Changing Kashmir The conversation around the state must change first

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kashmir, made a few announcements and left.

The state’s political parties are busy strategizing for impending elections. The separatist spectrum of Kashmir’s political firmament is responding and is probably formulating a response to the impending Assembly elections.

Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz-the country’s advisor on foreign affairs- is planning a campaign to highlight ‘human rights’ violations in Kashmir and a ‘ million march campaign’ is slated to be held in the United Kingdom.

The underlying as well as explicit theme and rationale of all these acts or putative actions is politics. These miss an important and critical dimension and component of the Kashmir sage: the people of Kashmir.

While the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be extricated from its politics and politics is an important dimension of people’s lives and polities (given that we are all, at the end of the day political animals), the fact remains that Kashmir and Kashmiris continue to be viewed from an overt politicalprism. This is one factor that detracts from and holds back a lasting solution to the vexed dispute.

The paradox and irony here is that while the solution lies in politics, it is politics which obstructs and detracts from a solution. Can there be an alternate paradigm that could help towards crafting a win-win solution for all?

This is a difficult question to answer given the complexities of the dispute. The various layers and accretions that have been latched onto the issue make it difficult to arrive at a neat solution. Consider the Indian state’s approach.

Kashmir, it would appear, based on extrapolation from its modern history has been viewed more or less as a security issue that can, at best, be managed. The consequences of this approach have been manifestly deleterious and by the very nature of this approach, it has entailed the politics of manipulation, coercion and crude political management.

This goes against the nature of liberal democracy and the its corollaries- freedom and liberty- abstractions that are nonetheless powerful and which determine the nature of the Indian state. There then is a contradiction here: a liberal democracy chooses to disavow its character and nature when it comes to Kashmir. The consequences of this are for all to see.

Now consider Pakistan- a Praetiorian oligarchical state- which has over time morphed into a security state.

In terms of the ideational and ideological orientation of Pakistan, Kashmir becomes and is central to it. Much of the state’s energy – military, political and diplomatic – and resources have gone to wresting Kashmir from India. Additionally, Pakistan feels that it is the aggrieved party and has been hard done by historically and a sense of victimhood vis a vis Kashmir defines it.

Then there is Kashmir and Kashmiris: victims of politics and politicking. (The use of the term ‘victim’ here is not meant to imply a sense of victimhood and the attendant narrative here). In many senses, Kashmiris have been the objects of politics which has rendered us passive components of a larger puzzle.

The politics that defines the state – be it on the mainstream side or the separatist one- conforms and corresponds to the respective narratives and approaches delineated here.

To recapitulate, from the perspective of the Indian state, it is a security oriented prism; from the Pakistani perspective it is both ideational and security. In this schema, Kashmir and Kashmiris remain stuck in a time warp and the object of politicking. The result is stalemate and a status quo which erupts and degenerates into political volatility on and off.

Is this a state of affairs that is salubrious? No. Of course not. This state of affairs needs to change, and fresh thinking and paradigms dwelt upon.

The problem or issue is basically discursive. It is the discourse about Kashmir that first needs to change. The rest is mere corollary and detail. This naturally entails and calls for a perspectival change amongst all stakeholders of the dispute, decluttering of collective minds and imagination, disavowal of prejudices and a conversation between all stakeholders with a fresh and an open mind.

The starting point and the end point of this conversation has to be the people of Kashmir. The world is changing and the winds of change are blowing over the subcontinent too. It is about time that we don’t tilt against the windmills but rather go with the drift of this change. What better way than to start with Kashmir? —First Post


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