Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka’s article on the Kashmir saga was written last month, much before the terrorist attack at Uri on September 18, 2016.
During his recent visit to Kashmir, Rajnath Singh expressed his desire to have an emotional relationship with the people of Kashmir. Noble sentiments indeed, but are they practical? It is all very well for the Home Minister to want an emotional relationship, but the sad reality is that the average Kashmiri is not having any of it. The Pakistan propaganda machine is working overtime in the valley; and they are convincing many Kashmiris that India is not a benevolent parent, but an occupation force. The unending cycle of stone pelting and army retaliation only bolsters that impression. One cannot fault the army of course. They cannot allow anarchy to reign in the state. However, in the current atmosphere, any constructive dialogue seems like a distant dream. Probably the most potent weapon in the hands of the government is economic.
As violence escalates, tourism in the valley will decline and eventually cease. Tourism is the main source of income for a majority of Kashmiris. Once they realize that their very livelihood is in danger and their families are suffering, militancy will probably die a natural death. The government needs to exercise patience and let it play out. Besides, it does not have a lot of options.
Is Kashmir Solvable?
The state, as it is presently constituted is probably a basket case; and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. Perhaps, an out-of-the-box approach is called for. Both Congress and BJP have become adept at splitting India’s states along linguistic lines; mainly for political gain. Why not consider a split in the national interest? After all, the three regions of Kashmir – Ladakh, Jammu and the Kashmir valley – have virtually nothing in common. That is the principal reason the ruling BJP-PDP coalition does not work; and probably never will. Why not consider a three-way split? The Hindu majority in Jammu would then get a sense of ownership and also feel more secure. Moreover, the government would be free to develop the new state without any constraints. Ladakh has strategic value, but is not politically significant.
Assuming a split is feasible, what is a possible scenario? A truncated Kashmir would be easier to control; and perhaps offer a less tempting prize to avaricious Pakistan. Perhaps, a smaller Kashmir could even be governed directly as a Union Territory. I am aware that Constitutionalists will balk at this suggestion, citing the terms of accession. The fact remains that Kashmir did agree to be a part of India, albeit with certain conditions. However, when a majority of a state’s citizens openly rebels against the government and openly declares allegiance to an enemy nation, perhaps conditions agreed to 70 years ago become irrelevant.
These are all wild theories, I know, and probably impractical; but then successive governments over decades have tried “sensible” and “politically correct” solutions; and look where we are. The logical step would be for us to ignore “Pak-occupied Kashmir” and for our neighbour to do the same. But then, hatred of India is the bedrock of Pakistan foreign policy – and particularly that of their army. So that is not going to happen. In another 30 years, we will be “celebrating” a century of the ‘Kashmir problem’ and maybe, by then, both sides will accept the status quo out of sheer exhaustion.
Bombshell of a Speech
On Independence Day, Narendra Modi was in top form at the Red Fort – the turban, the hand gestures, the oratory was out in full force. As usual, he held his vast audience enthralled. Then came the bombshell. After all the talk of All Party Conference and insaniyat towards the people of Kashmir, Modi launched a frontal, almost Churchillian attack on Pakistan. After a moment of stunned silence, the crowd erupted.
The PM’s Independence Day address, particularly with reference to Pakistan, was laced with jingoism which no doubt stirred nationalistic fervour in millions of Indians. However, it may prove counter-productive in the long run. The call to take back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) was bombast meant for domestic audiences. The PM is savvy enough to know that the only way Pakistan is likely to relinquish the part of Kashmir under its control is as a result of war, which neither nuclear power can afford. Also I am not sure it was a wise move to bring up the disputed status of Baluchistan. Remember that the “disputed” status of Kashmir is Pakistan’s main talking point at international forums. By expressing ‘gratitude’ to the people of Baluchistan, Gilgit and POK, the PM was virtually echoing the rhetoric of Pakistan who always claims fraternity and support for its ‘brethren’ in Kashmir. The nation’s interests would have been better served if the PM had expressed similar gratitude and compassion to the people of Kashmir. One thing is certain. The PM’s remarks will only fuel the ongoing unrest in Kashmir. The country has a long road ahead; and it is looking increasingly doubtful if any of our leaders has the wherewithal to come up with a workable solution.
How Inviolate Are Our Treaties?
According to many hawks – and not just in the BJP – adopting a soft approach towards Kashmir is a very bad idea. Columnist Virendra Kapoor posts on Sunday Guardian Live (August 28, 2016) “Any suggestion that India should withdraw from all facets of policy-making other than defence, currency and foreign affairs, we reiterate, will prove a recipe for self-destruction. We might as well hand over Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter.” There is sound logic in this view.
No doubt that Pakistan is fermenting unrest in the valley and needs to be dealt with a firm hand. However, it also raises the larger question of how we, as a sovereign nation, regard our treaty obligations. When the predominantly Muslim princely state of Kashmir acceded to Hindu India, it was under the stipulation that the state would have autonomy in all matters except defence, currency and foreign affairs. Successive governments have casually shrugged off that commitment, but does it behove us as a responsible sovereign nation? By all means, take strong actions to counter Pakistan’s nefarious designs; increase surveillance along our border to stop infiltration; lock up those who are clearly working against India’s integrity. (Incidentally, that is the true definition of sedition; not Ramya declaring that ordinary Pakistanis are just like us. Please stop making us a laughing stock in the international community.)
We cannot afford to so casually renege on our treaty obligations. A similar thing happened in the 1970s, when Indira Gandhi arbitrarily abolished the Privy Purses of the erstwhile Maharajas – a commitment made by Sardar Patel. One can argue that Maharajas have no place in a democratic society, but a commitment at a national level should be binding, irrespective of the government in power. It cannot be revoked without a public debate, or preferably an Amendment to the Constitution.
If we are to be seen as a responsible nation in the world community, we must be seen to honour our treaty obligations. We cannot junk them whenever they become inconvenient.
Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and freelance writer. E-mail: email@example.com