[As published in Outlook India, based on a presentation at a meeting chaired by Rt Hon Marcus Jones, who is a member of the British Parliamentary Committe on Kashmir on September 11, 2013.]
It is easy to forget that September 11 is the anniversary of a “game changing” event that happened in America 12 years ago. And, sadly, the first person who made a prophetic statement warning of such evil also did so on 11 September 1893, exactly 120 years ago. It was the great sage, Swami Vivekanand, speaking at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago:
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its descendent, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these demons, human society would be more advanced than it is now.”
The year 2001 also marked the 12th year since minorities in the beautiful Kashmir valley had been driven out by Islamic mujahedeen who came to the valley after routing the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and were shunted to Kashmir by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency, commonly known as ISI. What was mostly a forced exodus of minorities 24 years ago has turned into ethnic cleansing as the government in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has deftly and steadfastly refused to open any political or economic space to allow refugees to exercise their right of return to settle in their homeland. The state even refuses to allocate or prioritize any rehabilitation budget for its disfranchised minorities. The powers that be extort the money from the federal treasury that is meant to ensure relief and respite for its minorities when that financial allocation should be part of the state budget.
It is not my intention to discuss the fate of minorities in Jammu & Kashmir here. I would like to address key dimensions that impact the political outcome in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Needless to say, the protection and welfare of minorities is among many of those parameters that affect the final outcome.
I do not expect anyone to be surprised to hear that resolving the Kashmir issue will not be easy. Over time it has become intractable and hard to resolve. Since the 1948 ceasefire, numerous efforts by great powers, neutral countries, and civil society have not yielded any lasting solution. Neither have wars or covert acts of terrorism, beginning with the arrival of battle-hardened Pakistani and other Islamic Mujahideen in 1989 and later years. The latest change on the ground is the alarming rise of political Islam taking inspiration from Wahabi and other Arab schools of thought, but that too has yielded little so far, except for mostly random and isolated acts of violence against security forces and civilians. An interesting byproduct of growing Wahabism in the valley is that a leading daily newspaper in the valley signs off each news story by recording the “Mecca Time” at which the story was posted.
My entry into political discourse on Kashmir is nearly two decades old. In these two decades, I have had the privilege of meeting two Indian Prime Ministers and a Pakistani President. I have delivered numerous speeches at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, and have met with numerous Senators and Congressmen in the U.S., a few MP’s in India, U.K. and Pakistan, and India-based diplomats from all major powers, except for China. I have spoken in the Hearing Rooms of Capitol Hill in Washington, and similar chambers in the British Parliament. I have met with policy analysts specializing in Kashmir affairs, and my library is full of books on Kashmir.
But all that knowledge, I found out, is miniscule in comparison to what I learned by meeting directly with the people in Kashmir— from the Chief Minister to the unemployed, from journalists to social activists to professional women to minorities, and from reading local newspapers to get a sense of the narrative that keeps those who can read English engaged.
The process of learning took years and it was obvious why. Kashmiri society plays a charade of saying one thing and meaning something else. There is an irrational logic followed that if more people blurt out a lie and say it enough times, it becomes a truth. As a native, I had the liberty of interacting with sections of society, especially non-English speaking rural society that has benefitted little from the trickle-down economy run by local politicians (elected or non-elected), senior bureaucrats (active or retired) and well-connected business houses. India may provide the highest amount of per capita largess to J&K, but it only reaches the top 30% of the society. If it was not for the gargantuan bureaucracy (showpieces of nepotism and massive corruption) in the state, it is doubtful that most of the urban society could afford their iPhones and McMansions. They would be just a notch above the peasant suffering-in-silence non-English speaking society deprived of basic needs living in rural areas. Jammu & Kashmir has the highest disparity between the rich and the poor in all of India, as calculated last year by the trade association ASSOCHAM. If you need to know how rich are the rich, here is another statistic. In the State Assembly, it was announced last year that the state collects the highest value added tax (VAT) in the country in terms of absolute amounts. This is a state that hardly generates any gross domestic product (GDP) through its own manufacturing or revenue, relying mostly on loans and grants from the federal government. In the 2012-2013 budget cycle, the state budget was set at $7.1 billion (USD), out of which $4 billion (56%) was an outright grant from New Delhi, and another $2 billion (25%) was the amount provided through federal tax receipts or raised via borrowing (with the Reserve Bank of India acting as the guarantor).
So where does all this lead? There are three distinct aspects of J&K state that affect the way the state is run and has evolved. Putting these attributes at three corners of a triangle, I call it the Triangle of Misery.
Triangle of Misery
At the apex is “Poor Political Leadership and Dysfunctional State Institutions.” The evidence can be seen in the crumbling infrastructure in spite of massive financial aid from New Delhi, the law and order situation, and results of financial audits conducted by the federal auditor general’s office year after year. It is not a coincidence that the Transparency International (TI) has rated J&K among the most corrupt states in India.
At the right base is “Dysfunctional Civil Society” obsessed with polemics of political dissent with no interest whatsoever in acute societal issues dealing with broader human development or quality of governance or alarming ecological destruction of what was once a pristine paradise. Most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) serve as shop fronts for various state and non-state actors.
At the left base is “Intelligentsia Enamoured with the International Personality of Kashmir.” This miniscule group, small in number but large in its impact because of feudal style of governance in the State, is smart enough to know that Kashmir as an independent entity will never be realized, yet they do not wish to change the status quo either. Indeed, the local intellectual discourse contributes very little, if anything, to nation building or towards developing implementable alternatives to bring the Kashmir issue to a successful closure.
These factors— intellectual elites unwilling to change the paradigm combined with dysfunctional state machinery and a non-functional civil society— ensure that the system will really never change. Those occupying the triangle are very well off and say things like, “we need to resolve the Kashmir issue promptly” without meaning it. All those left out of the triangle— mainly rural society and minorities— live in misery.
Indeed, English speaking Kashmiris are the main beneficiaries of the status quo in Kashmir.
A Way Forward?
So what is the Way Forward? For starters, the ground realities today are different.
The Kashmir issue has evolved. It has no bearing to the dispute that was brought to the attention of the United Nations (UN) in 1947. The historical resolutions passed by the UN have become irrelevant given the geo-political changes in the region of Jammu and Kashmir and its surroundings, and constituent demographics on both sides of the ceasefire line. Even that line was made irrelevant by the bilateral agreement made by India and Pakistan in 1972.
The empowered class (“elites”) in J&K has compelling reasons for preserving the political status quo. Unfortunately, there are hawkish elements in both nations whose actions add longevity to the status quo.
India is unlikely to hasten any Kashmir-specific talks until it gets a signal from Pakistan that it will accept the line of control in J&K as an international boundary.
Pakistan has an additional burden in that it is unlikely to provide for local governance, ethnic pluralism, and social justice in their region that meets regional criteria for human development.
Given these realities, I propose the following course of action:
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) must close the Kashmir file by announcing its intention to declare the ceasefire line as the international boundary, and ask India and Pakistan to settle any adjustments in the boundary (adjustments along the line of control, etc.) through a dialogue, with international interlocutors if necessary, within a stipulated period of time.
Concurrently, regions of J&K under India and Pakistan should establish new all-inclusive constituent assemblies with fair representation of regions, women, minorities and various ethnic entities. Failure to do so by a time-bound plan would trigger diplomatic censure and possibly other consequences. These assemblies should select inclusive leadership teams who will renegotiate relationship between each Kashmir region with its respective federal government. The framework of the federal-state relationships between two regions of Kashmir, administered by India and Pakistan, should also be completed in the time period stipulated by the UNSC.
Once the international boundary in J&K is formalized, the two nations should take diplomatic and political steps to make the border porous and provided unfettered access to people and commerce across the international boundary. This would also be the time to implement suggestions that have been made by various sections of civil society about creation of joint commissions to skilfully manage natural resources, ecology, tourism and other regional interests.
At the same time, the two countries should demilitarize the two regions of J&K through a negotiated bilateral settlement consistent with the security obligations under the agreements arrived by India and Pakistan with their respective regions of divided J&K.
I believe this is a feasible road map for bringing peace and prosperity to the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir within a generation. Otherwise, political mayhem, regional insecurity, and suffering of Kashmiri people will continue with no end in sight.
Dr Vijay K. Sazawal is the International Coordinator of Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF), Indo-European Kashmir Forum (IEKF), and lndo-Canadian Kashmir Forum (ICKF) based in Ottawa. The above is based on his presentation to a meeting chaired by Rt Hon Marcus Jones, who is a member of the British Parliamentary Committe on Kashmir on September 11, 2013.