“Agar Firdaws ba roy-i zamin ast, hamin ast-u hamin ast-u hamin ast,”
Kashmir. The name usually evokes images of unparalleled natural beauty, snow-capped mountains and heavenly valleys. And yet for the people living there, life is nothing less than a journey through hell.
For most Indians, Kashmir is a very emotive issue. Without Kashmir, the map of India looks grotesque; headless. The governments keep harping all the time on how Kashmir is an integral part of India, yet India possesses less than half of what we see in the maps.
As this rough image shows, India occupies about 47% of Kashmir, which it calls the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and which the Pakistanis call Indian-occupied-Kashmir (IoK).
This hodge-podge is the legacy of Partition. Everyone expected Kashmir to go to Pakistan; so much so that Jinnah actually planned on going on holiday there. However the then Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh was having delusions of remaining independent and making Kashmir the Switzerland of Asia. The Pakistanis lost patience with him and sent in their army as kabailis or tribesmen. These kabailis started a campaign of terror and looting. The Maharaja appealed to India for help. Nehru agreed to oblige but only if the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession and joined his state to India. The Maharaja had no choice. Indian troops landed in Srinagar and pushed back the tribesmen, who were too busy raping and pillaging in Baramullah and Mirpur. However midway through the war Pt. Nehru decided to take the issue to the UN, which ordered an immediate ceasefire. That ceasefire line is today known as the LoC.
The UN security council resolution 47 does advocate plebiscite; but not before demilitarization on both sides. Moreover these resolutions are not enforceable, and have lost all relevance. In 2010, the UN removed Jammu and Kashmir from its list of disputed territories.
Enough of history. What does all this mean to an ordinary Kashmiri. For an ordinary Kashmiri living under the suffocating gaze of the army all these resolutions and agreements and declarations mean nothing. It can be hard for an ordinary Indian to comprehend the loathing an ordinary Kashmiri feels for India and everything which represents it.
By Kashmiri, I mean someone from the valley (encircled). There is little to no trouble in Hindu majority Jammu and sparsely populated Ladakh. The animosity towards India in the valley is deep-rooted and even understandable. The elections of 1987 which were rigged by Delhi caused mass upheaval which Pakistan actively supported with funds, weaponry and international diplomacy. By the mid 90s Kashmir had become a major headache for India. However it is a misconception that the trouble in Kashmir is wholly engineered by Pakistan. There is genuine disaffection in the mind of the ordinary Kashmiri towards India. The Indian Army has no doubt indulged in human rights abuses in the valley. The thing is, when you have a dangerous and violent insurgency to quell, and the enemy is well blended into the civilian population, and it is impossible to separate terrorist from civilian, armed forces have to do everything in their power to bring some semblance of order in a sensitive area. At the height of militancy no less than 4-5000 people were being killed every year. Now it is less than 200. This did not happen on its own. Also the nature of the insurgency is one that has strong jihadist undertones (secular outfits like the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front were quickly sidelined by Pakistan’s ISI in favour of more Islamist groups like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen). Indeed one of the first acts of the insurrectionists was the attempted genocide of the Hindu minority of Kashmiri Pandits, who are even today languishing in refugee camps. AFSPA is not permanent, states like Tripura have shown that AFSPA can be removed provided all the stake-holders agree on shunning violence. However it is in Pakistan’s interest to keep the Kashmir pot simmering. Even though India claims the whole of Kashmir to be its ‘integral’ part; the reality is that as far as Kashmir is concerned India is the status-quo power. It is Pakistan which seeks the redrawing of borders. Both countries know, and perhaps India knows it better, that reunification of Kashmir is now a pipe dream.
The closest India and Pakistan came in resolving the dispute was under the leaderships of Manmohan Singh and Parvez Musharraf. However internal turmoil in Pakistan and the 2008 Mumbai attacks destroyed all progress.
What then, is the solution? It is quite easy for populist leaders and aspiring activists to raise slogans of azadi. Is an independent Kashmir even viable? Kashmir produces nothing of value and is landlocked; making it critically dependent on its neighbors. The state economy is kept afloat by generous funds from Delhi and from tourism. An independent valley would almost certainly be torn apart with proxy wars by both countries, or fall into starvation and economic ruin. What is the guarantee that once Indian forces withdrew, Pakistan would not invade and annex Kashmir? Thousands of Kashmiri students study in various cities in India and find employment here. What would be their future in an independent Kashmir?
Also there is the issue of water. Both Indus and Jhelum pass through Kashmir. These rivers are the lifeblood of Pakistan. The Indus Water Treaty notwithstanding, control of Kashmir gives India crucial control of these rivers as it is the upper riparian state.
And finally there is the question of identity. Control of Kashmir is a crucial element in India’s identity as a secular state. By and large the Indian view is that Kashmiris will see the wisdom of sticking with India and the militancy will die out eventually. Today Pakistan has lost all credibility in the international stage. It is known as the fountainhead of terrorism and is counted among the world’s failed states. On the other hand, India, while continuing to face a lot of challenges,including poverty and corruption, is known as a rising economic star and may well be the world’s third biggest economy by the 2040s. Yes, there is the question of justice, but the Machil fake encounter verdict has shown that India is willing to address the human rights issues in Kashmir. Hence the solution can only be full integration of J&K into the union of India, abolition of Article 370, normalization of center-state relations and abolition of AFSPA and demilitarization of the Valley. Obviously this is not something that is going to happen overnight. It may take years, decades even, and will require tremendous political will. But it is the best bet the Kashmiris have. And it is the only scenario in which they have a viable future.
The story of Kashmir is the perfect story of how ordinary people suffer in the great games between two powers. This is Kashmir’s misfortune.
I’m reminded of Vajpayee’s impassioned poem on Kashmir
Jabtak Ganga Ki Dhar Sindhu Main Jwar Agni Main Jalan Surya Main Tapan Shesh
Swatantr Samar Ki Vedi Per Arpit Honge Aganit Jeevan Youvan Ashesh
Amerika Kya Poora Sansar Bhale Hi Ho Viruddh Kashmir per Bharat ka Dhwaj Nahi Jhukega
Ek Nahi Do Nahi Karo Beeson Samjhote Per Swatantr Bharat Ka Nishchay Nahi Rukega