Kashmir always first You just can't strike out Kashmir from Indo-Pak narrative

Authors and writers are not prophets.  They do not ‘speak from divine inspiration’ or as ‘authoritative persons who divine future.’ I do not see them even as statesmen with great political vision, understanding and futuristic judgment.   Scholarly writings and dispassionate studies whether tasteful or distasteful, critical or appreciative, however, help in understanding complex political situations, resolving intricate political disputes and coercing nations into introspection.

One such work that recently caught my imagination has been, ‘The future of Pakistan’, by Stephen P Cohen and others, published by Oxford University Press, India. In his preface to the book Stephen Cohen writes that, the book has ‘stemmed from a project that examined Pakistan’s medium term- future, roughly defined as next five to seven years (2011-17). The book comprises fourteen essays presented at workshop at Rockefeller Conference Centre, in Bellagio, Italy in May 2010, two commissioned essays from Indian scholars; and Stephen Cohen’s long essay on future of Pakistan. Cohen says that the ‘strategy was to approach the question of “Whither Pakistan”? from several perspectives.’ Besides, some known American and European South-Asia experts, the scholars from India and Pakistan that have contributed to the book include Kanti Bajpai, Mohan Gurswmay, Bahuktumbi Raman, Anita M Weiss,  Tariq Fatemi, Shuja Nawaz, Shaukat Qadir, Hasan Askari Rizvi, Aqil Shah, Moeed W Yusuf and others.

Pakistan for donkeys’ years has been most important ally of United States in South Asia till it was recently ‘replaced by India’, but it is little understood in Washington. ‘There are no think tanks with programs dedicated to the study of Pakistan or Institutes for studies of Pakistan in America.’ Bruce Riedel, a former US spymaster and author of controversial book, ‘Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and future of Global Jihad, in his foreword to the book writes, “Pakistan is almost always grouped with its larger neighbor, India, in South Asia programs. This is understandable, given their common heritage in the British Empire, but it often means Pakistan takes a back seat to its bigger and richer neighbor in American studies. That is a shame; Pakistan is an extremely important country in its own right. If geography had placed it somewhere else, it would be seen as one of the emerging critical nations of twenty first century, but geography puts it in the shadow of India. It needs more attention”.

The brief forward quite incisively sums up the US and Pakistan relations. The United States has largely been responsible for not allowing democratic roots to strike in Pakistan, it has been ‘embracing all four Pakistani General who ruled Pakistan, from President Kennedy to Bush have invited them for consultation. In his 69 pages long chapter “Pakistan: Arrival and Departures,” Stephen Cohen, known Pakistan basher, debates at length the challenges facing the country, “originally intended by its great leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to transforms the lives of British Indian Muslims by providing them a  homeland sheltered from Hindu oppression”.  He analyses the threats to its integrity from militants within and outside. Debating on  complex subjects such as ‘civil or military authoritarianism’, democratic consolidation’, ‘parallel Pakistanis’, ‘external and global factors’, he very subtly states suggests that so far army remains integrated, “It is misleading to talk of breakaway of discontented province and the breakup of the states, or total state failure, within the next five years. Those who predict such a future soon are patently unaware of Pakistan’s resiliency and capabilities, even if this is failing along many dimensions.” Stephen’s, these remarks in fact strengthens the narrative that emanate from Maleeha Lodhi’s recent book, Pakistan Beyond Crisis State, published in India by Rupa.

The book by Stephen Cohen with inputs from India and Pakistan scholars gives a diverse perspective and provides an insight into the contemporary political scenario and the situation likely to emerge but what made book more gripping for me, was should, I say it inadvertently throwing up a debate on Kashmir. The debate very subtly forewarns about procrastination of the problem and its dangerous implication for the region. In the “Afterword” of the book Stephen Cohen refers to various studies and analysis  carried about situation in South Asia before and after 9/11. “India emerging as “unrivaled regional power- including naval and nuclear capabilities- a dynamic and growing”, does not seem auguring well for peace and stability in the region. The study carried by National Intelligence Council, sees “the widening India-Pakistan gap – destabilizing in its own right- will be accompanied by deep political, economical and social disparities within States.”  Suggesting that the decisive shift in conventional military power in India’s favor over the coming years potentially make the region more volatile and stable the study sees a major conflict between India and Pakistan overshadowing all other regional issues. It also sees turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan “spilling over to Kashmir.” page 285.

It will be hard for any scholar, while debating India-Pakistan relation, or South-Asian security scenario to expunge or strike out Kashmir from the narrative. In his essay titled, “Addressing a Fundamental Challenges”, C. Christine Fair, critical of Pakistan army for its believing that is the only institution protecting Pakistan.  How this belief  is woven in Pakistan discourse, he writes, “Indeed Pakistani say that their concern in Afghanistan stems from their fear of India and Pakistan’s issues with India and Kashmir, could be resolved, their need for Afghan Taliban will abate.” Blaming India of being “appallingly shortsighted”, Fair writes, “India demurs from making any policy regarding Pakistan that may be conciliatory, including by striking a comprehensive settlement between Delhi and Srinagar.”  India, he says, “clinging to the notion that its varied elections demonstrate that Kashmir issue is resolved.

However, as any visitor to Kashmir can attest, elections have not ameliorated the perverse discontent and dissatisfaction with Delhi, much less provides a path to towards comprehensive reconciliation.” Seeing Kashmir issue having merged with larger “Hindu-Muslim discord,” he is critical of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy that harbors on, “wait out, while India and Pakistan weakens.” (Pages 97-98) Some of the authors including Stephen Cohen see Kashmir at the centre of Pakistan China relations. Tariq Fatima, in his essay, Looking Ahead, while analyzing genesis of the problems confronting country and its future, does not see Kashmir just as “disputed territory” but as one that “has impacted the hearts and minds of Pakistan..” Page 107-108.

The book for largely being a good study on contemporary Pakistan situation and its future, is an important read for students of South-Asian politics.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)