World Bulletin / News Desk
An Indian author’s call for a confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as a means to resolve the decades-long dispute over the Kashmir valley and end poverty in the region seems impractical, according to experts.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, an Indian politician who used to be member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, floated the idea during the launch of his new book “August Voices,” which highlighted the point that lasting peace in Kashmir could only be achieved through a confederation agreement on both sides.
The book, however, does not propose the independence of each of the three countries must be undone. “His book argues that the existence of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as three separate, independent and sovereign nations is a reality that cannot be altered. Partition cannot be undone.
“However, its negative outcomes can — and must — be undone jointly by the peoples and governments of India and Pakistan and Bangladesh,” the Pakistani daily, Dawn, reported on Thursday.
Kulkarni’s voice for peace and cooperation under such an ideal arrangement comes at a time when tensions between India and Pakistan are at a fever pitch. For months, both sides have accused each other of cross border violations, using terrorists to carry out attacks and now a simmering dispute over the Indus water treaty has emerged as another thorn in bilateral ties.
But while experts tend to reject ideas floated by peaceniks like Kulkarni as a figment of their imagination, could the presence of Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari’s presence at the book release be taken as a sign for peace?
Kashmir key to friendship
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency over the phone, Kulkarni admitted that his idea for a confederation may seem impractical under the present circumstances in the region, but it did not mean it would be an unworkable solution in a different, more pleasant time in the future.
"Let me be very clear that I don't expect at all the present government ruling India or for that matter the one in Pakistan to go for this confederacy that I speak of. What I am suggesting is the way things need to be if good sense prevails over the leaders,” he said.
He called for an inclusive dialogue over Kashmir. “India and Pakistan must begin by a serious resolution-focused dialogue over Kashmir, and that dialogue must involve the people of Kashmir.
“The resolution of Kashmir issue is a must for any possibility of friendship between the three independent countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I am not talking of Indian expansionism like the RSS [the ultra-right wing Hindu nationalist party considered as a parent body of the ruling BJP] when I talk of the confederacy but more like three independent brothers working together and helping each other.”
He said that dialogue between the two sides must continue despite attacks.
“While Pakistan should do everything to restrain its non-state actors from carrying out any terror activities in India, I believe that the dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir should be held irrespective of any attacks that happen. There cannot be such fragile talks that a terror attack should derail them. But that said, I don't expect anything like that to happen the way things are going right now," he said.
‘Not the first time’
Gul Mohammad Wani, a Kashmiri political analyst and professor of political science at the University of Kashmir, said: "Mr. Kulkarni is not the first one to state a desire of a confederacy between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This desire has been there for decades and it has never come through; there were attempts toward it even before Bangladesh existed as an independent country.
“But it has always been very difficult and in the present circumstances it seems almost impossible.”
Wani also highlighted the fact that India was currently demanding a SAARC -- a prominent regional bloc in the subcontinent -- without Pakistan. Moreover, tensions in Indian-held Kashmir have been on the rise for months.
“India under the Modi government is on a completely different path where no such solutions are even more debatable. Let us see how many television debates and public conversations will be held where Kulkarni's view is debated or supported; it will most likely die its own death very quietly,” he predicted.
Meanwhile, Advocate Shahidul Islam, spokesman and media adviser of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir, said: “Without solving the Kashmir dispute, this confederation will not work. So solution of Kashmir is must.
“The resolution of Kashmir dispute guarantees peace in South Asia. Once it is solved, the post-solution era would usher the era of peace and prosperity in the region. The countries will spend more on human development rather than spending on developing arms,” Islam added.
Pakistani analysts described the confederation idea to resolve the longstanding Kashmir dispute as “idealistic”.
Ishtiaq Ahmed, vice-chancellor of Sargodha University, said: “What Mr. Kulkarni has proposed seems to me a bit idealistic. The peace activists from the three countries may aspire for that but in the current complicated ground reality, it is an unrealistic project.”
Citing the simmering tensions fanned by a series of land-and-sea disputes between the two sides, Ishtiaq said: “Instead of wasting time on such unrealistic ideas, the two countries should sit together, resume peace talks, and try to resolve the lingering Kashmir dispute.
“Bilateral negotiation is the only practical way forward to the resolution of disputes between the two nations.”
Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst, said: “The two countries have had a history of hostilities from the very beginning. They have fought wars, have opposed each other at every forum, one’s heroes are other’s villains. In these circumstances, unrealistic ideas like confederation cannot work.”
Also, he asked what such a confederation would mean in practical terms. “If it means the three countries should resolve their disputes through talks, that’s very much understandable. But if that means, the three nations have a joint governing mechanism, that’s totally unpractical,” Ali added.
- Collaboration before confederation
New Delhi-based author Sanjoy Hazarika said Kulkarni’s idea was not going to happen unless there was better collaboration and friendship among the involved countries.
“It tries to put the Akhand Bharat [undivided India] concept of the Hindutva brigade [Hindu ultra-nationalists] in new garb. It can't work because unless we build friendships and collaborations between two of the three neighbors which have gone to war four times, which are nuclear armed and the third country, Bangladesh, is the product of a bitter campaign against Pakistan and part of India's brilliantly executed and opportunistic strike that took away half of Pakistan -- and there is a strong demand in Bangladesh for an apology from Islamabad for atrocities during the liberation war ... I mean there's so much unfinished work to be resolved,” Hazarika, who is also the director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said.
Changing public opinions
Mohammed Nurul Amin, a Dhaka-based expert and former joint secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Local Government, said Kulkarni’s proposal sounds good but under the current circumstances it was technically and politically impossible.
“Even though the current Bangladeshi government has been experiencing a warm relation with New Delhi, the citizens of both countries are not thinking as their leaders do.
“So if there will be a referendum over such kind of a confederation - a must for a three-state bloc – public opinion would go against it,” Nurul Amin told Anadolu Agency over the phone.
He also said such a confederation would only empower India’s “big-boss” position, referring to New Delhi’s strong political, economic and cultural influence in the region.
“Moreover, Bangladesh and Pakistan have also been experiencing worst relations after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. So, it is a seemingly impossible task to get these states together in a common ground,” he added.
He called for first resolving issues on the ground. For example, he said India should lift the fences along the border with Bangladesh and stop cross border-killing.