Competing claims within Kashmir conflict from inside

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Really! Shakespeare, perhaps, did not live in times of present day global conflicts where words are politically loaded. Take for instance Kashmir where words determine where one’s politics lie. Neutrality is the challenging art of quest for the lesser contested vocabulary. One of the many complex nuances of the Kashmir dispute is the way it remains trapped in contesting and competing claims in the manner in which it is identified and its boundaries marked. Different stakeholders within the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood in 1947 before partition of the sub-continent identify the region in multiple ways and if different regional stakeholders were to share a common platform it would not look like they are talking about the same place. For ethnic Kashmiris, the state would be Kashmir irrespective of whether the word is meant as an inclusion of Jammu, Ladakh and other areas. Many in Jammu would be at pins in being identified as Kashmiri and within Jammu, sub-regions may satirically claim that they have been represented as ‘and’ that exists in the official nomenclature of the state.

The story is far more complex with a part of the state on the other side of the Line of Control under Pakistani control. The people from what is officially called by Pakistan as ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)’ would prefer to identify themselves as Kashmiris, often a political identity for a region that has greater cultural and historical affinity with Jammu region on the Indian side. The AJK does not include Gilgit-Baltistan with cultural affinity with Ladakh region. It was sliced like a piece of cake and merged with Pakistan state without giving its people constitutional powers under the Karachi agreement in 1948. The politics of people from Gilgit-Baltistan is betrayed by whether they identify themselves as part of a disputed region or as part of Pakistan. The official jargon on both sides remains trapped in ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir’ and ‘Indian occupied Kashmir’. The peaceniks and international bodies and community may prefer the more neutral terms of Indian administered and Pakistan administered Kashmir. Yet, these terms lend less clarity on the exact boundaries that these words are meant to denote. That remains open to interpretations because even the maps of the region are viewed entirely differently, making it one of the most contested cartographic conflicts in the world.

A USA based Pakistani scholar I met in Karachi in 2006 during the World Social Forum was quite intrigued while looking at the map of Kashmir displayed by an Indian participant making a presentation. “I have never seen Jammu and Kashmir like that,” he remarked. The utterances were not a reflection of a certain ideology, they were simply a candid confession of ignorance about cartography of Jammu and Kashmir other than the one used by Pakistani state. If one views the official maps of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, they would look like entirely two separate regions on the globe. The problem of Kashmir does not get exacerbated by wide usage of maps that are in absolute contrast and contradiction to each other. Rather, the problem exists because different people around the globe imagine the map of Jammu and Kashmir differently, as political cartographers would argue that mapping is not just about territorial geography, it is also about politics.

Various parties involved see the map of this troubled and disputed state differently. There are competing claims of how India positions Jammu and Kashmir, how Pakistan sees it, how China sees it and how the international world community does. India’s official position is that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, confirmed and ratified by the Instrument of Accession and later the Article 370 that is a constitutional link between India and this state. It maintains claims over the Indian administered part of the state as well as the parts of the state under Pakistan administration since 1947-48. Pakistan divided its occupied territories and carved out a separate state called Northern Areas and reserved a chunk to the far north-east of the state, ceding it to China. Officially, it maintains that the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed, though this is marked by dichotomy since it does not spell the fate of the Northern Areas which have been linked to the North Western Province of Pakistan administratively or the uninhabited area under Chinese control. The Chinese position on Kashmir is much in line with the Pakistani position; though it is more flexible on the Pakistani administered territories, it maintains the part of Kashmir under its occupation is legal and final. The international community sees entire Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory with divisions marked by Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani administered territories and Actual Line of Control between Indian and Chinese control. The borders to the south of the state which merge with the landscape of Pakistan’s mainland, despite being recognized as International Border, just before the Line of Control starts are not without dispute either. While India calls this an international border, Pakistan maintains this as a working boundary, owing to its stated official claim over entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

To cut the whole story short, one’s sense of history gets in the way of another’s sense of geography. And, hence the dispute. The lines are drawn on the map, competing nationalistic fervours feeding to contrasting and competing narratives, the way the lines are designed and the genesis of the nomenclature. The divisiveness of the internal discourse is not entirely artificially propped up to suit the interests of New Delhi and Islamabad. Competing narratives also have their own natural source, fed by different aspirations, affinities and aspirations. The bottom line is that there is an internal discourse that must of course be freed of its state-ist trappings but also need to be a addressed at another level.