Political Update: Kashmir
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
27 March 2008
There is always politics in the air where the State of Jammu and Kashmir (Kashmir for short) is concerned. But certain recent events have put a new spin on the old game of what is brewing next in Kashmir.
The declaration of independence by Kosovo, with direct and indirect intervention by the European Union and the United States, has been received warmly by separatists who lost no time in connecting prospects for Kashmir’s independence with the situation in the Balkans. Perhaps even more disturbing was a tepid response by India to the creation of the new state.
The recent events in the Balkans were triggered by dismantlement of Yugoslavia nearly a decade after the death of Marshall Josef Tito in 1980 when Croatia (predominantly Catholic Christian) was successful in securing support from major European powers to secede from the predominantly Orthodox Christian nation. These events led to a war and further dismantlement of Yugoslavia and formation of new Christian and Muslim dominated countries. Creation of the Kosovo nation is the final chapter in that saga. The most remarkable thing about this transformation of Europe’s geography was that it was led by Germany and France (with active assistance of the United States of America and the United Kingdom) and the entire process, including bombing of Serbia, was done without the sanction or approval of the United Nations (UN). (Germany and France a decade later, in 2003, would accuse the US of starting the Iraq war without UN’s approval, conveniently ignoring their own complicity in setting the stage from the Balkan adventure.)
The independence of Kosovo has given new hope to Kashmiri insurgents and has led to two specific initiatives from the separatist camp. One, direct talks have taken place between Kashmiri separatists and Kosovo’s leaders to share experiences and advise Kashmiris in their campaign. You may recall that Kosovo’s creation involved both political and military/terrorist campaigns, and I expect Kashmiri insurgents to get invigorated as a result of these interactions.
Second, Kashmiri separatists have sought support from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to explore linkage between the “double K” (Kashmir-Kosovo) issues. The 57-nation body, in the final communiqué adopted at the summit in Dakar, Senegal, on 16 March 2008, had extended the Islamic world’s support for the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and suggested that the Kashmir dispute be resolved in accordance with “relevant UN resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people”. Contrary to past practices, OIC invited many Kashmiri Muslim leaders to the summit this year, but only Mirwaiz Umar Farooq attended – he ensured his attendance by traveling to the U.S. about a month ahead of the OIC meeting thereby confusing the Indian government about his schedule and travel plans. Outside of the OIC, which leans heavily on Pakistan’s guidance on Kashmir matters, Pakistan itself has maintained a low public posture in regards to Kosovo’s similarities with Kashmir, fearing perhaps that Kashmir’s independence is not an attractive outcome from its perspective as well.
Only time will tell how India reacts to such changes. Recent revelations from the former Indian Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. L. K. Advani) that he and the Prime Minister’s Office (as represented by Mr. Brajesh Mishra and Mr. A. S. Dulat) were not on the same wavelength in terms of conveying official government position to Kashmiri separatists is yet another classical example in the Indian administration of “how the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing,”; and such mistakes in the future could have a snowball effect that may overwhelm the Indian government. In short, the situation is fluid and dangerous.
The restoration of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan is another externality affecting prospects for peace in Kashmir. Pakistan today stands at cross-roads in so far as its Kashmir policy is concerned. While Pakistani passion for Kashmir is well-known, it pales in comparison to its immense belief that only the Pakistani military can deliver such a desire. This “public worship” of the military has led to many of Pakistan’s misfortunes, and it is a defining moment for the new civilian leadership to decide whether they or the military will dictate Pakistan’s Kashmir policy in the future.
It is a misnomer to believe General Musharraf has acted independent of the eleven (11) corps commanders that run the Pakistani military establishment collectively. While in recent years as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the President, Musharraf hand-picked various replacements for retiring generals, he never made any decision without the unanimous approval from the corps commanders. From Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. to the war in Afghanistan to the internal war-on-terror, Musharraf’s pronouncements in public have reflected collective pronouncements of Pakistan’s military establishment. Even today, he remains in the Presidential Palace courtesy of that compact (and not because of the U.S. as is generally believed).
Regarding Kashmir, there are some similarities in the approach that Pakistani military (through President Musharraf) has proposed in the last couple of years and initial public statements by the newly elected civilian leaders. Both major entities in Pakistan agree that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, meaning that there is no option for independence. Second, Pakistan will continue to support (albeit low key) militant insurgent groups like the Hizbul Muhajideen and pan-Islamic terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba until India comes to the negotiating table to resolve the Kashmir issue. This gives leverage to the Kashmir issue without making it the “core issue” in the dialogue with India. In other words, there is an incentive for India to seek closure on Kashmir expeditiously. Third, it is very likely that the final solution to the dispute rests in splitting the state into two, though each side has a different view on where the international boundary should be drawn. Fourth, the final solution of the Kashmir problem has taken a back seat to Pakistan’s political and economic development which necessitates a strong bilateral relationship with India. And finally, the bilateral relationship between the two countries will require a more or less a stable law and order situation on both sides of Kashmir, meaning that both countries will undertake confidence building measures focused on people-centric initiatives like increased exchange visits, commerce, communications, etc. These initiatives will promote goodwill and reduce general mistrust even as India keeps tackling a carefully orchestrated low-level militancy in Kashmir that will be nurtured with precision by Pakistan’s military.
There is an election coming up in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. The last one was held in October 2002, and the State (unlike any other in India) elects the State Legislature every 6 years. This has led to a flurry of activities, the most interesting of which is the philosophical divide between the “Godfather” of pro-Pakistani lobby in Kashmir, Mr. Ali Shah Geelani, and the current Amir (chief) of Jamaat-e-Islami, Sheikh Muhammad Hassan. Mr. Hassan has not supported the call for election boycott given by Mr. Geelani, the former Amir of the pro-Pakistani religious-political organization. Confusing the issue further is the public stand taken by their associate, Syed Salahuddin (aka Yusuf Shah), who heads Hizbi and supports the election boycott but has indicated that his militant organization will not unleash violence against those who do not comply with the boycott.
Most other Kashmiri Muslim politicians are continuing their ongoing stance of either participating or staying away from the election process thereby ensuring continuity of support from their current patrons, underwriters and financiers. The only exception is that Mr. Shabir Shah, who recently rejoined one faction of the All party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has taken it upon himself (with the blessings of his executive) to open field offices in various valley districts to prepare for possible participation in the state election. Whether APHC will participate in the election as surrogates or not at all remains to be seen.
Another interesting aspect is the emergence of many new political parties in the valley as the election fever heats up. It is alleged that one such party called, “Bharatiya Moomin Front (BMF),” was created by Muslim Mujahirs (migrants) from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, whose numbers have grown significantly in the last few years. Technically, these people are ineligible to vote but it appears that they have made enough inroads by association or otherwise to gain state subject rights, and the Party also believes it has picked up many supporters among Kashmiri Muslims. Mohajirs came to the valley initially to fill in jobs that local public in Kashmir deemed too menial for their stature, but subsequent migrants have taken advantage of the building boom in Kashmir. Today most carpenters, masons, construction laborers, barbers and beggars are migrants. BMF headquarters is reported to be based in Patna, Bihar.
In so far as Pandits in the state are concerned, there have been three potentially useful activities worthy of mention. The first is the formation of a new entity – called the Jammu and Kashmir national Democratic Front (JKNDF), headed by Mr. A. K. Dewani, which is trying to organize Pandits as a political force in the state. Unfortunately, it may be a case of doing too little, too late since Kashmiri Pandits had the best chance of succeeding in political advocacy if they had organized themselves between 1991 and October 1996, when the Governor’s rule expired. Nevertheless some political visibility is better than no visibility, and this action is noteworthy.
The next is a meeting in Jammu organized by a political activist, Mr. Anil Dhar, under the banner of “Movement for Kashmiri Pandit Empowerment” on March 2, 2008 that developed a Vision Document to articulate specific demands in political, economic and cultural space for protecting Pandit identity in the valley under the State’s current geo-political dispensation. An interesting observation about this 15-page document is that it captures most of the top-tier points made in a 1-page document that the Pandit Diaspora discussed in a meeting held in Northern California on February 10, 2008.
The third item is a press conference in Srinagar on March 17, 2008, organized by a Pandit activist, Mr. Moti Kaul, during which Mr. Sanjay Tickoo, President of a Srinagar based Pandit organization made the following statement, “The Pandits in the valley are convinced that unless they are given legitimate space in socio-cultural sphere, their issues and problems will never be properly addressed.” Their have been rumors that the State government is planning a Bill to prevent misuse and sale of Pandit shrines, temples and trusts that will be passed by the Assembly, and is considering setting up a Minority Commission, as well as it may induct a Pandit in the State Cabinet of Ministers, but so far nothing has materialized. The majority community in Kashmir has, more or less, acted as a mute spectator to problems faced by valley based Pandits today. Regarding the elections, the National Conference (NC) is actively and publicly canvassing for Pandit votes, while in Jammu the Congress led government has undertaken many rehabilitation schemes to attract Pandit votes. However, looking at the recent history of both NC and Congress (and other regional and national political parties) shows that Kashmiri politicians have a poor track record of assisting Pandits once the elections are over.
Finally, a note of interest about the situation in the Pakistan Administered Kashmir, also called the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” (AJK). AJK held its elections in July 2006 and one would think that the Muslim Conference (MC) led government, headed by Mr. Attique Khan, was safe since it received an overwhelming vote. But it is a different Pakistan today, and both Mr. Attique Khan and his distinguished father, Sardar Abdul Qayoom, are strongly connected to President Musharraf and his vanquished political party Pakistan Muslim League Q (PML-Q). Even before the national parliamentary elections in Pakistan, the AJK political landscape was changing with defections from both MC and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Sikanadar Hayat Khan (who heads a MC faction) and Sultan Mahmood Choudhry (ex PPP) in favor of Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his PML (N). The largest bloc of legislators within the ruling MC, however, owe its allegiance to Mr. Shah Ghulam Qadir, the Speaker of the AJK Assembly (and the highest ranked Kashmiri speaking political leader in AJK), and it will be ultimately up to him to decide on the future alliance and allegiance of MC in a shifting political landscape in Pakistan.
After the national elections in Pakistan that dethroned PML (Q) in Islamabad, momentum is gathering in Muzaffarabad seeking a new election in AJK. Mr. Abdul Majeed, who replaced Mr. Sultan Mahmood as the head of PPP-AJK, is seeking the support of the new PPP-led national government to overturn the July 2006 state elections because he contends it was rigged in favor of the ruling clique. Stay tuned.
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.