Kashmir Belongs to Kashmiris

PAKISTAN is fortunate that Dr Shashi Tharoor, the newest Icarus in the Indian National Congress, never fulfilled his ambition to become the next UN secretary general. He would have used the UN to resolve the problem of Jammu & Kashmir in less time than it took to create it.

Dr Tharoor has been endowed with all the boons his divinities could have bestowed on any Indian mortal: debonair good looks, a quick intelligence, the gift of oratory, a fecund authorship, and a dollar-denominated pension from the UN where he served as an international civil servant for almost 30 years. The price he was asked to pay in return was to become rabidly anti-Pakistan.

To hear him speak, to read his books, to watch him on talk shows is to realise what a narrow escape Pakistan has had. He is single-minded and obsessive in targeting his perceived enemy. One comment from a recent book of his serves well enough to indicate his animus: “A democratic Pakistan determined to focus on its own people’s economic development would be good news for India. On the other hand a flailing Pakistan, with a burgeoning population of uneducated, unemployable and frustrated youth prey to the blandishments of radical religious fanatics, and ruled by a military-dominated system that sees its security in destabilising others, could be a major threat to India.”

It is rhetoric such as this that brought him too close to the sun of his political ambitions. Too close, for he soon fell from the heights of being a minister of state for foreign affairs to the lower strata of a seat in the Lok Sabha. While he may not be as near, as he once aspired to be, to those who are policymakers in India, his attitudes are nevertheless of interest for they are reflective of a mindset amongst a newer generation of Indians.

Ironically, today, 65 years after Independence, Pakistanis and Indians are not only on opposite sides of the same border, they have reversed roles. Earlier, Pakistanis defined themselves by emphasising their separateness from everything Indian. Today, Indians seek to truss their national identity with a different sort of rope, a hangman’s rope from which to suspend not individuals but the Pakistani state.

Individual states within India may bicker with one another. But what binds them is a perception that unless they are overtly anti-Pakistan, they cannot somehow be Indian. This is apparent in Indian politicians, in the Indian press, and in that most pervasive of propaganda machines — Bollywood.

Many have suspected that the Indian media has been not the Fourth Estate in its societal structure as much as a suburb of the Ministry of External Affairs. Everyday its press lip-syncs official lyrics. Similarly, Bollywood has shifted away from the image of a Pakistani as a pre-1947 turbanned Pathan to a post-26/11 image of every Pakistani as a bearded terrorist who has to be eliminated by any of the triumvirate of Khans.

I have just returned from a visit to Kashmir where I breathed the same air as Shahrukh Khan. I drove from Srinagar to the mountain resort of Pahalgam and was prevented from entering my hotel, not because I was a Pakistani, but because Yash Chopra was shooting his latest blockbuster featuring King Khan near the hotel. Shahrukh Khan was the Indian hero hunting down terrorists who looked like me. I escaped to Gulmarg, and within a day, he had followed me there. I returned to Srinagar and was told that he was on his way down to shoot at Dal Lake. I fled to New Delhi and escaped him by immersing myself amongst its teeming millions.

To visit Kashmir is to understand why it has been such a fractious issue between India and Pakistan. Regardless of Radcliffe, regardless of the UN plebiscite, regardless of the porous border through which families, like mountain mists, permeate through borders, Kashmir is worth fighting for. Kashmir is the closest man will get to natural perfection. It was intended by God for the living.

The presence of the Indian army throughout the valley even now that there is a lull is as ubiquitous as the blood-red advertisements of India’s telecom giant Airtel. Individual sentries in lonely sentinel posts rely upon a mobile for company, groups of three or four sling their guns and use their free hands to text SMS messages, and corrugated steel-roofed cantonments resonate with the sound of incoming and outgoing signature tunes.

The sign across the road as one enters the upper reaches of the road used by pilgrims to Amarnath reads: ‘The Indian Army welcomes you to Sonmarg.’ It is the benign admission that there has been a change of strategy in Kashmir. The Indian Army has put stems of flowers into the barrels of its guns.

The average Kashmiri seems to have reconciled to the unavoidable. Any revival of hope for a plebiscite is not as important anymore as revival of its economy. Everything is now geared to restoring tourism in the valley. They have suffered enough from both sides. If a Kashmiri does talk about Pakistan or India, it is to emphasise that everything Kashmiri is distinctive and unique; from its scenery to its saffron to its wazwan cuisine. The only shooting they want to hear about is Shahrukh Khan this month and Salman Khan next month shooting films in their beloved valley.

Over the centuries, Kashmir’s geography had delineated its identity. Whatever will be the future of the Kashmiris, one thing is clear. Neither India nor Pakistan deserves Kashmir. It belongs as it has always done to the Kashmiris, as God intended.

The article first appeared in Dawn. Author can be reached at : www.fsaijazuddin.pk.

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