A new round on Kashmir

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India-Pakistan discussions on Kashmir will bear fruit in a manner that meets the demands of equity and justice.

The way to India-Pakistan negotiations has been cleared once again as if by a sudden wave of the magic wand. Any speculation about the hands that have secured satisfaction of the egos of the subcontinental neighbours is unnecessary for they can easily be recognised.

For the moment, India is happy that it has succeeded in putting terrorism high on the agenda of “comprehensive” negotiations although the subject was always included in the “composite” dialogue. And when Sushma Swaraj pitches for ‘uninterrupted’ parleys nobody should be happier than Mani Shankar Ayer because something of his terminology has survived. Pakistan is, of course, happy that Kashmir is back on the agenda for bilateral talks.

Unfortunately, the government of Pakistan has not taken its people fully into confidence about the change in its Kashmir policy. While the parasitical militants are still ranting about taking Kashmir by force, that option was finally given up years ago by none else than General Pervez Musharraf, the then president of Pakistan and chief of the army staff and the man behind the ill-planned and ill-fated Kargil adventure. And if Nawaz Sharif agreed with Asif Zardari on any point it was their shared rejection of the idea of going to war with India over Kashmir.

Equally clear is the fact Pakistan itself dealt a fatal blow to the UN efforts to intervene meaningfully in Kashmir by its illogical reliance on the military option. The world still wants an end to the Kashmir stalemate as a condition necessary for peace and stability in South Asia but the terms of settlement devised in the 1950s are no longer relevant. Further, it is time that all notions of pressurizing India through pin pricks by non-state actors were given up because the international community, in its present mood, won’t have anything of that kind.

Whatever one may think of the Musharraf formula for a step-by-step settlement on Kashmir it will not be possible to go back to any earlier formulation. The impossibility of making India give up Kashmir, under world pressure (quite invisible at the moment) or otherwise, should be accepted by Pakistan as a verdict of history or a result of its wasted opportunities.

Fresh negotiations between India and Pakistan should, therefore, focus on the steps necessary to raise the two parts of Kashmir to a uniform level of autonomy and clear the way to their fullest possible cooperation in economic and cultural fields, demilitarisation of both parts under guarantees of security by Pakistan and India, and without putting any bar to the Kashmir people’s aspirations for self-rule.

For this process to succeed, it will be necessary for Pakistan and India to reaffirm their commitment to realise their shared destiny regardless of progress or otherwise towards settling the issues that divide them. Instead of viewing resolution of the Kashmir issue as a condition for normalcy in the region we should begin looking at India-Pakistan goodwill and active promotion of mutually beneficial economic, political, and cultural ties as the key to resolving the Kahsmir imbroglio.

 

It should be clear to all Pakistanis that they have no reason to gloat over India’s latest decision to agree to ‘comprehensive’ talks on a variety of issues, including Kashmir. Time was when India used to say that no talks were possible on a territory that formed its integral part. In those days, Pakistan also used to reject any idea of talks with India unless some progress towards a settlement on Kashmir was possible. Both sides had to move away from their rigid, maximalist positions. Even now talks on Kashmir mean one thing to Pakistan and quite a different thing to India.

There is no need for Pakistan to over-react against the Indian High Commissioner’s reported statement that in his government’s view the only matter to be discussed is the need for Pakistan to give up its control over Azad Kashmir. This has been New Delhi’s position for many years. Leaving the talk about Pakistan’s control over Azad Kashmir aside, there is much to be said in support of all Kashmiri people’s desire to see an end to the division of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir.

However, the Kashmiris on both sides wish to be reunited in a situation when neither side is denied the right to self-rule. As the late Abdul Ghani Lone often said, why should Azad Kashmir replace one form of bondage with another version? New Delhi must realise that reunifications of Jammu and Kashmir will be feasible only when both parts begin to enjoy the level of autonomy that satisfies them and both are demilitarised.

Another fixation India must grow out of is the argument that it is big enough and rich enough to bear the cost of the Kashmir insurgency. The confidence with which this ultra-nationalist thesis is advanced is amazing indeed. A questionable policy cannot be justified by any country’s ability to meet its cost. Besides, apart from the hardships caused to the Kashmiri people what the Indian state spends on garrisoning its part of Kashmir is taken out of the Indian people’s share of the resources they need to free many of their countrymen of want, disease and hunger. (This applies to Pakistan as well.)

The history of the past decades, especially of the last quarter of the century or so, shows that neither cash flows into Kashmir nor the use of force has quenched the Kashmiri people’s thirst for ‘Azadi’. Their waves of resistance may die down as suddenly as they arise but they have been reappearing after short intervals. All tactics used by India and Pakistan to impose on the people of Kashmir what they think is in their (Kashmir people’s) interest are bound to fail and both states need to overcome their unrealistic politics and give the people of Kashmir what is their due.

What that due means can only be determined by allowing the people of the two parts of Kashmir to inform both India and Pakistan of the future arrangement they will be satisfied with. That the people of Kashmir have always been wary of any India-Pakistan talks on their future without their participation is no secret. They do realise that they need the goodwill of both India and Pakistan to realise their aspiration to be masters in their own land but from their point of view the issue is between them and India on the one hand and between them and Pakistan on the other hand and not so much of an issue between India and Pakistan.

Their complaints against India are known. Many of them do not accept Maharaja Hari Singh’s right to sign the deed of accession to India. Those who do not wish to go into that part of their history resent their subjugation by force and attempts every now and then to deprive their state of its special status under Article 270 of the Indian constitution.

In the present phase of their history, they have reason to be alarmed at the doings and designs of the quasi-religious militant organisations the Indian government is unable or unwilling to rein in. They do not deny the results of Indian government’s investment in their education and economic growth but they cannot bear living in fear of a midnight knock on their doors and disappearance or worse. The slogan of ‘Azadi’ promises them freedom from all these concerns but at least the pragmatic ones among them are prepared to interpret ‘Azadi’ within what is possible.

At the same time, the Kashmir people have their complaints against Pakistan. There was a time, many decades ago, when they were attracted by the idea of joining Pakistan and Mirza Afazl Beg could challenge Sheikh Abdullah himself from the platform of the Plebiscite Front, but any call for plebiscite is now rarely heard in the valley.

On the other hand, lack of trust in Pakistan’s ability to give its federating units their due, which was the main plank of the National Conference’s 1947 decision to stay away from Pakistan, has only become deeper with the passage of time. They have their reservations over the way the population of Azad Kashmir has been treated and are quite unhappy with Pakistan’s ill-conceived efforts to solve the Kashmir riddle by force.

Thus, notwithstanding the waving of the Pakistan flag during recent demonstrations in the valley, the Kashmiri people look upon Pakistan as no more than a potential guarantor of their national rights and as a friendly neighbour. Even the brave leaders of the Hurriyat, who are frequently herded into prisons or interned within their homes, cannot conceal their hurt at having been failed by both Pakistan and India and their penchant to fight their battles on Kashmir’s soil without its people’s permission or even information to them.

The Kashmiri people deserve respect for retaining their faith in secularism despite inroads made by religions militants, Hindu as well as Muslim, as evident from the Congress Party’s showing in Jammu in the latest election. Naturally, they expect the governments of India and Pakistan to let them move around in the world as keepers of a long tradition of interfaith harmony, tolerance, and peace that they fondly describe as Kashmiriat.

The ground reality in Kashmir is not changed by the assumption of state power by Sheikh Abdullah’s descendents or Mufti Saeed’s party. Both are probably seen as brokers of peace in a limited sense, as instruments for maintaining order that the artisans, vendors and workers of Kashmir need to make their living. That is why they take part in elections to the state assembly and they have learnt from their experience that those gaining power through relatively fair elections are a little more dependable than those coming up through blatantly manipulated polls.

The argument that the Kashmiri people repel the call for Azadi when they take part in elections has no legs to stand on. The theory that the destiny of Kashmir was decided by the elections that have been held since the early 1950s has no buyers today. Further, as a rebuttal of such theories the Kashmiris can cite the politics of India’s 20th century freedom fighters who were determined to rid themselves of the colonial yoke and also used their presence in legislative assemblies as one of the means to that end.

The sum total of this brief discussion is that India-Pakistan discussions on Kashmir will bear fruit in a manner that meets the demands of equity and justice only if the governments of India and Pakistan give jointly and severally primacy to the wishes and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for maximum possible autonomy.

These governments are, of course, entitled to satisfaction of their legitimate security concerns and their desire for sustaining their traditional historical and cultural ties with a people who have been denied peace and dignity for much too long.

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