COMMENT: Pakistan’s Kashmir problem —Alok Rai
My Pakistani interlocutor assures me that it is the hour before dawn that is the darkest, that the present generation, even in Punjab, is ready to move out of this mutually destructive cycle and start a new chapter in the sad history of our sub-continent
(The present article grew out of a series of exchanges between two friends, one Indian, the other Pakistani. “Kashmir” is a problem with far-reaching consequences for both societies. It is important that members of civil society on both sides of the border talk to each other in a spirit of serious engagement, and so carry forward the people-to-people dialogue beyond the not insignificant level of biryani and banter. It is in that spirit that this view from India is offered.)
My proposition is simple — despite the proclamations of generations of Pakistani leaders, Pakistan’s Kashmir problem has nothing to do with Kashmir. It is a fact that the transfer of power in Kashmir way back at the time of Independence and Partition was a messy business — but that is over and done with.
As far as the UN Resolution is concerned, there is simply no possibility of a return to the status quo ante. Even if it were possible to imagine Pakistani forces vacating “Azad Kashmir” — a.k.a. POK, but why bother to go that way? — and of Indian forces vacating Indian Kashmir, there is no possibility of returning to that time in which the plebiscite was supposed to be held.
Further, it needs to be asked: what is the nature of the engagement of Pakistani civil society with “Kashmir”? Is it an engagement at the level of our common humanity — in the sense in which I may, for instance, be deeply involved with the tragedy of Africa? But if it is something more or other than that, it needs to be spelt out just what that something more is. Because the most evident explanation for Pakistan’s special claim to a locus standi in “the Kashmir problem” can only be in terms of the two-nation theory.
I realise that the state of Pakistan must have a somewhat fraught relationship with the two-nation theory — it is after all the necessary foundation for the state of Pakistan. But members of civil society may well feel — on both sides of the border — the “theory”, first propounded by the ideologue of Hindutva, Savarkar, was a historical blunder, a catastrophic political mistake, one that was at the root of millions of destroyed lives, Hindu and Muslim. It also left the Muslims of India, the putative beneficiaries, somewhat less politically consequential than they would have been otherwise.
(This rejection of the two-nation theory is entirely consistent in my mind with accepting the present reality of two independent, sovereign states, India and Pakistan, which should have mature relations.)
In the light of this, “Kashmir” becomes a way of addressing the Pakistani problem of legitimacy — because if Kashmir can be maintained as an “issue”, then the “two-nation theory” is still available as a founding principle, despite all that has happened in the last 60 years.
In the context of “Kashmir” that fatal “theory” raises its ugly head again. Still, it would be the height of political irresponsibility if it were to be legitimised now, and allowed to work its malign destruction again, unleashing the ethnic cleansing that would necessarily result in Kashmir — with its Muslim majority and its Hindu minority, in Jammu with its Hindu majority, and in Ladakh with its Buddhist majority. The notion of a religion-based plebiscite at this point in history is quite simply a horrible idea — and one that should be unthinkable even, perhaps particularly, in contemporary Pakistan. Is it?
I do not by any means wish to suggest that all is well in Kashmir — even in Indian Kashmir — I don’t know enough about the other one. The Indian state has a serious problem with commanding the loyalties of the people of Kashmir, who might legitimately be said to have a problem with the state of India and its armed forces.
It may be argued that the widespread exercise of democratic franchise by Kashmiris in the last election shows that the situation might be changing — that the people of Kashmir have, so to speak, voted with their votes, and voted not only in the immediate elections, but even in that hypothetical plebiscite on whether they wish to be a part of India.
But it would be silly — worse, cruel — to pretend that “India’s Kashmir problem”, and “Kashmir’s India problem”, has thereby come to an end. It hasn’t. A lot more needs to be done — and trigger-happy soldiers cannot be part of the solution.
But all this — and more, much more — has nothing to do with Pakistan. In fact, the best thing that Pakistan can do for the people of Kashmir — for whom many tears are shed — is to lay off, let be, recognise that while it can certainly make things worse — difficult for Indian forces of course, but also worse for the people of Kashmir — it can certainly not make them better. Pakistani meddling — infiltration, “freedom fighting”, etc — can only prolong the agony of the people of Kashmir and their ordeal at the hands of Indian forces.
But is Pakistani civil society prepared to recognise this? It appears that there is far too much invested — in terms of material resources, of course — but also in terms of emotion, of national purpose — for Pakistan to be able to let go of “the Kashmir problem”. This is not the same as letting go of Kashmir — nothing is going to change the situation on the ground, not in J&K, not in AJK. It is “Kashmir” — the foolish fantasy of “freeing” Kashmir — that enables the Army to maintain its stranglehold on Pakistan. The ideological investment in “freeing” Kashmir — in schools and out of them — will not easily be dissolved. Pakistan’s Kashmir problem is its inability to rid itself of the notion that it has a role to play in the resolution of Kashmir’s India problem.
There is of course the valid military insight that Pakistan can, by keeping “Kashmir” on the boil, bleed India, and “avenge Bangladesh”. But such is the dynamic set in motion by the explosive rise of jihadi Islam in Pakistan that now India, too, can crucify Pakistan by teasing it over Kashmir and so prolonging its ordeal at the hands of the jihadis.
However, it devolves upon civil society in both countries to force their states not to continue with this cynical game, a game in which Kashmir — and Kashmiris, “ours” and “yours” — are merely the pretext; the instrument, the bloodied means to a suicidal end, a wilful prolongation of the tragedy of South Asia.
But my Pakistani interlocutor assures me that it is the hour before dawn that is the darkest, that the present generation, even in Punjab, is ready to move out of this mutually destructive cycle and start a new chapter in the sad history of our sub-continent. I am writing this in the hope that he is right and I am wrong. Happy to be wrong.
The writer is a professor at the University of Delhi