Sunday, November 23, 2003

Viable framework for peace in Kashmir
Ashutosh Kumar

Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace.
by Sumantra Bose. Vistaar Publications, New Delhi.
Rs 295. Pages 307.

Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace“Whenever things threatened to fall apart during our negotiations — and they did on many occasions — we would stand back and remind ourselves that if negotiations broke down the outcome would be a bloodbath of unimaginable proportions, and that after the bloodbath we would have to sit down again and negotiate with each other. The thought always sobered us up and we persisted, despite many setbacks. You negotiate with your enemies, not your friends.” — Nelson Mandela, reflecting on the transition to a multicultural democracy in South Africa, 1997

The ongoing ethnic conflict which has its roots in what people of Kashmir call azadi, or the right to self-determination, has come to present “a grave threat to South Asia’s peace and to global security in the early twenty-first century”. For a discerning observer like Sumantra Bose, any solution to the “protracted confrontation” must take into consideration “the sovereignty and territorial integrity concerns of the countries embroiled in the dispute”, besides “the popular aspirations to self-rule as well as conflicting loyalties and allegiance within Jammu and Kashmir”.

A reading of the ever-increasing volume of literature on the Kashmir conflict enables us to identify some of these concerns of the two states. For Pakistan, Kashmir has always remained an obsession. One can broadly refer to four factors to explain why Kashmir runs “in the blood of Pakistan”, as its political and military leadership never tires of saying. First, Kashmir has always been treated by a significant section of both the classes and masses in Pakistan as the “unfinished agenda” of Partition. Second, in a Pakistan torn by ethnic strife, Kashmir provides a legitimisation of the idea of a militarised Pakistan. Third, the growing Islamisation/Talibanisation of Pakistan has created a significant constituency of Islamist forces for whom a ‘Muslim’ Kashmir under a ‘Hindu’ India remains an anathema. Fourth, even among the moderates in Pakistan, the painful memory of Partition and later the creation of Bangladesh serve as examples of excesses against Muslims by the Indian state. Hence, the vendetta in the form of a low-cost war that is bleeding India white.

If Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan then for India it is, besides being the shining example as well as the litmus test of Indian secularism, also the core of Indian nationalism. Kashmir, “a rose in the Indian bouquet” has come to symbolise the preservation of absolute, indivisible sovereignty and political integrity of the Indian State. Second, for India, the conflict in Kashmir has meant heavy costs both in terms of human lives and financial resources. Third, it is increasingly being asserted by policy makers that a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem would strengthen the idea of regional cooperation, thus charting a road map to greater investment and regional cooperation. This is important for India as it has a “well founded aspiration to be an economic and political player of global stature”. Fourth, in the present world where democratisation and celebration of identities and human rights have gone hand in hand with the process of globalisation, India struggles to present itself as the world’s largest and most diverse democracy.

Even a cursory look at the above-mentioned concerns makes us aware of the invisibility of the people of the Valley in the ongoing discourse on Kashmir. At its core, then, “the Kashmir conflict is a dispute over sovereignty”. However, the claim to sovereignty is compounded by “sharply different preferences on the sovereignty question within the contested territory”.

Keenly aware of “the entrenched positions and antagonisms”, Bose makes a remarkable effort to come out with a framework of peace-building that “acknowledges and accommodates all of the competing national (and quasi-national) identities and agendas, and negates and rejects none”. Drawing lessons from his in-depth studies on similar inter-state sovereignty disputes over territory in Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bose suggests that the sovereignty and territorial integrity concerns of the two states must be respected but so should be “the popular aspirations to self-rule as well as conflicting loyalties and allegiances within Jammu and Kashmir”. Drawing attention to the multiple meanings associated with the term azadi, which is used to mean anything from freedom to autonomy, Bose calls for foregrounding the “democratic rights to participation, representation, and self-government” in a solution to the Kashmir dispute. With the two contending states agreeing to accommodate and compromise with “a subtly reframed, non-maximialist yet substantial meaning of azadi”, an honourable compromise between state power and popular aspirations to azadi can be reached, like, for instance, granting substantial autonomy to both parts of Kashmir (as was the case in Indian part of Kashmir before 1953). Any such agreement should have the ratification of the Parliaments of both countries, as well as by any other relevant bodies. Consequently, it should also be put to popular referenda, conducted separately in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. By insisting that such a peace-building framework would not make it mandatory for the contending states to formally denounce their established positions and declared ideological stances, Bose shows his understanding of the inability of the two states “to transcend the sediments of history that are weighing them down”.

The success of the book lies in revealing that it is the state’s perception of national interest and not that of the people of both parts of Jammu and Kashmir, that invariably receives attention in the security-centric discourse on the Kashmir conflict. Evidently, for realising a “new architecture for the subcontinent” there is a need to develop a political culture in the two countries that can understand “that sometimes nationalism is the enemy of the national interest”. Only then can it be recognised that the Kashmir ‘problem’ is more a problem between the people of both Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir asking for azadi and the states of India and Pakistan, rather than merely between the latter two.