Saturday, May 29, 2010

KASHMIR SURVEY: GAME-CHANGER FOR INDIA

The sample size, many will argue on both sides of the divide, is small and the methodology questionable. But, if a couple of startling findings of a recent Chatham House survey on Kashmir done by Robert W. Bradnock, a scholar from London's Kings College, are correct, then, if you see through the obvious, they are the game-changers that India has been desperately looking for to find a lasting solution to the problem that has bedeviled it for decades.

Let us start with the one extremely significant myth that those dealing with the Kashmir problem have always known but ignored probably because they did not know how to adequately capitalise on it. Kashmir is an artificial state, most of which was sold to Gulab Singh by the British for Rs 75 lakhs. On the Indian side, 'Kashmir' is limited to the the Valley where ethnic Kashmiris live. They have nothing in common with people living in the Jammu and Ladakh divisions. On the Pakistani side, there are hardly any ethnic Kashmiris. The Gilgit-Baltistan area is no longer part of Kashmir and is administered directly by Pakistan. The Shaksgam tract was ceded by it to China in 1963. What remains of 'Kashmir' there is a narrow strip of land that Pakistan calls Azad Kashmir even though it has 99% ethnic Punjabi population.

The general perception in India, however, is that one people have been divided by the LoC and they want to be re-united. The Chatham House survey once again confirms that there is virtually no such division: only 8% of the respondents claimed to have "friends or relatives on either side of the LoC." Relatives alone will be far less if we factor an average friend-to-relative ratio. Yet, Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan have been cleverly trying to steam-roll India into making the LoC irrelevant on the ground, among others, that divided 'Kashmiris' must be reunited. And India has been buying that story which is designed solely to give Pakistan a real stake in the Indian part of Kashmir.

The Chatham House survey too flirts with the same idea to deduce that 58% of the people of the state are prepared to accept LoC as a permanent border. "Which, if any, of these, comes closest to your idea about the Line of Control as a permanent border between India and Pakistan?" Not only is this question leading, one of the options is also almost the same that ethnic Kashmiris and Pakistanis are pursuing aggressively for reasons that have little to do with ethnicity. Besides, it also brings out the deep divide that exists between people living in the Jammu and Kashmir divisions. But the most unexpeted response is from Muslim majority Punch and Rajouri districts where almost all the respondents say that they want the LoC to be converted into the border in its current form. No one from there wants to join Pakistan, no one wants Independence and virtually no one wants to join India too. Figure that! Clearly, these people are simply not enthused by the demands for Independence and and free movement across the LoC being made by Pakistan-sponsored ethnic Kashmiris of the Valley, even though they follow the same religion.

The Times of India has also highlighted that 58% of the respondents want the LoC to be turned into a permanent border and that many favour free movement of people and goods across it. Given the direction in which talks have been proceeding with Pakistan till now, India's policy makers too are probably going to use these figures to justify a deal with Pakistan on the lines that President Musharraf -- the man had his ears to the ground -- almost succeeded in trapping India into signing.

What these figures tell me is exactly the opposite.

By far the most unexpected and defining finding of the survey is that only 2% 'Kashmiris' on the Indian side want to join Pakistan. And even these few are ethnic Kashmiri Muslims only. No non-ethnic Kashmiri, irrespective of religion, wants Pakistan. Even among ethnic Kashmiris, only 7% of the respondents in Badgam, 6% in Srinagar and 2% each in Baramulla and Anantnag want to join that country. This must come as a huge shock for Pakistan, whose single most important national objective -- obsession to be precise -- for the last six decades has been to claim the whole of Kashmir for itself. For India, it cannot but be the music that it has always wanted hear instead of the gunshots it has been.

Despite 26/11 and, more importantly, Pakistan's response after that horror, many analysts in India have been arguing that a strong and stable Pakistan is in India's interest and that India must make whatever concessions are needed to strengthen it and help it win its war on terror "in its supreme national interest." In one blow that they did not see coming, not-so-educated and rather poorly informed ordinary Kashmiris have felled them and made them look foolish, to say the least.

Why have even Kashmiri Muslims overwhelmingly rejected Pakistan despite decades of religious fundamentalism and militancy inspired, funded and controlled by Pakistan? It is because they can see what Pakistan has made of itself and the kind of life that they can expect if they become part of a country that is at war within, a weak and violent nation that has no future to offer to them, that might turn their Valley into another Afghanistan, that might itself not remain on the map for long? Would the survey have thrown up the same result had Pakistan been a relatively peaceful and economically strong nation with a future? Does anyone ever back a weak horse, particularly when its longevity is in serious doubt? The previous Dalai Lama, for example, had proclaimed that Tibet was an independent country at a time when China was weak and British India strong. Had the balance between free India and China remained unaltered, would the present Dalai Lama have overturned that stance and accepted that Tibet is a part of China and confined the disagreement only to the quantum of autonomy?

An alert and strategy-conscious India would have realised early on that a sure way of dealing with and settling Kashmir in its favour was by ensuring that Pakistan was kept relatively weak and incapable of posing a challenge to it. Had that policy been consciously and proactively pursued, perhaps the problem would have solved itself many decades ago and there would have been no wars and no militancy over it; a punitive punch or two to keep Pakistan in its boots would have sufficed. But we mindlessly allowed a much smaller nation to aspire for and even achieve near parity and then confidently employ force to try and settle the issue in its favour on more than one occasion. That is what is happening right now too, and that is what manifestly forcing India's leaders to ready the nation for a capitulation on the negotiating table.

It is India's great fortune that the destructive path that an over-ambitious Pakistan chose to achieve its strategic objectives vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan have fortuitously made it the most dangerous place on earth and so brought it to the brink of ruin that even Kashmiri Muslims, to grab whose land it has spent billions and lost thousands of its citizens, have rejected it almost completely.

Two straightforward deductions flow immediately from this jackpot of a finding for India, the first of which is the big game-changer.

One, Pakistan need no longer be made a party to any decision that India makes about the Indian part of Kashmir. Under any circumstance, including a flare-up in violence. Kashmiri separatists can keep saying that no decision is possible unless Pakistan is involved; no entry must be given to it in any form whatsoever. How this fundamental change in strategy is to be packaged and given effect on ground is a matter of detail that is for diplomats in South Block to work on.

Two, India needs to overtly and covertly work to ensure that Pakistan gets weaker, even fragmented along ethnic lines. Let us not forget that while ethnic Kashmiris have rejected Pakistan, they have still not dropped their demand for independence though not in the manner that Pakistan ever visualised. That is because they believe that Pakistan is still strong enough to pressurise India through militancy to grant them that, if not fully, at least in substantial measure. That will empower them to keep playing clever, with both countries remaining interested. But once Pakistan goes under, their demand of independence and everything else directly associated with it will also evaporate, and pretty quickly, just as the demand for joining up with Pakistan has.

Already, even among Kashmiri Muslims, more want to join India than Pakistan. It is only their overwhelming demand for independence that has skewed the figures to show that only 28% of all people on the Indian side want to join India. Although 43% of the total population say they would vote for independence, in only five out of eighteen districts is there a majority preference for the independence. People of Punch and Rajouri have rejected all three options but want the LoC to be made a permanent border. That can only happen if they remain where they are now: in India. So, effectively, those wanting to stay on in India are already a large number. These heartening figures make it clear that the task before India, to increase the number of those opting for India substantially, is actually easier than it appears from sensational news reports and the enormous amount of fuel given for free to ethnic Kashmiri separatists by the media. The numbers will grow rapidly as India grows rich and powerful, but only if Pakistan moves in the opposite direction and an unbridgeable gap between the two nations is created and sustained.

The key, thus, is Pakistan, but not anymore in the manner that it has been trying to project itself as. There can no longer any doubt that a weak, disunited Pakistan -- even a no-Pakistan -- is in India's supreme long-term interest. For a host of reasons that have been discusses thread bare by many analysts, Pakistan will remain hostile to India as a state as long as it does not break free of the ideology that led to its creation and that sustains its identity and existence as a nation. That is not going to happen any time soon. On the contrary, given the tsunami of intolerant and violent Islamic extremism that is getting perilously close to its jugular, things are likely to only get worse. Therefore, even without Kashmir, any wish for a strong Pakistan in its present avatar is like a death-kiss for India.

Should, however, India choose to ignore the findings of the Chatham House survey and give to Pakistan the very oxygen it is seeking, by signing a sell-out type of deal that Musharraf had thought up, in 'good faith', it will be committing an unforced blunder of Himalayan proportions. That will also shut the door of opportunity that has been opened up for India unexpectedly by Bradnock. One hopes that this time sense will prevail over sentiment and bravery over buzdili.

Related reading: Kashmir Deal: Solution or surrender?

----------------------------------------------------------
Further Reading (Illuminating):
1. Vikram Sood: Can Pakistan Survive?
2. Pakistan Watch: The fraudulent theory of non-state actors: Parts 1 2 3