“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

The Kashmir Conundrum

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

8 January 2011

When neither politicians nor intellectuals pass the muster of professional integrity, it is not surprising that the Kashmir issue remains unresolved.

Almost every day, or every other day, there is a seminar on the Kashmir issue in Srinagar. If mere talking could solve the issue, this dispute would have been resolved a long time ago. First, the civil society hogged the limelight but nothing happened. Then politicians took their turn but it only became worse. Finally, the two joined forces under the guise of “intellectuals” and the results were even more disastrous. I need to only point to the seminar on January 2, 2011, to make my point.

It is not my wish, however, to belabor on the “truth” that spilled out during that seminar. (The “truth” was a revelation by the former Chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference that prominent political and religious leaders in Kashmir, who were assassinated in the past, were killed by locals rather than by Indian security services or the Indian state.) I want to draw attention instead to the resolution of the “core issue” that valley subjects care about.

But what is the core issue? Is it to secure a permanent closure to the Kashmir issue at the United Nations? Is it to create an independent sovereign nation that may or may not include other regions besides the Kashmir valley? Is it to integrate Muslim majority regions in the Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan either through direct accession or indirect confederation? Or, shifting the focus to people over real estate – is the “core issue” to promote human development in Jammu and Kashmir to the point that peace and prosperity within can match many small European nations? Is it to leverage its strategic regional importance within the Indian union for political, economical and cultural betterment of its people in the third fastest growing economy in the world? Or, is it to continue with the “business as usual” attitude where considerable lip service, public emotion and rhetoric is expressed by status quo parties to retain their power, authority or hold with attendant benefits, whereas ordinary Kashmiris (my definition: non-English speaking Koshur) are mostly pushed to the very bottom of the social and economic food chain.

It is not my intention to recommend or discuss in detail any one of the six (6) scenarios that I have mentioned above. And there may be other scenarios that I did not address. So where do we go from here?

This is the crux of the Kashmir conundrum. We have a situation where possibilities appear endless, but capabilities are few. A place where people dream about themselves as “unique people” of the South Asian subcontinent, and yet that pride and arrogance can be bought on the cheap! Everyone from British adventurers in the 19th century to the present Indian establishment to even the most recent contacts with visiting foreign diplomats has proven that fact. It is not simply a challenge regarding how to address aspirations of all regions of the State, or how to unify various separatist factions within the valley; or how to invigorate religious diversity in the valley. It is the issue about collective professional integrity of Kashmiri politicians and intellectuals at the helm of affairs affecting everyday life in Kashmir.

In making my judgment, I am acutely aware that not all politicians, and certainly not all intellectuals, are morally and ethically corrupt. I can personally vouch for those who have challenged the political hegemony and boldly made self-assessments about the ills of the Kashmiri society without fear of retribution. But connecting their messages to educated and informed masses is impossible given the degree of paranoia that exists in the valley.

That paranoia has many roots, not the least of which is the presence of a large security force, as well as continuing militancy in the state which is practically impossible to tackle without “collateral damage” involving innocent civilians – as dead, injured or missing. This is the most damning aspect of the security situation, and one that cannot be condoned but has to be factored in, especially since it appears to be a lonely vigil. For many years that externality was so dominant that no civil society dialogue was possible. Today, however, the situation has changed dramatically, but neither politicians nor intellectuals seem willing or capable to adjust their vision and outlook with the improved security situation in the valley. Except that frequency of seminars has increased asymptotically.

For decades both politicians and intellectuals have fed politically charged public of Kashmir with incomplete facts and half-baked ideas, which have taken a life of their own as “gospel truths,” making it very difficult to debate issues with real objectivity and analytical maturity. Even when some “mid-course corrections” are made, like at the recent seminar organized by the Malik faction of the JKLF, these will be soon forgotten and, judging from past experiences, even the same politicians will make contradictory statements at the next seminar.

For an intellectually honest debate, almost every topic of contention has to be discussed and examined within the desirable or achievable political framework. Earlier I laid-out six (6) scenarios for Kashmir’s future. When I discussed these recently with a senior J&K National Conference leader and a Member of the Parliament (MP) in an earnest face-to-face discussion, he said that I needed to come down a tier and all that J&K needed was more autonomy within the Indian union. In fact, he recalled the commitment of the Sher-e-Kashmir to such a goal, and he re-affirmed his Party’s commitment not to retreat from that objective. I asked him, “What do you hope to achieve?” He said that will make Kashmiris master of their own fate, allow them to reclaim self-pride and give them authority to make decisions. He then went into technicalities of how to achieve such autonomy – what “pre-53 positions” will stay or should be modified, etc., etc. After his lengthy (and very intellectual) response, I asked him, “Which is the most autonomous state within India today? And let me tell you that it has neither sought Article 370, nor has limited entry to non-state subjects or private funds within its borders.” He was clearly surprised by my response, and so I gave him more. I said that the U.S. government was pushing India to buy at least four nuclear reactors from two American vendors – General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse (W), worth about $30 billion, and India had selected two states to receive two reactors each (built either by GE or W). But surprisingly, both companies want to build reactors in the same state. In other words, both American companies prefer to locate in one state even though the other state is favored by New Delhi. He asked which state was getting all the attention. Here was my surprise – it is Gujarat. Yes, Gujarat, which has gained notoriety under Modi, is the bane of Congress leadership in New Delhi who are plotting every possible way to squeeze Gujarat, and yet Gujarat thumps its nose at the Center and cuts deals that bring multi-national companies – local and foreign – to the State. Using your definition Mr. JKNC leader, Gujarat is the most autonomous state in India. Why? First, because it has political stability and business friendly policies, and second, it is among the least corrupt states in India, with governance standards that even governments outside of India are beginning to take notice of.

It is important for me to mention that I am neither supporter of Mr. Modi nor any political party, including the BJP. My point is that political strength of a state inherently comes from within; it is time for Kashmiris to stop scanning world news and press announcements daily about Kashmir and use such news clips to raise hope of any foreign deliverance in the future. It is time for Kashmiris to look inwards at themselves, and begin examining their behaviors, institutions and policies that is mostly responsible for the condition that exists today or will influence the outcome tomorrow. Of course, I expect to be challenged immediately, it always happens among people in a state of denial.

Intellectuals have an important role to play in changing the unrealistic and confusing mindset prevalent in Kashmir today. Their job is not to act as “front shops” for politicians and hucksters masquerading as politicians. Their job is to present alternatives for betterment, even when some of those alternatives do not settle well with political rogues occupying front seats in any seminar. Not only should intellectuals be discussing alternate scenarios, they need to address each scenario from perspectives of its pros and cons, its strengths and weaknesses. That will clearly educate the public with clarity; give them choices to consider, and facts to think about. Otherwise, these one-dimensional seminars will continue to serve as social gathering spots to catch up on gossip and ensure continuity for the prevalent “business as usual” scenario.

This article appeared in the January 8, 2011 issue of the Greater Kashmir, a leading English broadsheet newspaper in Srinagar, Kashmir. Please click here.


About Me

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.


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