We sometimes suffer more from our vivid imagination than our present reality. The excruciating psychological pain is a reminder of our suffering, especially if our imagination forces us to envision the possibility of our most romanticized object of affinity, forcefully or willfully abandoning our relationship with it.
Since time immemorial, the collective animosities of one side towards the other (and vice-versa) have existed due to claims over lands and in the act of acquisition and self-proclaimed geographical legitimacy, people are forgotten. But just sometimes, sometimes our imaginations successfully segregate ‘people’ from the ‘people after the amputation of an entire civilizational landmass’.
The issue of Kashmir has so many enigmatic elements that its nuances cannot be examined, due to our lack of conceptual tools and the state’s specific contextual birth. However, to identify carefully what constitutes as Kashmir, one needs to tread into what it does not represent.
Representation is clearly a normative issue when it comes to citizenship in Kashmir, however, validity of facts and claims could also “represent” the reality of a region, vis-à-vis the economic, cultural, political and social aspects.
The psychological burden of both our civilizations – rather one dissected civilization (but referred to as two to acknowledge both contemporary India and Pakistan), has been to cling on to this romanticised area with our imaginations: Kashmir. For the area that starts after Gilgit-Baltistan, the dreams of Azadi (freedom) is imaginary. The same area fails to acknowledge the lack of a moral compass that needs to be directed at the failure of its policies and aggression. The region within and beyond the Indian-administered Kashmir is the perfect mirror for democracy to stare at itself.
Despite creating conditions for itself in Kashmir that cause it to fail repeatedly, the mirror reassures the democracy that it exists.
The state-centric imagination forces us to envision the possibility of our most romanticised object. On the question of forcefully or wilfully abandoning our relationship with it, both India and Pakistan seem to strike narratives of victimhood.
However, one needs to tread carefully while discussing a zone with multiple hostilities because each ethnic community has a different, in most cases legitimate, narrative around victimhood and suffering which is their collective conscience, through politicization.
The demand for the plebiscite, justice for stone pelters injured in protests against the paramilitary, justice for the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, the acknowledgement of the painstaking schedule of an army man are some of the areas of debate and discussion. However, through politicization the entire rhetoric of a cause or idea has been moulded into a zero-sum game.
Let us come back to the question of identity and narratives. One should not, in the slightest, think that the issue here could be dealt with by applying homogenizing parameters, i.e. viewing the issue in communal terms.
Although communalism could be a facet, Kashmir’s is a far more complex issue to apply uniform parameters to the whole valley, most of which is at variance with its plural identities. These plural identities compose of the region’s major communities. Hence, a contestation of power between these communities in the past – the Punjabis, Kashmiris, Muslims etc.- have made it indisputably one the most complex regions in the world. Economic, military, and strategic factors do play an important role but, this issue has primarily been of political importance.
From a historical perspective, it is important to view the issue of Kashmir through its dynamic events, especially the pre-partition era that saw the Muslim League contest elections against the Indian National Congress.
In 1946, when the British decided to depart, they planned to carve out the state of Pakistan from their former provinces. These areas constituted around 54% of the subcontinent’s territory, the remaining were administered by the British through treaties. Under the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, British paramountcy would lapse and states would be urged to join either India or Pakistan. This opened up a new battleground for the princely states that were divided between the Muslim league and the Indian National Congress.
Jawaharlal Nehru, head of the Indian National Congress, refused to recognize the right of any princely state to gain absolute independence from either of the two states. Moreover, he aggressively proposed that the States should be free to join India or Pakistan. The Congress followed a double-fold strategy; firstly to accede the rulers into the Indian union in three areas – external affairs, defense and communication; and support the people’s movement in the states and negotiate with the rulers. Moreover, the will of the people was paramount to the Congress even if it was antithetical to that of the rulers. This strategy of appeasement resulted in 551 princely states acceding to India with an area of 5,00,000 square miles and a population of 86.5 million (not including Jammu and Kashmir).
The Muslim League’s strategy on the other hand, fostered support by putting Muslim rights and Muslim minorities at the forefront of their agenda. Additionally, they called for the Muslim majority to rule in the case of Kashmir and supported the princely states that were neglected by the Congress. Despite such measures none of the princely states that shared a common border with India (except Travancore) acceded to Pakistan. The primary reason for this was that the Congress had announced: “That any state not joining the Constituent Assembly was a hostile state.” Pakistan was in no position to offer them security. Another reason was that Jinnah, who lived abroad most of his life, was not in tune with the realities of the princely states, particularly that of Kashmir.
The Dogras were Hindus who were installed as rulers of Kashmir under the treaty of Amritsar in 1846. Gulab Singh, the ruler of the Dogra dynasty, was awarded Kashmir up till Gilgit, Ladakh and Chenab for a sum of 7,50,000 pounds. The dynasty was biased against the Kashmiris and was discriminatory against the Muslims. For example: Kashmiris were denied possession to arms, Muslims were barred from state services and were heavily taxed. Businesses were primarily under the monopoly of the Punjabis and the Dogras. Navnita Behera mentions how viewing the issue of Kashmir through a Hindu/Muslim lens skews our analysis as that region is far too complex in its understanding than viewing it from single lens.
The polarization of the Kashmiri population was not just ethno-religious but also a result of state control which deprived sections, such as the Muslims and Kashmiris, of certain rights and privileges. For example, the contestation between the Kashmiri Pundits, Kashmiris and Punjabis was clearly expressed in the roles that they played during the pre-partition era. The Punjabis ran businesses and occupied roles in the state bureaucracy, the Kashmiri Pundits (although, also being of a higher order were lower than the Punjabis) occupied roles in the state administration and the Kashmiri Muslims and Muslim peasantry made up the lowest order.
The different sects of Kashmiri Muslims started to press for their concerns. The agitation hit its full course in the Muslim revolt of 1931 against the Dogra dynasty – also known as a religious war by the Muslims. All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim conference in 1932 was organized by Kashmiri Muslims including the intelligentsia, clergy, tradesmen, industrial laborers, artisans and peasants. They demanded land ownership, access to civil services, lower taxation and land revenue charged to the peasantry and recruitments to the army. The movement sought help from the Indian Muslims and when suppressed by Maharaja Hari Singh led to an agitation provoked by Mirwaiz Yusuf Khan. The Maharaja, in turn, reported to the British in order to seek military intervention. Hence, the British intervention showed that princely states were objects of colonial power. As a result, Kashmiri Muslims emerged as a secular and religious identity.
A section of the National Conference aimed at secularizing Kashmiris. However, it remained divided due to the split between the Hindus and the Muslims. The divide and rule policies of the maharaja’s government passed an ordinance which made studying of the Persian and Devanagari scripts compulsory in all schools. Moreover, only the Dogra Rajputs possessed firearms. Muslim leaders such as Sheikh Abdullah and Maulana Masoodi had a secret meeting with Jinnah, who incited the notion that Muslims were the true representatives of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, without the knowledge of Sardar Bundh Shah. Thereof a clear divide was apparent between the Hindu and Sikh community on one hand and the Muslims on the other. Though Muslims too were divided along political lines such as the radicals who supported the congress and did not want dominion of Muslims in the state and the conservatives who were opposed to Congress’s ideology. Moreover, Azad Kashmir (Manifesto of 1945) aligned itself with the Muslim league for the struggle for independence and the “Realization of Pakistan”.
1) The retraction of the Plebiscite was a clear indicator of the injustice done to the Kashmiris and the state of Pakistan
The most populist legal claim by Pakistan has been to conjure up the promised plebiscite by this UN Security Council resolution and demand justice for the referendum that never took place. To the amazement of many, the resolution stated clear precursors to the plebiscite such as necessitating urgent withdrawal of tribesman sponsored by the Pakistani state. Subsequently, Indian forces should have been removed to a level to “maintain law and order” in the region. Another myth regarding the “complete” demilitarization of the Indian Army fails to acknowledge that the resolution mandate “minimum military presence” yet strong enough to restore “law and order” in the state. Thus, rendering both claims by Pakistan, inaccurate.
2) Retraction of the Plebiscite was only because of the unwillingness of Pakistan to cooperate.
Since Jawaharlal Nehru took the decision to take the issue of Kashmir to the UN, this resulted in him leaving the future of Kashmir in the hands of the people through a referendum. However, there was opposition within the Congress at the time. As discussed, the contract had far more complexity to it especially since the reaction from Pakistan’s military was averse and termed “aggressive” by Nehru during his speech at the United Nations Conference.
Although the referendum represented Nehru’s earlier vision to let the people of Kashmir elect their own representatives it was opposed by Sardar Patel who termed it as an “unnecessary complication”. Jinnah and Nehru clearly remained divided along political lines during the aftermath of Nehru’s decision.
The North-Western Frontier Province aroused sympathies for Pakistan due to massacres of Muslims by Hindus. Driving the Sikhs and Hindus out from the province, before the referendum, weakened the position of Khudai Khidmatas (anti-partition Congress) which was aligned to the Indian National Congress. To avoid this incident Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru wanted a quick plebiscite of the electoral polls. Moreover, during this period the Pakistani army was actively involved in Kashmir which prompted the Indian National Congress to retract from the plebiscite. The retraction of the plebiscite was for various reasons: firstly, to weaken the nationalist forces in Kashmir (particularly the national conference); secondly, to curb Pakistan’s military intervention in Kashmir; and thirdly, to strengthen political forces led by Sheikh Abdullah who represented the people of Kashmir. Jinnah’s goals, naturally were the opposite who planned to remove Sheikh Abdullah, the Indian army and bring in Pakistani troops to gain legitimacy through force.
3) The Kashmir Issue has always been dealt with in a manner which is adequate to India’s satisfaction.
The retraction gave Pakistan an opportunity to devise strategies for the removal of Sheikh Abdullah. Moreover, the involvement of the British and later, Americans who backed Pakistan left India in a weak position to negotiate. The UN security resolution included representatives from Belgium, Canada, China, Colombia, UK and the US. It called for the removal of Indian troops from the state and advised Pakistan to facilitate a new provision for a Plebiscite.
As the resolution stated: “The Commission of the Security Council should at the end of the plebiscite certify to the Council whether the plebiscite has or has not been really free and impartial”. Thereof, with the Ceasefire Agreement in 1949, Kashmir was divided into two parts – Poonch, Mirpur, Muzzafarabad, and Gilgit Baltistan which joined Pakistan, and the states of Jammu and Kashmir along with Ladakh that went to India.
4) India or Pakistan would be existentially threatened if either side lost complete control over Kashmir.
Suppose, just as hypothesis, that Kashmir secedes to Pakistan. The military strength of both the sides would not change, let alone prompt Pakistan to plan a full-scale invasion into India while it is massing in Jammu and Kashmir. Secondly, even if India lost control
of the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab then a) the prospect of such a loss would not be “existentially threatening” to India and b) given the strength of the Indian Army and hostile terrain in the region, it would be nearly impossible for Pakistan, even if they bring in Chinese troops, to acquire a hegemonic power over the water flowing into the Indian territory through plains. Miraculously, even if they do manage to channel all the water through construction of high storage capacity dams, India would be far from existentially threatened.
If India gained full control of Kashmir, we would have nothing but a flat plain with important lines of supply and communications stretching all the way to the border, susceptible to interference from Pakistan. The only other threat for India, if they were to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan, would be the Indus, which however, is impossible to control with its volume and variety of canals and routes. And again, if Pakistan were to lose control over Indus waters, we would have distressed farmers, not a failed state.
It is important to note that the root of every territorial problem lies in the fact that it is blown out of proportion after politicization. While one may or may not agree to the entire concept of a nation state as being inclusive rather than exclusive, I would like to mention that since there lies no alternative to this reality, working beyond it could be an abstraction, not one that is solution oriented. It is not justified for one to look at the reformation of a state before examining any territorial issue, just because the entire modus operandi of nation states is tainted.
What would be more pragmatic resolutions would be a) to invoke, the revival of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) along the Line of Control (LoC); b) to take Pakistan and India both in confidence on paper so that they are held liable for their transgressions and; c) to set up a committee monitored by the UN which would monitor such transgressions by either side. It is important to note the psychological trauma and social unrest in the region which demands a democratic space and the ability to express dissent.
While it is important to not judge Kashmir on communal terms, there have been incidents like the exodus of the Pandits that require a sense of moral ownership from the grass root level movements that could “center” such binary standpoints and bridge the communal hatred between dissimilar groups.
The valley may echo of its rivers and blue skies eternally, but it is also necessary for the people to be living in peace and harmony for Kashmir to truly be heaven on Earth.