A lot of water has flown since I uploaded my last blog. Throughout this week I had been desperate to write but the excessive workload got the better of me. Situation is no better even now but I am using the time I have on my hands by the time my car reaches my hotel in Colombo, an hour’s drive from my client’s plant.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has aggravated to astronomical proportions. No one, even those well-acquainted with the fragile relationship between the valley and rest of India, would have ever imagined that the chain of events-starting from what was a routine administrative decision and its subsequent revocation, will lead to the situation today. Kashmir is back to its 1989 days, with lakhs of supporters of a Kashmir independent of India, spilling onto the streets chanting anti-India and pro-Pakistan, pro-freedom slogans. People in the valley are now talking about putting an end to the “forced occupation of Kashmir by India since 1947”. The Hurriyat and other separatist parties, which were on the brink of oblivion, have suddenly got a fresh lease of life. Situation has become all the more complicated with the mainstream political parties in Kashmir, primarily to secure their vote bank (the PDP and NC), also echoing sentiments similar to those of the separatists and joining the anti-India protests in the valley. The line separating mainstream parties and separatist elements is fast disappearing and this does not augur well for India. It looked like peace was finally returning to the valley but the pathetically inept handling of the entire issue by the centre has ensured all the good work done in the past few years in the valley has come to a nought.
The massive public outcry in the valley in the past few weeks clearly indicates India has faltered in handling the Kashmir issue. Even after 61 years of accession to India and the center doling out massive benefits to win the confidence of people from the valley, it has failed to bring the Kashimiri Muslim community on its side. Everything within the book has been tried-article 370, special economic packages, healing touch policy, promotion of democracy talks with separatist elements at various levels; but all these initiatives have failed miserably. In fact, each of these initiatives has been exploited by the separatist elements to further alienate the valley from rest of India. This brings me to the question I am trying to raise in my blog today. Is it worth to have Kashmir stay with India or should we let it go? I will also delve on various options currently suggested from various quarters, and my own opinion on each of these. I am no political expert, but giving my opinions as a commoner. Please note the sequence of options is not in any order.
1. The first option, which a vast section of the valley wants, is going by the UN resolution of 1948 of holding a referendum in the valley under the supervision of UN watchdogs and let them decide their future. Pakistan has been harking on this point since forever but the situations between 1948 and 2008 have grossly changed. First of all, this referendum has to be held in both Indian-occupied and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir under a joint military control. Unless India and Pakistan are not willing to vacate their territories, this cannot happen. Another point is that demography of the two areas has vastly changed over the past 60 years. Lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits have been driven out of the massive anti-Hindu militancy in early 90’s in Kashmir, similarly in PoK, several Pakistanis have settled in the region over the past 60 years while many ethnic minorities have been cleaned up there as well. Any decision on the region needs to involve all the people, which seems quite complicated now. I am emotionally biased towards not going for this option as I know if we do a referendum in the valley today; it will for sure not be in favor of India, whatever the reasons might be.
2. Second option is for India to let go of Kashmir and let the KM community decide it future course of action. This will be a desperate decision for India and all Indians. Even in 60 years we have failed to change the mindset of a majority of the KM community. It costs us billions every year to maintain massive troops in the valley. We lose hundreds of our valiant army men every year fighting the enemy within. We spend so much of our energy and resources on trying to make Kashmir a part of mainstream India, but results are futile. A significant section of KMs still do not feel a part of India. Had it not been for Kashmir, the four wars between India and Pakistan probably would never have happened. Most of the extremist activities in India today have a Kashmir angle. It does not help that we are a moderate, secular democracy, where secularism has taken an entirely new shape-that of appeasing members from one particular community. Keeping this in retrospective, our government will never take the anti-national elements head-on. We have not been able to execute one Afzal Guru in spite of his being convicted in the attack on the supreme authority of the Indian constitution, the Parliament house; doing something like a Tienmann square against the separatist elements in India cannot even be dreamt of!! So does this all mean we should, or eventually have to, let Kashmir go? Not really.
Letting go of Kashmir is fraught with several emotional. political and strategic risks for India. First, people like me will be disappointed if this happens. For the past 60 years we have used every possible forum to promote that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” and we have invested significant money, resources and even lost precious lives in making that happen. We cannot let go of Kashmir to a bunch of protestors who are exploiting the secular credentials of India and its softness on extremist. The decision will also have several political and strategic repercussions. An independent Kashmir is expected to develop better relationships with Pakistan and China and there is a high possibility that it could become the launching pad for extremist activities in rest of India. Imagine China setting up a missile base in Srinagar-they will have easy access to Delhi even with their low-end missiles. Further, with an independent Kashmir bordering northern India, Pakistani and Chinese armies will have easy access to the Indian borders and they may use this to launch a military offensive against India. A Muslim-dominated valley can easlly become the new university of terrorism in the world which Pakistan is desperate to shift out of its country. I am not saying that all Muslims are terrorists, but any nation created on the basis of a religion is bound to be prone to religious extremism, in this case it being Islamic terrorism.
Forgoing Kashmir can also have serious implications on the fragile fabric of entire India. Let us not forget that India was formed by a merger of hundreds of princely states in 1947, many of them being forced acquisitions as well. Liberating Kashmir will encourage many of such fragilely-bound states to raise their voice. The struggle for freedom in the North-East may intensify with demands like “If Kashmir, why not us?”, or even in some parts of West Bengal and South India. In short, forgoing Kashmir may actually open a Pandora’s box, resulting in dissolution of the Indian state, similar to what happened to the USSR in early nineties.
3. Some political parties in J&K have been pushing for giving greater autonomy to the state. This will mean additional powers to the state, which already enjoys special status under article 370. Under autonomy, the state will have its own Prime Minister and the centre will have minimum control on the state. Autonomy will bring not only additional privileges to the state, but will also further alienate the valley from the country. People like me, who want Kashmir to be brought closer to mainstream India, will never accept this.
4. Another option, but which seems unviable in a moderate democracy like India, is the use of force to silence such elements. Ideally, we should get rid of the anti-India elements-shoot/impeach a few of them, arrest a few others; and present a hard-line stand that there is no place in India for people who say against the nation. But this is unlikely to happen as we are not known to be a hardliner state and even our governments in centre are wary of taking these issues head-on. Further, a hard-line state might also alienate some sections of the society and cause religious extremism to rise.
5. Now here comes what I feel could be the solution to the turmoil. People might tend to disagree but I would reiterate, this is my personal opinion. We need to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach in the valley. The Indian government must launch a massive campaign simultaneously in the valley and the rest of India around why the demand for azadi for Kashmir does not make logical sense. An independent Kashmir cannot survive on its own due to its land-locked nature and limited resources of its own to create a self-sustaining economy. Friendly overtures with Pakistan can be dangerous; their track-record in keeping their promises is legendry. This message needs to go clearly to the common man on the streets of Kashmir. They need to realize that it makes sense for them to be with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and a future superpower, rather than being with a failed state which itself is struggling for its own existence. In addition, the government needs to create job opportunities for the people in the state. Many individuals are enticed to extremism due to the attractive money they are offered for deviating from the mainstream. Even though the educated class of the valley also has anti-India sentiments, most of it does not really involve in anti-national activities as such individuals are more concerned about building their careers. The alienation from the valley has to go away and this can come through mutual dialogue and addressing at least the genuine demands of the valley. The government should bring all the stakeholders onto the table and those talking nonsense should be thrown out of any sort of negotiations.
At the same time, we should not hesitate from using force as and when needed, a point in case being the recent march to Muzaffarabad. The government should have stopped it in the first place, but the government’s weakness was highlighted when it let the march happen and haplessly watched Indian flags being burnt in the valley. The anti-national leaders need to be reprimanded clearly that if they want to be in India, they have to speak for the country. An individual like Syed Geelani who openly declares that he is a Pakistani, should not be allowed to be in India and should be deported to Pakistan. Even the mainstream leaders like Mehbooba Mufti who has been issuing provocative statements, should be arrested for raising communal passions.
We need to drop our soft attitude towards terrorism. The likes of Afzal Guru must be hanged immediately to send a strong message to the community that anti-nationalism will not be tolerated. Further, the government should also frame a clear policy towards Kashmir. For the situation in the state today, the central government has no one to blame but herself. Our leaders set quiet and let the situation go out of their hand. They woke up only a couple of days ago when they finally arrested the Hurriyat leaders. But by then, the damage had already been done!
Today, not only the government, but every person in the country is under this dilemma-how can the ongoing fire in the two regions subside? Unless the Indian government does not show a firm resolve to resolve the issue and put its strongest foot forward, Kashmir will continue to burn as the rest of India continues to simmer in its heat.