Kashmir: the festering wound

It is of utmost importance to counter the impression that the Kashmir issue has somehow lost its urgency or shed its significance or is being addressed in some kind of a mythical peace process. The impression needs to be countered because it is false, because it ignores the agony of the people of Kashmir and because it thereby hardens the psychological underpinning of the current diplomatic inaction regarding the issue.

What kind of thinking is responsible for the prevailing attitude of the world powers towards the Kashmir problem? Nobody can claim that it is an attitude of active interest or earnest desire to promote a settlement. The best that can be said about it is that it is one of benign non-intervention stemming from the fear that any act or word which smacked of interference would be resented by the occupying power, India, and would harden her intransigence even more. This passivity in the face of a wilful defiance of the demands of peace and stability would look quite demeaning if it were not for three covering factors:
First, the Kashmir dispute has persisted for more than six decades and, to put it simply, the world has become used to it.

Second, the United Nations has been marginalised during the last two decades with the consequence that the Charter is beginning to be looked upon as almost an antique. Third, callousness, if not outright cynicism, has become the reserve fund of diplomacy. A blindness to human reality is reflected in the vocabulary employed when situations of international conflict are talked about. Two adjectives used when an indirect reference (a direct reference, mind you, would be frowned upon by India) is made to Kashmir: the adjectives: ‘historical” and ‘long-standing’. Factually, the adjectives are not wrong. But they come handy because by drawing a curtain over reality, they provide a moral justification for studied inaction.

We might interpose a question or two here. What is ‘historical’ about the young woman who has just been widowed and gang-raped? What is ‘long-standing’ about the elderly man whose only son, his sole support, has been killed? Again, what is ‘long-standing’ about the hordes of unarmed teenagers who are resorting to the practice of pelting the Indian occupation troops with stones in Srinagar and other cities? Incidentally, these young men are mostly those whose rage has been aroused when they have seen or been told of whole families wiped out by the Indian troops.

Whatever were the legal constituents of the Kashmir question at the starting point, whatever were the strengths of the claims and counterclaims of India and Pakistan, the commission of mass murders by the Indian army – sixty to ninety thousands Kashmiri civilians slaughtered – has added a transforming dimension of reality to the dispute. Partly by the working of Indian policy, partly by the connivance of others and partly by the passivity of the media, a haze has been made to spread over Kashmir. How many people realise the extent to which Kashmir under Indian occupation is densely militarised? India stations more troops in Kashmir than the United States did or does in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Can this situation be dismissed as ‘historical’ and ‘long-standing’?

If it is being so dismissed at present, the dismissal is aided by the language employed. We are being told of an ‘insurgency’ in Kashmir. The term may not be inaccurate but it promotes a misperception. What is going on in Kashmir is not an insurgency against an authority that was once regarded as legitimate; it is a resistance to alien military occupation.

In the same way, those who are staging this Resistance are being falsely described as ‘separatists.’ How can we separate, they say, from what we never joined? Indeed, to class them with separatists in other lands is to betray stark ignorance of the character and inception of the dispute in which their lives and future are involved. As soon as the dispute arose, an overarching promise was made by India to Kashmir in all available forms — in solemn public declarations, in submissions to the United Nations, in communications to Pakistan and even to other governments. This was done in 1947 when India first marched its troops into Kashmir and it was repeated a number of times in the following five years.

Yes, this promise is now sixty-three years old. But does its age diminish its relevance or reduce is applicability? To assert so is to concede primacy to the law of the jungle. Promises may be forgotten, dishonourably or otherwise, by those who make them but they are never forgotten or lost sight of by those to whom or for whose benefit they are made. The tone and content of the promise is apparent in numerous statements. For the sake of brevity we may here just sample three.

In a telegram on October 31, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India and the chief originator of India’s Kashmir policy, conveyed to the prime minister of Pakistan: “Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order is restored and leave the decision regarding the future of the state to the people of the state is not merely a promise to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.”

In a broadcast to the nation on November 3,1947, Mr Nehru said “we have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

One of the points on which primary emphasis is laid in current statements of the Indian official position is the inalterability of the Indian constitution and hence of Kashmir being an integral part of India. The late Mr Nehru had this to say about it in the statement he made to the Indian parliament on June 26, 1952: “If, after a proper plebiscite, the people of Kashmir said, ‘we do not want to be with India’, we are committed to accept it though it might pain us. We will not send an army against them. We will accept that however we might feel about it. We will change the constitution, if necessary.”

For us, this may be matter which exists only in the archives we seldom open. For the Kashmiri, however, it is a matter which continues to reverberate in his consciousness. While visiting Indian-occupied Kashmir, I have witnessed different Kashmiri-speaking people, some educated, others barely literate, none of them political activists, making references to Kashmir’s accession to India being only ‘arzi (in Urdu: ‘provisional’) and subject to “rai-shumari” (popular vote). Nowhere does the Kashmiri who is not an opportunist (first and foremost) evince the natural belongingness to India. The most he will show is a coerced attachment.

One of the reasons the Kashmiri’s resistance to Indian occupation is not being taken abroad as a decisive phenomenon is that it does not stay at the same level of intensity over a period of time. But only stark ignorance of the living conditions of a poor society would expect its members to sustain a movement for freedom with the same force and as steadily over a period of time as people in a developed environment can. Such a movement requires a stamina and sophisticated organization which a poor people can certainly throw up but only in spurts. In a poor society, movements for liberation are bound to ebb and flow. To take a periodic exhaustion of the insurrectionary activity as reconciliation can be a colossal misjudgement. The crucial factor is not the physical eruptions but the extent and depth of the movement and its rooted-ness in the popular psyche.

How does one gauge this? The uprising in Kashmir has been marked more than once by the entire male population of the cities (excepting only the aged, the sick and children) coming out together in the streets to demonstrate peacefully against India’s military presence in their homeland. Could such a pointer have been mistaken, or would it have been allowed to be mistaken, far less ignored, if it had happened in a Western country?

The proponents of a just and peaceful solution of the Kashmir conflict have to contend not only with the bigotry and obduracy that have combined to sustain the policy India has pursued so far, but also with certain settled notions that exist in the outside world and inhibit support for a constructive course in India-Pakistan relations. One emanates from the malign thesis that there is an innate hostility between India and Pakistan which can never be eradicated and which will outlast even the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. It is astonishing that such a belief should be so tenaciously held which has no empirical support. There have been occasions recently, some relating to sports, when the people of both countries have demonstrated warm sentiments towards each other. There is a vast reserve of cordiality which will be tapped once a major political dispute is removed.
Related to this baseless belief is the view that India’s policy is unchangeable because it rests on the unanimous support of the whole nation. This bubble has been pricked in India by prominent Indian publicists who belong to the mainstream and none of whom can be called a maverick. One of them has spoken of the mass killings in Kashmir by Indian forces being a stain “on our honour as a nation.” The notion that the present Indian policy is unshakeable, and will remain so, betrays a very shallow and, indeed an unrealistic and unfair view of India itself.

Is it imaginable that a society as large and resourceful in thought and intelligence as India’s would remain locked forever in a destructive and, at best, a sterile course? Were the world powers to summon a little moral courage and beckon India to a rational settlement of the Kashmir dispute, they would be surprised to se the volume of support that would well up from patriotic and thoughtful sources within India itself.

Lastly, the attitude that needs to be fought in the context not only of Kashmir but of every major international problem is that of turning our backs to the Charter of the United Nations. The Charter is not scripture or a book of morals but, let us not forget, a multilateral treaty as binding on the largest or most powerful member state of the world organisation as on the smallest or weakest. The sanctity of international agreements must remain one of the bases of a sane and stable international order. The Kashmir issue involves that principle most pointedly.

(From a Paper read at a conference in Washington organized by Kashmiri American Council on 29-30 July 2010)
The writer is a former adviser to the UN and former Pakistani ambassador to  Washington.