In the early years after the colonial withdrawal from South Asia, Indian and Pakistani diplomats, although publicly antagonistic, were less rigid in private conversation. This also applied to cocktail chatter on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
It explains, at least in part, the pendulum swings of the two countries between unilateralism and bilateralism in their attempts at ‘solutions’ regarding the erstwhile State. The 1965 war and the 1999 Kargil debacle were two Pakistani stabs at a ‘unilateral’ solution. India had a go at unilateral solutions in the 1952 Delhi Agreement and the 1975 Accord. As for bilateral agreements: Tashkent 1966 and the Simla 1972 stand out as two relatively transparent efforts.
The Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Islamabad earlier this month showed the pendulum again swinging towards bilateralism. There was but token reference to Kashmir in the talks and the only substantive statements on J&K were made in an interview by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani-Khar just before the meeting. In the very same interview she said, first, that “[The talks] will eventually lead us to ways and means to resolve all bilateral disputes (emphasis mine), including the most important of all, the status of Jammu and Kashmir”. She then played to the gallery: “[There is] only one eventual resolution…the Kashmiri right to self-determination.” Everyone, most importantly the peoples of this State, is left wondering which of these contradictory statements to believe.
Meanwhile, the joint statement contained no more than a rehash of already articulated platitudes on travel and trade. It was all atmospherics. The lessons of the failure of the six – uncannily symmetrical – attempts at joint or individual solution should tell New Delhi and Islamabad that it is time to genuinely involve the peoples of J&K.
We know the questions. Which peoples? What is it that they actually want? These are specious arguments. If the two capitals are listening, they will hear a familiar refrain from all political persuasions in the State. Predictably, and rightly, the Hurriyat (G) and the JKLF rejected the Indo-Pak exclusion (or token recognition) of the Kashmir conundrum outright. Amongst the ‘main stream’ parties, the PDP read between the lines and edged towards a triangular discourse when its patron stated that his party “had provided a platform to the people of the Jammu and Kashmir for channelizing their democratic aspirations”. The National Conference did not comment directly on the lack of a Kashmir-specific discussion, but its earlier position on AFSPA, which was summarily thrown out as an option by the army and the central political class, is yet another considered aspiration. And there are dissenting voices from Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir, all militating against the status quo. These are the people.
And their aspirations do have a common concern. The gist of this was voiced by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in his reaction to the talks. He is reported to have said that “Delhi cannot rule J&K by remote control” any more. The argument can be extended to say that the constituent peoples of the erstwhile state, all of them, have articulated a common minimum program; how they do not want to be governed. Ergo: they want a real say in their future. This is all-J&K message.
Resistance to injustice, like water, does not tolerate a vacuum. Injustice will always be resisted– be it in the form of reluctant cooperation, resentful tolerance, deceptive ruse or outspoken criticism. It is this reality that status quo powers often ignore at their own peril. India and Pakistan have ignored it for sixty-five years. It is time for them to change their approach.
We in J&K need to do the same, and this was an important subtext in the reactions to the Foreign Ministers’ meeting.
A younger generation of introspective political commentators has started to chide the leaders of the twenty-two year old current rebellion for their canned responses to the solidarity shown by Delhi and Islamabad in their expected self-interests. Shujaat Bukhari termed the meeting a ‘reality check’ on the problem in the context of world affairs.
Mehmood ur-Rashid went a step further by illustrating how many resistance movements have had to react to inequity by thinking through global events and how they impinge on their aspirations: “There is no substitute [for] thinking. We cannot stop the world from doing what it chooses to do, all we can do is to unfetter our own minds and discover the possibilities of politics.”
These are calls for the powerful resistance that is Kashmir to start engaging and ensure that the inequity that has visited us, all of us, for so long is not prolonged by the acquisitiveness – territorial, economic and intellectual – that is the wont of status quo states.
It recalls an African folktale, as narrated by the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, that serves as a reminder of what could happen.
The animals of the jungle, weary of King Lion’s unjust and indiscriminate devouring of creatures, called for a meeting in the jungle-square to find a solution. As all the animals were heading towards the clearing, the Fox, seeing the leader of the Roosters trotting away from the site, asked: ‘Aren’t you joining us?”
The Rooster replied that he was on an important errand but would abide by the decision of those assembled.
Two days later, the Rooster returned and inquired about the decision. “We decided”, said the Fox, “that the Lion should only prey on Roosters!”
It is time for us to heed such stories and speak for ourselves.