Kashmir – the millstone around our neck

I believe that this plan, by and large, has been on the table for some time but has not been taken up seriously. For neither country wants to be seen to be backing down from its long-held position for fear of a public backlash, ready to be exploited by opportunistic forces in both countries.

(Published in Daily Times, 6 February 2018)

Incessant shelling along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir has led to the death of scores of Indian and Pakistani soldiers in the last few months, in addition to the casualties and suffering among civilians on both sides. Like an active volcano spewing smoke constantly, Kashmir is showing all signs of an imminent eruption, and threatening to explode at any time with devastating consequences for all around.

Divided de facto between India and Pakistan, but claimed by both, Kashmir has become a matter of nationalistic ego and a source of jingoism for New Delhi and, to a slightly lesser extent, for Islamabad. In this poisoned atmosphere, the issue itself has become confused with a solution seemingly impossible.

Indians are made to believe by their government that “Jammu and Kashmir” is an integral part of India, with all Indian maps showing the entire historical state of Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India. Most Indians are left with the impression that their country is in actual control of most or all of Kashmir. But rhetoric and bluster aside, India is in actual control of just over half (about 60 percent) of the historical state of “Jammu and Kashmir”.

Owing to the decades of propaganda in their own country about Indian occupation of Kashmir, Pakistanis are also left with the false impression that India occupies all of Kashmir, which rightly belongs to Pakistan.

As a percentage of its gross domestic product, Pakistan is one of the highest military spenders in the world, largely as a consequence of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s economy can ill-afford such a high level of military expenditure.

Hostility with India also prevents Pakistan from having beneficial trade and economic relations with its much larger neighbor. It also prevents us from exploiting the full potential of trade relations with Afghanistan and Iran and, by extension, with Central Asia as well.

Let us imagine the good that could come out of an Indo-Pakistan rapprochement over Kashmir, one that is also acceptable to the people of Kashmir. For the Kashmiris it would mean peace and for India there would be no insurgency, militancy or cross-border terrorism.

Kashmir is a festering sore on India’s body politic, a bleeding wound, a drain on the country’s resources and the source of a serious moral crisis. For both India and Pakistan, a solution would result in a massive boost to trade and tourism, and a huge reduction in military expenditures, etc.

Is a solution possible?  It certainly is, with only minor concessions by both countries. To understand that, let us first describe the historical and geographical entity that is “Jammu and Kashmir”.

This erstwhile princely state of British India consists of four separate and very distinct components, namely, Gilgit-Baltistan, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and Jammu.

Gilgit-Baltistan in the northwest is 100 per cent Muslim and under Pakistani control since 1947. Even prior to 1947 the region of Gilgit-Baltistan enjoyed autonomy within “Jammu and Kashmir” owing to its geographical remoteness.

Being in Pakistani control for seven decades now, and separated from the rest of Kashmir by lofty mountains, Gilgit-Baltistan seems further from Srinagar and New Delhi than from Islamabad or Urumchi (in western China). There is not a shred of evidence that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan want to change the status quo in favour of amalgamation with the Indian state of “Jammu and Kashmir” under any arrangement.

Two regions, namely, Ladakh and Jammu, are in Indian control and would remain so under any logical, fair and reasonable solution of the Kashmir issue. Ladakh being Buddhist and Jammu a Hindu-majority area, no Pakistani in his right mind would or should lay claim to either.

None of the above three entities are actually “Kashmiri” in any meaningful sense of the word. In fact, the Ladakhis and the people of Jammu have been demanding to be detached from Kashmir and allowed full statehood or union territory status within India. They complain of neglect and discrimination under ethno-religious Kashmiri rule from Srinagar.

The fourth entity, the valley of Kashmir, where a large majority are Muslim and which is the repository of “Kashmiryat” (Kashmiriness), is the crux of the matter and the real source of the dispute.

The major portion of this entity, including its capital Srinagar, is in Indian control as a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  A small sliver of this entity along the Neelum and Jhelum rivers, in the west and north-west, is administered by Pakistan as a kind of quasi-province called Azad (Free) Kashmir.

Despite Indian attempts to blame its Kashmir problem on Pakistani interference, the fact is that the vast majority of the people of the valley, after nearly seven decades of Indian rule, resent Indian domination and demand “azadi” (freedom). Many wave Pakistani flags at protest rallies more as a symbol of rebellion against India, rather than a wish to join Pakistan.

Kashmir’s “accession” to India in 1947 was highly controversial, legally dubious and morally unsustainable. Kashmir is a massive drain on Indian military, economic and financial resources, a blot on its conscience and a stain on its democratic credibility.

It has been the direct cause of two wars and incessant military skirmishes as well as the source of diplomatic disputes and constant tension between these two close neighbors, who share much in common.

A solution is not as difficult or elusive as it may appear, only if India and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan would shed some ego and think with reason. Under such a solution, the status quo (with some very minor adjustments) would continue in Gilgit-Baltistan (which will remain with Pakistan) and in both Ladakh and Jammu (which would remain with India).

The Indian-controlled valley of Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir could, under this arrangement, unite to become an independent, neutral, non-militarized entity with free access to and from both India and Pakistan, a kind of South Asian Liechtenstein or Andorra. The benefit from this for both India and Pakistan and for the region as a whole would be incalculable.

I believe that this plan, by and large, has been on the table for some time but has not been taken up seriously. For neither country wants to be seen to be backing down from its long-held position for fear of a public backlash, ready to be exploited by opportunistic forces in both countries.

by Razi Azmi

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7 Responses to Kashmir – the millstone around our neck

  1. Gujjar says:

    The solution outlined would work if Pakistan was normal and did not have the overwhelming Mullah Brigade. As it is Kashmir is viewed by the Mullahs, who dream of Pan Islamic Khilafat, as merely an appetizer. They dream of Bringing back the Islamic rule over all of India, imposing Aurangzeb‘s Jaziya and becoming a province of the global rule of the Khalifa. Hindus of India would be total nuts to accept any relaxing of strict borders with Pakistan at present. Perhaps in another 70 years, when the poison of the Mullahs has worked its venom out in Pakistan. While the world moves into the 21st century, let Pakistan keep traveling to the 7th.

    • Tanveer Azmi says:

      Sounds like Bal Thackeray. Some people don’t understand that Mullas are not powerful or influential in Pakistan as Siv Sena in India under BJP.

      • Gujjar says:

        Tanveer Azmi Sahib: The misfortune seems to be that the Indians may follow our model and make their Saffron Brigade as powerful as our Mullahs. They will rue that as much as we are here in the Fortress of Islam. May your words that the Mullahs are not that powerful be a Gazillion times true!! Take a look at what is in Dawn today: https://www.dawn.com/news/1388656/mardan-vs-faizabad
        And do read the comments to that. Then look up how thousands gathered to challenge the state. Hero‘s welcome, says the Dailytimes : https://www.google.com/amp/s/dailytimes.com.pk/198703/religious-parties-protest-mashal-case-verdict/amp/

        If Shiv Sena is as strong or stronger than our Mullahs, then Razi‘s proposed solution to Kashmir dispute is a total dream. As Hafiz says below some people make profit. To hell with the Majority of people in Pakistan or India. After all: Pakistan ka matlab kya! Laillaha Illalah! And we have been making that a reality for the last 70 years.

  2. Jacob Kipp says:

    Balanced, factual, and prudent. But nationalists are about passion and this has been the problem now for 70 years. I will pray for a solution in the name of peace and justice. As always, your articles are informative and invite reflection.

  3. JAVED AGHA says:

    You have rightly pointed out that this is the only solution to solve Kashmir problem.

  4. Pradeep Kalra says:

    Kashmir has been an apple of discord since 1947 for India and Pakistan.In my view it may take another 50 yrs for the leaders to come to their senses.Things which require an amicable solution do take their own sweet time in the sub continent.The millstone is going nowhere for the time being.God bless the citizens of the two neighbours.

  5. Hafiz says:

    Razi Bhai, very good analysis, may be the solution too. However, the leaders of both the countries, for their own interest of keeping cheap popularity, has been giving provocation of extreme nationalism to their respective countries citizens. They gave a false idea that Kashmir Belong to Indian (by Indian Leaders) or belong to Pakistan (by Pakistani leaders). Actually these are false consciousness. No region belongs to either this or that country, it belongs to local people. Bangladesh belongs to Bangladeshis (should have been Bengalese), Bihar to Biharies, Panjab to Panjabies …. Like this. Not belong to any leader, or to another region. That is a colonial mentality. Local, native people should decide where and how they would like to live since they are the real owner of their land.
    The problem started with Nehru the great; I am his staunch fan for his exhaustive knowledge on socio-political-economic issues, progressive ideas, and all other leadership qualities. So with due respect and with my very limited knowledge like to say that in spite of his greatness, he made two mistakes, and when great people make even a minor mistake, the mistake becomes great. One is Kasmir issue, forcefully occupy this land and made part of India, and second is following mixed economy, an economy neither socialist, nor capitalist, which kept India under a stagnant economy for long time till Dr. Man Mohan Sing opened its market in 1993. According to 1951 UNDP global Report per capita income of India and Pakistan was higher than any other country of South-east or West Asia, but now their per capita is in the lowest level. Because of Kashmir they spend huge money for arms race, but very less for people. More over India spend more in some non-essential areas for showing its might at regional level and international level keeping 70 people toilet less, huge people without education and basic health care services. On the other hand power mongering Pakistani Army consumes most resources keeping its vast population poor. Both the countries rulers prefer power and personal gain by keeping Kashmir as a disputed territory, it a business for them. On the other hand both countries people are made extremists by the propaganda of their ruling parties mixed with false nationalism and religion, and with so many years propaganda Kashmir has made a source of national ego and national pride issue.
    I am skeptic whether they will hear this kind of good advice given by you. The countries will continue to fight and remain poor, so what? Some people are making huge profit out of that.

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