July 2003 News

Finding Common Grounds For Peace & Justice In Kashmir: Rajmohan Gandhi

30 July 2003
The Dawn
Rajmohan Gandhi

Washington DC: I suggest that all must agree on this question of terrorism. The mourning, the unpopularity, the reprisals and the misery achieved by terrorism have been made plain in a number of troubled spots, including in Kashmir. These results greatly outweigh any headlines that a terrorist attack may fetch. India's large population is likely to continue to back India's ample security forces in Kashmir in their actions against terrorism. Violence in Kashmir has not produced political or constitutional change in Kashmir, and will not produce it. It can only add to the suffering of Kashmiris. In contrast, a peaceful approach may produce changes. Peaceful does not mean submissive or passive. It can be vigorous and strategic. Then let us remember that Kashmir is more than an exceptionally beautiful land. Kashmir is people. Not, to be sure, a homogeneous people, yet people, men, women and children. Also, I fear, a people leading sad, restricted, abnormal lives. We should also recognize that many things on our minds are interconnected: India-Pakistan, Kashmir, the Hindu- Muslim question in India, the US-led war on terrorism, the relationship between the West and Muslim nations - these questions are related to one another. We should acknowledge and praise the recent initiative by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the response to it from President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali. Last April, speaking in Srinagar, Prime Minister Vajpayee called for an India-Pakistan rapprochement, inclusive of Kashmir, and indicated that he would like to close his political career on that note. On May 28 he said in Berlin that 'serious compromises' were required over Kashmir. After his visit in June to Washington, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani also spoke of the need for 'give and take' over Kashmir. Given Mr Advani's reputation as a strong hardliner, this remark too was quite significant. These statements from Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani have been welcomed in Islamabad, and some positive steps have been taken by the two sides. Ambassadors are back in place after a long interval, a bus service between Delhi and Lahore has resumed, and a train service is slated to restart next month. But air links are yet to be re-established, and provocative statements from both sides, and hard positions on other India-Pakistan issues, have tended to deplete hopes raised by Mr Vajpayee's April call. Officials in both Delhi and Islamabad seem to say: ' We acknowledge the initiative from the top but reject its implications.' And we are yet to see a firm sign that Mr Vajpayee has devised a strategy for achieving the rapprochement he clearly desires. The subcontinent's concept of an honourable settlement is that the other side must yield one hundred per cent. Otherwise it is a sellout. 'A serious compromise' and 'give and take' cut across this concept. We may also note the interest in business communities in both India and Pakistan in opening the trade door, and thereby enriching large numbers on either side. Let me in this context mention that India's economic progress over the last 13 years has been striking, at an average of about six per cent a year, and that Pakistan too has recently shown some impressive figures. Sooner rather than later, rapprochement can produce an economically formidable South Asian region, and one that contributes to global prosperity. On the other hand, let us not forget fundamentalism in Pakistan or the targeting of minorities in India. Religious parties are in power in two of Pakistan's provinces, and seem keen on restrictive and retrogressive legislation. In India, inflammatory anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric, at times including direct calls for murder, reaches growing numbers and is not attracting the penal provisions of the law. Given the interconnection mentioned before, there is little chance of any India-Pakistan rapprochement if the Indian and Pakistani governments are unwilling or unable to check religious intolerance. I suggest that this intolerance in the subcontinent is also a subject that US lawmakers should take note of. And Indians should recognize, as the US-based scholar Sumit Ganguly has pointed out, that if India becomes a Hindu nation-state, it will lose all right to claim the allegiance of Muslim-majority Kashmir. Indians and Pakistanis should admit that the people of Kashmir, and what they desire, gets little attention in Indian or Pakistani thinking. Though Kashmir features daily in their media, not enough Indians or Pakistanis seem to wrestle with the question of what can contribute to normality in Kashmir, or of what has prevented a generation of Kashmiris from experiencing peace. Elections to the legislature in Indian-administered Kashmir have often been the opposite of fair. Yet it is the opinion of several impartial observers that the latest elections were a good deal fairer than earlier ones, and that they may have improved the climate for talks over Kashmir between India and Pakistan and Kashmiris, as well as for talks between Kashmiris and the Indian government. However, it is also true that a body that can speak for Kashmiris as a whole has yet to emerge. Indian-administered Kashmir is home to at least two aggrieved groups - a majority, most of them Muslims, unhappy with Indian control, and a minority, most of them Hindu Pandits, who have left their ancestral homes in the Kashmir Valley in fear of the anti- Indian militancy, or who lead terrified lives if they haven't left. The argument that because of its Muslim majority Kashmir cannot possibly be a part of India should be questioned. India is not a nation solely or primarily for its Hindus. Unless India's Hindu extremists succeed in changing it, the Indian constitution will continue to offer equal rights to Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Parsis, and others, including atheists. Kashmir has often felt deeply alienated from New Delhi, but not because it is inhabited by a Muslim majority. It is truer, and wiser, to see Kashmir as a political rather than a religious question. To do the opposite would be to undermine the position of India's 125 million Muslims. Moreover, those who understandably and legitimately want greater rights for the people of Kashmir would do well to recognize the anxieties of the minorities living in Kashmir, Hindu and Sikh. A fog of anger and disappointment has successfully hidden what once was a vision shared by quite a few on the subcontinent. In this vision, Kashmir, with an earlier history of a calm, tolerant Islam interacting constructively with a calm and tolerant Hinduism stood as a site of hope at the head of the subcontinent. Can something of that vision be restored, despite the sadness of recent years? In the last few months, with tourists visiting Kashmir on a scale not seen in several years, the hope of better days has entered some hearts. However, if the recent past is any guide, this hope, like other hopes in recent memory, may die before long, a victim of blasts and of the rhetoric, from every side, of bigger blasts. Politics being the art of the possible, influential groups should explore, in the language of Prime Minister Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister Advani, the possibility of a 'serious compromise' and of some 'give and take', and also take at his word President Musharraf, who has said that if 'India takes one step, Pakistan would take two'. Whether we like it or not, the idea of a plebiscite, whether in all of Indian- administered Kashmir or in its Muslim-majority portions, has no takers in the government of India and not many takers among the people of India. On the other side, the idea of making the status quo permanent - the Line-of-Control-as-the-international-boundary formula - seems to have very few takers in Pakistan. What, in such a situation, is the scope for 'give and take'? Here questions are easier than answers. If territories cannot be yielded, is an increase in autonomy within existing boundaries a possible alternative? If so, what should be the content and range of enhanced autonomy? Indian prime ministers have indicated more than once that short of independence Kashmiris can have anything. Can 'anything' include a substantial reduction in the presence in Kashmir of Indian security forces? But will India leave behind a vacuum that others can fill? Can comparable autonomy and force reduction in Pakistan-administered Kashmir help? Let us remember here that the future of Jammu and Kashmir, to give the full name of the territory, is not something that the governments of India and Pakistan can decide without involving the Kashmiri people. How this diverse people's representatives should be identified, and then associated with the process toward a possible settlement, are crucial if difficult questions, but every human and democratic principle demands this association. For the sake of well over a billion human beings living in the region, will South Asia's political leadership summon the courage and trust for a journey toward a statesmanlike settlement of the Kashmir question? And will the world community get behind such a journey? I can't say I feel very optimistic, but perhaps it is duty of people like us to encourage mutual trust on the subcontinent, and to explore possible solutions, even when experts on the political climate predict obstacles. (Mr Rajmohan Gandhi is visiting professor in the Programme in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois, at Urbana- Champaign, USA. This article is an edited version of his speech delivered by him at the recent Kashmir Peace Conference in Washington, D.C.)


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