A Kashmiri Solution for Kashmir

by Eqbal Ahmad

(excerpt from a longer article in DAWN and Reprinted here with the courtsey of HIMAL: The South Asian Magazine)


Denial of Reality

India's failures in Kashmir have been compounding since the time Jawaharlal Nehru's liberal, newly independent government chose to rely on the hated and oppressive Maharaja Hari Singh's decision to join the Indian Union. Pressed by a military confrontation with Pakistan, Delhi took the dispute to the United Nations. It then promised to abide by the Security Council's resolution which called for a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to decide between joining India or Pakistan. India broke that promise.

Delhi's only asset in those initial years had been Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah's cooperation. For his opposition to the Maharaja's unpopular regime and his advocacy of reforms of land and labour in Kashmir, the Sheikh and his party, the National Conference, had become the embodiment of Kashmiri nationalism. As Chief Minister of Kashmir, he promulgated land reforms in 1950, which further enhanced his standing with Kashmir's overwhelmingly rural and disinherited people. But this national hero was jailed in August 1953 after he began demanding greater autonomy. Except for two brief spells of freedom, he remained India's prisoner for 22 years, until February 1975, when the Sheikh became Chief Minister after signing an agreement with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Mrs Gandhi was able to defang the Lion of Kashmir, who allied with the ruling Indian National Congress. The only freedom he, and his heir apparent Farooq Abdullah, exercised during his second term in office was the freedom to be outrageously self indulgent and engage in corruption. Kashmiris nurtured anger and a sense of humiliation over how their vaunted 'lion' had been tamed in Indian hands. Furthermore, they had been denied not only the right of self determination, a right affirmed by the United Nations, but were now also witnessing the disintegration of their historic Kashmiri party, the Conference. This was taken as yet another assault on their identity and, as often happens in such circumstances, reinforced Kashmiri nationalism vis-a-vis India.

Besides political disenchantment, the alienation of the Kashmiri from India is mired in history, economics and psychology. The problem is not communal, although sectarian Hindu and ideologues would like to view it in these terms. The latest phase of Kashmiri discontent followed significant social changes in Kashmir. The governments of Sheikh Abdullah and Ghulam Mohammed Bakhshi did free the Kashmiri from feudal controls, and helped enlarge a middle class. In increasing numbers, Kashmiri youth were educated but their social mobility remained constricted because meaningful economic growth did not accompany land reforms and expanded educational facilities. Rebellions are normally started by the hopeful not the abject poor.

The roots of the popular uprising in 1989 lay in the neglect of Kashmir, and New Delhi's unconscionable manipulation of Kashmiri politics. Yet, India confronts the insurgency as incumbents normally do-with allegations of external subversion, brute force and unlawful machinations. Above all, it denies reality.


Kashmir in Partition

The reality is that New Delhi's moral isolation from the Kashmiri people is total and irreversible. It might be reversible if India were to envisage a qualitatively different relation with Kashmir, one which meaningfully satisfies Kashmiri aspirations of self government, but so far New Delhi has evinced no inclination in this direction. But can India's loss translate into Pakistan's gain? The answer is it cannot. Policy makers in Islamabad like to believe otherwise, and this is not unusual. It is quite common for rival countries to view their contest as a zero sum game whereby the loss of one side translates as gain for the other. However, history shows this assumption to be false, and rival losses and gains are rarely proportional; they are determined by circumstances of history, politics and policy. India's Kashmir record offers a chronicle of failures, yet none of these have accrued to Pakistan's benefit. Rather, Pakistan's policy has suffered from its own defects. Three characteristics made an early appearance in Islamabad's Kashmir policy. One, although Pakistani decision makers know the problem to be fundamentally political, since 1948 they have approached it in military terms. Two, while the military outlook has dominated, there has been a healthy unwillingness to go to war over Kashmir. Three, while officially invoking Kashmiri right to self determination, Pakistan's governments and politicians have pursued policies which have all but disregarded the history, culture, and aspirations of Kashmir's people.

One consequence has been a string of grave Pakistani miscalculations regarding Kashmir. Another has been to alienate Kashmiris from Pakistan at crucial times such as 1948 49, 1965 and the 1990s. Success has eluded Pakistan's Kashmir policy, and the costs have added up. Two wars-in 1948 and 1965-have broken out over Kashmir; annual casualties have mounted during the 1990s across the UN-monitored Line of Actual Control (LOC); the burden of defence spending has not diminished. A study of recent Kashmiri history will help put Islamabad's blunders in perspective. In 1947 48, Kashmiri Muslims were subject to contrasting pulls. The partition of India, the communal strife that accompanied it, and Kashmir's political economy, which was linked to the Punjab, disposed them towards Pakistan. However, the people's political outlook was rooted in Kashmiri nationalism which had been mobilised earlier by the National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Sahib was drawn towards the men and the party with whom he had worked closely since 1935-Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, and the Indian National Congress. (He did not meet Mohammad Ali Jinnah until 1944.) There was also a tradition of amicable relations between Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims, despite general Muslim antipathy to the Maharaja's rule.

What Kashmiris needed was time, a period of peaceful transition to resolve their ambivalence. This, they did not get. Owing to Lord Mountbatten's mindless haste, the Subcontinent was partitioned and power transferred in a dizzying sequence of events which left little time to attend to complex details in far corners. The leadership of the Muslim League, in particular, was preoccupied with the challenges of power transfer, division of assets, civil war and mass migration. The League was short on experienced leaders, and squabbling squandered their meagre skills. Quaid i Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was terminally ill.

In this climate of crisis and competition, Kashmir received scant attention. The little attention it did attract was of those who did not comprehend Kashmiri aspirations nor the ambiguities, and the extraordinary risks and temptations that lay in waiting. In a peculiar expression of distorted perspective, self serving officials like Ghulam Mohammed, a colonial bureaucrat who later wormed his way into becoming the Governor General of Pakistan, paid more attention to the undeserving and hopeless case of Hyderabad (Deccan) than to Kashmir.

When India's Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel sent feelers about a possible give-and-take on Hyderabad and Kashmir, Ghulam Mohammed is said to have spurned this opportunity and carried on his lucrative dealings with Hyderabad's Nizam. Pakistan also welcomed the accession of Junagadh and Manavadar, whereas an overwhelming majority in both states (as well as Hyderabad) were Hindu. In effect, Pakistan held three divergent positions on the question of accession-in favour of the Hyderabad Nizam's right to independence, Junagadh's right to accede to Pakistan against the wish of the populace, and, in Kashmir, for the right to self determination. Double standard is a common enough practice in politics, but it invariably harms the actor who lacks the power to avert consequences. The Nawab of Junagadh tried to deliver his Hindu-majority state to Pakistan, which set the precedence for the Maharaja of Muslim-dominated Kashmir choosing India. Pakistan did not have the power to defend either the Nawab or the Nizam, nor the will to punish the Maharaja. So India, practising double standards in its turn, took it all.


Pork Barrel

India's policies have been no less riddled with blunders than Pakistan's. Its moral isolation on Kashmir is nearly total, and unlikely to be overcome by military means or political manipulation. New Delhi commands not a shred of legitimacy among Kashmiri Muslims. Ironically, even as India's standing in Kashmir appears increasingly untenable, Kashmiris today appear farther from the goal of liberation than they were in the years 1989 to 1992.

Pakistan's engagement in Kashmir is indirect and unacknowledged. As such, it enjoys greater tactical and political flexibility than either Indian or the Kashmiri leaders. The diversity and nuances of informed opinion in Pakistan also render Islamabad more elastic than New Delhi, where the Hindutva right is powerful and breathes heavy over weak liberal shoulders. Furthermore, for a number of reasons-its popular standing in large segments of Kashmiri population, material support of militant groups, international advocacy of Kashmir's cause-Pakistan's leverage in Kashmir is greater than what most observers assume. Yet, beyond repeating tired shibboleths about "our principled stand", Islamabad lacks a functioning policy capable of exploiting its advantages.

To date, the governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir have spent millions of dollars to mobilise international support behind the question of Kashmir. Islamabad's jet setting, patronage soaked lobbying for a UN recommended plebiscite has elicited no significant international support during the last seven years of Kashmir insurgency. Cumulatively, Pakistan's score has been a pathetic zero, despite the hectic international itinerary of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the ever-travelling delegations headed by the Punjabi politician Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. A few months ago, the Security Council even dropped Kashmir from its agenda, and it was only retroactive Pakistani lobbying that was able to obtain a temporary reprieve. The most that Pakistan has been able to achieve are favourable resolutions from the Organisation of Islamic Countries, an entity about as influential in world politics as an Arabian camel. Kashmir's cause therefore serves merely as one big pork barrel for Pakistani carpetbaggers and patronage seekers, religious and secular, parliamentary and private.

In sum, Pakistan continues to wage a half hearted "war of position" replete with private doubts, symbolic posturing and petty opportunism. Its support has not helped unify or energise the insurgency in Kashmir into a winning movement. The resulting stalemate appears 'stable', and unlikely to be upset in the absence of a conventional India Pakistan war. Since war is not an option, Pakistan's policy is reduced to bleeding India; and India's to bleeding the Kashmiris, and to hit out at Pakistan whenever a wound can be inflicted.

E. Ahmad writes for the Al Ahram (Cairo), Al Hayat (London) and is a weekly columnist in the Dawn (Karachi). Portions of this article have appeared before in Dawn. The writer divides his time between Islamabad and Amherst, Massachusetts, where he teaches West Asian studies and international relations.

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