Tuesday, August 12, 2008

THE ROAD TO MUZAFFARABAD

The Amarnath land dispute has bared the deep fissures between ethnic Kashmiri Muslims and people belonging to the long neglected Jammu region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. After the more than a month of intense agitation in Jammu, it is now the turn of the Valley to react.

In October 1947, when Pakistani raiders almost succeeded in annexing the Valley of Kashmir by force, the then Hindu Maharaja of the state agreed to join India rather than Pakistan and handed over power to popular ethnic Kashmiri Muslim leader Sheikh Abdullah. But this accession was not akin to the accession that all other princely states had agreed to. Kashmir was allowed its own flag and constitution, and Sheikh Abdullah was made Prime Minister, not Chief Minister, of the state. Subsequently, as a ‘temporary measure’, Nehru got Act 370 incorporated in the Indian constitution which, among other things, prevented people from the rest of the country from acquiring any property in the state.

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru was a Kashmiri Pandit. Yes, we all believe that he was a true nationalist who was beyond religion, region and caste. He was. Except when it came to the Kashmir, the Valley to be precise, the only part of the state where almost all ethnic Kashmiris are found. Although Sardar Patel was entrusted with the task of ensuring the merger of all princely states into India, Nehru took it upon himself to handle Kashmir. As a result, in one stroke, two ethnic Kashmiris, Nehru and Abdullah, converted the whole of the ethnically most diverse state in the Indian sub continent into a near sovereign backyard of Kashmiri Muslims.

The first troops of Indian Army landed at Srinagar airport on October 27, 1947, just before it fell into the hands of the raiders. Hard fighting ensued through 1948 and the Valley was eventually cleared of all raiders. The army was then well poised to retake the important town of Muzaffarabad. But Nehru ordered ceasefire. In retrospect, this decision was perhaps Nehru’s most monumental strategic blunder in 1948. In all fairness, however, it must be said that he was possibly forced to cease the fighting by senior British military officers who were then occupying all top positions in the Army. To make matters irretrievably worse for India, Nehru rushed to the United Nations and unilaterally promised to hold a plebiscite which would decide whether the whole state would stay with India or go to Pakistan.

What happened as result of India’s acceptance of the ceasefire which stopped the Army on the road to Muzaffarabad before it could take it? Pakistan got an opportunity to deploy its forces virtually on the head of the Kashmir Valley while India lost all the territorial depth that was almost in its grasp for ensuring proper defence of the Valley. Instead of Indian troops sitting along the border and overlooking Pakistani territory, it is now Pakistani troops who are now in Kashmir, virtually overlooking the Valley. Come to think of it, had Muzaffarabad been taken, Pakistan would never have been able to build its capital in Islamabad which is within Artillery range from the real border with Kashmir.

Above all, by not marching ahead on the road to Muzaffarabad, India lost all bargaining power that it needed to deal with Pakistan over Kashmir.

A lot of informed and educated Indians across the spectrum of civil society are more than willing to settle the Kashmir issue by converting the Line of Control in Kashmir into the border between India and Pakistan. Although India officially claims that the whole state belongs to it, they are willing to generously let Pakistan keep the part of the state already in its possession and settle for the actual position on ground as the new border between the two countries.

It is almost the ninth wonder of the world that they still haven’t got the point. Pakistan is already in possession of its part of Kashmir that it took in 1947-48. If that is all it wanted, would there have been a Kashmir problem? Would there have been insurgency in the Valley? The part of Kashmir that India could have given to Pakistan after hard bargaining to settle the issue, is already in Pakistan’s possession. And that is clearly not enough for it. Make no mistake: Pakistan wants the whole state, not just the Valley or the part already with it. And India has most unwittingly helped its cause no end by allowing ethnic Kashmiri Muslims to take centre stage as the only stakeholders who matter.

British military officers were no doubt responsible for playing out Britain’s murky plan which visualised a divided Kashmir in 1948 itself. But Nehru has to take a portion of the blame. Like Sheikh Abdullah, he was not interested in the Northern Areas and Muzaffarabad where there were virtually no ethnic Kashmiris. But, Nehru was India’s Prime Minister. His ignorance of larger strategic implications and his Kashmiri heart led him to take a series of decisions which have proved to be disastrous for the country. His successors, even more handicapped in their understanding, and often disinterested about matters not impacting them politically, have faithfully stuck to the road map prepared by him.

That has emboldened Pakistan to virtually take control of the situation in the Valley and launch a war of terror in the rest of India. That has also that resulted in the creation of a huge gulf between ethnic Kashmiri Muslims and those residing outside the Valley, a gulf that has suddenly turned violent and seemingly irreconcilable.

Both Jammu and Kashmir are burning today in a manner reminiscent of Partition. Jammu has never burned like this in 60 years of perceived neglect and domination by ethnic Kashmiri Muslims. The Valley has always been simmering due to the fundamental inability of Muslim majority Kashmir Valley to come to terms with “Hindu” rule though we Indians don’t tire of sincerely shouting that we are a secular nation. Shorn of histrionics and carefully projected falsehoods and pretences, the basic issue in the Valley is little different from the one that led to India’s partition. Our pretending that it is a ‘political’ problem or some such gibberish is not going to make that hard fact conveniently disappear.

On this day, as protestors in the Valley threaten to cross the Line of Control and take the road to Muzaffarabad that India did not in 1948, one wonders about what would have happened if India had not stopped on that road 60 years ago. Perhaps India and the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir would not have had to pay the price that they have been paying ever since then. And the way things are going, no one knows how much more has to be paid and for how long.

But, no one is in any doubt that there is cause for some real worry ahead.
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Readers may also like to read the following posts:

1. Backlash: Jammu today India tommorrow
2. Communal commies and Kashmiri Muslims: India needs to be firm
3. Pakistan: Dangers of the multi-ethnic Islamic state