By Muzafar Ahmad Dar
Kashmir has a long history of conflict. As Victoria Schofield writes in Kashmir in Conflict (2010), “The crossfire of multiple objectives remains the lives and sadly often violent deaths of men, women and children who have been caught up in a deadly war of words and weapons, which seems unending.” Schofield further adds, “You cannot talk about Kashmir as a dispute between two nations. It is a conflict because – the Kashmiris – are in the middle.” In 1846, the British sold the beautiful Valley of Kashmir under the terms of the ‘Treaty of Amritsar’ to the Hindu Dogra ruler, Gulab Singh. During the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh could not decide whether to join the new dominion of Pakistan or India and, for over two months, his state remained independent.
In October 1947, large number of tribesmen from North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) invaded the state. Maharaja Hari Singh wrote a letter to the Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, on 26 October, 1947 seeking help from the Indian dominion and attached the instrument of accession, too. In reply on 27 October, 1947, Mountbatten accepted the deal and wrote in a letter: “Consistently with their policy that, in the case of any state where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state, it is my Government’s wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the state’s accession should be settled by the reference of the people”.
Even after seven decades of partition of India, Kashmir issue still lingers: from 1989, both an armed struggle and a political rejection of continuing allegiance to the Indian union were on the rise. While some were still fighting for the plebiscite to join Pakistan, others wanted a plebiscite to gain independence of the entire state, as it existed in 1947. The pro-independence activists found legal justification in the UN resolution adopted on 13 August, 1948, which recommended that a final decision on the status of Jammu and Kashmir “shall be determined in accordance with the will of the people” without reference to a choice between either India and or Pakistan.
Having a geo-political stake in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) because of its strategic importance in South Asia, India and Pakistan are fully involved in it. As a result, this political problem has remained unsolved since 1947 between these two countries. There are a number of narratives offered by intellectuals and statesmen throughout the world about J&K. Former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, had said, “The most dangerous place in the world today, I think you could argue, is the Indian subcontinent and the line of control in Kashmir.” Besides, George W. Bush stated that South Asia could be the nuclear flash point because of the unresolved Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. Arundhati Roy, Indian writer, essayist, activist, and the Man Booker Prize winner for the novel, God of Small Things in 1997, openly challenged India’s claim that “Kashmir is an integral part of India.” In a conference, she even called on India to formally admit that Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute. She said, “I said what millions of people here say every day…I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world.” Roy went on to add, “Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.” In 2008, she went to the extent of saying that India needs Azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs Azadi from India. In 2015, former Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharief, mentioned that Kashmir is ‘unfinished agenda’ of Partition. It needs to be solved for the sake of peace and stability in the region.
Since 2014, when Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) came to power at the Centre, the Kashmir situation has taken a different turn, along with India. Right from common people to politicians, scholars, historians, journalists, intellectuals, advocates, and actors, many remarked on the volatile situation in the whole country. In February 2016, Professor Nivedita Menon, who teaches at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, School of International Studies, JNU, said in her lecture at the university: “Everyone knows that India is illegally occupying Kashmir. It is said the world over. Everybody accepts (it).” She further said that if most people agreed that India was illegitimately occupying Kashmir, then the pro-Azadi slogans were justified in the valley.
Post Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s death in July 2016, the Centre has demonstrated its intent to take stern action against all those who are demanding ‘freedom’. The BJP-PDP coalition government used brutal force to crush the ongoing resistance movement, which got a new lease of life after Burhan’s killing. In the aftermath of numerous casualties in the Valley, some other political leaders have shown an open mind in solving the Kashmir crisis. In the context of the Centre’s repressive measures in the Valley, former Union Minister, P. Chidambaram, stated that India was losing Kashmir slowly and gradually. He further added that the government should handle the situation in a better way, as had been done in 2010 by the Cabinet Committee on Security. While violence had declined after 2010, it grew at an alarming rate after the NDA government came to power. He argued that the people of Kashmir faced alienation because of the oppressive methods of the central government, which was a dreadful mistake. In the context of the present situation in Kashmir, Chidambaram, in April 2017, said that the state and central government has chosen a precarious path, which resulted in the lowest polling in last 30 years (Srinagar Lok Sabah by poll saw a 7.14% turnout in May, 2017). To vent their frustration, people came out of their houses and chased away the polling officers. In Chidambaram’s estimation, the formation of the BJP-PDP coalition government in the state, an unholy alliance, has provoked people, who have rejected the government. Second, the PDP has forgotten or ignored the promise to take the way forward by engaging with all the stakeholders. On another occasion, he opined that the warnings by the army chief, deployment of more troops or killing of protestors would not help in any way. It is just a muscular policy, which would not sort-out the problem.
Some other Indian politicians have tried to initiate citizen’s initiatives and find a solution to the Kashmir issue. In July 2017, Former External Affairs and Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha said that the BJP should fulfil its promise of dialogue with all stakeholders, including Hurriyat and even Pakistan, in order to solve the political problem. Last year, Sinha headed a group of some eminent citizens, who visited Kashmir twice for initiating talks with Hurriyat and other groups. Recently, Chidambaram has again argued that the Centre has ‘aggravated’ the problem in the Valley with its ‘maximalist’ position there. He has reiterated the Congress’ faith in the dialogue process, unlike the BJP’s ‘muscle flexing’ through the use of the military.
In short, we can see a multiplicity of positions and perspectives on the Kashmir issue – from Congress’ supposed dialogue to BJP’s naked muscularity to Yashwant Sinha’s citizen’s initiative. As the union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, embarks on a four-day trip to the Valley, the time is right for the central as well as the state governments to find a permanent solution in J&K, which would lead to lasting peace in South Asia.
Muzafar Ahmad Dar is a Ph. D. Student at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email id: firstname.lastname@example.org
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