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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 38

The Kashmir Imbroglio

Wednesday 10 September 2008, by Shree Shankar Sharan


The Kashmir situation has once again demonstrated that though there may be long periods of quiet and a temporary appearance of peace and normalcy, there is a boiling cauldron of discontent which will boil over from time to time and make everybody on both sides of the divide sit up and wonder how to go about it. It should be clear that more of the same things will not work. More of democracy or of more of development or more of repression by the security forces can no longer be solutions. I suspect that repression is what the agitation leaders in Kashmir want, to advance their political cause, to draw international attention and embarrass the Indian Government into accepting a plebiscite or some other political solution on which many groups in the West and in India have worked hopefully.

What needs to be pondered is what has caused this simmering discontent. Surely it is not a surge of nationalism as it appears to be. It is a twist that the pro-secessionist leaders of Kashmir have given it. The discontent has to do much more with the quality of life in Kashmir , the revolution of expectations, and the alienation born of the two not being in step. The easing of militancy from which the Indian security forces were a strong shield seems to give credence to the propaganda that the continued presence in strength of the Indian Army was proof that they were an occupation Army.

The Indian Government should accept the validity of the oft-repeated Kashmiri view that the Army’s visible presence is a serious irritant to the civilian population. It would be to any population, Muslim or Hindu, to have to live surrounded by Army bunkers. One of the recent firings was in self-defence against a mob that was trying to over run a bunker. The Army presence needs to be seriously reviewed and perceptibly cut down. Even if it helps reappearance of militancy, the Army should tackle it from their barracks by greater mobility.

The reduction in the presence of security forces will also be welcome to Pakistan. It will appear as a genuine step towards peace and encourage Pakistan to go softer on their own role in exporting militancy to J&K.

The people of Kashmir have a right to exercise and enjoy the blessings of democracy as Indian citizens of holding peaceful demonstrations which should not be met with force or, if so, only rarely. Demonstrations which occasionally turn violent is a permanent feature of Indian life We should not read more into Kashmiri demonstrations than we do in the rest of India and should not be paranoid about it.

The Kashmiris should also take note of the level of discontent in other parts of India which has not led to secessionism but to a militant Naxalite movement. From whom can discontented Biharis or UPites secede? They are the heart or core of India and have to put up a struggle on changing policies or the delivery system or the political leadership, not nationality. Our advice to our Kashmiri brothers is also to follow the course that we do in the Indian heartland.

Secessionism is a luxury that is specially popular with and peculiar to border States. It is not an easy thing to achieve and comes about, if at all, with much blood and gore as Kashmir has itself experienced in the past. All the North-Eastern States have seen wisdom in coming round to solutions other than secession.

Excessive nationalism is an outmoded sentiment. New nations that have come about in the world have not changed much, except to put in power a new set of leaders and high expectations that have seldom been met. The world is learning to live more closely, rather than separately, by forming larger unions like the European Union or the ASEAN. It is time we also thought of more inclusive frameworks rather than another exclusive framework. It is of building and living in such a union functional, if not formal, of Kashmir, India and Pakistan with free borders and a partnership in development and full autonomy in internal matters that Kashmiris should think rather than separation from all, or azadi.

Kashmir has been free and independent for many stretches of history but has also been an easy prey to its greedy neighbours in Afghanistan, or a princely ruler in India or the Mughal or the British. History has a habit of repeating itself if you ignore it. Being part of an inclusive and larger group will make Kashmir safer and more autonomous. It is this that Kashmiris should make their goal rather than secession from India.

THE two communities, both from Jammu and Kashmir, targeting each other on a specific act, namely, the allotment and later cancellation of 100 acres of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board shows the complexities of living in a plural society. The Kashmiris have long lived peaceably as part of a plural society. But their leaders would not let them. Some of them see a future for themselves as citizens of Pakistan, some in independence and some are disgruntled with losing power in India or Kashmir. The joke in Kashmir is you are either a winner (of power) or a secessionist. As long as there is a democracy in Kashmir there are bound to be losers who must lose with grace. But this maxim has not sunk deep and all losses are attributed to conspiracies of the Government of India and a local, because of a history of palace intrigues and a history of abuse for some decades in which both Indian and Kashmiri leaders stand to blame. Happily it has come to an end now.

The problem with India is we are too comfortable with a plural society. We need to imaginatively understand the complexes and paranoia of a less secular and more closed, homogenous minority and do more to win their confidence.

The problem with the Jammu Hindus is of considerable anger by being forced out of the Valley by the militants and not having a weighty presence in the Kashmir Government.The anger was waiting to burst out and has done so over the land transfer issue. The dispute is not beyond a solution, given goodwill on both sides.

Yet another stakeholder in the imbroglio is Pakistan which has claimed Jammu and Kashmir, a Moslem majority state as a natural accretion to Pakistan going by the underlying principle of India’s partition, though this principle extended only to British India. Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh to whose ancestor the British had sold it for money. Under the Independence of India Act the princely states were free to accede to either India or Pakistan or to neither and remain independent. The last seemed the preferred option of the Maharaja but his accession to India was forced by the kabali raid of Kashmir with covert and later overt support of the Pakistan Army.

While accepting the accession India, at the behest of its Governor-General Mountbatten, added a rider that she will hold a plebiscite to obtain the ratification of the people to the accession. The plebiscite was never held partly because Pakistan did not meet the UN condition that she must withdraw her forces from the J&K territory before a plebiscite was held and India advanced the plea that election of a Constituent Assembly and adoption of a J&K Constitution and repeated elections were enough evidence of the people’s ratification of the accession and no plebiscite was needed.

The plebiscite was mandated by the UN in response to India’s complaint of invasion by Pakistan, but under a chapter concerning disputed territory. By an irony of international power politics, but also because the dispute had no other sensible solution India, the aggrieved party was put in the dock.The UN had no means of enforcing its mandate. Pakistan in the meantime tried to wrest Kashmir by force by fighting wars with India in 1947, 1962, 1971 and 1998, but failed each time. Peace between India and Pakistan became a more urgent need to the UN than the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The final resolution was further complicated by the two superpowers taking opposite sides and threatening using their power of veto. A strong opinion in both India and Pakistan now prefers to break from the past and reach a political solution which has the support of the Kashmiris. A two-track negotiation has been on for sometime but the main actors have since changed.

India and Pakistan, in the new political climate in Pakistan and greater flexibility in India in dealing with the dispute, should sit together and find a way out of the Kashmir imbroglio. The search for an acceptable final solution of a festering dispute should not be queered by hasty or impulsive action by any of the stakeholders leading to the hardening of attitudes of any of them. We appeal to the awam in Kashmir, the rest of India and Pakistan to cooperate in finding this final solution rather than be misled by shortcuts.

The author is the President, Awami Ekta Manch, Patna/Delhi.

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