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Kashmir -- Time to move on?

Dr Nitin Pandey

24-Aug-2008
Learning history prevents history from repeating itself but endlessly debating history is not the way to solve present day problems. Therefore while debating the genesis of Kashmir situation can only lead to one getting agitated with Nationalistic fervor; it cannot show a way forward. A solution for Kashmir can only come out of today’s reality rather than yesterday’s history.

Things we must accept…..
  1. That Kashmir is a problem which needs to be tackled headlong and it should not be brushed under the carpet, as it has been for so many years. Enough blood has been lost, enough sufferings have been endured and enough resources poured in by all the involved parties without the situation moving an inch towards solution. Status quo is not a solution.
  2. That even after 61yrs of Independence, we have not been able to integrate Kashmir into national mainstream, the causes of which if we start debating, will distract us for the main aim of finding a solution. The fact is that today, an overwhelming majority of people in Kashmir do not feel Indian and are unlikely to do so in foreseeable future. This feeling of Kashmiri Nationalism is widespread involving all sections of society from lawyers to doctors to artisans to the youth. To label it as purely Pakistan inspired would be ostrich like and give too much credit to the Pakistanis.
Land for Amarnath yatris served only as a trigger for protests, it is not the main problem. At the core is Kashmiri Nationalism.

Things which make a solution difficult….
  1. Absence of a leader of stature in India: Politics and politicians have sunk to their lowest depth in present day India. In this era of coalition politics, politicians are too busy saving their own chairs to care for long term implications of today’s actions. Ruling one day at a time without caring for the future is today’s mantra unless a problem explodes on their faces, as Kashmir has now. Even now attempts are being made to paint the whole issue as one merely of Amarnath land and so brush the main issue under the carpet.
  2. Pakistan: It refuses to recognize the possibility of an independent Kashmir, insisting on merging the Valley into what it calls “Azad Kashmir”. Theoretically, even if India were to give Kashmir freedom, there is little to prevent a repeat of 1947 invasion of the valley. Merging the valley into Pakistan would not be acceptable to any Indian and to probably a significant proportion of people in Kashmir. With the departure of Gen. Musharraf and his replacement with squabbling politicians the chances of a Kashmir solution have become dimmer, as these politicians have their own compulsions.
Kashmiri Militants are only fringe players in the situation and will settle down once the issue is solved.

Commonly raised bogeys….
  1. “Most Indians are against giving Kashmir freedom /autonomy”: It is very likely that a vast majority of Indians are agreeable to giving freedom / more autonomy to Kashmir. Barring the loud mouthed politicians, who spin out high sounding nationalistic jingoism at the drop of a hat but who have never sacrificed a single near one in the defense of our Nation, very few people actually oppose letting Kashmir go. The debate can easily be solved by one single referendum.
  2. “Kashmiri’s will be worse off after Independence with a bad economy and poor human rights”: Maybe, but who said a breath of free air is better than a bed of gold in a cage? Perhaps the British also felt the same about us while giving us Independence. Kashmiris have to write their own destiny, who are we to worry about them. One thing is for sure, India will be better off once the Kashmir problem is solved.
  3. “Other Indian muslims will want to be liberated”: This is the most reprehensible of the bogeys raised by politicians. Indian Muslims have nothing in common with Muslims in Kashmir, except for religion. Indian Muslims are as much a part of India as any one else and would consternate at such thoughts. True bombs are exploded in cities by extremists, who are Muslims, but even some Hindus explode bombs in cities (Naxalites). Majority of Muslims in India are happy, patriotic and proud Indians and do not want to go anywhere.
  4. “Granting right to secede will open a Pandora’s Box”: Kashmir has been a special case right from beginning, with a written guarantee by the Central Government of its distinctive character in the form of Article 370. No other State has such an Article. Moreover as of now, no other State wants to secede. Even in Nagaland, the fight is now for Greater Nagaland, rather than Free Nagaland.
  5. “What about Kashmiri Pandits”: The fact of the matter is that most have settled in various parts of India and sadly, they must accept the reality that they cannot return to the Valley except if they wish to live in Ghettos. It must be the same feeling which was felt by Sindhis, Gujaratis and Punjabis who migrated to India during Partition. They must stop living as “refugees” and integrate with the society around them.
  6. “Kashmir is an Integral part of India”: Kashmir became a part of India in 1947, prior to which it was an independent Kingdom. It became a part of India by virtue of the Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947, which had stiff conditions for preserving the identity of the State.
    Burma, Afghanistan and Pakistan were all part of India at one time. Burma was part of British India for 100yrs before it was split off in 1936.
    Similar arguments that India is an integral part of the British Empire, was put forwards by the British against Indian Independence. Infact India was regarded as “the brightest jewel in the British Crown”.
    India too became part of the British Empire by virtue of valid agreements signed by the East India Company with the various Indian rulers. According to then Indian Constitution, it was sedition to talk about freeing India from British rule. Things change!
  7. “Talks must be held within the Indian Constitution”: Our government’s refusal to talk to Kashmiri separatist groups, insisting the talks be held within the Indian Constitution, is baffling. A constitution which has been amended umpteen times to suit the political conveniences, now stands as a barrier preventing talks. Even the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution have been changed. “Talks within the Indian Constitution” should be the last hurdle in talks with anyone, who can help resolve the Kashmir issue.
  8. “People will flood the Valley overnight if Article 370 is lifted”: People migrate from troubled regions, not shift into them. Even if Article 370 is lifted, in the present environment no one will even think of such a thing. Further, Article 370 only prohibits non state subjects from buying land in the valley. If people actually want to shift there, they can easily hire houses. Infact, the most vocal opponents of a compromise in Kashmir should be challenged to stay in the Valley for a few weeks in hired accommodation. It is easier to preach than practice.

The way forward….
  1. Assess the will of people: Complex problems require out of the box solutions. Though having a referendum is not a part of Indian constitution, there is no harm in having one to settle the issue of people’s will, once and for all. Politicians should not be assumed to be representing the will of Indian people in this case. It should be held all over India, including J&K.
  2. Form a time bound high powered senior level all party committee with the specific aim of solving the Kashmir problem. It should meet, if necessary, daily, till it reaches a conclusion. Ask Pakistan to also do the same and both the committees can then talk. Discussions between India and Pakistan should not be left to bureaucrats, who are bound by rules and regulations. At a later stage involve the Separatists and Center stage Kashmiri parties. Talk with an open mind without any preconceived notions or restrictions with the sole aim of finding a solution. Nothing should be off the table. Results of the referendum can be a strong starting point for negotiations.

Beginning serious, time bound and result oriented talks will soothe tempers in the Valley. Specific will of the Indian people should guide the final outcome. We have already delayed solving the K-problem for so many decades. In this land of Gandhi and Buddha, so much blood has been spilt, so much human suffering endured, that history will not forgive us if we still keep quite.

All men are born equal and free.


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