A figure familiar to Mumbaikars is currently leading a march in Pakistan in support of Kashmir’s freedom from India.
A figure familiar to Mumbaikars is currently leading a march in Pakistan in support of Kashmir’s freedom from India. His name is Hafiz Saeed, and he is the founder of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba, whose recruits including Ajmal Kasab carried out the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Mr Saeed is a wanted terrorist with a US bounty of $10 million on his head, but remains at liberty to live a public life in Pakistan, leading marches in cities such as Lahore and Islamabad, and appearing in the news, with no evidence of experiencing anything except deference from the Pakistani or American authorities.
According to media reports from Lahore, Mr Saeed, like his protectors, the Pakistan government, has described Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani, whose death sparked off the current round of protests in and over Kashmir, as a freedom fighter, and said his death would strengthen the jihad in Kashmir.
This statement by Mr Saeed, and his presence at the head of a public protest march, should help to clarify a couple of points. Firstly, the struggle in Kashmir is, to a powerful section of its supporters, an Islamist jihad. Secondly, Pakistan was, and remains, committed to using terrorists as agents of foreign policy, and the US has no problem with this so long as the terrorists incubated by Rawalpindi do not cause it direct harm. Only those who act against it are liable to find themselves killed in helicopter raids or drone strikes.
It is therefore up to India to look after its own interests. To begin with, a degree of clarity in the public mind on Kashmir is necessary.
The fact is that the map of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that both the separatists and their opponents hold dear is one that slipped into history long ago. That it should still hold such sway over the minds of people who differ on so much else is odd. After all, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence only in 1846, when the British East India Company wrested it from the Sikh empire following their victory in the Battle of Sobraon.
The kingdom officially ceased to exist as an independent entity in 1947 when its king Hari Singh, who had been angling for a state independent of both India and Pakistan, signed the Instrument of Accession with India after raiders from Pakistan invaded the land.
Close to half the territory of the former princely state ended up under Pakistani occupation in 1947 itself, as a result of the Pakistani incursion. The dispute was taken to the United Nations by the Indian government and a plebiscite was promised. That promise was never kept, at least in part because of preconditions set by the UN that have never been met. The first of those conditions was that “Pakistani residents not normally resident therein” were to withdraw from Jammu and Kashmir. From 1948 to now, this withdrawal has not happened. In any event, population changes from 1947 to now are irreversible, and status quo ante cannot be meaningfully restored, rendering a fair referendum impossible.
Nor is Pakistan the only foreign power on the scene. Aksai Chin, which was included in the map of Jammu and Kashmir by the cartographic adventurism of a British official named Johnson, is under Chinese rule. The Chinese also have the Shaksgam Valley, a part of the Northern Areas north of the Karakoram range on the Pakistani side of the LoC, which was ceded to them by the Pakistan government in 1963. A sizable part of the former princely state is thus under Chinese occupation.
The ground reality, therefore, is that the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has now been divided into three parts, with India, Pakistan and China holding a part each.
Attempts to settle the issue by war in the past have failed, and the fact that India, Pakistan and China are all nuclear powers means that future conflicts come with extremely high risks. The issue will have to be settled through dialogue. Some version of the status quo is the safest and likeliest outcome. Indeed, a draft solution along these lines was worked out by India and Pakistan, as recorded in the memoirs of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri.
The people of Jammu and Ladakh are largely satisfied with being part of India. There is some disaffection in Gilgit-Baltistan, where the Tibetan Muslim population finds itself under Pakistani and Chinese rule. However, the main focus of protests against the status quo is in the Kashmir valley area. Territorially, this area amounts to less than 8 per cent of the area of J&K.
Rigged elections in the 1980s, and excesses of Indian security forces, have contributed to this situation, along with abundant support of militancy from Pakistan. All these contributing factors need to be addressed. The citizens of Kashmir should have the same rights and responsibilities as citizens of Delhi or Mumbai.
However, grievances about the police or military by themselves do not provide a theoretical basis for separatism. The failure of justice they represent can and should be addressed within the Indian constitution.
At the time of India’s independence, there were 562-odd princely kingdoms. Of these, all but two have largely made their peace with being part of India or Pakistan. The last two are Kashmir, and Kalat, in Balochistan.
India is a country where 780 languages are spoken. It has 22 official languages. There are numerous adherents of all major world religions. The country is home to more Muslims than Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran or Turkey.
Within J&K itself, Ladakh is dominated by Buddhists, Jammu is predominantly Hindu, and the valley of Kashmir is mainly Muslim. The main language in each region is different from the other.
Difference of language or religion therefore seems to form an inadequate basis for seeking a separate country in the Indian context. J&K is a little India even within itself. The Kashmiri nation is as much an imagined community as the Indian nation. If a Ladakhi Buddhist or Jammu Hindu can live under Srinagar’s rule, why can’t Srinagar live under Delhi’s rule
The Kashmir valley’s struggle for self-determination is theoretically sustainable only if the Kashmiri Muslim believes he cannot live under the same administration as the Ladakhi, the Dogra, or for that matter, the Indian Muslim. Or rather, that he can live with the Ladakhi or Dogra only if he is ruling over them.
If, hypothetically, the Kashmir valley were to become part of Pakistan, it is very doubtful that the Kashmiri’s plight would improve. Exchanging Delhi for Islamabad would merely add sectarian strife to the mix in a country where singers such as Amjad Sabri are shot dead by fundamentalists. The Kashmiris are used to a far more liberal way of life.
China is not known for tolerating cultural difference or dissent. Observing the Ramzan fast, for instance, is not permitted for government servants and students in Sinkiang. The country is officially Communist, and hence, atheist.
Azadi is impossible given the geopolitical facts. The Kashmir vale has not been independent since it was conquered and annexed by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1589.
The Kashmiri separatists’ tragedy is that they are too weak to realise their dream, but too strong to give it up. They need to face up to this reality, and make peace with it.