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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Holbrooke’s entry will lead to India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir

Holbrooke’s entry will lead to dialogue

Sunday, February 01, 2009
by Aakar Patel

India must engage Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir before it is forced to. It must settle on a solutions process that is approved by both democracies, and by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

Last week, India averted Barack Obama’s focus on the issue by using its muscle. America’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke was initially meant to also deal with ‘related matters’. This was apparently a euphemism for Jammu and Kashmir. However, according to the Washington Post, India forced President Obama to delete the words ‘related matters’ from Holbrooke’s brief before the official announcement.

This showed India’s clout extending seamlessly from a Republican administration to a Democratic one. But it also showed how alarmed India is at the prospect that someone would inspect a problem that is clearly worrying the world. A week before that, India sulked at Britain’s foreign minister David Miliband, who wrote in an article that Jammu and Kashmir needed to be resolved because it gave jihadis an excuse for terror. The Hindu reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee were upset by the tone Miliband used in a meeting he had with them, where he was forthright. As the younger man, they expected him to show deference.

India rejects the argument that terrorism against India is fuelled by the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. To an extent this is true. There are groups in Pakistan that seek more than the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Taiba says it wants to conquer the Red Fort. There are also Muslim groups in India that are doing terrorism for other reasons, like the killings in Gujarat. And there are groups in Pakistan, and Lashkar is one of them, that are part of the global jihad that has Caliphate aims that are not based on specific grievances.

But what the world is concerned with is that extremism in Pakistan has surged, in part because of India’s reluctance to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. This must be addressed by India sooner or later, because extremism in Pakistan is no longer just its internal matter. Having just held an election that India sees as very successful, this might be seen as the right time.

India has two fears on Jammu and Kashmir. The first is the fear of loss of territory. The second is the fear of the unravelling of its secular structure, where the two-nation theory is eternally in application, and never ‘settled’. India has a complicated view of the issue, and its legal and constitutional positions on Jammu and Kashmir are separate from its most powerful argument.

India’s legal view: the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh acceded to India on October 26, 1947. This accession is legal and Prime Minister Nehru’s subsequent moving of the United Nations Security Council to vacate Pakistani intrusion does not supersede it. India also points out that action under the resolutions of the Security Council was sequential. The UN had sought Pakistan’s retreat from the disputed territory first, something that Pakistan had not done.

India’s constitutional position: India’s constitution came into force in 1950, by when it was acknowledged that Jammu and Kashmir would need special status. This was given to it through Article 370 a couple of years later. Through this India agreed that except for defence, communications and foreign affairs, all central legislation would require the assent of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. There was also mention that the head of the Jammu state would be referred to as the Sadr-e-Riyasat.

Temporary in nature, this law was greatly eroded over the years, as India tried to absorb the state into its democracy. Compromises that India made with the National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah did not penetrate into the state’s population, however, and the simmer remained. Instead of autonomy, India ruled with a heavy fist. Sheikh Abdullah was jailed and the chief ministers of the state came to be seen as nominees of New Delhi.

After the eruption of the Azadi movement in the late 80s, India unleashed its army, first on the separatists and then, as Pakistan got involved, on the jihadis. After a few years, in the mid-90s, New Delhi again brought up the self-rule solution, saying the “sky was the limit” on autonomy.

Only in the last decade has India stopped fiddling with the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The army was used to boost turnout in neither of the last two elections, according to independent observers. India’s most powerful argument, though it has not articulated it clearly, has been that it offered the people of Jammu and Kashmir democracy under a first-rate constitution.

That Kashmiris, if they voted, would have the government of their choice ruling them. That if azadi was sought by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, it would have to be defined in light of this reality. This could, of course, only apply if India did hold elections that were widely participative. The Indian state believes it did this with last year’s elections, which damaged the claim of the Hurriyat that it was sole representative of the Muslims of the state.

Even if the issue of azadi was separated from dal-roti issues through the last elections, India believes there has been trust built between the Jammu and Kashmir electorate and India through the vote.

Pakistan’s fear on Jammu and Kashmir is that its nationhood is unresolved, both through geography and the existence of a Muslim-majority state in the Indian union. It needs Jammu and Kashmir, or even just the valley, to ‘complete’ the national project. There is also a secular fear that Pakistan cannot let its water resources be under India’s control even if the Indus Waters Treaty appears to have held so far.

Pakistan’s legal position is that the United Nations Security Council asked for a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir and that it should be enforced. Gen Musharraf gave India an ‘out’ from this, by saying he would discuss the issue outside of the ambit of the plebiscite. Pakistan’s worry, not without merit, is that in the absence of an interlocutor, India just does not get serious in talking solutions. That is why the Pakistani media is keen on Holbrooke playing referee even though America is not seen as being on Pakistan’s side.

Pakistan’s problem has been convincing the world what it will do with Jammu and Kashmir’s non-Muslims, against whom its constitution is discriminating. Jammu and Kashmir’s problem is that it is not really a homogenous state. Few states in India are, but Jammu and Kashmir in particular is not. The Hindus of Jammu are very different in their inclination from the Muslims of the Valley. The Shias do not have the same enthusiasm for azadi after their experience in the Northern Areas.

The Buddhists of Ladakh are also removed from the movement. The Hurriyat did its cause a great disservice by making their movement Islamic. The Hurriyat’s leadership comes out of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Geelani. Their support to jihad and the kicking-out of Pandits from the Valley undermined their cause globally.

If the separatists had been able to articulate their demand as universal rather than Islamic, they would have had much more sympathy from Indians, and from around the world.

But the separatists have a trump card: their right to demand freedom, and they have the history of the Indian state’s brutality to point at in justification of this demand. No solution between India and Pakistan on the matter can really result in a full settlement of the issue till this matter is resolved. In that sense, the problem can actually be seen as between India and the Muslims of the Kashmir valley.

Once Holbrooke understands the motivation of the Pakistani military leadership, and the limitations of its civilian leadership, he will be led inevitably to thinking about Jammu and Kashmir.

America will not intervene directly because India will not let it. However, there is no doubt that Holbrooke will encourage India to take the matter up bilaterally. India should do this before it is pressured into doing it.

The problem of Kashmir may well be insoluble. But the dialogue on it should be open and free, and incidents of terror should not be used to shut it down. (The News)

The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Email: aakar. patel@gmail.com

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