilised ripeness can turn into staleness and, ultimately, stalemate. Indeed, it could be argued that every missed opportunity makes future opportunities much more unlikely. The dynamic and volatile nature of the Kashmir struggle makes acting 'here and now' even more important.
Finally, the general framework for an agreement as outlined in these intellectual exercises (and approximated in the Musharraf formula on Kashmir) had found support not only in Islamabad and New Delhi but also among the dissidents in Kashmir. The Pakistan government had approached the Kashmiri parties/groups that have always looked towards Islamabad for support and the mainstream ones had signed off on the general direction of progress.
All of the above factors still remain intact. This is cause for hope.
Ultimately, ripeness can only be translated into resolution if the political leadership on both sides can muster the political will required to conceive and implement an agreement on the basis of the latent zone of convergence. Our research finding is that the zone of possible agreement clearly exists and is evident to all sides. Whether the political leadership on the two sides has the political will to capitalise on this ripeness remains to be seen.
This article is based on a longer research paper published by the writers in the scholarly journal Third World Quarterly [Vol 30(8): 1503-1528]. Adil Najam is a professor of International Relations and the director of the Frederick S Pardee Centre for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University. Moeed Yusuf is the South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace and a Research Fellow at the Pardee Centre, Boston University.
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
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