“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow
Presentation on the Kashmir Dispute at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
08 November 2007
Presentation at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution during the conference entitled “The Role of the International Community In Resolving the Kashmir Dispute”, George Mason University, Virginia, USA.
The international community has played a decisive role in creating the Kashmir conflict. To briefly retrace some historical facts: the Indian Independence Act, passed by the British Parliament on 18th July 1947, brought an end to the British colonial rule in India. As part of the process of dividing the colony into two separate countries, the Act gave native Maharajas, Sultans and Nawabs, not their subjects, the choice of acceding to either India or Pakistan. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was hesitant in making his choice by the deadline – August 15, 1947 – but his options were cut short when tribesmen from the northwest, assisted by regular soldiers of the Pakistani army under the joint command of Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, invaded J&K in the third week of October 1947. This action prompted the Maharaja to exercise one of the choices provided to him under the Indian Independence Act. He signed the Instrument of Accession with India. Soon thereafter, as newly disclosed documents show, the Atlee government in London deceptively persuaded India to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations (UN). And the rest, as they say, is history.
The international community has also played a decisive role in making various attempts to resolve the 60-year old conflict. Beginning with British and American diplomacy, followed by various UN Security Council resolutions, several India-Pakistan bilateral talks, many non-governmental organizations (NGO) sponsored discussions, numerous American and European Think Tank reports and recommendations, multiple wars, state sponsored cross-border terrorism, and renewed bilateral composite dialogue and Track-II (public and covert) diplomacy between India and Pakistan – all attest to the immense interest by the international community in resolving the Kashmir dispute.
Yet the resolution is no where in sight. It seems that in 60 years of conflict analysis and resolution, the Kashmir problem remains as intractable as ever. But there is a clear trend emerging that solutions proposed so far have been uniformly consistent and perhaps it is the time to move away from such traditional approaches to solving the Kashmir dispute.
President Harry Truman once said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” And to quote George Santayana, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There is a tendency to recycle same old rhetoric every time the subject of Kashmir comes up.
What is common in most proposals that have fallen by the way side is they continue to harp on land-centric solutions. All such proposals in fact suffer from an illusionary concept that J&K is a homogenous entity in search of an identity. None of the proposals even attempts to scratch the illusionary cocoon to unwrap what is inside. Pakistani suggestions, for example, fail to address problems on their side of Kashmir, pointing only to shortcomings on the Indian side of Kashmir.
I propose that we shift the 60-year old paradigm and move away from land-centric solutions to people-centric solutions. As soon as one does that, then we have to dig deep into the cocoon and expose the people living in J&K. After all, it is the people of J&K on both sides of the line of control (LOC) that should decide what is best for them. In the process we shift emphasis from delineating maps to people issues involving quality of life and personal empowerment. In the words of a famous American, the honorable Tip O’Neill, “All politics is local.”
I have been writing about local politics within the valley for some time now. I also wrote about the situation in the Northern Areas (NA) and the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) for a major South Asian publication in 2006. But even a better assessment is provided in the European Union Parliament (EUP) report titled,” Kashmir – Present Situation and Future Prospects.” That report was approved by the EUP on 24th May, 2007 by a vote of 522 against 9 states, among other things, that “while Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir enjoys a unique status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution granting it greater autonomy than other states in the Union .. Pakistan has however consistently failed to fulfill its obligations to introduce meaningful and representative democratic structures in AJK.” Everyone knows about Pakistani direct rule in Northern Areas. The so-called reform package announced by President Musharraf on 23rd of October in Giligit falls short of the EUP report recommendations, which argues for implementation of the decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of 28th May 1999 that Gilgit and Baltistan are part of Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistani government should grant democratic freedoms and access to justice in Northern Areas.
On the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir you see diverse groups of people co-habituating in neighborhoods and regions with a generally confused outlook to their future. These people belong to various ethnicities, speak different languages and belong to different religious faiths. There is no clarity among people in any region, religion, or language towards any single political point of view. On the other hand, if there is one commonality independent of religion, region or language – it is that there are political oligarchies and powerful administrative class (senior state bureaucrats and leading local businesses) that are financially doing very well, while a majority of the people, especially rural farming communities, that are faring very poorly.
Because of its rich diversity, Jammu and Kashmir could have been a model for secularism, plurality, democracy and humanism in South Asia. But the stark truth is that it is not, and the blame lies mainly with the people of J&K though both India and Pakistan could have been catalysts for a positive change had they chosen to do so.
Let me first address how the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi can help, and then talk about the situation in J&K.
Pakistan government for a long time denied that its secret services trained, armed and managed various Mujahideen groups in J&K, but has since agreed to close various terrorist training camps. With Pakistan’s cooperation, it is a fact that terrorism in Kashmir has been curtailed sharply, and I hope that Pakistan will do more to curb remaining errant Jihadis. Pakistan could begin its drive for real democracy by persuading pro-Pakistani Tanseems operating on both sides of the LOC, like the All party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to seek public mandate through elections before claiming representative character of their leadership. Pakistan’s actions in Kashmir have created political oligarchies that are more interested in demagoguery than in the betterment of Kashmiri people. These self-appointed leaders get a lot of coverage in the Srinagar based media and some Pakistani media outlets, but no one takes them seriously.
India bears some burdens too. The excesses of Indian security forces for a long time went unchallenged in the Indian administrative service but that has changed recently. There are more and more errant security personnel being held personally liable for their wrongful actions. But India’s major shortcoming is its inability to exercise “tough love” in Kashmir. India’s policy towards Kashmir in simple terms amount to buying affection through money (lots of money), and looking the other way when local politicians and bureaucrats in the state manipulate power and authority to perpetuate their own selfish interests.
In 2004, I did a study for the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) analyzing the “official” J&K state budget. Recently I had an opportunity to review the 2007-2008 State Budget. For reference, J&K has a total population of about 13 million, and $1 equals about Rs. 40 (in local currency). In 2004, the state was spending Rs. 300 million daily on social and developmental programs (annual budget of Rs. 105 billion), and this year the daily figure is Rs. 400 million (annual budget of Rs. 142 billion). In 2004, 33% of the budget was consumed by salaries of public employees, whereas in 2007, the figure rose to 38%. This is a massive government aid program that is not achieving its desirable goals as the majority of the people, living in rural areas, see very little benefit flowing to them. And, yet, I personally know of so-called “pro-India politicians” who have repeatedly lied to uneducated and poor village people claiming they hardly receive any assistance from India.
India’s efforts have fallen short in Kashmir because it allowed corrupt Kashmiri politicians to operate in the state with impunity, and demanded no checks and balances that should be required under good governance practices. India also shied away from curbing growing religious extremism in the valley from early 1980’s and reacted (sometimes too harshly) only after the law and order situation worsened and minorities were driven out of the valley in 1989-1990.
Let me now address the last, and the most important, part of this triad – the people of J&K. Barring those who have benefited from the present scheme of things, most Kashmiris are suffering. Most politicians, pro or anti India, share common interests which primarily deal with accumulating power, money and glory at the expense of the majority who mostly worry about their day-to-day life and bureaucratic hardships. When I recently visited the valley and toured the country side, I was appalled to see the condition of these poor people, while being amazed at the wealth of the ruling class in Srinagar that own huge homes and have a beeline of surrogates from senior police officials to prominent businessmen at their doors. Again, the scene is identical at homes of anti-Indian politicians in Srinagar.
One look at some of the bills passed recently by the J&K Assembly, under its separate constitution, gives you an idea of how the system works. A recent bill passed by the J&K assembly was the Right to Information (RTI) bill which is sort of like the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Understandably, it is an important tool for democratizing the society, and a simple approach would have been to extend the central law, which went through extensive civil society review, to the State. But J&K, claiming its own sovereignty under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, created its own bill that was passed by its legislature twice. On examination one finds this bill is a hatchet job that has no checks and balances identified, and lacks transparency of decision making and convenience for citizens seeking redress from the state government. Again, if one looks at other central laws extended to the state – labor welfare, social security, environment, industrial regulations, public audits, etc. – it is no wonder that local politicians are claiming “infringement of Article 370”, when they actually wished they could pass their own bills that would institutionalize even more corruption in the state. Given the poor governance in the state, it is no surprise that there has been very little private investment in J&K. Recent offers from Ambani’s Reliance (to set up an executive business school) and by overseas diaspora (to create a privately run tourist village) were turned down.
Here is what I tell my friends in Kashmir. For too long you have been duped by politicians and demagogues who have capitalized on your emotion while they have enriched their lives and those of their extended families. Transparency International (TA) has called J&K the second most corrupt state in India, and every ordinary Kashmiri is sick and tired of daily news these days related to growing sex scandals involving hundreds of young women and local politicians, bureaucrats and police officers. India is willing to offer money and help, but it will not intervene in the implosive character of the Kashmir culture that is today breeding corruption, moral decadence and the deep chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Look around you, the ecological damage is immense and perhaps irreversible – pristine forests are disappearing, river Jhelum have turned into a drain, the Dal lake is dying, and conversion of paddy growing fields into private home construction lots is proceeding at a fierce pace without proper civic planning or municipal infrastructure. Then there are aboriginal people of the valley – Kashmiri Pandits – who are languishing in various refugee camps that seem to be out of site and out of mind.
What role does the international community have? I believe the first priority must be to ensure continuing peace and tranquility in the region by encouraging India and Pakistan to maintain and enhance its bilateral dialogue so that cross-border terrorism is replaced by cross-border commerce and free flow of people. If the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) moves quickly and effectively towards making the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), it will greatly benefit both sides of the LOC. The second priority must be to bring improvement in self-governance in both AJK and Northern Areas so that two Kashmirs on either side of the LOC are evenly balanced in terms of democratic freedoms, access to justice and human rights. The Third priority should be to promote political approaches for the final resolution that are realistically grounded, and consensus is developed locally through inter-community and intra-community dialogue among a diverse group of stake-holders. The fourth priority should be to assist in strengthening principles of good governance, accountability, zero tolerance towards corruption, ecological recovery and a strong civil society through technical assistance and independent assessments. Taken together, these steps will create the atmosphere of trust and civility so that the region can be demilitarized. Finally, democracy and pluralism can not gain traction in Kashmir until its leaders establish their credibility through elections and by accommodating political and economic aspirations of religious and ethnic minorities.
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.