Kashmir: the way ahead

IN the cauldron of Kashmiri politics, the union between the Narendra Modi-led BJP and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led People’s Democratic Party is more startling than it is necessarily cause for hope. After all, the election campaign run by the BJP in particular in India-held Jammu and Kashmir was nakedly communal and polarising.

That the electorate responded by effectively voting along communal lines — the PDP and BJP have near equal representation in the Srinagar assembly, but BJP’s representation is from the Hindu-majority Jammu region and the PDP’s largely from the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley — points to both the effectiveness of the campaign and the deep divisions that characterise politics and daily life in the region. The coalition government that has emerged after two months of fierce negotiations has been hailed outside the region, but inside India-held Jammu and Kashmir the sentiment is decidedly more mixed, and perhaps even dark. How the PDP and BJP will be able to sell their alliance to their constituents will depend largely on their ability to deliver on the so-called common minimum programme — to be released soon, according to both sides — and the government’s ability to deliver inclusive economic growth and clamp down on the corrupt ways of governance in the region.

Kashmir though is not just a local issue — a reality underlined by the intense interest far outside the borders of India-held Jammu & Kashmir in the birth of the unprecedented alliance. And, in this hour of unexpected hope, now may just be the time for India and Pakistan to revisit the fundamentals of their Kashmir policies. For Pakistan, that means recognising that the core policy — right to self-determination for Kashmiris and a Kashmir solution that is acceptable to the Kashmir population — has been distorted for too long and in too many ways by the armed jihad that was unleashed in the region with — no matter what the officially stated position is — the active collaboration and sponsorship of the Pakistani state. 

The rights of all Kashmiris were never going to be won through violence and a policy of militants and proxies has caused incalculable damage to Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, the Kashmir region itself and surely Pakistan too. For India, with the BJP now allied with a party that has explicitly demanded the retention of India-held Kashmir’s special status and urged the expansion of ties and resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, the Modi-led government may be forced to recognise the deep, open wounds that the politics of communalism and exclusivity engendered by Delhi have created.

From here, if the Indian and Pakistani states really do finally internalise the lessons from Kashmir, there is an obvious path: a quest for resolution of the Kashmir dispute along the lines of the formula that was pursued by the regime of Pervez Musharraf — and that did not go unappreciated by the Manmohan Singh government. Resolution is possible, peace achievable — if the political governments lead and the respective security establishments cede. A cautious hope, but surely not a forlorn one.

Published in Dawn March 1st , 2015