Solutions for Kashmir?

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Do Not Pass Go
Indian Army soldiers patrolling a street in Srinagar. Photo: Austin Yoder/ flickr

The Kashmir conflict is usually considered an interstate problem between Pakistan and India. In my opinion both governments should recognize that the matter is less about New Delhi and Islamabad – but about Kashmir. High-level talks are important but not enough.  The key to stability lies in dialogue between the two central governments and Kashmiris themselves.

Many problems in Indian-Administered Kashmir are homegrown and can only be tackled at the domestic level, rather than the international one. At present, the situation is bizarre: in the first place, the Valley remains heavily militarized.  The capital, Srinagar, looks as if it were under siege, and its commercial airport doubles as a military airfield.  And curfews, arbitrary arrests, and police brutality all contribute to the atmosphere of mistrust, hatred and unrest. So what can be done?

In a recent article in Strategic Analysis, John Wilson — a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi — makes four suggestions for how the Indian central government could improve the overall situation in the Valley:

  • Lower the profile of the armed forces:  The quantity and visibility of soldiers and armored vehicles in the streets should be reduced. Unnecessary checkpoints and bunkers should be removed, especially in civilian areas.
  • Amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act: Under the AFSPA, the armed forces are granted special powers in “disturbed areas,” such as the power to summarily exempt army personnel from prosecution.
  • Strengthen local police: Power should devolve to local authorities, who should be given the state-of-the-art training and equipment needed to deal with local disturbances.
  • Remove trust deficits: Violence and the widespread abuse of power have made the people of Kashmir deeply distrust the central government and the Indian Army. The central government should engage in dialogue with local authorities and the population.

The process of stabilizing Kashmir should begin by reducing the overwhelming presence of central government personnel in the Valley. The slogan of the Kashmir peace process should be “Kashmiris first”.

Talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan will take place in New Delhi, July 26-27. There, it is hoped that the Foreign Ministers will decide to widen and deepen the cross-border Confidence-Building Measures which, though not sufficient, are vital for the improvement of the situation in Kashmir.

See also:

Slideshow about Kashmir’s war-weary population – Time Magazine

Conflict Resolutions: Learning Lessons from Dialogue Processes in India – Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue

What Next After the All Party Delegation Visit? – Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies

The International Crisis Group’s section on Kashmir

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