Riyaz seeks an answer to a wrong question. The correct question is can Kashmir be part of a solution when it doggedly insists on remaining as the India’s problem?
(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)
Whose apple, whose glow
Peoples Democratic Party President Mahbooba Mufti who had got humbled by a prickly scene at Old Martyr’s Graveyard on July 13 this year, was the only local politician to register physical endorsement of trade through LoC as it began on 21 October. The party had issued paid ads in local newspapers in which it not just praised both Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari for honoring the popular aspirations but also paid tributes to “the valiant youth who laid down their lives for resumption of trade through Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road.”
Apparently PDP stole the show and became the solitary claimant of an “achievement”, toward which doubtless it had long been harping upon, leaving the observers as well as its detractors in awe. National Conference that fiercely champions Kashmir’s special status within Indian Union ignored it and the moderate faction of separatist Hurriyat Conference chose to respond very sparingly despite the fact that it had launched a full-fledged movement in favor of LoC-opening in August.
It is not yet clear whether PDP is serious to include Kashmiri sacrifices in its political content or Mahbooba’s Salamabad gesture was just a posturing to enhance party’s bargain in New Delhi’s power corridors. By simple common sense, representing sacrifice is loaded with political costs. The temptation entails political sacrifices. Even if PDP wants to espouse ‘soft separatism’ as a means to re-galvanize its image among masses, its semi-separatist talk in the backdrop of the LoC trade is double-edged. Either it will face a political rout or it may scrape through.
By saying the road-opening is sheer consequence of the “sacrifices of our youth” PDP has, in fact, taken upon itself a back-breaking task in which it will have to show how the LoC trade would really, and abundantly, benefit Kashmiris and become the genuine fruit of their sacrifices. There are two questions. How will PDP prove that LoC-trade is the real answer to the sacrifices? And, will this trade ever provide PDP an opportunity to boast: “this is what Kashmiris have laid their lives for”. Let it not be Azadi, but will it be something nearly worth Azadi?
Attempting answers to questions about romantic goals is often difficult. Yet there is no harm in making an attempt.
Resuming cross-LoC business exchange is doubtless a positive step toward further confidence building between India and Pakistan. It came as a comforting follow-up to the recent highway-blockade and a bloody march to Uri where the crossing point between two parts of Kashmir is situated. At the micro level it is a psychological healer for a people afflicted with a prolonged siege, more often invisible. This siege and the sense of being trapped have been worse than Palestine where even Israel would allow informal exchanges with Jordon and Egypt.
At the macro level it aims at creating a stake within the beleaguered populations of divided Kashmir for a prosperous and peaceful subcontinent. In the midst of US-sponsored project to amalgamate South Asia into Central Asia, India is perceived as the ‘CEO’ of this new regional set-up bypassing China that is watching the developments with eerie silence.
Common man in Kashmir may not be bothered about how India is emerging as a key actor in the new cold war between Sino-Russian caucus and America; or how Pakistan is losing both clout as well as currency value. What bothers him most is whether he has, at long last, reached a point where his sacrifices make him a genuine shareholder in the dividends of trade liberalization between India and Pakistan through Kashmir.
Sajjad Gani Lone, the young and blessedly articulate politician who prefers to be called a ‘realist’ rather than a separatist and whose Vision Document has dealt extensively with the economic aspect of Kashmir dispute, in his elaborate comment (Economic Times, 26 September 2008) says: “Post-economic blockade, this trade route has acquired increased psychological and political significance. In the medium term and the long term India and Pakistan would have to move beyond baby steps and sign up on this unique opportunity of using economics in resolving this conflict.”
Mr Lone in his Vision Document titled Achievable Nationhood has employed beautiful prose to theorize how sacrifices should replace the narrative of grievance that New Delhi is used to. When read in the clear context of problematic relationship between Kashmir and India, the prescription sounds a creative one yet it would require a miracle to make India acknowledge the sacrifices that were offered against her presence in Kashmir.
One can expect that miracle if the clout India is earning in South and Central Asian region post nuclear deal crowds out all the bias, within Indian bureaucracy, against Kashmiris. Lets presume that after gaining leverage against Pakistan on political, economic and military front India would, out of magnanimity, say “let bygones be bygones, Kashmiri sacrifices were not a vain collateral damage of a wrong cause; those sacrifices would be respected and responded.”
But what about the second question: Will Kashmiri blood redden the Kashmiri apple or it will provide the economic luster to others?
A quick comparison between India with Pakistan will tell us how much India; the giant producer can sell to ‘a moth-eaten Pakistan’ where the new President has proposed a funny remedy to tackle the challenge of funding farm subsidies: “Print the notes”.
And, how much the power-starved Kashmir can export to Pakistan and Central Asia. Does Central Asia need our carpet while Iran produces more qualitative ones; will it require our honey, which Pakistan and Iran has in abundance; will our Chinar Biscuit whose factory at Zadibal is in shambles will be accepted in Asfahan or Tajkistan where Chinese and Russian FMCGs and handicrafts are ruling the market. The road has opened but only the fittest will survive in the competition, which the trade will offer when streamlined.
It’s silly to propose that India should not get any economic advantage out of this new ‘gateway to Central Asia’. But at the same time the espousers of Kashmiri sacrifices will have to ensure India alone doesn’t benefit. After all, as they have avowedly claimed, Cross-LoC trade is the response to Kashmiri sacrifices. To the point of road-opening, Sajjad Lone’s theory fits in, because New Delhi acknowledges, albeit without mention, the sacrifices. But PDP has the real challenge. Wherefrom will PDP get the guarantee that Kashmiri sacrifices are not being utilizing to redden the Indian apple!