‘Kashmir Time for Peace and Justice’.

51st Annual ISNA Convention,
 
Detroit, Michigan, USA
 
29 August 2014.
 
Presentation: Victoria Schofield.
 
The topic of this seminar is ‘Kashmir: time for peace and justice’ – and after sixty-seven years – under the shadow of the news that the talks with the Foreign Secretaries of  India and Pakistan have recently been called off – we must surely say that it is indeed time.  Within  this context I want to remind you of why  Kashmir is important – why the issue should not be forgotten – why it should remain on our agenda. [1]
 
Firstly, because Kashmir – or more correctly the state of Jammu and Kashmir – is not only located between India and Pakistan but – as we know too well –  its status is disputed between the two countries. When the subcontinent or South Asia   gained independence from Britain in 1947 the future of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was not resolved.   
 
            Governed by a Hindu Maharaja the majority of its people were Muslims – and the provision of Britain’s partition   in relation to the princely states (approximately 560– some as large as a European country, others as small as a landed estate) – was that the rulers should be able to decide whether they would join India or join Pakistan.  There was no provision for any of them to remain independent. In making up their minds,  the rulers were urged to consider their state’s geographical location and what the people might want.  But there was no compulsion nor any forethought for consultation.  
 
            In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, while  it seems that the Maharaja wanted to remain independent (which was not –as I have said –  a provision of the partition plan) both India and Pakistan claimed the state in its entirety, India because of its Hindu ruler was expected to choose union with  majority Hindu India, Pakistan because of the majority of the inhabitants, especially those living in the Valley of Kashmir, were Muslim. Without going into detail over the history of the critical period between August 1947 and October 1947, it is important to note that since both newly independent countries envisaged the state as coming within their   respective borders, there was bound to be conflict.
 
            Fighting immediately broke out and within months of independence the two countries were at war. The outcome of this first war over Kashmir fought between 1947-49 was an uncertain ceasefire along what we now know as the line of control [LOC}. Two-thirds of the state remained under the control  of India, one third under that of Pakistan  – the narrow strip of land, AJK and Gilgit –Baltistan (formerly the Northern Areas),   India retaining control of the vast expanse of Ladakh, predominantly Hindu Jammu and the predominantly Muslim valley.
 
            The recommendation first made by former Viceroy and  Governor-General Lord Mountbatten – agreed to by both Prime Minister Nehru and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah – and endorsed  by the United Nations – for a plebiscite to be held was not followed through. Discussions over the holding of the plebiscite did, however, introduce a vital element into the debate. Instead of the decision being up to the governments of India and Pakistan, the proposition to hold a plebiscite meant that the debate could not be regarded simply as a territorial one but one about the rights of individuals to determine their future. [2]  
 
            Although the state has remained de facto divided along the line of control, the fact that its de iure position has not been resolved has meant that the dispute has continued to fester, poisoning relations between India and Pakistan, their enmity   erupting again into war in 1965 and 1999 with another war fought in 1971 over the secession of Pakistan’s eastern wing, now Bangladesh.
 
            As recently as President Musharraf’s tenure in office (1999-2008), while trying to initiate a peace process with India, he refused to contemplate dividing the state along the line of control, maintaining that Pakistanis were ‘allergic’ to
it.  What he really meant was that in terms of loss of face it was far too big a step down to accept what for over 60 years successive governments had rejected. Accepting the LOC as the international frontier also did not take into account the aspirations of the people.
 
            This uneasy situation persists to this day.  So the first reason why Kashmir deserves our attention is because it is an unresolved dispute between two nations –  affecting the lives of millions. And, as the history of other troublespots throughout the world has demonstrated,   any dispute which is unresolved has the potential to flare up at any time destabilising the region and causing immense suffering.
 
Secondly – and almost one might say because   the relationship between India and Pakistan has been continually hostile, both countries have felt an essential component of their military defence has been the development of  a nuclear weapons programme.   Although no precise data is available India’s arsenal is believed to  consist  of between 80-100 nuclear weapons and Pakistan has an estimated 90-110 nuclear warheads. [3]   On the plus side both countries have agreed not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities, and there have been regular exchanges of the lists of their nuclear facilities on 1 January each year. A hotline has also been set up  to warn each other of an accident which might be interpreted as a nuclear attack.
 
            But although India has declared a no first use policy, Pakistan has not.  Successive governments – be they military or civilian –  have refused to do so because the incumbents  believe it would throw away critical leverage. Thus you have a sixty-seven year old dispute and two potentially belligerent nuclearized neighbours. Any outbreak of hostilities could become  deadly – not only for the 12 million inhabitants of the  state of Jammu and Kashmir but for the lives of the 180 million and rising who live in Pakistan and the 1 billion who live in India. And I don’t need to add that we are not just talking about using a big bomb, we are talking about setting in train mutual annihilation.
 
My third reason – why Kashmir is important – is because of the dangerous domestic narratives which can run  in both India and Pakistan. Since 1947 the general domestic narrative in both countries has been hostile to the other – generations have been brought up to mistrust, dislike, hate their neighbour, mainly because of the repercussions over the unresolved dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. I remember once travelling by plane  to Gilgit and I was sitting next door to an army officer – I asked him what he was doing posted up on the border – his immediate response was: ‘we are preparing to fight India.’ In today’s media driven age, where sound bites often influence actions, passions can be whipped up through any number of the media outlets which now exist in both countries. 
 
            In 2013 there were allegations that Pakistani soldiers had crossed the line of control in Kashmir and killed five Indian soldiers. I was interviewed on the subject  by Al Jezeera television and almost the first question was: ‘do you think this incident could lead to a break down in relations between the two countries, potentially escalating into a military confrontation?’  My immediate response was that it  depended on how the two governments handled domestic public opinion   and whether they allowed anger to get out on the streets and become part of a media frenzy demanding retaliation or whether they were able to put the circumstances of the attack in context, instigate an investigation, find out what had happened. In the event, this incident did not escalate, but with the dispute unresolved, there is always the possibility  that – on another occasion – it could.
 
            Fortunately in the last decade since a ceasefire was declared in 2003, although the situation on the line of control remains tense – with frequent cross border encounters,  it seems that both governments have realised that they cannot afford to let such incidents be blown out of all proportion so that people come out on the streets demanding war.
 
            But restraint is a daily challenge. And, as has already been experienced, it is all too easy for non state actors to take centre stage by taking the law into their own hands: the attack on the Delhi parliament in 2001 just after the ‘9/11’ attacks in New York and Washington  nearly brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. The border was closed and both armies mobilised along their international frontier. More sinister,  maps of both countries were produced in the international newspapers indicating where a nuclear strike might or might not take place.  Yet again,   the inhabitants of the state   bore the brunt of India’s wrath.  I  myself was in the valley of Kashmir   in the spring of 2002 and  witnessed first hand the repercussions for the Kashmiris – internet facilities were shut down, mobile phones cut off – and the security forces were even more omni-present on the streets.       
 
            A similar hiatus in relations occurred after Mumbai 2008 when twelve coordinated bombing attacks were made across the city of Mumbai by members of the proscribed terrorist organisation  Lashkar e Toiba – killing 164 people and wounding over 300.    The damage to Indo Pakistani relations was instant and far reaching.  Soon after the attack,  I listened to  well known Indian commentator Shashi Tharoor making it very clear that if there were to be another such attack in the immediate future, the demand for war  against Pakistan would be unstoppable. [4]    Of course this is not the mindset of every Indian, nor indeed every Pakistani  and there are numerous think tanks, academic groups all working towards creating better relations, but as we know any where in the world it only takes a very small minority   – for their own misguided objectives – to sabotage diplomatic relations and consequently the peace and stability of the region. If this happens in South Asia there is even less prospect for Kashmiris to get the peace and justice they deserve. The Kashmir issue, as usual, gets relegated to the ‘backburner’.
 
            After Mumbai 2008, it took the best part of five years for a thaw to take place in the relationship between India and Pakistan– and even now there is every likelihood that if there were to be  another Mumbai or a Chennai – once more using the unresolved Kashmir issue as the root cause of the failed Indo-Pakistan relationship    relations would again be severed.  Obviously,  the best way to guard against this dangerous scenario is to focus on resolving the Kashmir issue – once and for all – to work out a just and fair resolution – to create a peace dividend rather than one which perpetually promotes enmity.
 
Fourthly, and this in fact should have been first, not fourth, is because of the tremendous suffering which has taken place in the valley of Kashmir. The insurgency which began in 1989 against the Indian government forces has been one of the most under reported insurgencies – mainly because world attention has been focused on other troublespots, most obviously in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and also the Ukraine. Kashmir is perceived to be inaccessible, the government of India more benign.  Yet the fall out from Kashmir’s unresolved status – leading to the demand for azadi – which started as a political movement but turned in to armed conflict   – has had tremendous consequences on the people.
 
            Statistics   are difficult to verify and frequently contested, but it is believed that an estimated 100,000 have died over the past thirty years, mostly young men. At least 10,000 have disappeared which potentially leaves an equivalent number of   half widows – women who cannot remarry, as well as mothers who are bereaved.   There are also  thousands of orphans. Thousands have been tortured, women raped. The psychological impact of the trauma has barely been measured, let alone treated. And here I would recommend the brilliant play: The Djinns of Eidgah written by Indian playwright and journalist, Abishek Majumdar. It is a must read for all who would like to learn more about the emotional status of Kashmiris in the valley.
 
            Let me also  read from a real-life interview I did with Dr Rashid in the Bone And Joint hospital in 1994 which I think is typical of the experiences of many. This incident happened at a time when it was commonly believed that there was no family who had no lost a family member.
 

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