Sunday, May 9, 2010

KASHMIR DEAL: SOLUTION OR SURRENDER?

When two nations attempt to settle through talks a six decade old dispute over a territory that one of them says "runs in the blood" of its citizens, that they have fought wars over and with a proxy war still on, a fair and enduring outcome is possible only if both remain equally grounded to the core realities that have determined claims and responses till now and that will continue to shape them in future too.

Unfortunately, on the Indian side there is a certain loss of focus accompanied by an almost escapist romanticism, a refusal to see the dark clouds that have always been circling the sun that they can see now. Perhaps the pressure generated by decades of terrorism is telling. Whatever be the reason, it cannot be denied that that many of India's analysts and policy makers are now increasingly inclined to take the easy, early, least disruptive way out of the many problems that confront India, without allowing possible long term repercussions to trouble them unduly.

Some of us clearly seem to have have forgotten that Pakistan was created solely on the basis of religion and that its claim over J&K is also based on religion alone, as is the demand for merger of the whole state with Pakistan/independence that ethnic Kashmiris living in the tiny valley of Kashmir have been making for decades. Secular India has somehow collectively moulded itself to pretend that the problem is primarily political in nature and that, as far as India is concerned, it should not view any solution through the prism of religion.

It is largely due to this elitist, even rootless, aversion to accepting and facing the communal soul of the problem, that Pakistan is well on its way to getting India to agree to a camel-in-the-tent deal that is not only not going to lead to peace but is, without doubt, going to create serious difficulties for India in the long run.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir is the problem. It is not satisfied with the part of the state that it already has. It wants the whole of it and has repeatedly demonstrated its unshakable resolve by trying to take it by use of force. Recognising that, under the present circumstances, it is not in a position to accomplish the objective that has driven it and its people for so many years by waging war, Pakistan now wants to achieve it through negotiations that are aimed at getting India to allow it to start making inroads into the Indian part of Kashmir. The logic is straightforward: once the basic principle of Pakistan's claim over the whole state is formally accepted in this manner by India, and a door opened by it that cannot subsequently be shut, Pakistan will then force India to yield more and more till it is all but evicted from the whole state.

Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri claimed recently that India and Pakistan were just a signature away from an accord on Kashmir in 2007. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, on the other hand, in an interview to Karan Thapar last year, had revealed that a number of critical of details had still to be worked on before it could be concluded that an agreement was ready. Be that as it may, it is generally accepted that the deal involved demilitarisation along the LOC and within the state on both sides, maximum self-governance, free movement of Kashmiris within the whole state with their IDs, and some sort of joint mechanism comprising Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris on both sides of the LOC to oversee self-governance and other issues.

The “somewhat artificial in composition” princely state of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in 1846 when the British sold most of the area included in the state to Gulab Singh for Rs 75 lakhs. In 1947, the then Maharaja of the state, with the support of the ethnic Kashmiri Muslim leader Sheikh Abdullah, decided to join India rather than Pakistan. The price that Abdullah successfully extracted from Pandit Nehru for this decision was the holding of a plebiscite and inclusion of Article 370 in the Indian constitution. These two steps, among many others, converted the state into a virtual Sheikhdom of the Abdullahs and ethnic Kashmiri Muslims.

In 1956, India was reorganised on a linguistic basis and all erstwhile princely states ceased to exist. Had the same principle been extended to J&K, it would have been reorganised into at least three states/union territories: Kashmiri speaking Kashmir Valley, Dogri, Rajasthani and Punjabi speaking Jammu, and Ladakh. But this was not done because such a reorganisation would have also been broadly along religious lines and, most significantly, left just the tiny Kashmir Valley under the control of Kashmiri Muslims who have nothing in common with people living in other parts of the only remaining unnatural state of India.

Paradoxically, Pakistan did exactly the opposite, giving precedence to ethnicity over religion to completely reshape the portion of the state that it had captured in 1948, and slice it surgically into three parts. The 72,496 sq km Gilgit-Baltistan area, the largest part of the state that was always administered directly by Pakistan, was was officially granted full autonomy in 2009. It is not a part of the original state. In 1963, Pakistan also unilaterally ceded the 5,800 sq km Shaksgam tract to China.

What Pakistan now calls Azad Kashmir (AK) is a narrow 13,297 sq km strip that is 400 km long, with a width varying from 16 to 64 km. What is extremely significant is that AK has 99 per cent ethnic Punjabi population comprising of Gujjars, Rajputs, Jats etc. These people have no linguistic, cultural or genetic affinity to the few ethnic Kashmiris, who are of Dardic origin, living there or in the Valley. AK, therefore, has as little claim to being called part of Kashmir as the parts that Pakistan has severed from the part of the original state under its control. It takes little intelligence to deduce that Pakistan has chosen to name this tiny tract Azad Kashmir only so that it can use it to pursue its claim over the part of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that is with India.

With this background, we can better look at some of the implications and ramifications of the agreement that India and Pakistan were close to signing in 2007, and that might be almost identical to the one that Manmohan Singh seems to be in a hurry to sign to 'create history' in his lifetime, unmindful of the fact that history will be created but not of the type he has in mind.
  • What constitutes J&K? Considering what Pakistan has done to its part of the state, will an agreement between India and Pakistan apply only to the almost microscopic AK part? Will Pakistan revert to Azad Kashmir the Northern Areas that it has amalgamated into Pakistan, or has India meekly resigned to this decapitation? Will an agreement also not tantamount to India giving de facto recognition to Pakistan's ceding of Shaksgam to China? No answers to these important questions can be traced in the public domain. But what is even more disturbing is that virtually no one is even asking them in India. This could well mean that India has tacitly accepted Pakistan's position. If so, that in itself is such a huge surrender that it is beyond understanding that India has so quietly lost forever even the pretence of a bargaining position over a huge area, not to mention the right to reclaim it for India should an opportune moment present itself, as it just might at some point of time. Who knows?
  • Making LOC irrelevant. Given the different ethnicities of various regions of the state, there can be little doubt that the so-called free movement across the LOC will eventually be a predominantly one-way movement from tiny AK into not only the slightly bigger Valley but the whole of the huge state. Considering what happened to Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, non-Muslims from the Indian side will not only feel discouraged to travel to the Pakistan side of the LOC, but will also, one way or another, be prevented from doing so by fundamentalists there. Movement across LOC will be permitted on ID cards. India has Article 370 in place, so there will be almost no cases of false ID cards being issued to non-state subjects by the state government. On the Pakistani side, however, there is no similar restriction and Punjabis who dominate AK are little different from those from Punjab province, from where many more many have settled there after 1947. Given that Pakistan's real objective is to amalgamate J&K into Pakistan, what we will see is planned settlement over time of such people in parts of Jammu province where they can relatively easily merge with locals. Non-Muslims in the state will become even more marginalised than they are now. Terrorists will also drive them out from more and more far flung areas and close in on towns and cities over time.
  • Joint Control.This is a misnomer. It will be nothing less than ceding control to Pakistan. On ground, control of Kashmir Valley has already been ceded involuntarily along many significant dimensions by India. The joint control mechanism will spread that span to Jammu and Ladakh regions too. Representatives of AK, Indian Kashmir, Pakistan and India will form part of this mechanism. Effectively, three out of four of these groups will be under Pakistan control ab initio. India will also, undoubtedly, be pressured to place religion-blind, 'secular' representatives in the body from its side. Need more be said? With such a body monitoring self-government, one can be sure that demands for more and more areas of governance to be liberated of Indian (notionally Pakistani too) control will be made, militants on call to drive home the point: that is how Pakistan will complete creeping acquisition of not just the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley but the rest of the state too.
  • Demilitarisation. Demilitarisation of AK is virtually meaningless from the Indian point of view as there will no gain to India there along any dimension. It is the demilitarisation of the Indian side that will have devastating short and long term consequences. Almost immediately, thanks partly to joint control, the writ of the Indian state will become less than notional in the Muslim Kashmir Valley. Without a bullet being fired, the situation will become worse than it was in the early Nineties when Pakistani currency was openly used in parts of the Valley, and people had set their watches to Pakistan Time. The writ of militants - non-state actors if you like - will run unchecked over vast swathes. Coupled with free trans-LOC movement, it will also result in more and more areas being cleansed of Hindus with ease, often undetected, in a re-run of what happened to Kashmiri Pandits. After 20 years of fighting terrorists and after losing the lives of thousands of sons of India, its leaders will have done no more than quietly lay down arms and set the clock back to 1989, worse to follow.
Whichever way one looks at it, there is little doubt that Musharraf, the focused commando who never lost sight of his objective, nearly achieved on the negotiating table what he failed to in Kargil, what his proxy warriors failed to in the Valley. His successors have taken off from there and are driving a willing Manmohan Singh to sign where he could not in 2007.

Make no mistake: there is going to be no gain to India whatsoever from an agreement of the kind that Musharraf almost ambushed Indian leaders into signing. If 2010 is the result of the blunder that Indira Gandhi was lulled into making by a clever ZA Bhutto in 1972, be sure that 40 years down the line, the Musharraf trap is going to create an even more dangerous and intractable situation for India, unless of course, the matter is settled by a war before that.

Let us not be carried away by voices in India imagining that after the deal is through, the LOC will be magically converted into something like the non-existent borders in the European Community, with people moving freely and happily across as civilised human beings who are nicely settled and at peace with each other and the world. We must know that such voices are either ignorant of the realities of religion and history or are pretending to be so, to lull Indians into believing that once the LOC goes, Kashmir will become Europe. If such trust and love is absent across the settled international border that divides India and Pakistan, how can it blossom in an area that one desperately wants to snatch from the other? Put another way, if the two countries can make their borders like the European ones, will the LOC not dissolve on its own? Why has that not happened till now? Why is Pakistan arm twisting India into starting the other way round?

Does everyone in India's establishment not know the answers to these questions?

Is there anything, anything at all, to suggest that the establishment that controls Pakistan has abandoned its long-term objective of bleeding India through a thousand cuts, of waging a thousand year war against India? Have we already forgotten what happened in Mumbai in November 2008? Have not Pakistan's leaders, not militants, spoken subsequently of LeT's role beyond Kashmir, in the rest of India? Are we so dumb as to believe that the moment an agreement is signed over Kashmir, LeT and other terror outfits will disappear and not, in fact, claim victory and, aided by Pakistan's military, take terror to the next dimension to tell the world that Kashmiris are not satisfied with the concessions India has made and want more?

Most of us do not believe that as a nation we can be that dumb. But the direction in which things are moving and the almost total absence of public debate, even outrage, at the above proposals suggests that while some of us may be feigning blindness, some actually are, while most of the remaining are, if anything, apathetic. If that is correct, then we deserve the surrender that our leaders are pushing to get for us in the garb of a solution. That is not going to get us peace. Or honour.
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Related reading:
1. Indo-Pak talks: 'Nobel' thoughts
1. No price is too high, just 'love Pakistan'
2. A year after 26/11, calls for a strong Pakistan
3. Don't " beggar-my-buggering-neighbour", make him bigger
4. Musharraf's shockers on terror, Kashmir and Indian Muslims
5. The world is changing; Talibani mindset is not
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