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Speech by Sir David Goodall, GCMG

Sir David Goodall, GCMG

Formerly High Commissioner to India

On: India and Pakistan:  Flashpoint Kashmir

25 March 2002

“At the end of John Keay’s recent History of India, he concludes that the integrity of the Indian Republic now looks reasonably secure. But he adds one qualification: “So long as Pakistan continues to dispute the status of Jammu and Kashmir, and so long as India continues to deem the Kashmir problem a purely domestic issue, the integrity of neither nation can be confidently be taken for granted.” I agree with that, and tonight I should like to explain why.

First, a word or two about the origins of the problem. The former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has three components: Jammu and Poonch in the South East, where the population is 2/3 Hindu; the Valley of Kashmir and the surrounding Highlands, 90% Moslem; and Ladakh, with a very small population which is mainly Buddhist. The overall population of the state is more than 50 % Moslem. That being so, and given its situation on the border between the two new nations, it was not surprising that Pakistan should expect it to be part of Pakistan. The ‘k’ in Pakistan stands for Kashmir.  

At the time of partition, the princes were given the option of choosing to join either India or Pakistan (or under certain conditions independence). Most princes acceded relatively uncontroversial to one or the other. The exceptions were Hyderabad, where the Moslem ruler of a mainly Hindu state opted for independence; Junagadh, on the west coast, where a Moslem prince ruling an overwhelmingly Hindu population opted for Pakistan; and Kashmir, where a Hindu prince ruling a Moslem majority, after three months’ hesitation, opted for India.

Hyderabad was incorporated into India by force, in a rapid operation politely known in India as a “police action”. Junagadh was also occupied and incorporated into India, the action being subsequently validated by a plebiscite in which the population overwhelmingly endorsed union with India.  In Kashmir, the Maharajah opted for India only after Pathan raiders from Pakistan had invaded the state and (it is claimed) was receiving support from the Pakistan Army. The Indian army then halted the invaders and there ensued the first Indo-Pakistan war. The United Nations brokered a cease fire, and the resulting cease fire line, with only minor modifications, is the present “line of control” which divides the Indian from the Pakistani sectors.

A subsequent UN Resolution, agreed to at the time by both India and Pakistan, provided for the status of J and K to be decided by a plebiscite, prior to which both Pakistan and India were to withdraw their troops from the state. In the event neither side withdrew its troops (because neither side trusted the other to do so) and the plebiscite has never been held, although Nehru at the time promised that the people of Kashmir would be given the opportunity of deciding their own future.

The largest political party in Kashmir at the time of partition was led by a Moslem, Sheikh Abdullah (“The Lion of Kashmir”); and Sheikh Abdullah strongly favoured Kashmir’s union with India – but with a high degree of autonomy. His victory in a subsequent Kashmir election was claimed by India as an expression of popular will which obviated the need for a plebiscite.  Sheikh Abdullah, however, spent much of the rest of his career in prison because of his resistance to what he saw as Indian attempts to negate Kashmir’s autonomy.

So much by way of a no doubt oversimplified account of the start of the dispute. It has now been overlaid by more than fifty years of conflict and controversy. By way of illuminating it, I would like to contrast it with another dispute of a not dissimilar kind rather closer to home, with which it is often compared, and of which I have some personal experience: the problem of Northern Ireland.


1.         Both disputes have deep historical roots and both arise from the partition of a territory (the island of Ireland, the Sub-continent) which was previously under a single jurisdiction.

2.         Both sets of troubles are rooted in mutual distrust between two communities which differentiate themselves from one another in religious terms.

3.         Both involve one of those communities being left on the side of the border with which they do not identify in religious terms, separated from those with whom they do.

4.         In both cases the country across the border lays claim to the territory concerned.

5.         In both cases the two communities on the ground suffer from a deep sense of insecurity in relation to one another, and for similar reasons.

6.         In both cases, a relatively small group of terrorists is able to rely on a degree of support from the community whose religion it shares, initially because of atavistic sympathy plus intimidation.

7.         In both cases this is aggravated by the response of the authorities and the security forces, and consequent alienation of that community from the institutions of law, order and politics.

8.         In both cases the terrorists are seen by the power in possession as receiving support and safe haven from the power across the border and there is a history of mistrust and hostility between the two governments.Differences

1.         The hostility between India and Pakistan is significantly greater than that between Britain and the Republic of Ireland: in Northern Ireland, both the Governments concerned have shared the objective of finding an agreed, peaceful settlement of the problem and, in recent years at least, have been able to cooperate to that end. This is self-evidently not the case with India and Pakistan (three wars in the last fifty years). Moreover both India and Pakistan are now nuclear-armed powers, capable of inflicting incalculable military and other damage on one another.

2.         Northern Ireland’s remaining within the UK has been tested in a popular referendum (in the “Border Poll” of March 1973, 57% of the electorate voted to stay in the UK). As already explained, no referendum or plebiscite has been held in Kashmir. And at the present time no one knows what the people of Kashmir would opt for if they were given the opportunity to choose.

3.         In Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland have accepted outside mediation in the dispute, in the person of Senator George Mitchell, and that mediation succeeded in brokering a compromise. In Kashmir, India has been and remains adamantly opposed to any form of outside mediation.

4.         Pakistan’s support for Islamic terrorism in Kashmir has been more sustained, more overt and on a larger scale than was ever the case with support for the IRA from the Republic of Ireland; while the behaviour of the Indian security forces there has, I believe, been altogether more ruthless than that of the British troops in Northern Ireland – at least since “Bloody Sunday”.

5.         Whereas both Britain and Ireland are stable, liberal democracies, Pakistan in particular has suffered from severe political instability with intervals of military autocracy which have (to put it politely) militated against policy continuity. (A recent example of unpredictability was Pakistan’s military incursion into the Kargil area of J and K in May 1999, almost immediately after Mr Vajpayee’s conciliatory bus journey to Lahore and the joint signing of the Lahore Declaration). (India has stability problems of its own, which I shall come to in a moment.)

6.         In Northern Ireland, non-violent nationalist parties working for union with the Republic of Ireland have all along been able to operate freely, and it has therefore been possible for the British authorities to have a dialogue with them.  Since around 1964, under the Indian Constitution, even the non-violent advocacy of secession has been a criminal offence in India and all secessionists tend to be treated as actual or potential terrorists.

7.         As I have already mentioned, there were precedents bearing on the incorporation of Jammu and Kashmir into India at the time of Partition which have no parallel in the case of Northern Ireland: while Kashmir was ceded to India by a Hindu Maharajah ruling a Moslem-majority state, Junagadh, with its Hindu majority, was incorporated into India despite the fact that its Moslem ruler had opted for Pakistan. 

8.         Perhaps the most important difference of all: the Moslem/Hindu tension which is at the core of the Kashmir dispute is a recurring source of instability and inter-communal violence throughout India, whereas the Catholic/Protestant or unionist/nationalist tension in Northern Ireland poses no threat of serious inter-communal violence  in the  “mainland” United Kingdom.

Let me elaborate. The partition of the Indian Sub-Continent in 1947 was not just an episode in the past, difficult to forget because of the suffering it generated at the time. It is an on-going state of affairs to which India has never been reconciled. Pakistan was created on a principle which strikes at the heart of India’s cohesion: that confessional identity can be a sufficient basis on which to establish a separate state. This was Jinnah’s  “two nations” theory, reviled and rejected in India because acceptance of its validity would make the assimilation of India’s 130 million Moslems impossible, as well as legitimising other separatist movements which have threatened India since independence – in Punjab, Assam and, at one time, even in Tamil Nadu.

Because of its enormous racial, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity, India adopted – and has sought to stick by – the contrary principle of “secularism”: the principle that the state is neutral between different religious confessions and ethnic communities, all of which can be comprehended within a single nation-state on (in theory) a basis of equality. 

Secularism is crucial to the survival of India as a unified polity. But outright rejection of the two nations theory inevitably impugns the legitimacy of Pakistan. It makes it difficult for India to see or deal with Pakistan on equal terms as a “real nation”; and it means that the continued existence of Pakistan, with its subliminal appeal for many Indian Moslems, is in itself a sort of implicit threat to India’s internal stability. 

Kashmir is where the two principles – secularism and the two nation’s theory – directly conflict. Pakistan, not without reason, considers that it has been cheated of Kashmir. But Kashmir’s inclusion in India is seen in India as crucial to India’s secularism: if India were to allow Kashmir to go to Pakistan because of its Moslem majority, it would be an acceptance of the two nation’s theory with all that could entail for the cohesion and stability of India.

It is this conflict above all which makes relations between India and Pakistan so neuralgic, and which makes it so difficult for India to compromise over Kashmir or to accept external mediation which would make some form of compromise unavoidable.

As the present Foreign Minister of India, Jaswant Singh, has written in his thoughtful study Defending India, “India is a troubled state…prone to internal violence…the principal security challenge to India has historically been and remains the imposition and maintenance of internal order.”  Recent events have illustrated the continuing truth of that perception. Many Indians believe that accepting the Pakistani claim to the Valley of Kashmir could so inflame inter-communal relations within India as to lead to a nationwide pogrom against the Moslem population. What has happened in Gujarat in the last few weeks suggest that that fear is not without foundation.

I hope I have said enough to indicate that in my view neither India nor Pakistan has a clear cut case over Kashmir, and that neither side’s position is without some legitimacy.  Meanwhile the continuation of the dispute constitutes a fundamental threat to the peace and stability of the whole sub-continent. How, if at all, might it be resolved?

In the present state of hostile feeling between the two countries, with the continued insurgency in Kashmir, the recent terrorist attacks in Delhi and Calcutta, the example set by the United States of strong-arm tactics against al-Qaeda terrorism in Afghanistan, the nationalist stance of the main Indian ruling party, the BJP, and Pakistan’s record of unpredictability, the outlook for any sort of settlement in the short term is pretty unpromising.  

It is easy to construct a doomsday scenario: the collapse of President Musharraf; a hardline Islamist government in Pakistan; another war with India over Kashmir, and all playing into the increasingly fraught confrontation between Islam and the West.  That is why it is right to call Kashmir a flashpoint.

If however President Musharraf retains control in Pakistan and continues to give evidence of serious intent to discontinue Pakistani support for Kashmiri insurgency; if the Indian Government can restrain its own hawks and can contain the rising tide of Hindu hostility to Moslems within India; and relations between Islam and the West worldwide are not further inflamed  – all ominously large ifs – it should be possible for India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue which was broken off as a result of Kargil.  International mediation may be too much to hope for, but discreet international pressure, especially from the United States, could undoubtedly help to bring such a dialogue about. 

Such a dialogue could lead eventually, and via a variety of agreed confidence-building measures between the two protagonists (for which there are hopeful precedents), to an agreement to recognise the line of control as a permanent international frontier. India has in the past indicated its willingness to consider this, and it would of course still leave the Valley of Kashmir with its Moslem majority in Indian hands.

But to be acceptable not just to India and Pakistan, but to the people of Kashmir itself, such a settlement would have to include some form of special constitutional autonomy for both parts of the divided state of Kashmir within India and Pakistan respectively, together with cross-border links analogous to those recently established between the North and South of Ireland. 

This is not an outcome within reach, perhaps hardly even thinkable, in present circumstances. But there are resources of wise statesmanship in both India and Pakistan at least as substantial as those available in the West. To end on a note of qualified optimism, my gut belief is that behind the rhetoric, the leaders of India and Pakistan are well aware of the damage which continued mutual mistrust and hostility are inflicting on both countries; and that both sides would like to find ways of restarting the dialogue – if only the internal support on which they have to rely will let them.”