Kashmir dispute, possible solutions
The European Experience
Kashmir issue is once again at the centre stage of the Indian politics. The major and welcome shift in this regard is the realization and acceptance of the fact that J&K is neither a mere law and order problem, nor is it the offshoot of the mindless violence engineered by Pakistan. Violence has no doubt been plaguing in the state of J&K since 1990, but it was always rooted in the politics which centers around the strong aspirations to preserve the distinct historical, geographical religious, cultural and political identity of the state, divided by an artificial line of control.
Despite the fact that the state remains divided and the two full-fledged wars besides Kargil and Siachin were fought between India and Pakistan on the control of J&K there are political parties and individuals who deny the existence of the very issue. Some parties vehemently support the Indian claims on the Pakistan administered part of the state but negate the issue in its totality.
The five month old protest in Kashmir valley marked with stone pelting, prolonged strikes, curfews, arrests of youth and killing of more than a hundred people have compelled the state and the central governments to take the matter seriously and evolve an acceptable, comprehensive and long lasting political solution to the issue. To mention once gain, the initial positive steps are welcome and have in fact eased the situation though skepticism still prevails.
The appointment of three interlocutors, the encouraging statements of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, UPA Chairperson and the left parties as well as the visit of the All Party Delegation are definitely positive signals. However the trillion dollar question in everybody’s mind is what would be the offer of the Indian establishment against the demand of the separatist parties for total independence via a referendum or plebiscite. When asked whether the dialogue with the separatists would be within the Indian constitution the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had said in Srinagar that it should be within the ambit of humanity. Similarly Late Narasima Rao reacted to the demand of autonomy by saying “short of secession sky is the limit”. But these statements demand the need for greater flexibility in the approach of the government of India and the main political parties including BJP and its allies in resolving the issue which has been detrimental to the peace and prosperity of the whole sub-continent.
What should be the extent of flexibility and how could the demand of Azadi or independence be fulfilled by an offer of greater autonomy; we need to learn from the European experience. Europe has faced a number of Kashmir like complex problems and its different countries have fought bloody wars in a futile attempt to resolve these problems militarily. As the continent developed economically and socially it shed the political narrow-mindedness and decided to expand the democratic practice and mechanism for the resolution of territorial disputes. Perhaps the most important achievement of Europe is the acceptance of the fact that the modern era is not the era of imperialism and that the distinct and specific social, religious and cultural aspirations of small nationalities have to be recognized, accommodated and even respected.
There are a number of examples where the powerful countries of Europe have allowed small nationalities either full independence or complete internal autonomy and self rule. Some ticklish problems have been resolved by forming autonomous regions within a sovereign country or by granting complete self rule sans defense and foreign affairs. Where two or more nations were involved, the mechanism of joint management has been worked out.
While traveling from Italy to Switzerland one passes through the tiny State of Lichtenstein. The area of this State is 160 sq km. Its language is German, currency Swiss Franc and population just 35000. The State is bound by Austria and Switzerland. The principality which-was a bone of contention between, Austria and Switzerland and struggled for total independence was finally granted full internal autonomy under an agreement in 1919. It is considered sovereign though Switzerland looks after its defense needs and represents it in the international forums. It is a prosperous State with a GDP of 25000 dollars per head.
The territory of Andorra with an area of 468 sq km and a population of 83,888, lies on the eastern border of France and Spain remained disputed for centuries together. Presently the principality is under joint control of France and Spain. The State adopted a democratic constitution of its own in 1993.
Republic of San Marino is an enclave in the territory of Italy with an area of 61 sq km and population of. 30,000 only. It was just a commune but did not like to merge with the unified and newly established kingdom of modern Italy in 1862. Italy granted it sovereignty, retaining its defense and foreign affairs. Its language continues to be Italian though the population is of Sammarinese which belongs to a different ethnic group.
Take the example of Monaco. It is a very small country in fact an enclave of less than two square kilometers within French territory. Monte Carlo the world’s famous tourist resort and a symbol of heavenly peace is the part of this principality. Monaco continues to be under French protection since 1641 but the French establishment never thought to occupy and merge the territory.
Though facing difficulties, the resolution of the dispute of Northern Ireland, which plagued United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for about 75 years, is more relevant to the Kashmir issue. The Good Friday agreement of April 1998 between UK and the Republic of Ireland granted Northern Ireland, complete internal autonomy by evolving a mechanism of joint control. The mechanism involves creation of three new bodies: a Northern Ireland Assembly With a Power Sharing Executive. North South Ministerial Council and a Council of the Isles with members of the British and Irish governments and devolved bodies within UK. The agreement ended age old animosity between UK and Irish Republic. It also put to an end the Catholic-Protestant riots and violence.
The other examples are that of Vatican and Malta. Even the sovereign states of Switzerland and Luxemburg were evolved by following and implementing the principle of autonomy, self rule, joint management and demilitarization.
How can the European experience be utilized for Kashmir Resolution?
To learn from the European experience we have to understand the present nature of Kashmir problem. By Kashmir we mean the whole State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Pakistan administered parts of the un-divided state including Gilgit-Baltistan areas. In J&K, the overwhelming population, especially in the Kashmir valley face a deep rooted sense of identity crisis and alienation.
The erosion of Autonomy, weakening of Article 370 and negation of basic democratic rights to people have led them to think that their political future is not safe in India. They feel insecure socially, culturally and even religiously. The present demand for “Azadi” or independence is rooted in history as also what Tavleen Singh, the writer journalist calls Tragedy of Errors- the errors committed by successive governments in India since 1953 till date. The erosion of the autonomy has resulted in the erosion of confidence and has finally led to the demand of independence and the ongoing violence. The only alternative to secession is the restoration of autonomy as it stood in 1952 or 1948. Here again we can take a leaf from Europe. The autonomy enjoyed by Scotland and Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, Switzerland with three distinct ethnic groups and languages and an area equal to one fifth of the J&K has delegated enormous powers to all its 25 Cantons. The Cantons have even been ascribed distinct symbols of their own. The autonomy and devolution of powers has kept this country of French, German and Italian sub-nationalities not only united but has made it a very peaceful and prosperous country, in fact a heaven on earth. A small country like Netherlands too has fully autonomous provinces of Amba and Antilles.
With regard to J&K it is often said that Kashmir valley may like to have greater autonomy but Jammu and Ladakh regions don’t want it and these regions in fact aspire for closer relations with the rest of India. There is a demand for separate State for Jammu region and in Leh district some vocal voices have organized a movement for the grant of Union Territory status to the area. In any meaningful and permanent dispensation for the resolution of Kashmir issue, the aspirations of Jammu and Ladakh regions could and should be taken care of. While in Ladakh more powers could be devolved to the already existing Hill Development Council, Jammu region can have an elected Regional Council with region specific legislative, executive and financial powers. These powers could be devolved to sub-regions of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda also. There could be other solutions as well.
As far as external dimension of J&K is concerned, Pakistan has to be involved. It was a realistic approach when one of the present interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar minced no words in this regard and said that for a lasting solution, Pakistan has to be involved because one third of the area of J&K is under its control. It is here that joint management of defense, foreign affairs, communication and subjects like environment conservation could be "discussed and an agreement reached at. If Italy can tolerate a full-fledged sovereign country of Vatican City in the heart of its capital Rome, why can’t India grant, rather restore the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy to J&K. After all Vatican has an area of less than half a sq km and a population of 1000 souls only, yet the tiny country has its own currency, postage stamps, citizenship rights, flag, diplomatic corps and broadcasting facilities.
If there is a will to solve a problem like Kashmir, we can take models from many disputes which have been resolved between nations and nations without bloodshed.
(M Y G Nairang is Ex-Director PIB. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)