ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39

Kashmir: The reality and the rhetoric

I was in Lahore when Pakistan celebrated the Kashmir Solidarity Day. The government declared a holiday. Practically, every political leader and President Pervez Musharraf went over the exercise of expressing their support to the Kashmiris. The Jamiat-e-Islami was the only party which took out a procession so as to link Islam with the state. The solidarity day does not have a long history. I believe this is one of the steps taken to keep Kashmir before the people's eye.

Whether it serves any purpose or not, it is difficult to say. But during my six-day travel through Pakistan, I found people much more understandable on Kashmir than ever before. They realized that the problem was intricate and that it could not be solved through war. People anxiously awaited the outcome of composite dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad and they were satisfied that the talks were going on.

I wish there could be more appreciation of India's compulsions. It cannot accept the partition of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of religion. The country is already combating against the Hindutva forces to sustain pluralism. Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh, has a different population complexion. While Kashmir is a Muslim-majority area, Jammu and Ladakh are non-Muslims.

An Indian soldier stands guard as a Kashmiri woman walks past at a Srinagar market. AP

A hardline Muslim leader, Syed Shah Gillani, talks of Jammu and Kashmir in the same breath, knowing well that the old state has emotionally got split on the religious grounds. Like Gillani, the Hurriyat, an umbrella organization, represents only Kashmir which means the valley. None of them has ever worked politically in Jammu, nor have they done anything worthwhile for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who have been languishing outside the valley for the past several decades.

The state is sufi in temperament. But fundamentalists, many from across the border have tried to islamise the valley. How do they expect Jammu and Ladakh to come with them? The question of a plebiscite-India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised it-is not feasible because the plebiscite will get reduced to an exercise of rhetoric between the Quran and the Gita.

Ultimately, the fate of Jammu and Kashmir depends on outcome of negotiations between New Delhi and Islamabad. Till some years back the involvement of Kashmiris was not a pre-requisite for a settlement. Now it is because thousands of Kashmiris have given their life for Kashmir. Consequently, everybody has come to believe that it is but fair that the people of Kashmir are involved in the process of deciding their future. The problem arises when Jammu and Ladakh are not associated with the exercise to find a solution.

Surely, the Kashmiris cannot decide the fate of people living outside the valley. In fact, the whole problem has come to acquire a religious edge. I wish the Hurriyat had made even half the attempts to woe Jammu and Ladakh as it has done in the valley to win over the population. The Hurriyat has Islam as its medium and begins its formal sittings with the invocation of Allah. There is nothing wrong with that.

But then the Hindus in Jammu and the Buddhists in Ladakh do not feel themselves involved. Why couldn't the Hurriyat propagate pluralism which would have also spanned its distance with the rest of India? Islamabad says that the Hurriyat is real representatives of the state. How? It has never taken part in any election to given proof of its hold in the state. The Hurriyat says that it does not have to participate in elections held by the Indian Election Commission because it would not be fair in holding the polls. Fortunately, the Commission's independence is not in doubt while the Hurriyat's is.

The Hurriyat can always demand that some human rights activists from the rest of India should supervise the elections. Its boycott for the coming election is purposeless. Some of its leaders have told me that they cannot swear by the constitution of India, a pre-requisite for the participation in elections. If its leaders can sign passport forms, they can well fill in the nomination forms which require the same qualification: allegiance to the Indian constitution. The Hurriyat leaders' predicament is that they want to be everything to everybody.

They cannot do anything which may be interpreted as pro-India. Nor can they afford to tilt towards Pakistan openly, a position which New Delhi will not accept. True, the Kashmiri would like to be independent but this demand is not acceptable to either India or Pakistan. Therefore, the Hurriyat has come to put all its eggs in the basket of President Musharraf who has suggested some territorial adjustments and talked about the irrelevance of the border. I believe these proposals are under discussion behind the scenes between the interlocutors from India and Pakistan. One report is that they have covered 80 per cent of the distance. I do not think this is true.

However, both interlocutors should realise, if they have not done so far, that they have to reckon with Pakistan's new political leadership which may have different ideas than those of Musharraf. India too is only one year away from the Lok Sabha elections. I am not sure what will be acceptable to the next government which may not be that of the Congress?

Still more difficult to tackle will be the Indian parliament where any solution on Kashmir would need a two-thirds majority, a requirement for the amendment of the constitution. Again, even an inch of alteration of the existing border would mean a constitutional amendment. The Hurriyat leaders are living in a world of their own, feeling satisfied over the "understanding" they have got from Pakistan if not India. They do not face the facts. The West, particularly America, can never accept an autonomous Muslim state, next to Pakistan and that too sympathetic to it.

The Hurriyat leaders are cut off from the Indian thought and culture. They do not cultivate even the intellectuals, much less the politicians. They expect support without asking for it. I concede that there are human rights violations galore in the state. But without exposing the government at Srinagar, the Hurriyat cannot make any progress. That means influencing the Indian opinion. The status quo may not be to the liking of the Hurriyat but it should realise that it cannot move forward without re-conciliation with Jammu and Ladakh.

Were it to do so, its credentials would be more acceptable than today. It is a pity that the Hurriyat is going over the same exercise again and again. It should have learnt some lessons by now.

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