Dividing Jammu and Kashmir: When Sudarshan met Geelani
1 July 2002
The Indian Express
New Delhi: When the RSS posited the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir as the Sangh Parivar’s prescription for solving the Kashmir problem, there are many among the separatist camp who actually looked at it as a positive development. For, the resolution substantiates its belief that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of the Partition, and a key to its resolution lies in the two-nation theory. Although the RSS has suggested carving out separate states for Jammu and Ladakh, the aim actually seems to get rid of the main problem: the Valley. In the separatist camp, this is seen as an acknowledgement from India’s biggest politico-social organisation that the separatist sentiment in Kashmir is unmanageable. The pro-Pakistan lobby among the separatists has always been suggesting a similar trifurcation, although on its own terms. It was the pro-Pakistani Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who suggested a division of J&K as a compromise and thus, a solution, to the problem. He believes that since religion is at the core of the issue, the Hindu dominated regions of the state can be carved out to stay with India while the Muslim dominated areas should go to Pakistan. Although the RSS doesn’t pencil in Pakistan in their trifurcation plan, their proposal is clearly a step in that direction. The only—and the key—difference between Geelani’s suggestion and the saffron brigade’s resolution, however, remains the issue of geographical boundaries of Muslim Kashmir. The RSS suggests Jammu as a state along with the Muslim dominated districts of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda, besides the whole of Ladakh, including the Muslim dominated Kargil. Geelani suggests a Muslim Kashmir that excludes Hindu dominated Jammu district, Kuthua district, half of Udhampur and Buddhist Leh. Untying the Kashmir knot: some proposals International border: Turn the LoC into an international border. Has the backing of political parties as well as Farooq Abdullah, but is unacceptable to Pakistan and many Kashmiris living on either side of the LoC. UN resolutions: This would lead to a plebiscite. But Centre fears that a plebiscite could set a precedent, fuelling the calls for similar referendums in places like the the North-east. Independence: JKLF leader Amanullah Khan suggests a five-phase formula for independence, to be overseen by a UN committee which will work towards a referendum in 15 years, following a phased withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani troops and disarming of militants. But apart from being unacceptable to the Centre, wouldn’t not be welcomed by all even within Kashmir, given the different, and conflicting, political aspirations. Religious segregation: In 1950, Australian diplomat Sir Owen Dixon proposed redrawing the boundaries of Kashmir on religious lines with the Chenab river as a natural border. This would mean that most Muslim-dominated areas in Kashmir would go to Pakistan, but the Hindu-dominated area would remain with India. Opposed even by pro-independent separatists. Partition: According to recently declassified British Foreign Office files, the US and Britain were urging India and Pakistan to search for a partition solution in the mid-60s after the Indo-China war. The US supported the creation of an independent Kashmir Valley, but Britain feared that Russia and China would exert influence over the new state. The Soviets were equally wary of an independent Kashmir, fearing that the US would use it as a base. The plan, though, fell through. The Andorra model: In 1998, a Kashmiri American businessman assembled a group of western policymakers and academics to set up the Kashmir Study Group. The resolutions include an arrangement on the lines of Andorra, the tiny state which lies on the borders of France and Spain. It involved the reconstitution of part of J&K as a sovereign entity with free access to and from India and Pakistan. This would be determined through an internationally supervised agreement involving the Kashmiris, India and Pakistan. The resulting entity would have its own secular democratic constitution; distinct citizenship; a flag; and a legislature which would pass laws on all matters other than defence and foreign affairs. There would be no change in the LoC, but the whole entity would become a demilitarised zone. In fact, a similar proposal was mooted by Hurriyat chairman Professor Abdul Gani Bhat as well. Bhat had been publicly supporting the Dixon Plan—a United Nations proposal put forth in the ’50s. This involved division of the state on similar lines by making the Chenab river the boundary, thus separating Muslim dominated areas from Hindu dominated regions of the state. The Hurriyat, whose official stance is that the Kashmir dispute can be resolved either through UN resolutions, a vote or a tripartite dialogue, did not comment on the RSS proposal. ‘‘We have nothing to say at this point,’’ Bhat told The Indian Express. This proposal, though, has struck at the very core of the ruling National Conference ideology, which holds that Kashmir’s accession to India was a rejection of the two-nation theory. In fact, Omar Abdullah remarked that the RSS proposal was as good as suggesting that Kashmir be handed over to Pakistan. Although the NC will oppose such a move, the party too had suggested such a division, but in a far more subtle manner: the NC’s regional autonomy plan indirectly suggests division of the state on communal lines. How does this proposal help Kashmir’s separatist movement, especially those seeking Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan? If the Valley is ever carved out of the J&K, its geographical boundaries cannot be limited the way the RSS wishes. While it’s true that the Valley is the bastion of separatist politics, once you slice it out of Jammu province and Ladakh, it will only worsen the existing communal split in both the regions. The Shia Muslims of Kargil are not so actively involved in the separatist movement. Besides, once their fate is linked to Leh, they would certainly react as Muslim Ladakhis. In fact, when the people of Leh fought for separation from Kashmir, Kargil preferred to stay out of the hill council. Plus, the victories notched up by the NC in Kargil parliamentary constituency points towards an anti-Leh sentiment. An influential religious leader of Kargil, Asghar Karbalayi, has often said although they are not part of Kashmir’s separatist movement, they would prefer going with the Valley rather than Leh in a broader resolution of the issue. The situation in Jammu province is far more explosive. Though militancy emerged from Kashmir, jihadi militancy has gained greater ground in the Muslim dominated districts of Doda, Rajouri and Poonch. The Muslims of Jammu province are ethnically, culturally and linguistically (especially in Rajouri and Poonch) closer to Pakistan and PoK, allowing jihadis to melt into the population. Although Kashmir witnessed the exodus of Pandits in 1990, it was not as violent as the slow migration of Hindus from these Muslim dominated regions in Jammu, which are completely divided on communal lines. The Village Defence Committees are exclusively from the Hindu minority while the militants’ support is among the Muslim majority. The worst communal massacres during militancy have been witnessed in these areas. In fact, a clandestine police survey conducted here a few years ago, when the NC’s regional autonomy was in currency, revealed any such division would instantly displace more than eight lakh people on both sides of the divide.