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Mainstream, VOL L, No 25, June 9, 2012

Bringing Peace to Kashmir

Monday 11 June 2012, by N V K Murthy


The most tragic common heritage of India and Pakistan is a memory of the massacre of thousands of Muslims and Hindus in the two countries following the partition of the subcon-tinent. This is not to find fault with the leaders of the two countries for wanting or agreeing to the partition of the subcontinent of India into two countries before the colonial power, the British empire, relinquished its rule. No doubt they did it with the best of intentions thinking that this would be the ideal solution for both the countries. Hindsight tells us that perhaps it was not.
When the British ruled over the subcontinent, it was a motley grouping of princely states, big and small, which had autocratic rulers and provinces ruled directly by the British colonial power. When the British found that it was impossible to continue their colonial rule in the wake of the freedom movement launched by the Indian National Congress, they decided that as far as the princely states were concerned, the sovereign power would vest with the ruler of each state. The princely states would have the option to remain independent or cede to Pakistan or India.

The astute Home Minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, managed to persuade most of the Indian princely states, which happened to have a majority Hindu population, to secede to India. The two states which held out even after the independence of India were the Nizam’s state of Hyderabad in the Deccan, where the population was predominantly Hindu, and Jammu and Kashmir in the north where the population was predominantly Muslim. Finally the Nizam of Hyderabad acceded to India after a brief police action by India in September 1948.

The story was different in Jammu and Kashmir—the Maharajah there, Hari Singh, was a Dogra from the Jammu area. His language was Dogri and he was a Hindu. He hesitated for a long time and toyed with the idea of declaring independence and seeking an alliance with the erstwhile British power to maintain Jammu and Kashmir’s state of independence. Soon after India and Pakistan became independent countries in August 1947, Pakistan was keen that Jammu and Kashmir should accede to Pakistan. When Maharajah Hari Singh did not do so, Pakistan got impatient and engineered to send armed tribals from the North West Frontier Province into Jammu and Kashmir to force its accession. Instead, the Maharajah agreed to accede to India, whereupon Indian troops were immediately airlifted into the state and the tribal forces beaten back into Pakistan. Then the troops of the two countries overran the contiguous areas of the state. The state became a disputed territory and the case went to the United Nations. After prolonged discussions the two countries agreed to a have a plebiscite on one condition, that the troops of both the countries withdraw to their borders before the dispute. This has never come to pass and so there has been no plebiscite. After this long period even the United Nations has decided that plebiscite is not a practical solution and that problem should be solved bilaterally by the two nations. That has been the position for these many decades.

There have been short periods of peace but by and large there has been no peace in the state with acts of terrorism and reprisals taking a heavy toll of victims. The main sufferers have been ordinary citizens of the state who have been hankering for peace for more than half a century.

Before any solution is suggested, it is instructive to go into the background of Kashmir. Unlike as in many other parts of the world, Islam did not come into Jammu and Kashmir with any Muslim conqueror. Islam was brought into the northern parts of the state by Sufi saints who fled the homeland of Persia after the onslaught of fundamental Islamic Arab tribes into Persia. Earlier, a Sufi cult blending the tenets of Islam and the earlier religious faiths of the local people, evolved in Persia. The hallmark of this Islamic cult of Sufism was universal love and brotherhood. It was this form of Islam that was brought by the fleeing Sufis into northern Kashmir. This seems to have appealed to the pastoral people of Kashmir and they adopted it. Here again you see a syncretic form of Islamic Sufism and the remnants of Hindu beliefs of the earlier days blended together in the customs of the Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir. There was another notable adoption of a Hindu habit—the Muslims of the State don’t eat beef. Instead, mutton and chicken are the favourite forms of meat of both the Muslims and Hindus—including the Brahmin Pandits. All this resulted in a common cultural pattern of Hindus and Muslims alike, in dress, food habits, customs and mores. In time this came to be known as “Kashmiriyat”, which is stressed by the separatists even today.

This dispute about the state of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan has been a running sore for both countries ever since their independence. This has prevented any effective economic cooperation between the two. Slowly but surely a realisation has dawned amongst the common people in both countries that they have been the losers because of these bad relations. They recognised that the common features between them and their common history should bring them together rather than tear them apart.

IT is interesting to note another historical fact—the father of the nation of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was far from an Islamic fundamen-talist. In his personal life he was very secular. His mother-tongue was not Urdu, which became the national language of Pakistan later, instead it was Gujarati. His wife was a Zoroastrian, the original religion of the Persians. It is believed that even after he became the President of Pakistan, he wanted Pakistan to be a secular state and not an Islamic state. His concern was to prevent the Muslim population from being dominated by the Hindus and not the formation of an Islamic fundamentalist state. Be that as it may, Pakistan ended up as an Islamic state. In contrast, India decided to be a secular state with the minority rights guaranteed. One must remember that India has a large Muslim minority population. In fact, it has the second largest Muslim population in the world, the first being Indonesia. One must keep all this in mind while trying to solve the problem of bringing peace to Jammu and Kashmir. One thing is certain, solved it must be for the good of both India and Pakistan. The question is: “How can this be accomplished?”

First, it should be realised that people cannot be governed by a foreign state against their wishes. This has become clear by the history of the world in the last five or six decades as ethnic, religious, linguistic and other differences have come to the fore and people have demanded their right to self-determination, because they feel a strong sense of injustice. Recognising this fact of history, India could take the first step by assuring the people of Jammu and Kashmir, including those who have been forced out of the state in the wake of terrorism, that they will have the right to participate in shaping their own future. To start with, in consultation with the Government of Pakistan and the state power ruling over Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan could be treated as a soft border much like the one between Canada and the USA. Trade and commerce should become free within this area. The two countries could take joint action to set up economic institutions such as cottage industries and agro-based industries for the economic development of the people. In time the two states may think of setting up a joint police force for law and order and pave the way for a permanent solution of the border problem between India and Pakistan.

Once the acts of terrorism end with the active cooperation of both countries, the peaceful fallout will be immense and immeasurable. The cultural commonalities between the two countries are so many that bringing the two peoples together is a very easy task. Hundreds and thousands of families have been separated by the partition and are eager to be re-united. The benefits of economic cooperation in trade and commerce are so obvious that they need not be repeated. With India and Pakistan coming together economically, one could think of economic cooperation on a larger scale including countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and even Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

The biggest obstacle seems to be taking the first step. The Hurriyat has been demanding that whenever the future of Jammu and Kashmir is discussed between them and the Government of India, the Government of Pakistan should also be a party to the talks. However, the Government of India has been staunchly opposed to this. The reality is that this is a problem affecting both the Hurriyat and Pakistan, as the Government of India has been holding separate talks with both of them. There seems to be no harm in having a conference of all the parties involved, including representatives of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Government of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. This assumes that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir will ensure the participation of the Pandits and others who have fled Kashmir and who are now being wooed into returning.

All this may look like a rosy dream. After all, everything starts as a dream. India’s freedom was a dream even to my generation, let alone the earlier ones. But that dream is now a reality. So one should never give up one’s dreams of a better future.

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