An independent Kashmir must find appeal and objectivity not only with India and Pakistan but with the global community at large
Glasnost fuelled by youtube, facebook, blogger, and twitter has brought us to a point in history where the people of Kashmir can either grasp a well-laid opportunity to dictate their own political future or continue languishing in the almost uninterrupted existential angst that has dogged them since the Moghul emperor Akbar’s conquest in 1586.
Events in the past year-in particular – have contained all ingredients bar a roadmap for governance and a clear definition of our national question. The attempt here is to do just that; or at the very least, give a pointer to the direction that the generic Kashmiri community (looking beyond the Vale too) must face in order to fulfill it’s collective aspiration of making it’s free will paramount in the whole scenario.
The following adjectives come immediately to mind: neutral, independent, united, transparent and engaged.
Neutral so that our territory is not subjected to the needs of others. That we don’t become the proverbial pawns on a geo-strategic chessboard. An Independent status is absolutely necessary for us to take full responsibility for our actions and the fate of our destiny. Defining our territory necessitates that we remain united and integrated.
What our most direct rulers-Pakistan and India-have proved on ample occassions since October 1947 is that they cannot simulate their security mindset with the increasing urge of our population for civil space. Their fascination with the 18th and 19th century nation-state of Europe has not withered over time. While they exploited communal chasms within our community and thus laid the basis for our division, they utilised whatever energy and resources they could muster (enfeebling their own masses as well as ours in the process) to sustain their rule. It’s a zero sum game. Our needs and objectives cannot possibly tally with theirs. Pakistan’s use of the territory they refer to as AJK (Azad Jammu Kashmir) as a forward military position (and launchpad) and India’s response to subsume the valley of Kashmir into a giant military cantonment – with it’s inherent repression – left virtually nothing for a 5,000 year old civilisation to grasp onto.
Discussing and mapping out our future necessitates underlying where the battlelines should be drawn. On one side of the barrier are the perils of brute military force and their roving clandestine agencies, Machiavellian realpolitik and local opportunistic facilitators. On the other side are the genuine students of our integrated history, the public activists hell-bent on creating civil space and those working day and night to bring to life a format for transparent, accountable, representative, non-discriminatory and meritocratic governance.
Furthermore, Kashmiris should realise that drawing our roadmap involves conceptualising a vision of re-shaping the region from the Trans-Karakoram Tract to Trivandrum. The public of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would be instant beneficiaries of an Indo-Pak military withdrawal from Kashmir. The phase of concealed governance allied with exhorbitant defence expenditure would give way to a relocation of resources towards human development. The tragedy of the Kashmir imbroglio has been a net disaster for the whole region save a small section of the total population: which now amounts to close on 1.5 billion.
The suggestion for structure of governance involves organising the territory (confederation) into three units. Jammu in the south (which could include the superficially demarcated territory currently referred to as PaK– upto Poonch), the Valley in the centre (which could include the districts of Muzaffarabad and Neelam in it’s jurisdiction) and the Northern Territories (renaming it appropraitely if they so desire) comprising of Gilgit to it’s west, Baltistan at it’s centre and Ladakh in it’s East.
The three units of the confederation would each have an assembly (suggestion is Jammu, Srinagar and Skardu respectively) which would exercise full fiscal control, first right over their natural and human resources and in all other matters of governance. Each unit would also have an independent judiciary, including a higher appellate court. Only those matters which are of collective concern to the whole confederation would be decided by an Upper House (Council) that would have proportionate representation from each unit (based on a combination of land mass and size of population). This Upper House would rotate it’s sitting throughout the confederation i.e four months of the year in each unit.
At this point it may be appropriate to describe the caveat (or more pointedly) subterfuge periodically exercised by India and on rare occassion by Pakistan vis-a-vis defence, communications and foreign affairs. This is an outdated ploy and totally irrelevant (autonomy minus 3 if you will) to our current predicament. The people of Kashmir (the term is used generically to refer to the whole territory. Jammu and Kashmir is a legacy of Dogra rule, as they belonged to Jammu. This term discounts the Northern Territories from it’s title, is slightly complicating and by using Kashmir, we not only simplify our name, it gives ownership to the rest of us who don’t hail from the Valley). It is important to note that this caveat was introduced by the outgoing ‘British Raj’ doled out for the purposes of not inviting a whole deluge of sovereign States to announce their independence in the wake of the 3rd of June 1947-Indian Independence Act. Different time, place, context and rationale, utterly untenable in our scenario.
Meanwhile, the genuine concerns of the non-muslim minority which includes Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs amongst others, could best be addressed by not including any reference to Islam in the constitution. It is crucial that every sect, demonination and religious group feels free to exercise their faith un-hindered. It is equally important that no preference or discrimination occurs in matters of justice, economic opportunity and delivery of security. Scope for positive discrimination would be provided for those marginal groups or classes of people that have been historically marginalised or neglected.
In order to bring ourselves to the point where serious reintegration and redefinition of our territory is concerned, it is important that activism continues to penetrate through the suffocating structures imposed by our rulers. This must be done in a civil (orderly and peaceful) manner, taking cue and inspiration from the young Valleyites that donated their life for this cause, throughout this summer. Taking communal or sectarian positions or partaking in concealed activity that emboldens our rulers is a clear no-no.
For those amongst us who are ‘facilitators’ who have benefitted from the structures must be prepared to face a new environment of transparency and introspection, albeit in a civil manner. They should realise that honour, dignity and respect of a people (nation) is directly related to their conduct and integrity amongst their fellow citizens as well as with the global public at large.
The final part of this commentary should focus on geo-politics and the harsh reality of Chinese insecurity, American anxiety, Indian fear, Russian timidity and Pakistani foolishness that acts as a collective stumbling block to our freedom. This is what public power (via peaceful agitation) has to overcome. Furthermore, an independent and neutral Kashmir must find appeal and objectivity not only with the masses of India and Pakistan but with the global community at large.
Whilst understanding that the most important geo-strategic stumbling block to our path to freedom is the economic tussle between China and the USA in our midst (India and Pakistan have a secondary role in that respect), it is with determined hope that this writer in various deliberations with important stakeholders in the international community has found mild favour with the concept of a neutral and independent Kashmir nestled in the middle of Asia.
The difficulty is in the implementation of course. Our people would do well to study the similarities between Switzerland and Kashmir, particularly it’s role as a facilitator for conflict resolution in war-ravaged Europe.
In short, balancing and harnessing the needs and potential of Asia with the addressing of our historical exposure to foreign military forces by forming a neutral Kashmir would lead to a natural equilibrium.
Author is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org