August 2001

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Negotiation is the Way Out of the Impasse on Kashmir

By Dr. Asghar S. Nasir
Former UNDP staff member
Now Independent Development Consultant
for Developing Countries

What is the best way for people to deal with their differences? What, for example, is the best advice one could give a husband and wife getting divorce, on how to reach a fair and mutually satisfactory agreement without ending up in a bitter fight? Every day, families, neighbours, employees, bosses and nations face the same dilemma: How to come to an accord without going to war?

Like it or not, negotiation is a fact of life. Negotiation is a basic means of getting what one wants from others. It is back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement, particularly when both sides have some interests that are shared and others on which they differ.

Conflict in Kashmir is a growth industry. As it is, in our time fewer and fewer people accept decisions taken for their future by someone else. This is relevant for the Kashmir issue too. It demands the participation of the people of Kashmir - on the same table with India and Pakistan - in negotiating differences. Negotiation without the participation of the people of Kashmir will get entangled in a process of haggling.

Both India and Pakistan should look for mutual gain and they should insist on a fair method of negotiation without tricks and no posturing.

Principled negotiation will produce mutually acceptable results on the Kashmir issue. Both countries now have a new interest in "face saving" in reconciling future action with past positions. Without the legitimate interests of the people of Kashmir, agreement will be less satisfactory.

The people of India and Pakistan are not computers

The answer to the question of whether the follow-up of Agra summit will lead to an alternative to positional bargaining will depend on the method of negotiation. It would need an explicit design to produce a wise outcome efficiently and amicably. It will boil down to four basic points. These four points deal with a basic element of negotiation.

People: Separate the people from problems.
Interest: Focus on interest, not positions.
Option: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
Criteria: Insist that result be based on some long-term objective standard.

The people of India and Pakistan are not computers; they are creatures of strong emotions. As such, they have radically different perceptions and emotions. Two cases in point are the words: "cross-border" and "centrality". These stood in the way of a joint declaration by Pakistan and India.

Hopefully such differences of words will not jeopardise the next declaration. Before the next meeting both sides must reach an agreement on options for mutual gain.

There is a time for everything

It is vital that future leaders and members of a negotiation team remember that there is a time for everything. There is a time for ploughing and sowing. There is a time for building confidence in each other's intentions.

To state it here is simply to stress the fact that this is the most suitable time for India and Pakistan - under General Musharraf's government - to resolve the 54-year-long dispute over Kashmir.

There is no military solution. But there is a scope for compromise if the will of the two leaders - supported by people of both nations - to come to a settlement, remains genuine. Let us, therefore, make no mistake - whether we live in India or in Pakistan - that Kashmir issue can no longer remain in cold storage.

On the contrary, it is on the anvil and, therefore, should be hammered and shaped into a form for peace and prosperity in both countries. People of India and Pakistan could hope for nothing better.

This is an ideal opportunity - when a 74-year old veteran politician and a 57-year old general have shown their will to bury the past and open a new chapter to reach a compromise solution.

Strike while the iron is hot - and polish it at leisure"

It is about such situations that the Saracens* said: "strike while the iron is hot - and polish it at leisure". That saying is packed with moral virtue and practical wisdom. At the root of any argument about collective security for the people in Kashmir, proceeding peacefully, lies the principal that order precedes justice, that the prevention of violence is comes prior to the redress of grievances, that law can only function within a framework of order for all the people of Kashmir: "Hindus" and "Moslems".

There is a growing acknowledgement of the nature of threat to law and order in Kashmir. The situation is so calamitous that both governments must do everything to preserve maintain peace.

The question is: What would help to preserve it? Would it be the doctrine of national self-determination like the majority of inhabitants in Europe enjoy?

The lack of provision for peaceful change in India's policy towards Kashmir needs redressing as much as the policy of Pakistan.

From the outcome of the summit there is a prospect of a direct and positive relationship between India and Pakistan to develop a peaceful balanced discussion to solve their dispute in future. Though it may be hard to decide what to negotiate in "good faith" and to avoid to fight dirty bargaining tactics.


*Saracens (Greek Sarakenoi), originally a north Arabian tribe mentioned by ancient authors. The name was applied by medieval Christians and later Western historians to the Arabs in general and also to other Muslim peoples of the Middle East.

"Saracens," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Courtesy: The Global South @www

The views expressed in this column are the author's own, not necessarily of The Global South @ www. Dr. Nasir's E-Mail address is