Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir

The Kashmir conflict is driven by nationalistic and religious fervor, each side pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, each side pointing to its own suffering and sorrow. The distrust, paranoia, and neurosis permeating the relationship between a large number of people of J & K and the Indian Union has intensified the conflict. The guerilla war in the state has gone through a series of phases since 1990 but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality in the State, which cannot be superseded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. This conscious policy of the Indian State to erode autonomy, populist measures, and democratic institutions in J & K has further alienated the people of the State from the Indian Union. The systemic erosion of political opposition in J & K has delegitimized the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism toward state institutions and organizations. The exposure of some democratic institutions as a brutal facade has instigated unmitigated disgruntlement and antipathy toward democratic procedures and institutions in the State.

Our peace and prosperity are inextricably bound with the peace and prosperity of the millions in India and Pakistan. In spite of the physical delineation of the boundaries, we all live in one zone. Our hopes, aspirations, fears, and dangers are the same.

We want a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Kashmir conflict, reflecting the wishes of our people. Therein lies honor, peace, and progress for all concerned.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interest in supporting the movement for self-determination in Baluchistan shouldn’t supersede the necessity of saving and protecting lives as well as restoring rule of law in Kashmir. The unwarranted use of force in Kashmir cannot continue unabated.

The current protests in Kashmir are being led by a generation that has known only conflict, political turmoil, and politicoeconomic instability. There is a lot of anger and resentment in this generation because no serious attempt has been made by the Government of India to mitigate the conflict while recognizing the constitutional and legal rights of the people of Kashmir. The complacency of the federal government in times of relative calm is culpable. Given the militarization and rabid fragmentation of Kashmiri society, it is necessary for the Government of India necessary to evoke pluralism in the face of divisive politics, instead of pushing people to the wall by the imposition of a monolithic nationalism, defined by the Hindutva agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The unfinished business of the powers to be on both sides of the Line of Control (India and Pakistan) to ride roughshod over the history of Kashmiri nationalism and the evolution of a political consciousness in Kashmir, which began much before 1989, cannot continue unabated. It also becomes necessary for federal countries to reassess and reevaluate their policies vis-à-vis border states. The restoration of the autonomous status of J & K would be a viable beginning and would resuscitate rule of law and political self-determination.

Instead of deterring the growth of democracy and depoliticizing the people, the goal should be to empower the populace of Jammu and Kashmir sufficiently to induce satisfaction with the Kashmir constituency’s role within current geopolitical realities such that a dis-empowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive political ideologies. I believe that people in civic associations and in government should lead the way toward a peaceful pluralistic democracy and support international negotiations for a sustainable peace in the region.

My love for the children of Kashmir is much greater than my disillusionment with the politics of the nation-states of India and Pakistan. I have no sympathy for those who get grist for their political, religious, activist mills when Kashmiris are in the line of fire. We were not born to carry out the agendas of militaries, who should be fighting their own battles for which they get the lion’s share of each country’s budget.

I see a lot of people playing to the gallery at this time. Not one of them has the courage to point out that the politics of reducing our younger generation to cannon fodder is reprehensible, because our current breed of  political leaders has become a victim of its own image.

Every current politician in J & K is quick to pass the buck and blame either Pakistan or India for the mess in the state. What about their responsibility? Have we been reduced to pawns in the great game of subcontinental chess? Not one “leader” has the courage of conviction to channelize the anger on the streets, and anarchy works well in the interests of nation-states.

Nation-states have their own interests to protect; our shared interest should be the protection of the people of Kashmir, particularly the young whose lives haven’t even begun yet.

Let’s learn to sympathize with each other first before we go looking for sympathy from Indian and Pakistani movie stars, politicians, and writers. Let’s place ourselves in the shoes of those who have suffered irreparable losses and will never know any closure. Time will not heal the wounds of such people. We need an indigenous constituency for conflict resolution.

Hard core political analysis aside, I will never lose faith in my people! With every breath I pray that our younger generation channelizes their anger, sense of alienation, and takes the political process forward without playing into anyone’s hands. Both nation-states, India and Pakistan, have worked on depoliticizing our society. We cannot let that happen!

In politics, the only viable way is forward, not a constant looking back. And policies and methods must be revisited, revised, and readjusted not just by mainstream politicians, but by separatist politicians as well in order to meet today’s needs.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.