Kashmir: What can be done?

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Indians and Pakistanis tend to comprehend Kashmir through catchphrases – ‘Heaven on Earth’, ‘Paradise of the East’, ‘Switzerland of India’ and so on. Another set of catchphrases ‘atoot ang’, ‘shah rug’, and now ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ and ‘azadi’ dominate our image of the place, conjuring up visions of frenzied crowds and disfigured faces pockmarked and blinded. The ugly images of the results of crowd control measures repel sensitive Indians. The question is, what is to be done?

First, we should rule out what cannot be done. A plebiscite is not possible. Of the many resolutions the UN passed on Kashmir, only two are relevant to the plebiscite: those of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949. A plebiscite was to follow the complete withdrawal of tribal invaders and Pakistan forces from the invaded areas of Jammu & Kashmir, after which India would draw down its forces to a number just sufficient to maintain law and order and hold a plebiscite. Pakistan never withdrew its troops, and one cannot imagine it withdrawing them now. That rules out a plebiscite permanently.

Imagining what can be done in Kashmir requires suspending prejudice, and abandoning preconceived notions. The grievances of Kashmir’s Muslims are not only genuine, they fester at the core of their emotional being. Any workable solution begins with recognition by Delhi that the root of the problem lies in its own actions since 1953, bearing in mind that what would have worked in the 80s had lost traction in the 90s and the openings available in the new millennium may no longer work in 2016.

Despite the hardline S A S Geelani, and the more recent Islamist tendency among youthful protestors it is wrong to suppose that there are no reasonable voices left in Kashmir. It is not possible in this short piece to detail the grievances Kashmiris have against India, many real, some imagined. They have multiplied as the decades passed. The Sheikh’s arrest, rigged elections, police rule under Bakshi and his successors are some.

After militancy erupted, India’s record of human rights violations, the humiliations inflicted on Kashmiris and the sheer indifference to their plight only added to the alienation. India prides itself on its democratic traditions and the rule of law. Kashmiris have seen little of either. They firmly believe that Sheikh Abdullah made the wrong choice in 1947, when he chose Hindu India over Muslim Pakistan.

Any workable solution therefore must address the full gamut of Kashmiri anger, even if no solution can fully assuage the intense negative sentiment about India. It is a feeling of impotence against an overbearing Indian state that propels successive generations to increasingly violent expression of their rage. In the short run, India can hope at best to neutralise the anger. It cannot build emotional bridges, let alone win hearts.

Any workable solution therefore must address the full gamut of Kashmiri anger, even if no solution can fully assuage the intense negative sentiment about India. It is a feeling of impotence against an overbearing Indian state that propels successive generations to increasingly violent expression of their rage. In the short run, India can hope at best to neutralise the anger. It cannot build emotional bridges, let alone win hearts.

The solution must distinguish between the Kashmir problem, which is an international issue between India and Pakistan, and India’s problem in Kashmir, which is a domestic matter. The Kashmir problem may never be solved, but India’s problem in Kashmir is amenable to positive outcomes even now. Subtly handled it can have a favourable impact upon the international issue as well.

A flexible approach will allow various paths to a solution. It must be acceptable to the majority of Kashmiris as well as satisfy Jammu’s Hindus and Ladakhi Buddhists, and non-Kashmiri Muslims. It must provide for the expelled Pandits living in forced exile.

Amendments can always take care of constitutional impediments if they arise. We amend that document more than once annually on the average. In fact, the J&K Constitution will need amendment too. Separatists are prone to think of J&K as sacrosanct: it is however only the malformed and malfunctioning product of a treaty between Gulab Singh and the British, a treaty upon which Kashmiri leaders regularly heap curses.

It is possible to make the entire state autonomous as the Constitution envisages, or only parts of it, such as the Valley, and if the residents want, the adjoining Muslim majority areas. Regional autonomy is possible for Ladakh and Jammu. Special relationships between Delhi and some parts of the state such as Leh can be envisaged in a deal, which gives Kashmir full autonomy over all matters outside those specified in Article 370.

Pandits who want to return should be enabled to do so, unconditionally. It is their legal right; Kashmiri Muslim clusters have come up in Jammu city without interference from its Hindus, the same principle applies to the Pandits. Government sponsored colonies are a bad idea; but what is there to prevent housing cooperatives?

Article 370 allows trade and travel across the LoC. The restricted trade across the LoC needs to be expanded through a currency arrangement. If Kashmiris want their own currency, why stop them? Scotland after all has the Scottish pound freely useable in the UK.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke on Kashmir he commented that Kashmiris have as much ‘azadi’ as other Indians. This misses the point. Kashmiris have not been struggling for the ‘azadi’ that other Indians have; they want more. It is what the Constitution promised them. All states want less control from Delhi, but only J&K had it guaranteed under Article 370. If Islamists are gaining the upper hand it is because Delhi will not relent on restoring what it has taken away without popular sanction.

The Article First Appeared in TIMES OF INDIA

 

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