The status of Jammu & Kashmir in the Indian Union is one of the peculiar problems left over from partition, which India just seems to be unable to resolve. In that sense, it is yet an unfinished agenda, as Pakistan mischievously keeps on reminding us periodically.
The sins of omission and commission done by India since 1947 are many, and are the primary cause of this unfortunate situation, and thus it would be prudent to take stock of them, before we get into the difficult area of “Solving Kashmir”. At the very least, our sins include the following:
- Declaring a cease-fire in 1948 and taking the case of J&K to the UN, instead of just allowing the army a mere 24-hours that it was desperately pleading for, to take back all of undivided J&K (and we would not have had any problem).
- Once we took it to the UN, and got a resolution in favour of getting Pakistan to vacate its parts of undivided J&K, not enforcing that (even if through military action) was a mistake. I am sure that even if a plebiscite was held at that time, people would have chosen India (maybe that’s why Pakistan did not meet its part of the bargain then).
- Once the elections had been held in J&K, and the assembly had confirmed the accession to India, granting them special status under article 370 was a mistake (the accession that they signed under the Independence of India Act was the same that all other 500+ princely states signed), even though the merger was not completed.
- Forcing Jammu to have lesser number of seats in the J&K Assembly than Kashmir (even though it had a higher population) was a mistake (as it allowed the kernel of blackmailing to strike roots in Kashmir, that they are special (“Kashmiriyat” should have been treated as no different from “Bihariyat” for that matter).
- Planning for a gradualistic merger of the state with India (over time), gently and surreptitiously degrading its separateness with India, was a mistake.
- Allowing Pakistan to get away scott free in 1971 and not forcing it to hand over POK & NA, while returning their territory and releasing the 90,000 POWs was a big mistake.
- Ignoring the just demands of Jammu and Ladakh (over Kashmir) was a mistake.
- Allowing the Kashmir narrative to be controlled and dominated by the Sunnis of the Valley (over the Hindus, Buddhists, Shias, etc.), was a mistake.
- Not communicating that the lack of economic opportunities in Kashmir are due to its “special” status under Article 370, is a mistake (Kashmiris blame Delhi for this)
- Not communicating to Kashmiris what a disaster an independent Kashmir would be, is a mistake.
- Allowing Kashmiri Pandits to be cleansed out of the Valley, and not strongly reiterating that they are the original inhabitants, and therefore the link to ancient India, is a mistake (answer to allegation that Kashmir was never India).
- Not communicating Kashmir’s genuine history and link with India (even in our history books today) is a mistake.
- The promise to hold a plebiscite (by Nehru) to finally settle the status of J&K was a big big mistake.
The flip-flop relationship that Delhi had with the Abdullahs, rigging of elections, allowing the blatant and shameless corruption of the ruling class to go unpunished, dismissing duly-elected governments, foisting puppet regimes from Delhi, not supporting a Kashmiri to become President of India (Karan Singh or Farukh Abdullah), are all bad mistakes.
However, any which way that one looks at it, India’s mistakes might be legion and many, but even if we take all of them together, they do not appear to be the actions of a devious and cunning oppressor state, but those of a bumbling, over-sensitive and lazy fool (and we all know of worse crimes committed by nations – look at Pakistan in Baluchistan, and China in Tibet & Xinjiang for comparison, and we come out smelling of roses).
Having said all of this and also taking into account the moral and legal position of India over Jammu & Kashmir, the reality today is that if one looks at all the regions of the undivided state of J&K, the situation is as follows:
- Jammu – Strongly pro-India, and straining at the leash for being held to ransom by Kashmir (given a choice, would want full merger with India)
- Ladakh – Same as Jammu, although they have their own set of additional grievances, and have the complicating factor of China and the lost territory of Aksai Chin.
- Kashmir – Over-riding sentiment today in the Sunni-dominated valley seems to be pro-Azaadi, although there are the legitimate rights of Kashmiri Pandits and the Shias (Gujjars and Bakerwals, etc.) who are largely pacifists and pro-India. There is also a strong and voluble pro-Pakistan minority here, although they are progressively weakening, due to the current and ongoing collapse of the failed state of Pakistan.
- POK – We normally forget about this part of J&K, but there is resentment against Pakistani rule here, and there could be a latent pro-India feeling here also (especially after the shameless way in which the NLI jawans were made cannon-fodder of in the Kargil War).
- Northern Areas – Gilgit and Baltistan were marignally pro-India in 1947, and feel historically neglected by India and used by Pakistan. There is the additional complicating factor of the area illegally ceded by Pakistan to China, but that’s another story.
There is a large constituency of people in India, who feel that Kashmiri separatist feelings today should just be ignored and the state forcibly integrated with India, by doing away with Article 370, and they do have a point. However, unless India wants to become like China over Tibet, we cannot do that (and it is also not in our DNA – as we are a pacifist people / state). We can’t wish away the secessionist feelings that are currently extant in Kashmir, and the biggest millstone around our neck is the mindless promise made by a foolish and idealistic (and Nobel Peace Prize obsessed) Nehru of holding a plebiscite. Pakistan and the secessionists will continue to beat us with it and for which we don’t have an answer.
There is also an international and geo-strategic context to our solving the Kashmir problem sooner rather than later, before other countries force us to accept a sub-optimal solution in an unfair manner. Pakistan’s leverage with the US is at an all-time high, due to it being stuck in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also successfully convinced the world community that all its shenanigans and dabbling with terrorism are linked with Kashmir, and is getting away with it. The world community is also not going to respect the rise of India, to the high-table of global powers, if we cannot handle a niggling neighbour like Pakistan, and solve a territorial dispute. The biggest problem is that India has run out of ideas on what to do with Kashmir, and hence has lost the initiative to Pakistan (remember Musharraf’s stupid ideas on joint control, irrelevant borders, etc.). The biggest risk is that if we do not take the initiative soon, the US might force us to accept a solution (which will not be to our liking), in order to get away from Afghanistan. Of course, lets not forget the Elephant in the room, China!
This article posits a radical way forward, which may not seem fair to India (to start with), but then it will be fair to all concerned, and might eventually solve India’s “Kashmir” problem forever (and no, it is not suggesting a blind giveaway of Kashmir to Pakistan, which would be stupid and counter-productive).
The proposed steps for India to take are as follows:
- Implement a quadri-fication of the Indian-controlled part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, into Jammu, Panun Kashmir, “Kashmir” and Ladakh.
- Declare that Jammu, Ladakh and Panun Kashmir will be fully integrated with India (one state and two union territories), and enjoy full access to Indian laws and rule (the people in these regions will rejoice). Declare these regions are “core issues” for India and non-negotiable!
- Declare that Panun Kashmir (there is already a proposed map for this region) will not be an enclave just for Kashmiri Pandits (and thereby Hindus) but for all Kashmiris who are sure that they want to be part of a strong, secular and democratic India.
- Declare that India will be willing to conduct a plebiscite in the “Kashmir” part of the territory, after a period of 10 years, but this would be done along with areas of Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, and Gilgit & Baltistan (Northern Areas), including the Shaksgam and Hunza areas ceded to China by Pakistan illegally.
- As envisaged in the UN resolution, and since the entire territory of undivided J&K had acceded to India, this plebiscite would be done under the control of Indian defence forces (Pakistan would have to withdraw from these areas).
- The plebiscite will ask each of these three regions (i.e. “Kashmir”, POK, and Northern Areas) as to whether they want to accede to India, Pakistan or become independent.
- In order to facilitate the peoples of these regions to get a feeling for what each of these three options entails, each region will get three phases of three years each of Indian rule, Pakistani rule and “independence”. This would be under Indian defence forces for the first and third phases and under Pakistani defence forces for the second phase. All of this would have to be guaranteed by the UN, to ensure that no third country gets involved in this region during these phases, with an iron-clad commitment from China for non-interference.
- Upon completion of the three phases, there will be a one-year preparatory phase for the plebiscite, which will be held under Indian control, and with UN observers to ensure free and fair polling. Indian, Pakistani and local “pro-independence” leaders will have full freedom to campaign for their cause, under some specified conditions and restrictions.
- The people who would be allowed to vote are only those who were citizens of these regions as on 15th August 1947, and their direct descendents (to ensure that no mischief happens, and the changed demographic profile of the region is not unfairly leveraged).
- The verdict of the people will be respected, whatever be the outcome, by India, Pakistan, China, and guaranteed by the UN.
This is a rough idea, and obviously there are many more refinements that could be made in this.
The worst case scenario for India is that we could lose all the three regions (highly unlikely), but even in that case, we would be better off as a nation, and can hold our head high, that we managed a situation well, and despite the justness of our position on Kashmir, we respected the will of the people. The best-case scenario is that all three regions could want to merge with India. Were that to happen, we would have maintained our territorial integrity and then will be able to fully integrate these states into the Union of India.
At a strategic level, the way India is progressing economically, and the development that we would be able to show in Jammu, Ladakh and Panun Kashmir, it would make the people in these three regions really think hard about whether they want to be part of the failing state of Pakistan, or take the risk of becoming pawns to be exploited by international powers (given their strategic geographical location), or to become a part of a powerful and stable India, one of the two global powers that have emerged in Asia. If they are smart enough, they will choose India. If not, then we really need to ask ourselves whether we want such people to be part of our country.
As a nation, we have shed too much blood over Kashmir, and have unfortunately also created a lot of collateral damage in the form of innocents getting killed in this battle of attrition with the militants, secessionists and Pakistanis. Although we have the economic strength and wherewithal to keep doing this forever (as opposed to Pakistan, which doesn’t), but do we really want to do this? Let us explore creative ideas so that we can cure this cancer from our body politic, and not force a set of people, who don’t want to be part of our great country, even though they don’t realize that they are all descendents of Kashmiri Hindus (no more than probably 500 years ago), and children of Rishi Kashyap, who founded Kashmir!