Independent Kashmir is not the solution; but New Delhi must seriously consider anything short of that as the solution of the matter.
ashmir is truly a Sisyphean problem – Sisiphus is a character from Greek mythology whose punishment was to endlessly roll a large stone to the top of a hill only for it to roll down again. The problem is largely the gift of the last king of the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh and the reference of the issue to the United Nations by Jawaharlal Nehru at the bidding of the British Governor General and the British Army Chief. Admittedly, there are nuances and shades in the observation above but substantially the observation has some merit.
India, unsupported by her British military officers, lost nerve and did not pursue the armed intruders and flush them out of the J & K state as it was then. People’s support was with India in plenty at that point of time. Kashmiri Muslims’ identity was distinctly different from what it is now. Jinnah had sent a Muslim League envoy to Kashmir in 1943 to assess its potential; the report given by the envoy had been very disheartening for Jinnah: “No important religious leader has ever made Kashmir….. his home or even an ordinary centre of Islamic activities. It will require considerable effort, spread over a long period of time, to reform them and convert them into true Muslims”.
|The frontiers of the State touched China and the USSR as well as India and Pakistan. And in the present world situation, an independent Kashmir will become a hot-bed of intrigue.|
Meaningless intellectualism and semantics notwithstanding, the movement in Kashmir now is only on the plank of religion. After vacating the aggression from across the border in October/November 1947, Nehru wrote to his sister Vijalakshmi: “If we had vacillated and delayed by a day, Srinagar might have been a smoking ruin. We got there in the nick of time in warning off Pakistan from Kashmir. We have agreed that the future of Kashmir must be determined by the people. Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah is being entrusted with the formation of a Ministry. For my part I do not mind if Kashmir becomes more or less independent, but it would have been a cruel blow if it had become just an exploited part of Pakistan”.
Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister of Kashmir in a talk in 1948 with one of the UN representatives, Josef Korbel, dismissed both plebiscite and independence, arguing that the “only solution” was the partition of Kashmir. Otherwise, he said, “the fighting will continue; India and Pakistan, will prolong the quarrel indefinitely, and Kashmiri people’s suffering will go on.” Sheikh was arrested in 1953 and at his trial Sheikh said that he stood for a single objective: the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The issue was discussed by Abdullah with a team of advisers selected by Nehru. The alternatives included a plebiscite for the entire undivided state of J & K as it existed before 1947; maintenance of the status quo; and a fresh division of the State — Jammu and Ladakh to India, northern Kashmir to Pakistan, and a plebiscite in the Valley alone to decide its future. Ideas like a condominium over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, with defence and external affairs being the joint responsibility of the two governments and the possibility of creating a confederation among India, Pakistan and Kashmir were also tossed around.
With Nehru at the helm and with inputs from Jaya Prakash Narayan, Rajaji and Minoo Masani at different stages, Abdullah made an exploratory trip to Pakistan in 1964 calling it a “peace mission”. The Chinese military action in 1962 had changed the scenario and the Indian mind-set. In 1965 Sheikh undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca. While abroad, he met the Chinese premier Chou En-Lai at the Algerian Capital. We do not know the line of discussions between the two but in India it was interpreted as a traitorous act. Sheikh was arrested on arrival in Delhi.
|Vajpayee-Musharraf tete-a-tete, though ultimately infructuous, had a value in that both the parties recognized that dialogue was the only way to resolve the issue.|
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi explained the rationale behind Sheikh’s arrest thus: “What Sheikh Sahib does not realise is that with the Chinese invasion and the latest moves in and by Pakistan, the position of Kashmir has completely changed. For the frontiers of the State touched China and the USSR as well as India and Pakistan. And in the present world situation, an independent Kashmir will become a hot-bed of intrigue and, apart from the countries mentioned above, would also attract espionage and other activities from the USA and UK.”
Soon the India–Pakistan war took place in 1965; it was a straightforward case of invasion by Pakistan over Kashmir. Jaya Prakash Narayan urged Indira Gandhi to free Sheikh and enable him to contest the general election in 1967. JP believed that working with the Sheikh was the only chance of solving the Kashmir problem because the Sheikh was the only Kashmiri leader who could swing Muslim opinion in India’s favour. Indira did not act. Did we fritter away a great opportunity?
JP advocated a full internal autonomy, i.e., a return to the original terms of the accession. Complacency ruled as there was relative physical peace in the Valley since the agitations in December 1963 over the theft of the holy relic of the Prophet; the relic was restored – quite a mysterious affair although — and peace was restored. From thereon till 1989, the Valley was being governed by elected governments without any directions to resolve the basic problem. Pakistani propaganda and manoeuvres persisted and the valley Muslims were being indoctrinated steadily.
Serious protests and boycott calls began in 1989 over allegations of wholesale rigging in the elections. Credentials of the elected apparatus were low and it continues to be so till date. The democratic apparatus, be it PDP, NC or NC-Congress combine, has no capability to administer and had shown no initiatives to win the minds and hearts of the Kashmiris. Situation was progressively becoming communal resulting in the migration of the sons-of-the-soil Kashmiri Pundits from the valley.From strong unilateralism that Kashmir was an integral part of India, the stand smoothened into a bilateralism that Pakistan was indeed a party to it. Vajpayee-Musharraf tete-a-tete, though ultimately infructuous, had a value in that both the parties recognized that dialogue was the only way to resolve the issue. Manmohan Singh is also a firm believer in the dialogue process with the valley Muslims and with Pakistan. The crux of the matter is what do you talk about or more precisely what accommodation you make?
This is where the out-of-the-box thinking is demanded. If the situation in Kashmir had changed after the India-China skirmishes in 1962 as Indira Gandhi thought, it has changed drastically after 9/11. Pakistan-based jihadis against India have one objective and that is to make holding of Kashmir untenable for India. Without people’s support India will not be able to hold it indefinitely except at an unacceptable cost. And people’s support is waning fast. For reasons right or wrong, independent observers report that 80% Kashmiris are against the Indian hold on Kashmir.
|The stated position of the Kashmiris is that as a majority Muslim region Kashmir has an emphatic separate identity beyond India. In a way, it is the same two-nation theory at work.|
It is the change among the Kashmiris that is material and not debates over the meaning of azadi, self-rule or self-determination. Not Syed Geelani alone, now the so-called moderate Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has also demanded self-determination by the Kashmiris. Pakistani jihadis will be relentless in Kashmir and the Pakistan Government will not slacken its expectations over it. Omar Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti cannot and will not solve the issue.
Tons of analytical expertise in the press and in the electronic media have no meaning. The stated position of the Kashmiris is that as a majority Muslim region Kashmir has an emphatic separate identity beyond India. In a way, it is the same two-nation theory at work. India’s ingenuity will lie in accepting the reality without any impact on the secular democratic federalism in the country and also in the denial of the Valley to Pakistan. Extraordinarily novel alternatives were thought about in the past as we discussed here earlier. May be still the Valley does not want total independence and if that be so, New Delhi must seriously consider anything short of that as the solution of the matter.