‘Kashmir: What Next’

Kashmir is now talked about. It is now talked about more seriously than it used to be couple of years back. True, it is yet to engage the attention of global leadership with the same intensity as that of Afghanistan, Palestine and struggle for democracy in the Middle East countries, but slowly and stealthily it is becoming part of the international discourse. It is being discussed in many important and prestigious universities around the world. In the fast changing global power balance the geo-strategic importance of this Himalayan state has not only engaged the attention of Pentagon but many other important think tanks around the world are now caught up in serious discussions about this problem. The involvement of three nuclear powers in the dispute seems   causing a lot of concern at the international level.  ‘Nuclearization of South Asia is seen as most dangerous development since wars have been fought by India and Pakistan over Kashmir.’ There are scholars like Laura Schuurmans who strongly believe that ‘a solution of Kashmir will significantly improve peace and security of the South Asian subcontinent.’ In her book Kashmir: Paradise on Earth or a Nuclear Flashpoint she strongly argues, “If East Timor issue can be addressed and resolved, then Kashmir can be and should receive similar attention from the West and move towards final settlement.” Making various suggestions for resolving this nuclear flashpoint which includes establishment of a special commission of Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris with a neutral country to act as moderator’, the author writes, “First and foremost the Kashmir should be included as the most aggrieved party.” In his new book India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation, Stanley Wolpert has also come up with his own set of suggestions for ending the six decade old confrontation between ‘distant neighbors’.

How and when the emerging discourse on Kashmir engages the attention of global leadership with same intensity as other pressing global issues is difficult to foresee. But in the prevailing scenario what I see as a silver lining is the changed mindset in India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan intelligentsia have started thinking about resolution of Kashmir problem beyond the stated positions of the establishments in the two countries. Indian and Pakistani civil societies after 2008 have been holding free and frank discussions on Kashmir. It is a healthy trend that holds a promise for creating an atmosphere for enabling the two countries resolving their outstanding issues and living together as true ‘siblings.’

I see India Today incorporating  debate on the resolution of Kashmir problem in its 10th International Conclave along with internationally pressing issues like ‘Threats to Internet, Gender Issues, America Decline- Myth or Reality, Democracy in Middle East, Dilemma of Nuclear Energy after Japan Crisis as a very significant development. On the second day of the conclave titled Changing Balance of Power for its breakfast session it had scheduled, “Kashmir, What Next.” What made the session more important was inviting bête noire of New Delhi print and electronic media syed Ali Shah Geelani as key speaker. The session was initially planned to be moderated by suave and soft-spoken National Security Advisor, Shiv Shanker Menon and other speaker for the session was BJP leader and former minister Murli Manohar Joshi or Yashwant Sinha former Minister for External Affairs. The two pulled out of the session for ‘unknown’ reasons. Had this panel not been changed and replaced by two Muslim leaders who did not talk about the subject but indulged in Pakistan bashing and personal attacks to the key speaker,  the deliberations     in the session would  have been more fruitful. They could have helped in laying foundation for a way forward on Kashmir.

Notwithstanding its drawback the session on Kashmir in a way was making history. As Mail Today put it, “For the first time in Delhi, a packed audience listened patiently to hard-line Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani as he demanded “freedom from India’s forceful occupation” of the state in a 20-minute speech.  “I represent the sentiments of the majority in Jammu and Kashmir,” Geelani claimed, before thundering that “the Kashmir problem is that of broken promises — India needs to fulfil its promise and give Kashmiris the right to self-determination. Kashmir has not seen the face of India’s democracy… we want freedom from India’s forceful occupation”.

In this column I need not talk in detail  about what the octogenarian Kashmir leader spoke about  or the ensuing debate that was generated. It was fully reported by  this newspaper  but what I see most significant is the growing tolerance in Indian elite for listening to a point of view on Kashmir that out in normal course would have ruffled feathers both of the establishment and chauvinist.

The premise to the session that was posted by the organization on its website in many ways is significant enough and calls for reading between the lines:

 “Some die-hard optimists would argue that the situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir has actually improved in the past two years. The number of fatalities on account of terrorism and insurgency has reduced thanks to more effective military operations; and the partial withdrawal of forces signals a serious attempt at political settlement. But Kashmir remains Kashmir, on the boil since 1947. As the tumult that enveloped the state in 2010 showed, terrorism, separatism, political expediency, heavy-handed paramilitary response to protests, public anger continue to feed off the confusion that is Kashmir. Kashmir remains emotive beyond Kashmir, driving Pakistan to obsessive policy and India to obsessive response – even talk of autonomy is seen as seditious. Can India and Pakistan come to terms over Kashmir? Will Kashmir’s politicians choose governance over posturing and violence? Can there be a lasting settlement – and lasting peace?”

One may not wholly agree with the preamble to the India Today debate on Kashmir but besides very subtly silencing those who have been advocating status quo or arguing Kashmir situation has improved thus no further ado it has raised some pertinent questions like can India and Pakistan come to terms over this dispute. Since the birth of Kashmir dispute India and Pakistan leaders have had marathon sessions at every level for the resolving the Kashmir dispute but for lack of statesmanship on both the sides the dispute continues to be permanent threat to peace and stability in the region.

The discussions and debates in forums like India Today are healthy signs. It is also indicative of growing concern in the civil society over perpetuation of this dispute. There are reports that there the Pakistan civil society also feels pinch of continuance of stalemate over the resolution of Kashmir. A week earlier speaker at seminar on ‘Reflecting on Thimphu: Future of Pakistan-Pakistan relationship organized jointly the United States of Peace and Centre for Research and Security Studies   had stressed for executing the agreements concluded on relatively less critical issues like Siachin and Sir Creek for making a move forward for addressing the main stumbling block Kashmir in the relations of the two countries.

Seen in right perspective the stalemate over Kashmir has not been only been causing suffering to Kashmir. Ambassador Buch, a Kashmir born diplomat living in New York for past over fifty years has very beautifully summed up causes and consequences of stalemate to not only to people of Kashmir but to sub-continent as such. Seeing stalemate on Kashmir as, “bankruptcy of international statesmanship, the unconcern of the world powers with the sufferings of the peoples that are not germane to their strategies’, he writes “.  At our sub-continental level, I would cite a continuing chauvinism in India.  This would have died out long ago if there were a realization of what the continuing Kashmir dispute has cost India in money, in energy, and in international prestige.  The role that India would be playing if it were not hobbled by a festering dispute would not only have secured it the equivalent of a permanent seat in the Security Council, if not that seat itself.  More than that, it would have signified a reorientation in the outlook of the people of India.”

To end stalemate on Kashmir, India and Pakistan civil society will have to look beyond chauvinism and media will have to grow above ‘spurious nationalism’.