The people of Kashmir have tried, time and again, to translate themselves from passive recipients of violence, legitimated by legislations of the physically and psychologically removed parliaments of India and Pakistan, into subjects who recognize that they can exercise agency and take control of their destinies. They march forward with a refusal to allow history to be imposed on them, and attempt to take charge of their own social and political destinies. The confluence of religious nationalism, secular nationalism and ethnic nationalism create the complexity of the Kashmir issue.
Over the years, successive Congress governments of the Indian Union may have made attempts to highlight the purported illegitimacy of Article 370, but they have taken no serious measures to revoke it from the Constitution of India. Surprisingly, even the Hindu right-wing BJP, when it assumed power in New Delhi, avoided succumbing to the pressure put on it by its more fanatical cohorts to eradicate the special status enjoyed by the Muslim-dominated state of J& K. India’s policy vis-à-vis Kashmir was influenced by other variables. Pakistan’s formal political alignment with the United States of America motivated the Soviet Union, in the 1950s, to overtly support the Indian stance towards Kashmir. The Soviet premier Khrushchev made explicit his government’s pro-India position on Kashmir in 1955, when he belligerently declared in Srinagar, the heartland of the Kashmir Valley:
The people of Jammu and Kashmir want to work for the well-being of their beloved country – the Republic of India. The people of Kashmir do not want to become toys in the hands of imperialist powers. This is exactly what some powers are trying to do by supporting Pakistan on the so-called Kashmir question. It made us very sad when imperialist powers succeeded in bringing about the partition of India. . . . That Kashmir is one of the States of the Republic of India has already been decided by the people of Kashmir. (Jain 1979: 15–20)
The explicit political support of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era bolstered Jawaharlal Nehru’s courage, and, in 1956, Nehru reneged on his earlier “international commitments” on the floor of the Indian parliament.
He proclaimed the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to India in 1947, which ostensibly had been ratified by the Constituent Assembly of J & K in 1954. Nehru’s well thought-out strategy was deployed in full measure when the Soviet Union vetoed the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir made at a meeting of the UN Security Council convened at Pakistan’s behest (see Das Gupta 1968). It was in 1953 that Pakistan initiated negotiations with the USA for military assistance. Bakshi protested that “America might arm Pakistan or help her in any other way but Kashmir will never form part of Pakistan” (The Hindu Weekly Review, 1953). Nehru vehemently warned Pakistan and the US that, “it is not open [to Pakistan] to do anything on Kashmir territory, least of all to give bases” (Indiagram 1953). He expressly declared that the agreement between him and the Pakistani Premier Mohammad Ali Jinnah regarding the Kashmir issue would change if Pakistan received military aid from the US (Nehru’s speech in the Lok Sabha, 29 December 1953).
Subsequent to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India lost its powerful ally (Kodikara 1993). India’s relations with the US reeked of distrust and paranoia at the time. This worsened when senior officials in the first Clinton administration questioned the legality of the status of Kashmir as a part of the Indian Union (Battye 1993). The nonproliferation agenda of the US in South Asia actively undermined India’s proliferation strategy in the early and mid-1990s (Perkovich 1999: 318–403).Washington’s agenda was propelled by the fear that South Asia had burgeoning potential for a nuclear war in the future (see “Prepared Statement by John H. Kelly, assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs before Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, House Foreign Affairs Committee”). The US adopted the policy of persuading both India and Pakistan to actively participate in the nonproliferation regime by agreeing to comply with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to an interim cap on fissile-material production (“Interview with Strobe Talbott,” The Hindu, 14 January 2000).
Autonomous Status of Kashmir
In order to protect the autonomy of the state, Article 370, which has undergone steady erosion, would need to be bolstered. Once the LOC is converted into a de facto international border, the Kashmir issue will be relegated to the catacombs of history. What substantive measures would sustained contact between the democratically elected governments of the two halves of the former princely state achieve? Is the insistence of some analysts on Pakistan’s renunciation of its demand for a plebiscite under UN auspices a surreptitious way of India ensconcing itself in a no-future negotiations position? Does this proposal take the ethnic divisions in the former princely state into account?
Policy analyst and veteran journalist B.G. Verghese advocates a solution that would allow for conversion of the LOC into a soft, demilitarized international border. He proposes the creation of an overarching, transnational administration that would facilitate periodic meetings on matters of common interest, like trade and tourism, economic exchange, environmental concerns, etc. (Verghese 1993, quoted in Wirsing 1994: 229). The efficacy of such an administration is not, however, developed by Verghese beyond its nascent appeal. The autonomy option is a lot more complex than it is made out to be by the plethora of proposals laid out by the Indian intelligentsia. As opposed to the various autonomy proposals, the notion of independence for either part or all of the former princely state is derided as impractical, economically destructive and dangerous in terms of arousing the monstrous passion of communalism in the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Robert R. Wirsing (1994: 231) sums up the repugnance towards independence for part or all of J & K in both India and Pakistan: “Kashmiri self-determination . . . has never meant for Pakistanis that Kashmiris had a right to any more than a bifold choice of destinies. The seeming unpopularity of the independence option among both Indians and Pakistanis leaves the Kashmiri Muslims as its only consistent advocate.” Will such seemingly nonnegotiable antipathy expressed by politically and militarily powerful players allow for the implementation of UN resolutions by holding a free, fair and internationally monitored plebiscite in the state?
Identifying Areas of Common Interest
I reiterate that it is now more essential than ever to create either conceptual frameworks or political and sociocultural discourses in which the young people of today would be energized and persuaded to actively participate. It is imperative that civil society actors work in collaboration with one another to focus on the rebuilding of a greatly polarized and fragmented social fabric to ensure the redressal of inadequate political participation, insistence on accountability for human rights violations through transitional justice mechanisms, reconstruction of the infrastructure of the productive capacity of both India and Pakistan, and resumption of access to basic social services.
As A. M. Watali underlines in his book Kashmir Intifada, the creation of a joint mechanism of control is a viable method of resolving Kashmir:
“The leadership of both countries will have to keep in mind that heavens will not fall, neither will boundaries collapse if people on both sides of the state are genuinely allowed to manage their own internal affairs, of course with their aid and assistance, without any undue interference by the Central governments of India and Pakistan. . . . The final solution could be a win-win situation for both India and Pakistan if they accept dual de jure sovereignty over parts of the state as it existed before October 1947, with the stipulation that residents of the state shall be conferred with dual nationality.” (526)
It is good to see our state subjects and Kashmiri writers identifying areas of common outlook and interest, which is a process of growth. Watali’s book seriously considers a new regional order which would be capable of producing cross-economic, political, and cultural interests among the people of the region.