“History has seen such times when the crime was committed by a moment, but the punishment was suffered by centuries”. (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah)
In retrospect, for more than half a century now India and Pakistan have been engaged in attempts to resolving the question as to whether the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India was a legitimate enterprise or a matter of “fraud and force”. Another question in vogue is the question of the creation of the state of Pakistan itself. While many questions remain unanswered, the valley of Kashmir has served a bone of contention between the two countries during the post-independence era of the British Indian empire. India and Pakistan fought four wars, three of which were fought over Kashmir which include the intense battle between the two countries in 1947-48, another war in 1965, and the recent 1999 Kargil war. (The 1971 civil war led to the partition of the 1947 Pakistan leading to the formation of Bangladesh in the east). The problem of Kashmir has ever since remained as a seemingly unending conflict having expended considerable blood, peace and sensibility. While that is a fact, over the past more-than-thirteen years, Kashmir has seen immense and indispensable loss on almost every platform. On the one hand are Pakistan’s continued attempts to internationalize the Kashmir issue and its persistent insistence that there will be no permanent peace in South Asia until the problem of Kashmir is solved. And on the other hand is India’s claim that Pakistan has no right to advocate the case for plebiscite in Kashmir given the fact that the latter (Pakistan) never vacated her “forcible occupation of the one-third of the territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir” which was one of the preconditions for the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir.
While struggling with these unanswered questions, another question that ought to have come to one’s mind and is perhaps not unanswerable is: who are the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir? How far is it legitimate for the so-called self-elected leaders of a specific ethno-religious group which constitutes only a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to be claiming representatives who will determine the fate of the State which is an amalgam of at least three different ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious populations? In addition, is the not-much-spoken-of Kashmiri Pandits’ separatist demand for “Panun Kashmir”. While the issue of Kashmir problem has been constantly associated with the valley, one cannot turn a blind eye to the involvement of the provinces Jammu and Ladakh in the present struggle which, if not directly participating, have been under considerable influence and are a direct party in any conflict resolving program who need to be effectively consulted in this enterprise.
In the year 2003, the question arises whether the history of conflict over Jammu and Kashmir can be re-written. Has re-opening of the debate over the Instrument of Accession in 1990s made an iota of a difference in the present scenario of the facts that neither India nor Pakistan have ever agreed upon any concessions regarding any possible solution of the long lasting dispute? On the one hand is India’s ever adamant stand and resistance to “third party involvement” that has prevented the UN Security Council from any contribution it could (possibly) have made to diffuse or decrease the continuous underlying tension, hostility and suspicion between the two rivals, and on the other, is Pakistan’s resumption of the traditional rhetoric about the Kashmiris’ “right of self determination” without being able to move the argument any further by “defining how it could be achieved” in view of India’s persistent claims about Jammu and Kashmir as an “integral part of India” and Pakistan’s own refusal to consider the “third option of Independence” in which case Pakistan is in a vulnerable situation of losing “Azad Kashmir”, which Pakistan will never be obliged to give up.
The fact that remains on ground is that the State of Jammu and Kashmir has already been broken up into Pakistan and Indian occupied parts; the challenge that the proponents of “Independence for the entire State” are faced with is the reunification of the two parts which appears more like a romantic fantasy than a possible practical situation in near future unless under some “extraordinary” circumstances, in which case both India and Pakistan need to exhibit immense generosity and patience. Another point of debate that has to be raised is that once ethno-religious factors are considered to be a basis for deciding “statehood or new territorial arrangements”, further communal compartmentalization on such grounds is inevitable given the ethno- religious and geographical distribution of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (on the Indian side of L.O.C, let alone P.o.K). The movement for “plebiscite and self-determination” carried on non-stop from generation to generation is not only telling upon the mental and psychological states of the people of Kashmir valley but has also contributed towards friction among the different provinces of J & K leading to their isolation from each other and a lack of understanding, especially creating a distance of Jammu and Ladakh from the valley.
In addition to this, the more important issues of economy, cultural and educational development which ought to be a primary concern given the persistent condition of the State, have been taken for granted. It is extremely difficult to imagine what incentive would be strong enough to bring all the concerned parties to a consensus towards the betterment of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
(c) Sadaf Munshi
(Published in Kashmir Observer, 2003)