Resolving the Kashmir Issue: A Kashmiri Perspective
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
20 June 1994
I was fifteen months old when tribals from the northwest and troops of the Pakistani regular army, under the joint command of Major General Akbar Khan, invaded Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter called Kashmir) in October 1947. As the news of the plunder, brutality, and violence reached Srinagar, where I lived with my family, my father quietly brought home certain capsules from the pharmacy that he owned, and he distributed them to everyone in the family. The only allweather road out of Srinagar had already been seized by the invading hordes, and the only way out of the valley was by aircraft, a means accessible to only a few. The increasing uncertainty about a rescue from India, coupled with the horror stories of rape and mutilation in a Christian convent in Baramulla, created unparalleled horror and panic among the minorities in Srinagar. My family was no exception. From 23 to 27 October 1947, my family was just one cyanide capsule away from self-inflicted death. My father later told me that he wanted us to die in dignity.
Fortunately, the Indian army finally arrived by air on 27 October and saved numerous lives, including ours. Over a period of time, I grew up, got married, and moved to the United States. My parents, who aged gracefully in Kashmir, chose to stay there in spite of my repeated requests to settle down in the United States with us. For them, Kashmir was not merely a home where they grew up and knew everyone; it symbolized the very essence of their existence and spirit. Having a very rich cultural heritage that went back 5,000 years, they saw themselves living among their ancestors, bonded forever to the place with its unique traditions and glorious past.
When the current mayhem started in Kashmir in 1989, it was understandable why my parents did not leave the valley in spite of the Islamic zealots who targeted the minority pandit community. Even as other relatives and friends began to flee, my parents chose to stay in Kashmir, thinking as aged retirees that they posed no threat to anybody. My father especially had good relations with the Muslims in the neighborhood from whom he bought his day-to-day provisions. One fateful day, 27 July 1990, two young boys, whom he recognized as children of one of the local store owners, knocked on his door. Thinking the brothers were running some errand, he let them in, only to be confronted with a demand for “protection money” in order to remain in his own home. The brothers flashed their handguns and promised to return the next day. The same night my parents fled with nothing more than the clothes that they were wearing.
My father died a broken man in the oppressive heat of New Delhi in 1993. He never got over the fact that he, along with his peers, had been ethnically cleansed out of the Kashmir valley. He wanted to stay close to his cultural roots, hoping that one day he would return to the land of his ancestors. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
The reason why I introduced my talk on a very personal note is because I want all of you to realize that Kashmiri pandits have been forsaken by one and all. Pakistan would like to claim Kashmir on the basis of Muslims’ living in the state, forgetting that Kashmir has a deep-rooted Vedic heritage and even today represents a subset of the cultural and religious diversity that exists in the entire subcontinent. India would like to claim that Kashmir is a test of its ideals as a secular nation, forgetting that in the process it made guinea pigs of the pandits among a religious majority that could not be entrusted to govem responsibly. Sunni Muslims in Kashmir valley would like to claim independence, forgetting that by themselves they only occupy 16 percent of the land and constitute about 40 percent of the population. The world press keeps talking of the so-called third option, forgetting that the state already enjoys unprecedented autonomy under the secular Indian constitution, but lacks the theocratic fanaticism that the azadi (freedom) seekers demand. If not challenged, Islamic fervor will surely turn Kashmir into another Iran or Afghanistan. And let me tell you, we do not want another Iran or Afghanistan. The world does not need one more Iran or Afghanistan.
So where do we go from here? After all, no solution to the Kashmir problem is final unless and until Kashmiri pandits find their moorings back in the land of their ancestors. As aborigines of Kashmir, who have suffered at the hands of Islamic warriors, they will demand, and must demand, adequate safeguards and protections so that past horrors are not repeated again. From a broader perspective, the geopolitics of the subcontinent demands recognition of new ground realities since the partition. It is not as much a case of ignoring past promises as it is a case of understanding new challenges.
Whether anyone realizes it or not, the central issues for Kashmiris today are not unification and independence. The key issues that are stifling peace and prosperity in Kashmir are religious extremism and lack of democratization. The secular fabric that clothed the Kashmiriyat once has been torn to shreds by growing Islamic fundamentalism on one side, and by a lack of human rights for most ethnic communities on the other. In that sense, the situation is virtually identical on both sides of the cease-fire line today.
The unification of Kashmir will not enhance political stability in the region because:
- The unification of the two regions will be a death knell for the minorities in the region. Even though the two regions of Kashmir under India and Pakistan have evolved differently in the last forty-seven years, the two are strikingly similar in the way the minorities have fared. Pakistani Kashmir drove out all nonMuslims decades back. Muzaffarabad, which had a significant Hindu population in 1946, is 100 percent Muslim today. Indian Kashmir, which had retained its multireligious and multiethnic character since partition, has steadily come under pressure from growing lslamic chauvinism, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri pandits from the valley.
- The unification of the state would make some sense only if there is a possibility of independence. That option does not exist in practical terms: neither the UN resolutions on Kashmir nor the surrounding powers (Iran, Pakistan, India, and China) are in favor of it. In most neighboring nations, the idea of independent Kashmir is perceived as yet another Anglo-American plot to reclaim a replacement for the Shah’s Iran.
- There is simply no way that either India or Pakistan can survive politically if either was to part with Kashmir.
- Finally, perhaps the most important reason is that it is not clear what benefits -economic, political, or otherwise-independence will bring to Kashmiris. Will we become the next Azerbaijan or Ukraine? Independence does not necessarily mean improvement. The reasons for independence have to be grounded in more than the emotional pledges of past leaders. Ground realities today are vastly different. The case for independence has yet to be made.
The least-damage option in the present circumstances of tension and strife is to convert the line of actual control (LOC) into the international boundary between India and Pakistan. This will complete the partition of the subcontinent and allow both India and Pakistan to claim ownership to some part (if not all) of Kashmir.
For Kashmiris, this will be a reality check since it does not take away anything from what exists today. On the other hand, more important than which side of the border Kashmiris happen to live on are the political, cultural, and human rights issues that have been ignored in the past. Kashmiris on either side of the border must be allowed to exercise their basic rights freely.
Therefore, the first order of business is to encourage an independent dialogue between various communities in the two Kashmirs rather than a four-way dialogue between two Kashmirs, India, and Pakistan. The intercommunity dialogue should be initiated so that each region can define the framework under which constituents can exercise their political, economic, religious, and cultural rights freely and unequivocally. Protection of the human rights of minorities in each region must be guaranteed by specific legislative measures, including designation of geographic areas where various ethnic communities and minorities can exercise influence and create the critical mass for their religious and economic security. In this regard, Panun Kashmir, a political organization of displaced Kashmiri pandits, has asked for the creation of a homeland to ensure that aborigines of Kashmir do not become extinct in their own land (figure 1). Similarly, constituents in the Northern Areas have asked for the transfer of administration authority from the government of Pakistan to the local government.
The two regions of Kashmir, independently, should then develop a new political framework recognizing the new demographics and power sharing. The central governments of India and Pakistan should neither interfere in this process nor exercise undue prejudice or favoritism toward any one community at the expense of another. Once the intercommunity dialogue has met its objectives, the constituents of each Kashmir should enter into negotiations with their respective central governments to redefine the powers of the state within the federal union. However, the central governments should ensure that the new political arrangements are fair to each ethnic region and contain protections that will ensure the survival of minorities in each region; at the same time, the arrangements should be consistent in character and structure with the federal constitutions of the two countries.
What I am proposing is an integrated and phased approach for bringing peace and tranquility not only in Kashmir but in the entire subcontinent. It consists of three discrete actions:
- Convert the LOC into the international boundary.
- Conduct an intercommunity dialogue in each region of Kashmir independently, which will redefine the political, economic, and cultural balance between the diverse ethnic entities. Minority rights will require designation of ethnic enclaves to ensure religious protection and political influence.
- Finally, negotiate new pacts with the respective central governments consistent with the aspirations of the people in the two regions.
The three steps that I have presented are the basic building blocks for establishing long-term peace and tranquility in the subcontinent. A process that promotes democratization of the two Kashmirs will eventually lead to a stage when border crossings between the two regions will become routine. The hope is that one day the border between the two Kashmirs will be like the boundary between the United States and Canada.
I believe this is the only plan that offers something to everyone involved, recognizing that no one can get everything that he or she desires. The drive for such a compromise must come from Kashmiris themselves. Let the world know that in spite of our human failings, we are generous and peace-loving people. Let Kashmir become the symbol of peace in the new world order.
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.