Kashmir: Lessons of History

The large-scale military buildup on the India-Pakistan border has once again upped the military ante on Kashmir. Pakistan has till now pursued its proxy war there with impunity. December 13 changed that. This was partly because the attack on Parliament crossed the Indian leadership’s threshold of patience and partly because the post-September 11 international context provided a rare opportunity for India to persuasively make a case that this would no longer be tolerated. This needs to be complemented with a political strategy at home.

After all, the logic of New Delhi’s demand that Pakistan jettison jehad as an instrument of state policy and Pervez Musharraf’s televised speech conceding that “no organisation will be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir” is that the battle for resolving Kashmir must shift to the political arena. Here the ultimate key would lie in meeting the popular aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This is not a cliche but a lesson writ large in the political history of Kashmir. The records of both Pakistan and India prove this point.

In the first round of battle in 1947-48, Pakistan’s entire strategy revolved around urging Maharaja Hari Singh to declare independence, the calculation being that in a Muslim-majority state, he would be forced to share power. Sheikh Abdullah in his autobiography quotes Jinnah’s reply to a Kashmiri activist’s question whether the people of Kashmir would decide its future as “let the people go to hell”. Jinnah would pay a heavy price because when the raiders attacked the Valley, it was the local Peace Brigade and National Militia mobilised by Abdullah’s National Conference (and not Maharaja Hari Singh as many Pakistanis like to believe) that resisted the raiders till the Indian Army landed in Srinagar.

Pakistan’s debacle in the 1965 war also lay in not correctly assessing the pulse of the people in the State. Ayub Khan made a grave miscalculation that given support the Kashmiris would revolt against India. Instead, they turned in the infiltrators to the Indian Army. Gen. Musharraf’s speech is another tacit acknowledgment that Pakistan’s strategy in Kashmir has, once again, gone awry.

The Kashmiri secessionist movement, when it started in 1989-1990, was indigenous in character but Pakistan has only to blame itself for decimating that. Its first grave mistake was to marginalise the JKLF as early as the mid-1990s when it realised that “independence and re-unification of divided J&K State” and not accession to Pakistan was the latter’s political goal which, it feared would backfire. Since 1994-95, Pakistan pushed in Afghan veterans and foreign mercenaries, radically changing the character of the militancy and completely negating the Kashmiris’ political ethos and their political struggle. This alienated the Kashmiris not only from the militants but also from Pakistan. Gradually, even the Kashmiri militant groups realised that Pakistan did not have the military wherewithal, or the intention, (as they had been led to believe) to risk a full-scale war with India to liberate Kashmir. And, that Pakistan was merely using Kashmir as a pawn for “bleeding India”. The honeymoon with Pakistan was over.

Pakistan’s record for supporting the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination in its own backyard?the Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas?is also very poor. Until October 1994, 47 years after they came under Pakistan’s control, the people of the Northern Areas had no right to adult franchise. They had no elected Assembly and no elected representatives in the Federal Assembly. Azad Kashmir too, is free only in nomenclature. Its status was never defined in normal international legal terms by the Azad Kashmir Government, Pakistan or the United Nations. The right to adult franchise was first granted in 1970, two decades after `Independence’. Under Section 56 of the 1974 Constitution, the Pakistan Government could dismiss any elected Government in Azad Kashmir irrespective of the support it enjoyed in the Assembly. Constitutional regulations barred any person “propagating any opinion or acting in any manner prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan” from holding any elective office.

If Pakistan’s record in the people’s court is blemished, India, too, is on a weak footing. It has to learn its lessons from the history as to why Kashmir, accorded the pride of place in newly-independent India, has turned into a liability. Going back to the pre-Partition days, the affinity between the Indian National Congress and the National Conference was due to their shared ideals of secularism and democracy and because the INC led by Jawaharlal Nehru had mobilised nationwide support for the Quit Kashmir Movement of the Kashmiris against the Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh. Nehru’s confidence in Kashmir’s accession to India emanated not from the Maharaja’s legal accession as much from the political choices of the Sheikh Abdullah-led National Conference which had a mass support base in the Valley.

Even after the State joined India, Nehru backed the Sheikh to the hilt vis-a-vis other political forces in the State: Maharaja Hari Singh in the Valley and the Praja Parishad movement in Jammu. But Nehru’s first serious mistake was to put all his eggs in one basket?Sheikh Abdullah. He sought the people’s support but his only instrument of strategy was Abdullah and once the latter started seeking complete internal sovereignty, or else an independent state, Nehru dumped the Sheikh as well as the people’s constituency. Since then, democracy was never allowed to take root in the State, subordinated as it was to India’s “national interests”.

Herein lies the rub. The people of the State, especially Kashmiris, joined India because of the compatibility in their vision of “Naya Kashmir” and the nature of the Indian state. They believed that their political autonomy would be better protected in a secular and democratic India than a theocratic and feudal Pakistan. The root cause of fissures in the relationship between the Kashmiris and the Indian state lies in successive Central Governments’ imposition of their political choices through a steady erosion of the State’s special status and by manipulating the electoral processes over the years. By doing so, New Delhi has inadvertently allowed anti-Government protests to acquire anti-India overtones because in the popular mindset, New Delhi has been held responsible for the ills of the political system created say by Ghulam Mohammad Bakshi or Farooq Abdullah. The great Indian success story, that of having weathered a million mutinies, lies in its total faith in democracy as the key political instrument for governing a much diverse and plural India and devising the rules of the game in a way that allows power sharing among different communities. The challenge lies in extending that logic to Jammu and Kashmir: provide the political space for the people to make their own democratic choices.

Also, there is an erroneous belief shared by many in Delhi’s ruling elite that the Kashmiri identity is a threat to the Indian identity and that it needs to be demolished because as long as it exists, it would be exploited by Pakistan. The failure to distinguish between Kashmir’s secular identity and Muslim identity is a grave mistake because history has proved that Pakistan had never been able to take advantage of the Kashmiri identity. On the contrary, Kashmir’s secular beliefs always militated against Pakistan’s Islamic identity. When the Indian leadership had accepted the reality of Partition, only Kashmiris had defied the logic of Partition and the two-nation theory.

Pakistan has always sought to cultivate the religious identity of the Kashmiris and failed. The lesson, therefore, lies in reversing the communalisation of political processes in the State.

India and Pakistan have evidently traversed very different paths to reach this historical juncture. But the lesson for them is the same: both must conceptualise a new, a fresh political strategy for meeting the popular aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.