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Kashmir Beyond Myths

October 01, 2002

The Asian Age

Kashmir Beyond Myths
By M J Akbar

An opinion poll informs; more important, it indicates. Figures configure trends; text expands towards context. The opinion poll conducted by AC Nielsen for The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle in Jammu and Kashmir in the middle of the current elections is remarkable for it destroys some fondly-held myths.

President Pervez Musharraf used two important occasions (Pakistan's independence day and his speech at the United Nations) to dismiss these elections as a farce. He was either ill-served by his officials or just a victim of wishful thinking. Pakistan has always assumed that given half a chance Kashmiri Muslims would opt for Pakistan. Facts have travelled a different route.

As elsewhere, opinions in Jammu and Kashmir vary. The only thing that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs agree upon is that no one wants Kashmir, or any part of it, to merge with Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs are expected to hold this view. The story is that every Kashmiri Muslim agrees. Some 99% of the respondents, including those Muslims who sought independence, were clear that Pakistan was not an option.

The two-nation theory is dead. In 55 years Pakistan has destroyed itself as an idea.

This is not a sudden fact. It cannot be. The proof of any idea lies in its evolution. The success or the failure of a state is often measured in terms of its economy, but this is a misleading yardstick. For the idea behind a nation to hold it must sustain itself through time, and it must have the ability to find a polity based on free will and social justice. Pakistan was unable to find the strength that comes from shared nation-building.

The three strongest reasons for disenchantment with the Pakistan that has emerged are autocracy, theocracy, and, in the case of Kashmiri Muslims, distrust.

Army rule has seen many phases in Pakistan. When Ayub Khan seized power, there was a sense of relief that the marauding politicians had been thrown out. A decade later, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto restored the credibility of politicians with a display of national street power, he became a hero. A pattern formed. When the people got tired of irresponsible politicians they yearned for the Army. When they found that the generals had become equally irresponsible they wanted civilians. In a democratic polity, people want a ruling party and an opposition to alternate with each other. In Pakistan, civilian rule and military dictatorship became the point and counterpoint of the polity.

But the Musharraf phase is a further, and radical, departure from this syndrome. The balance has stopped shifting. Musharraf has declared Pakistan a permanent autocracy. The armed forces cannot now be excised from the power structure and civilians, however sumptuous the disguise, must in reality either accept subservience or expect exile. Obviously the military will cloak this dictatorship with a veneer of benevolence, particularly towards the elite. The press for instance will be permitted space. It is easier to face the front page when you know that it cannot really change the fundamental power equations. Politics in Pakistan has become a command performance. The country has become the antithesis of self-rule that Jinnah demanded. Pakistanis may or may not realise the implications, but others certainly do. Kashmiri Muslims may have their troubles with Indian democracy, but that is no reason for them to want to join a Pakistani dictatorship.

Nor are they ready to accept a society in which hardline mullahs play a critical role. It is often argued that the unpopularity of theocrats is proved in every Pakistan election. Parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami never get more than two or three per cent of the vote. But it is equally true that theocrats and fundamentalists in Pakistan always fight above their weight. The legacy of General Zia ul Haq, who institutionalised the place of Islamists in the judiciary and social structure in his effort to create a Nizam-e-Mustafa, has not been challenged to any substantive degree, if it has been challenged at all, even by his civilian successors.

Kashmiri Muslims have not lost their Kashmiriyat. That is why 96% of the respondents in Srinagar and 89% in Anantnag said that it was absolutely wrong to drive out Kashmiri Pandits from the valley and send them into refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. Pak-sustained Jihadis targeted the Pandits in a deliberate exercise in ethnic-cleansing that was not without an ulterior purpose. The valley was being "cleansed" of Hindus to make it more amenable to acquisition by Pakistan. Paradoxically, it only served to make Kashmiri Muslims less trustful of Pakistan.

Distrust is a result of experience. No one now believes that Pakistan places the Kashmiri interest above its own. In other words, Pakistan is not a disinterested, humanitarian player. Its principal objective is to weaken India, and Kashmir becomes the perfect excuse for a comparatively low-cost war that can extract a high price from India. The flaw is that the blood that is flowing to serve Pakistani interests is Kashmiri blood. There is widespread and growing weariness with the culture of the gun. A sense of futility hangs over Kashmir, as if lives were lost in a nightmare rather than in the pursuit of a dream.

And so a majority of Muslims in Srinagar (57%) and Anantnag (54%) are willing to assert that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism in the state. (I refer to these cities in particular precisely because this is where the anger against Delhi is the highest.) This is akin to condemnation. An even higher number (83% in Srinagar and 78% in Anantnag) are convinced that militant violence is not the way towards a solution.

Violence was never the preferred option for the Kashmiri. Why then did he pick up the gun, for the first time, in the early Nineties? One critical reason was the regional environment.

A Jihad had just defeated the mighty Soviet military machine in Afghanistan. The victory lent romance to the Jihadi gun, particularly when the Muslim nations of central Asia obtained their freedom from the colonial clutch of the Russian bear. Images of victory were brought to every home by television, which was just discovering international news. If Moscow could be brought down by a Jihad, how long before puny little Delhi went down on its knees?

The credibility of Pakistan's ISI was also at a peak among the growing bands of insurgents in the valley and across the Line of Control and inside Pakistan. If the ISI could strategise and manage the victory against the Soviet Union, then it could only be a matter of time — and not that much time either — before it demolished the weaker "Hindu" Indian Army. The ISI also had at its disposal thousands of trained fighters returned from the Jihad in Afghanistan, not all of them willing to go home. These Jihadis became the nucleus for the operational units that were trained in terrorist warfare.

All of them made one mistake. They seriously underestimated India's will, and Delhi's ability, to protect India's national integrity. At one level, there was the simple logic of a state using its resources to beat back an insurgency that threatened to divide the country. When a state seeks to protect its unity, it does not consult the recommendations of human rights organisations. (Did Lincoln worry about human rights in the American civil war?) But there was another factor in the Indian response.

Kashmir is not an isolated geographical tumour that can be operated out of India's body politic. It is linked integrally to India's sense of itself as a secular nation. The fact that secularism itself is under threat from communalists in India, makes the commitment of those who would protect the concept that much fiercer. Kashmir is also linked to the fate of some 150 million Indian Muslims, for they would be the ones who would have to pay the price for another partition of the country. Conversely the only force that would gain out of an Indian debacle in Kashmir would be of those who want India to become a "Hindu" nation in answer to "Islamic" Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Far from being a farce (and the turnout has already proven the fallacy of such a charge) these elections in Jammu and Kashmir represent an opportunity. This is a moment for Delhi to reach out to the valley and see if there is a chance to put tragedy behind us, and find a way towards an honourable settlement of a long dispute that has destroyed two generations of the past and could yet wipe out the future. A dialogue is the only alternative to the gun.

The starkest solution to the Kashmir problem would be war between India and Pakistan. Since such a war in all likelihood could turn nuclear, there would be no Kashmir left after such a war (and not much else in both countries either). No Kashmir; no problem.I presume that there is a destiny in our subcontinent apart from suicide.


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