Kashmir needs to make it plain to the world that its own ethos is based on tolerance and plurality, in absolute consonance with its tranquil environment
The idea for the title of this week’s column comes from a piece written in the Wall Street Journal by Sadanand Dhume on Monday the December 20, entitled, "What Terrorizes India?" A somewhat provocative piece analysing the relative de-merits and threat posed to India by extreme right-wing/fundamentalist Muslim and Hindu groups, clearly incensed by Rahul Gandhi’s comment that the latter posed a much bigger threat to India than the former.
It could well be that India has or will develop the capacity to contain radicalism (whatever be it’s origin): what is absolutely unclear is how Kashmiri society will put a stop to the haemorrhage that it has endured for the past sixty-three years on account of India and Pakistan’s competing national identities?
What does Kashmir need to do to make it plain to the world that its own ethos is based on tolerance and plurality, in absolute consonance with its tranquil environment. It could even be argued to be an antecedent of Indian secularism. Thus, integrating into an Indian national identity that holds itself out as an appealing alternative to Pakistan’s uncouth Islamic radicalism holds little water. Indeed. The growth of Islam in Kashmir has been markedly different from how it has developed in the Indian subcontinent. A healthy spiritual undercurrent in the shape of sufism found absolute harmony with Kashmir’s cultural ethos. It is terrorising for Kashmir to be mired in a binary conflict with incessant push and pull tactics devised by India and Pakistan.
What exacerbates this onslaught of terror is how the ‘international community’ perceives the Kashmir problem. The US and it’s junior partner Britain, can not see Kashmir out of the context of their presence in Afghanistan, their reliance on Pakistan and their commmercial and strategic interests that depend on Indian favour. It is terrorising for a people who want to be immune from the conflict of their neighbours, to be faced with such heavy odds to attain the rights enshrined in the UN Charter. What is suffocation of civil space and repression of freedom for Kashmir, is the wrong end of a mere strategic calculation for the international community.
One is horrified to read America’s reservations about an independent Kashmir: That it will become a bastion of ‘Islamic terror’. It has made little effort to understand that all mechanisms of ‘terror’ have been imported or thrusted upon the people of Kashmir, they are certainly not indigenous or intrinsic. A neutral Kashmir would seek guarantees from the ‘international community’ that it’s neighbours refrain from exporting conflict and it’s associated ills to Kashmir.
Taking into account the limited change evoked by the India-Pakistan peace process and the international community’s apathy, the consequent lack of incentive to ‘shun the gun’ is a terrorising thought. Further, that the ‘international community’ and global media give a celebrity status to activism for Tibet ( a la Richard Gere), give sustained focus to Tianenmen Square and find it expedient to devote personal attention to conflict in the oil rich gulf states. It is terrorising to think that oil (which is essentially replace-able) is given far more global attention than water (whch is essentially irreplace-able) and which can be easily foreseen to be the major source of future global conflict. Again, a neutral and responsible Kashmir could forestall such a scenario and save the world from unending strife.
Closer to home, our neighbours India and Pakistan are increasingly being accused by their respective civil societies of not working for their national interest. The presence of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese military on our soil is not just terrifying in terms of their presence; it is terrifying for their populations who make a direct connection of this phenomenon with the paucity of resources left over – year on year – for their development. There are ample examples of Indian and Pakistani politicians grandstanding on the Kashmir issue in order to present a faux patriotic stance to their public. Misappropriation of funds earmarked by New Delhi and Islamabad for Kashmir’s development by these very politicians (in conjunction with local lackeys) is a terrifying thought.
This stack of terror has a local dimension too. Realising that the attitude of many people (of the erstwhile Dogra State) hasn’t changed an iota since the anarchy of October 1947 is foremost in one’s mind. Debating on the relative ‘merits’ of Hindu or Muslim rule in Kashmir not only shows how much baggage we continue to carry from 1947, it highlights how little we understand what is needed for fulfilling our aspirations and potential for progress. The perennial ‘religious identity’ argument mires us deeper into an abyss.
Further fractures have been evolved by politicians, certainly on this side of the divide (viz. Pakistan administered Kashmir) in the shape of caste based politics. It shouldn’t be surprising that no party has ever proposed a political manifesto, let alone economic policy here. Those members of the public who resisted this superficial approach have been politically, economcally and socially ostracised, adding a direct layer of suppression and terror.
Yet another terrorising thought is the absence of a clear, unified and representative voice that could speak on behalf of all regions of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan have of course played their part in dividing opinion and their prevention of movement between the various regions from around 1948 to 2005 – despite no such prohibition imposed by UNCIP resolutions – is a glaring testimony to this view.
A recent study by Robert Bradnock for Chatham House, not only confirmed a burning aspiration for independence (figure given was 43% overall but for some inexplicable reason ommitted various areas that are perceived to strongly support the notion of an independent Kashmir i.e. The Neelam Valley), it also highlighted unemployment and corruption as the major concerns of the population on either side of the divide. It is terrorising to know that the public sector on both sides is heavily bloated, in an attempt to de-politicise the masses. Furthermore, minsicule support for Pakistani presence in Kashmir confirms the international community’s blinkered supposition that India and Pakistan need to work together to resolve the ‘Kashmir Issue’. Another terrorising thought.
One is of the opinion that Kashmir needs to be discussed and resolved by the respective countries that control each part under their administration. For example, Pakistan needs to discuss Kashmir with stakeholders that reside in the part of Kashmir that they control and vice versa for India. One would further contend that India and Pakistan talks on Kashmir would never lead to a resolution; certainly not a resolution that would satisfy all the diverse ethnic, regional and political thought that aggregates the ‘disputed territory’.
It is important to remember that Kashmir was a profitable State in 1846 (hence, Ghulab Singh’s payment to the British) and 164 years on, it has been relegated to an economic basket case, supposedly dependent on Islamabad and New Delhi’s magnanimity. The fact that Kashmir’s economy has not only been prevented from growing organically, it is clear to see that India, Pakistan and China’s presence here is an on-going ordeal of terror.
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