Learning from others


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AFTER a gruelling year of escalation of the Kashmir conflict, attendant on the Kargil misadventure of spring-summer 1999, July 2000 saw a breakthrough which lasted a tragically short few days. One of the largest of the Kashmir militant groups, the Hizbul Mujahideen, declared a cease-fire on Tuesday, 24 July. Contrary to most press reports, as the Hizbul head Syed Salahuddin clarified, the cease-fire was not unilateral: it gave the Indian government one week to respond to its call for ‘unconditional’ talks and an end to reprisals and human rights violations, and three months to begin implementing measures.

The government welcomed the cease-fire and the army was put on strict orders to curtail its hot war against the Hizbul, which would have, in practice, also entailed a curb on army-militant encounters. Meanwhile, the army established contact with the Hizbul to work on the details of the cease-fire.

It was just such a set of cease-fires by Republican and Unionist militias which allowed the peace process to begin in Northern Ireland in 1994. These too could have been seen as unilateral: that is, they were not reached mutually, either with each other or with the British government, but one by one. To have seen them as unilateral, however, would have been to miss the point. The cease-fire by the IRA led the Unionist paramilitaries to follow suit, and the renewal of the cease-fires year after year for a decade allowed a political peace process to take hold. For the first time in Kashmir’s decade of insurgency, it looked as if something similar could happen here.

From press reports it appeared that the Hizbul’s cease-fire had the tacit blessing of the Pakistani government. It was not unreasonable to hope that pressure on the other militant groups to also cease-fire might follow. Indeed, the cease-fire offered a golden opportunity to Pakistan to show support for a Kashmiri peace process. Instead, the Pakistani Foreign Office’s mixed messages, the Lashkar’s attack on an army camp in the valley and the death of some thirty pilgrims by army crossfire, the barbaric attacks on brick workers and a marketplace crowded with pilgrims, and the continuing upsurge of militant violence which left 100 dead in two days were grim reminders of how thorny the Kashmir issue is.

In the event, the Hizbul cease-fire lasted no longer than a fortnight. Though it was widely welcomed by Kashmiri citizens, it was initially opposed both by the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group of some 30 militant as well as non violent Kashmir independence groups, many based in Pakistan, and by other militant factions under the umbrella of the Pakistan-sponsored Jihad Council (whose first reaction was to expel the Hizbul, who were readmitted to the Council only after the cease-fire was withdrawn).

In Pakistan, meanwhile, where Syed Salahuddin, the head of the Hizbul Mujahideen, is based, the government (probably the intelligence agency, the ISI, which runs most of the militant groups that are active in Kashmir) put sustained pressure on Salahuddin to demand tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives as a condition of extending the cease-fire. The Hizbul’s demands now included (a) that the talks should not be limited within the framework of the Indian Constitution; and (b) that they should be tripartite from the start (the Hizbul had earlier suggested that Pakistan be included ‘at a later stage’).



The Indian government’s initial welcome of the offer cooled as they were repeatedly asked to clarify their position on these two demands. As violent attacks spread across the valley, domestic political pressures – both from within the ruling party and its wider ‘family’, the Sangh Parivar, and from opposition parties, most notably the Congress – led the government to vacillate on talks. The constitutional issue, which was a red herring as India has never hesitated to amend its Constitution, assumed a quite disproportionate significance, with different ministers and civil servants saying different things. The prime minister’s bold statement that ‘our talks will be within the bounds of humanity alone,’ which he chose to make from Srinagar en route to visiting the pilgrims after the attacks, came too late to stem the damage.

Meanwhile, Indians were treated to the unedifying spectacle of a two-day parliamentary debate on the death of the pilgrims in army crossfire, as the hours approaching the cease-fire deadline ticked away. The cease-fire was called off as the parliamentary debate continued, without once having broached the question of what needed to be done to extend the cease-fire and make it hold.

Having been in India during this time, I remember being more and more puzzled by the unfolding events. The initial declaration of the cease-fire, Salahuddin’s and Dar’s press conferences, Pakistan’s deliberate silence and the quick, positive response of the Indian government led me to believe that all sides had not only done considerable spadework to arrive at a cease-fire, but had also done considerable homework on what needed to go into a successful peace process. The comparison that came to my mind was Northern Ireland. But when the Pakistani authorities reverted to condemnation and pressure on the Hizbul to introduce more conditions to their offer, Salahuddin began to cave, and the Indian government began to vacillate, I saw that my first assumption was wholly wrong.

India and the Hizbul had clearly done some spadework to arrive at the cease-fire, but neither they nor Pakistan had done any homework. In particular, neither country had anticipated domestic responses or worked out a strategy to deal with them; not one of the three had assumed that there would be several and major glitches which would need to be overcome; indeed, India had not even learned the lesson which both Oslo and Northern Ireland in their different ways had made clear: there will be spoilers itching to halt a peace process.



In fact, there are valuable, and radically different, lessons to be learnt from the two peace processes. In the Northern Ireland peace process, the contours of the ultimate settlement were visible from the start. Its first agreements, under US pressure, were between Britain and Ireland. The US role was key, because the Irish-American diaspora are not only enormously influential in both the US and in Ireland, but also were a major source of support for the ethnic nationalists in Northern Ireland. Their change of heart, to support a peace process, helped make the early breakthroughs.

Under the November 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement the British government agreed to establish permanent structures for consultation with the Irish government, and the Irish government accepted that the decision on whether to remain in the United Kingdom or unite with Ireland had to be made by the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland as a whole. It took another six years, however, to find a formula for talks within Northern Ireland, despite IRA feelers for a cease-fire that would bring the Sinn Fein into talks (the feelers were not pursued because Britain, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was determined to exclude the Sinn Fein).



The 1991 formula laid down three tracks for talks: on relations within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and between Britain and the Irish Republic. The agreement to all-party talks was itself a major advance, but the exclusion of the Sinn Fein soon became a sticking point, until in 1993 six months of negotiations between John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland, and Gerry Adams, the leader of the Sinn Fein, produced a set of proposals linking a cease-fire to the talks.

Based on these, the British and Irish prime ministers issued a declaration on 15 December 1993, that: the people of Northern and Southern Ireland were entitled to self determination, and the British and Irish governments would accept the Sinn Fein and other electoral parties as legitimate participants in all-party talks for a settlement on the basis of a permanent end to terrorist activities and a commitment to ‘exclusively peaceful methods andÉ the democratic process.’1 For the British, who had steadfastly refused to negotiate with the Sinn Fein because of its IRA connections, the agreement was a major step forward.



The declaration was made in an extraordinary atmosphere created by the release of an independent inquiry commission report headed by Torkel Opsahl, a long-standing member of the European Commission on Human Rights. The Opsahl Commission considered some 550 submissions and concluded that 20 years of direct rule by Britain had resulted in a democratic deficit in Northern Ireland that could only be filled by a power-sharing government in which the two communities were seen as political equals (‘a parity of esteem’); it also recommended restructuring administrative institutions, in particular the police, so that ‘nationalists would both want and feel able to exercise their share of responsibility within a context they have historically found inimical.’2 The immediate impact of the report was so considerable that within a month of its release the Dublin Senate debated it; opening the debate the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, said that it was the fruit of ‘an extraordinary experiment in public participation.’3

The Joint Declaration of December 1993 was enthusiastically received by Irish American supporters of the Hume-Adams proposals, who stepped up campaigns to draw the Sinn Fein into the peace process. The announcement of an IRA cease-fire in 1994 was partly a consequence of their efforts; under British pressure the bulk of the Protestant paramilitaries soon followed suit. The cease-fires were welcomed by Britain and the US as offering a special opportunity to apply an evolving strategy of sustaining peace with economic development, which focused on cities as key sites for ethnic or communal integration.

In December 1994 US President Clinton appointed former Senator George Mitchell Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland; in the same month US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown led a delegation of US business executives to Northern Ireland to attend Prime Minister Major’s Belfast Investment Conference. The strategy was vigorously pursued in Northern Ireland throughout 1995, at least partly due to US pressure.



These openings were built upon in the years to follow. In February 1995 a set of framework documents which elaborated the ideas of shared sovereignty aired in 1993 were announced by British Prime Minister John Major and Irish Prime Minister John Bruton. The Joint Framework Document proposed that Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would share an all-Ireland Council, composed of the departmental heads of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Republican ministers; the Council would concern itself with ‘matters with a natural or physical all-Ireland framework,’ transport, tourism, industrial development and the administration of cross-border EU programmes.

Britain and Ireland would establish a standing intergovernmental conference to implement the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, under which the two countries acknowledged a joint responsibility for Northern Ireland; both governments additionally ‘pledged themselves to the protection of the rights and identities of both traditions’ (i.e., of Protestants and Catholics).4 The Framework for Accountable Government in Northern Ireland was separately announced on the same day by Prime Minister Major; it proposed a new, devolved Northern Ireland Assembly comprised of departmental committees whose heads would be appointed on the basis of ethnic/communal proportionality; the Assembly and its committees would be overseen by a triumvirate of two (Protestant) Unionists and a (Catholic) nationalist, whose decisions would have to be consensual, and who would be elected by direct vote.5



Despite the broad level of Anglo-Irish agreement which the framework documents represented, the issue of both decommissioning and demilitarization remained controversial. For the next nine months progress on the framework documents was deadlocked by the British insistence that Sinn Fein could not be a party in the talks until the IRA disbanded. In November1995 Prime Ministers Major and Bruton announced a possible breakthrough: that an international commission headed by US Senator Mitchell would look into decommissioning.

In January 1996 the international commission recommended that Sinn Fein’s participation in the all-party talks should not be made conditional on the prior decommissioning of paramilitaries but should instead proceed side by side with it. A last-ditch effort to rescue all-party talks by Prime Ministers Major and Bruton in late February by embarking on ‘intensive consultations’ on a broadly acceptable elective process towards all-party talks was inconclusive, and the talks which began on 10 June 1996 soon petered out and were put on hold until after the British elections of June 1997, which Tony Blair’s Labour Party won resoundingly.



The Northern Ireland peace process was finally put on a fast track. Within months Blair had met the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and secured a new IRA and loyalist paramilitaries’ cease-fire, Northern Ireland witnessed the historic Hume-Trimble handshake (modeled on the Arafat-Rabin handshake), Sinn Fein was included in all-party talks, and an agreement on elections to a Northern Ireland Assembly was reached. With a stroke of genius, power-sharing in Northern Ireland was made part of an overall package of devolution, under which Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were all granted assemblies.

Indeed, Blair pushed through devolution in Scotland and Wales before pushing it through in Northern Ireland. Thus the Ireland-Northern Ireland structures were complemented by structures for regional cooperation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. At the same time, separate commissions were set up for decommissioning and police reform, each to submit its report within two years.

The establishment of a commission for police reform was a major step towards alleviating Irish Catholic fears of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but its separation from decommissioning – especially within a context in which the latter was proving an obstacle to Sinn Fein’s participation in the political process – had the counter effect of allowing both Catholic and Protestant fears to flourish, the latter now beginning to fear that while decommissioning faltered police reform would gather pace, leading to the erosion of Protestant security and the loss of some ten thousand Protestant jobs. The question of decommissioning continued to dog the peace process, and though elections were held in the summer of 1998 the new Northern Ireland government was not constituted until a year later, and has again been brought to a standstill over IRA decommissioning.

While this underlines the key importance of combining demilitarization with policing, the significant progress towards implementing the Framework Agreements which has been made since late 1997 makes clear that turning the clock back to pre-peace process days is no longer an option. Though peace will be hard won in Northern Ireland, it will be won.



By contrast, the Israel-Palestine peace process was ambiguous from the start, implying some form of partition but focusing on (interim) self-government. In other words, it never directly asked which partition was to be addressed – of 1948? of 1967? of the ever changing ‘facts on the ground’ established by expanding settlements? Nor did it examine the relationship between interim arrangements and the ultimate goal. This ambiguity was deepened by the Oslo Accords. The Oslo process began as a back channel negotiation while the US-backed international Madrid Conference was underway; most observers agree that the Palestinians would have got fairer agreements at Madrid than they did at Oslo.

The Palestinian ‘Interim Self-Government Authority’ plan which was presented at Madrid proposed a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank, Palestinian control over the occupied territories’ land, water, and natural resources, territorial sea and air space, and a unified economic zone; legislative, executive and judicial powers; rights to enter bilateral relations with other states and a strong police force but not an army. Under the plan the Authority would have the right to ask for a UN peace-keeping force. Elections to the Authority would be under UN supervision. As a preliminary to the interim phase, the plan recommended that Israel repeal settler legislation and freeze settlement activity, release political prisoners, allow deportees to return, and refrain from collective punishment.6



As with Northern Ireland, the Madrid Conference was initially bogged down by an Israeli refusal to talk to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or to contemplate an Israeli-Palestinian track. The deadlock was temporarily circumvented by the appointment of a Palestinian delegation from the West Bank and Gaza, i.e., excluding the PLO and creating a formal, though not felt, divide between the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Palestinian diaspora, but talks soon floundered again on the issue of PLO exclusion. The Oslo channel offered a way of bringing the PLO into the formal talks, but the informal talks at Oslo entailed a series of far-reaching compromises by the Palestinians, leaving the bulk of territories under continuing occupation.

In 1993 a Declaration of Principles was signed at Washington, accepting Palestinian self-government in Gaza and Jericho; its most significant achievement was Israeli recognition of the PLO’s right to administer areas of Palestinian concentration. A second accord provided for Israeli redeployment from the Palestinian cities. The accords did not set a frame for the return or compensation of refugees; they gave Israel an interim period to resolve its settlement plans (and allowed Arab lands to be claimed for settlements during the interim period),7 and offered no guarantees on Jerusalem; and they left access to vital natural resources and freedom of movement under Israeli control.



Indeed, the second phase of devolution of Palestinian cities, under Oslo II, was envisaged as leading to a gradual cantonization of the West Bank, with large and unconnected Palestinian ‘cantonal clusters’ around Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron, with a possible corridor to Gaza and Rifah by an elevated rail and motorway.8

The Oslo Accords were followed by the Cairo Agreement in February 1994 setting a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, followed by a second Cairo Agreement under which Palestinians would be allowed to provide security in their cities if they met Israeli security requirements, stipulating a Palestinian police force more akin to a paramilitary than a civil police, with an intelligence branch, mobile land forces, and naval and air elements.

Following the agreement more than 9,000 former PLA regulars and irregulars were deployed in Gaza and Jericho. The need to meet Israel’s security requirements combined with their very real structural inability to provide security to Palestinians (given the Israeli control over roads and highways, entries and exits), together served to put the Authority in a position of simultaneous dependency and defensiveness and served to concentrate power in a relatively small number of hands. With their heavy dependence on foreign aid, even to pay administrative salaries, corruption was bound to follow, and by all accounts did.

Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the subsequent election of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party pushed the Oslo process into a further downward spiral. While Israeli redeployment slowed to a snail’s pace, settlements continued to expand, especially around Jerusalem. Today, seven years after the Oslo Accords were signed, the Palestinian Authority controls some 18% of the West Bank and 60% of Gaza. The Israeli Defense Forces can impose a state of siege on Palestinian populations, as they are doing in the current intifada – indeed, in Hebron, they keep over 100,000 Palestinians under siege in order to preserve the freedom of movement of roughly 400 settlers.



And yet, by the peculiar sleight of Oslo, not only the Palestinian Authority but Palestinian parents are considered responsible for controlling the frustration and rage of young Palestinians, even of inviting laser-guided guns, tanks and helicopter gunships to attack stone-throwing children. Israel’s current Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, recently remarked, ‘If I believed killing 2,000 of them would settle the conflict, I would do it’ (adding that as he did not believe it would, he wished to return to negotiations).

Prime Minister Barak came to power promising a speedy settlement of Israeli conflicts with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians. At the recent Camp David meeting this summer, he favoured a new partition proposal, of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and over 80% (the actual figures have not been released) of the West Bank, with Israel annexing the big settlement blocks and leasing the Jordan valley; some, to be negotiated, form of Islamic/international control over the Al-Aqsa mosque area, but neither divided not shared sovereignty in Jerusalem. The literally existential question of the refugees was barely tackled, except for the reiteration that they have no right to return to Israel but leaving open Palestinian cantons, and extend the analogy that Oslo’s critics made, and we see in the Israeli response to the current intifada, with the apartheid regime’s Bantustans.



Are there any lessons in this for Kashmir? Every situation is unique, especially so to those directly involved in it, and there are crucial differences between Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, and Kashmir. Some of these actually indicate that breakthroughs could be easier achieved in Kashmir. Far from being opposed to or divided over a political rather than military settlement, the Indian Army is in favour of one, though the signs from Pakistan are more conflicting. Within Kashmir, communities are not as sharply divided, and so a negotiated process will have wide popular support. There are no ‘ancient hatreds’, though the renewed wounds of partition will take a long to time to heal – and indeed, though they will not disappear even if a settlement to Kashmir is found, they will continue to dog Kashmir unless they are treated separately and as well.

If the continuing search for a cease-fire is anything to go by, India, Kashmir and Pakistan (to a nebulous extent) all appear to be looking for a way into a peace process. As far as all three are concerned, Oslo provides salutary lessons of what not to do, while Northern Ireland shows what can be done.



1. Kevin Boyle and Tom Hadden, ‘The Peace Process in Northern Ireland’, International Affairs 71(2), 1995, pp. 271-2.

2. Robin Wilson, ‘The Opsahl Report: A Civil Society Response to the Conflict in Northern Ireland’, HCA Quarterly 8, Autumn 1993, p. 7.

3. Ibid, pp. 7-8.

4. Ibid, p. 46.

5. Boyle and Hadden, op cit, pp. 278-9.

6. UN A/47/115 S/23680 of 4 March 1992, Document presented by the Palestinian Delegation (Palestinian side of the joint Palestinian-Jordanian Delegation to the Israeli Delegation on 3 March 1992.

7. Jemal Tutunji and Kamal Khaldi, ‘A Binational State in Palestine: the Rational Choice for Palestinians and the Moral Choice for Israelis’, International Affairs 27(1), January 1997, p. 41.

8. Jan de Jong, ‘Palestine After Oslo: Borderlines Between Sovereignty and Dependency’, in Beyond Rhetoric:Perspectives on a Negotiated Settlement in Palestine, part two, Washington DC, The Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, August 1996, pp. 14-16.