Kashmir: Is There A Chance For Peace?
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
12 December 2000
Panel Discussion on Kashmir, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) in Washington, DC
I commend the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) for taking up the challenge to address the Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter called Kashmir) issue from a fresh perspective. For too long the people of Kashmir have suffered from gross generalizations that are indelibly etched in the minds of experts who concluded decades ago that the Indian subcontinent represents a basket case of human anomalies, compounded further by religious strife and abject poverty. Thus, when wars broke out between India and Pakistan in 1947-48, 1965 and 1971, these were seen mostly as spats between two errant children, and the world community did not care to know why they were fighting and like an elder would ask them to shut up (disengage) and behave. No one, it seemed, cared to get involved.
So the task that Prof. Embree took on was a daunting one. He has done his best to update an interested reader on issues surrounding Kashmir, and bring focus in a region of the world that most people tend to shy away from. The document that he has produced exhibits his scholarly talents, and indeed concludes with the hope that Kashmir deserves its tranquility and Kashmiris deserve peace. One can hardly quarrel with such noble sentiments. For Americans like me, who were born and raised in Kashmir, nothing will give us greater joy than to see that holy land of philosophers, saints and ancient religions become a paradise once again.
But is there a chance for peace in Kashmir? That is like saying, doctor, will the patient recover? The trouble is that the answer will depend on doctor’s diagnosis of the patient’s condition. But even that answer, as many of us know personally, may be off the mark if the doctor’s diagnosis is incorrect. This does not happen frequently, and when it does happen it is not because the doctor did not mean well, it simply means that he may have mistakenly overlooked some of the data, or was already pre-disposed towards a particular treatment and was therefore quick to make a judgment in this regard.
In the case of Kashmir, one has to ask the following questions that have been overlooked in Prof. Embree’s paper: If the Indian security forces have been continuously in Kashmir since 1947, what made them suddenly go “berserk” in 1990 when the alleged atrocities began, If Kashmiriyat was ingrained into the fabric of Kashmiri society, why did communal riots occur in Kashmir in 1980’s (long before insurgency surfaced) that spread fear and mayhem in the minority community (Pandits), If Kashmir had a history of Sufi traditions, then why did Kashmiri Muslim society undergo radical changes in late 1970’s that affected everything from their personal appearances to the architecture of their religious shrines, If Kashmir was part of a secular heartland, then what were Iraqis, Iranians and Saudis doing in Kashmir in late 70’s sponsoring Islamic conferences. How did the geo-political changes of 1970’s and 1980’s in countries surrounding Kashmir, called by many as a “tough neighborhood”, affect Kashmir itself And if Kashmiri Muslims are uniformly undergoing “hellish treatment” as alleged by many, why are not they, instead of the minority community (Kashmiri Pandits), in refugee camps today Finally, if Kashmiris are being subjugated by the Indian might as is alleged, what explains the current construction boom in detached homes that Kashmiri Muslims are building at a pace faster than at any time in Kashmir’s history.
Kashmir is a paradox because outsiders are too quickly taken by what meets the eye. So any scholar armed with worldly wisdom drawn from research documents and writings of other scholars, and with a few days or weeks in the strife torn area begins to feel like an expert on Kashmir. New solutions are proposed but make no headway, suffering the same fate as past proposals.
Kashmir represents a challenge because people do not want to believe that a contemporary society would like to turn back the clock. But it is happening in Afghanistan. Kashmir remains an enigma because people loath to think that sane people in any nation would even consider, much less follow, dictates issued from another country, but that is what communism was. Kashmir is an issue that will remain an issue as long as disparities between India and Pakistan continue to widen, but the world community continues with its myopic vision of seeing little, if any, differences between the two.
Let me quote here from an interview that was given recently (November 2000) by Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani descent who is involved in Track II diplomacy on Kashmir and has made numerous trips to India and Pakistan recently. In response to a question asking why Islamic militants would not accept a change in the status quo in Kashmir, he said, “Unless you are a religious person, you cannot understand. The radical sheikhs with enormous pools of wealth at their ready disposal who are financing the Jihad in Kashmir think they are the guardians of Allah. And they want to take us back to a time and a place that is so different from anything the imagination can tolerate, so debasing of the human life and emotion, that they are willing to sacrifice anything and everyone to achieve their vision of an Islamic utopia.” This is communism in reverse, and as we have noted in Afghanistan and with Osman bin Laden, equally perverse.
Resolution of the Kashmir issue requires courage. Courage to deal with the reality that is sweeping a wide arc from Algeria to Kashmir, all Muslim lands, were a battle is raging between secular Muslims, who want to march abreast with the contemporary society, and Muslim zealots who consider themselves as true believers and see others as heretics. This is an old battle, and even in Kashmir, as Prof. Embree’s scholarly paper noted, this battle between the zealots and non-zealots was raging in 1541. As Prince Mirza Haidar wrote then, “Many of the people of Kashmir I brought back to the true faith whether they willed it or not, and many I slew.” We must have the courage to isolate and incarcerate such oddities in the present civil society for the betterment of humanity. if religion has to play a helpful role, and there is no reason to believe that it cannot, it must be turned into a harmonizing force that emphasizes respect and accommodation of differing views and faiths, and genuinely promotes good will and respect for minorities and the disfranchised.
So while I disagree with Prof. Embree’s efforts to lend some legitimacy to Jihad in Kashmir on the basis that India reneged on the United Nation’s resolution on plebiscite (conveniently forgetting that it was Pakistan that did not implement the first part of the UN resolution thereby dealing it a death knell), I do share his hope for a better future for Kashmir through a peaceful settlement. And as he has correctly pointed out, any negotiations must be preceded by a dialogue in seeking a mutual understanding and accommodation of views of all constituents of Kashmir.
Since even a dialogue needs some basis, the Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF), has proposed the following plan. 1. There can be no alteration of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by armed intervention. The border separating the two parts of Kashmir must be respected as a defacto international boundary.
2. We must insist on symmetry on the progress of the political dialogue in either the Pakistani Kashmir or the Indian Kashmir. All politics being local, we must encourage the Pakistani and Indian governments to promote and participate in political talks in their side of Kashmir with constituents that make up the polity within each side of Kashmir. These talks, while being held separately, should run concurrently.
3. Political organizations on either side of the LAC should concentrate on seeking political rights for Kashmiris on their own side of the border. This will eliminate the hidden hand or agenda in these talks and make such talks coherent and conclusive. For example, the Srinagar based All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) should focus its agenda to support its constituents on the Indian side of Kashmir and participate in any political dialogue with the Indian government. Similar organizations on the Pakistani side should be invited to meetings by the Pakistani government.
4. The issues on both sides of Kashmir are surprisingly similar. In the State-Center relations, the Muzzafarabad based Kashmiris are unhappy about the direct rule in the Northern Areas, and the lack of economic and infrastructural growth within their region. At the local level, Punjabi speaking community in Pakistani Kashmir has steadily gained an outright hegemony over its less fortunate minorities leading to deep resentment by non-Punjabis. On the Indian side of Kashmir, the unhappiness of the majority community is well advertised and discussed. Less known on the Indian side of Kashmir is the unhappiness among the minorities that have seen steady erosion of their political and religious rights by the majority community that is rapidly moving away from its secular credentials and asserting its religious dominance.
5. We must encourage an intercommunity dialogue on each side of the LAC. On the Pakistani side, this will involve representatives from the “Azad Kashmir” as well as from areas directly ruled by Pakistan, namely, Gilgit, Baltistan and other tribal lands. On the Indian side of Kashmir, the intercommunity dialogue should involve not only Muslims, but also Pandits, Ladakhis and Dogras.
6. The purpose of such a dialogue, within communities in each region and with their respective federal governments, is to strengthen democratic institutions on either side of the LAC. Each side can define its democratic values in its own ways, but the end product must be a framework under which the constituents in each region can exercise their political, economic, religious and cultural rights freely and unequivocally. Indeed a true test of the success of such a framework would be to assess its impact on the welfare and well being of various ethnic minorities that have borne the brunt of the militancy on both sides of the LAC.
7. Only with a return of democratic values on both sides of the LAC in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, can we hope to conclude the final solution of the Kashmir problem. Numerous possibilities can be envisaged, but new solutions can also emerge organically.
The Kashmir problem will be solved only when the accent shifts from the real estate to the people living on that real estate. At the same time, one must realize that the problem does not exist only in Indian Kashmir, but also in Pakistani Kashmir. And it is important to recognize that no solution exists without a political dialogue, and no dialogue of substance can be held so long as the gun culture exists. Since Pakistan facilitated and encouraged the gun culture, it must take immediate steps to demilitarize the insurgents, close the guerrilla training camps, and stop the Jihad culture in their country. In turn, India must take positive steps in recognizing that all constituents in Kashmir – Muslims, Pandits, Ladakhis and Dogras are fed up with a total breakdown of civil society under the current administration in Kashmir which is totally inept, highly corrupt and financially bankrupt.
Just as it is not possible to clap with one hand, so cannot Kashmir problem be solved without an affirmation by both India and Pakistan that each has to look at their own side of Kashmir and bring about changes in the part they govern. It is neither wise, nor relevant, for the Pakistan government to point fingers towards the Indian side of Kashmir or for the Indian government to do the same. If both want to do what is the best for Kashmiris, then they have a chance to prove their intentions as outlined in the above proposal.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.