‘There Is No Compelling Need To Resolve The Kashmir Issue’

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Q. What prompted you to write Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris? More so, when you already have written a very important book on the state Kashmir, The Unwritten History.

A. In my research into this dispute, which I first started in 1984, I had not seen many, if any, books that comprehensively discussed the whole issue of Jammu and Kashmir: what this region comprised; how it came into being; why it was/is important; what happened in 1947, and thereafter; what nowcomprises the ‘Kashmir dispute’ and why it is important, etc. My first book Kashmir: The Unwritten History, while significant in its own right as it offered a different explanation of how the Kashmir dispute began, was rather academic. I wanted this book to be more approachable and generalist in nature so that readers could obtain a good understanding of various aspects of the complex Kashmir dispute.

What is it about Kashmiris as people that merits a mention in the title? What is it that the world needs to understand about them?

There is confusion about the term ‘Kashmir’, which is shorthand for the longer term ‘Jammu and Kashmir’. Similarly, there is confusion about the term ‘Kashmiris’, the people who populate this entity. My book explains these terms — and how Indians and Pakistanis use them differently, a practice that can cause confusion when both are discussing ‘the Kashmir dispute’.

You predict that the dispute over Kashmir could linger on for another 67 years, blaming the possessiveness of India and Pakistan for the state and likening it to Emperor Jahangir’s death wish of desiring “only Kashmir”.

History shows us that India and Pakistan have been unable — despite a number of attempts — to resolve their dispute over which should possess Jammu and Kashmir. India possesses the part that both it and Pakistan desire most of all: the Kashmir Valley. Apart from wanting this area because Kashmir is old and famous, New Delhi also is keen to deny Pakistan possession of it. The problem for Islamabad, however, is that the ‘k’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ stands for ‘Kashmir’, which means that Pakistan feels incomplete without some sort of meaningful access to this prized region. In a way that is reminiscent of Emperor Jahangir’s death wish, the thing that both nations essentially want is “only Kashmir”. It’s more about the territory than about people.

You have said that one of the solutions possible for Kashmir is an autonomous or independent entity within a South Asian Federation.

Theoretically, this would be one way to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir’s status, as a sovereign J&K would then comprise another unit, among many, within a South Asia Federation. Such an entity, however, first needs to come into being — which is currently unlikely — then to be sufficiently powerful and politically “together” to be able to deal with the various entities that would constitute it.

Since 1989, there has been this effort to violently change the political status quo, backed of course by a parallel political movement which enjoys a significant support in Kashmir Valley. The question often asked in Kashmir goes like this: Why is it that after 26 years, there has been no change on the ground, no forward movement towards the resolution of Kashmir?

Unfortunately, Jammu and Kashmir is not strategically important to the international community, which, generally speaking, has lost interest in the dispute. The United Nations Security Council certainly has not discussed this matter since the year 1965.

Since 1972, India has been able to insist that, as a result of the Simla Agreement, the matter is a bilateral issue for it and Pakistan only to resolve — despite the fact that third parties have, on occasion, been helpful brokering successful India- Pakistan agreements. Pakistani attempts to have the United Nations plebiscite conducted have long proven ineffectual. Finally, India and Pakistanseem to exist reasonably well as separate nations without resolving their dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. In other words, there is no compelling need to resolve this issue.

It is incorrect to say there that has been “no forward movement towards the resolution of Kashmir.” In 1999, Vajpayee and Sharif advanced India-Pakistan relations, including Kashmir, via the Lahore Declaration. Between 2002 and 2008, Dr Singh and General Musharraf had a series of important — and groundbreaking — discussions that may have got close to resolving the Kashmir dispute.

Do you see prospect of a Musharraf- Manmohan type peace process between India and Pakistan in near future? After all, before the Pathankot attack, Prime Minster Narendra Modi had talked of “changing the course of history”.

Given the right set of circumstances, I believe that India-Pakistan relations could normalise very quickly. This includes having strong and popular leaders concurrently in power in both nations who have a strong desire to resolve the Kashmir dispute and who are supported by “compelling constituencies” of voters who are encouraging and pressuring these leaders to resolve this issue. These circumstances do not currently exist. Also, even though Modi has talked of “changing the course of history”, this does not necessarily mean that he wants to resolve the Kashmir dispute. He may have something totally else in mind.

What explains the Pathankot attack? Can we linearly trace it to a militant outfit?

Apart from their inherent and ongoing strategic rivalry, deep India-Pakistanmistrust partly explains the Pathankot attack. Some elements within Pakistanconsider that India does not accept Pakistan’s existence and accordingly, therefore, they feel the need to strike India and weaken it whenever they can. Some Pakistanis also are frustrated with what they see as India’s ‘intransigence’ and seek to weaken it or its stance on J&K by undertaking such attacks.

Perhaps one positive is that there currently appears to be some cooperation between Indian and Pakistani authorities on investigating who was responsible for the Pathankot attack. —

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