What is behind Kashmir conflict?


What is behind Kashmir conflict?

Ikram Sehgal

OCTOBER 19, 2019

During a joint news briefing with US President Donald Trump in France recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged that there were “many bilateral issues between India and Pakistan”. Asked to comment on President Trump’s offer to help resolve the Kashmir dispute, Modi said that “we don’t want to trouble any third country as we can discuss and resolve these issues bilaterally”. Maryam’s Uncle Modi was stretching the truth here, it was he who decided to solve the Kashmir problem unilaterally on 5th August this year. He conveniently forgot that it was India that had taken it to the UN in 1948 asking for help. Help came in the form of umpteen UN resolutions all advising different ways of plebiscites to solve the problem but none of them ever satisfied India. What they were asking from the UNSC was not a resolution of the conflict but a rubber stamp from the UN of their annexation of the princely state. In 1972 Indira Gandhi made Bhutto sign the Simla agreement trying to get the UN out of the matter by declaring the conflict a bilateral matter. That didn’t help much because apart from this legal nicety neither side changed its stand.

Despite Pakistan’s efforts Jammu & Kashmir’s division between India and Pakistan had acquired a certain permanence. The recent step of the BJP government under PM Modi to scrap the autonomy articles of Kashmir in the Indian Constitution and bring it under direct rule of Delhi means rejecting UN resolutions and scrapping the Simla agreement by enforcing a single-handed solution for Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) without giving up the claim on all of Kashmir.

The question is why is there no solution possible to a seemingly territorial dispute? One could divide the territory or exchange it for another part or just recognize the outcome of a war? The Kashmir conflict has many a time been considered the main ‘apple of discord’ in the disturbed relationship between India and Pakistan. But this is only a very superficial view of the history of the subcontinent. The real bone of contention is the fact of partition itself and the very existence of Pakistan. The two leading forces, the India National Congress (INC) of India and the Muslim League (ML) of Pakistan, saw in partition and the creation of Pakistan much more than a territorial arrangement. It is an issue of highly ideological significance and regarded as existential for both countries.

The Indian National Congress, despite its claims to be a secular organization is devoid of all references to the religious belonging of the members of their imagined Indian nation from the very beginning in the late 19thcentury consisted of members and leaders that were mainly Hindus and very much committed to this social and religious status. To explain the goal of Congress to a broader public who did not know anything about imported ideologies like nation, nationalism or democracy the Congress used religion to make their intentions clear. Thus Gandhi explained his goal to the Indian peasants as ‘Ram Rajya’ despite his claims to care for Muslims. ‘Bharat Mata’ in the image of a Hindu goddess was used by the Congress, the partition of which would mean to amputate body parts of the goddess – a horrendous act even to imagine! Since then not too much has changed in India. Even so-called educated people believe in this story and image that was part of their education at school and of state propaganda. ‘Akhand Bahrat’ was and is until today the credo of a majority of Indians. That is despite the fact that the Congress itself agreed to partition in the months preceding the Mountbatten Act of 3 June 1947. This fact was proven in a well- researched book on the issue ‘Jinnah. India-Partition-Independence’ written by BJP member and former Indian Minister of External Affairs, Finance and Defence Jaswant Singh. For disagreeing with the doctored version of Indian history that his party and official India had concocted, he was expelled from BJP in 2014.

To explain the goal of Congress to a broader public who did not know anything about imported ideologies like nation, nationalism or democracy the Congress used religion to make their intentions clear

The Congress’ insistence to the fiction of secularism while silently allowing Hindu nationalism to go on finally cost them their power. Today the party is in shambles, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has lost interest in the party and BJP is in strongly in the saddle based on the Hindu majority and their religious images. The very existence of Pakistan, that in their imagination is part of ‘Bharat Mata’ and ‘Akhand’, is a thorn in their eyes. It is impossible for them to let go the claim on Kashmir that – being the home of their first PM Nehru – is very much body-part of the goddess and apart from that, anything that would look like a victory for Pakistan is impossible for them to condone. It is bad enough that they lost a part of Kashmir in 1947. Given this situation it becomes quite clear that there is no change of heart in sight any time soon or at least as long as BJP is in place.

Pakistan has its own ideological reasons to insist that the whole of Kashmir should belong to Pakistan. Muslim nationalism and the experiences of Indian Muslims with Congress rule 1937-39 convinced many of them that there was a need to create a homeland for Muslims where they would be able to “order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” Under that aim and the British decision that territorially adjacent Muslim majority districts should form Pakistan, all consecutive governments have demanded the inclusion of former princely state of J&K – a Muslim majority state – into Pakistan.

This view of the wider background of the Kashmir conflict makes it quite clear that without the revision of basic ideological positions on both sides no solution is possible or to be expected in the near future. But wonders could happen like the almost-solution that was anticipated by Gen Musharraf in his ‘four point formula’ that – according to different accounts – could have solved the problem and was acceptable, in principle, to Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However the deal fatally fell through hours before the signing ceremony when BJP hardliners led by Advani intervened when Musharraf becoming history, his solution followed suit.

This current new round of the conflict is even more dangerous than those in the past. The recent speech of Pakistani PM Imran Khan at the UNGA has done a great deal to bring the Kashmir conflict and plight of the Kashmiris to the notice of the international community. The danger of a new war between India and Pakistan, both of whom are nuclear powers has now been duly projected as a distinct probability (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

The writer is a defence and security analyst