April 2004 News

Cricket Is Cricket, But Kashmir Is Kashmir

14 April 2004
Asia Times Online

New Delhi: Almost at the same time Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf asked India to take the question of Kashmir seriously and make some telling progress on the issue by August if it wanted the peace process to continue, there have been revelations in the Indian media about the proposals that India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had sent to Pakistan's then-dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. This took place exactly 40 years ago this month through Kashmir's tallest-ever leader, Sheikh Abdullah. The charismatic Kashmiri had preferred secular democratic India to the Islamic nation of Pakistan. As the sheikh was deliberating with Ayub, Nehru died, thus ending the process that had then kindled great expectations. Nehru and Ayub were slated to meet in Delhi in July 1964 to further discuss the issue. However, Nehru's May 27 death left the Kashmir question unanswered. These revelations have triggered debate in the Indian media, particularly as some see a parallel in the Nehru-Ayub dialogue with the present Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Musharraf dialogue. Though a bitter critic then, Vajpayee now fancies being likened to Nehru. Though not so ill as Nehru at that time, who had already suffered a stroke, Septuagenarian Vajpayee, too, is past his prime and must be looking for a legacy to leave behind. Musharraf has supported Vajpayee's re- election efforts in a variety of ways, primarily because Pakistan sees in him the only possible hope for a settlement of the tricky Kashmir question in the foreseeable future. According to political scientist Ramachandra Guha, who started this debate in a two-part article in the Hindustan Times, India today has an 'aging and ailing prime minister whose desire for peace is not shared by his own party', while Pakistan has a similarly whisky-drinking general 'who is not trusted by jihadis'. A prominent Kashmiri separatist leader, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, too, has expressed similar hopes recently about a settlement of the Kashmir question. 'Atal Bihari Vajpayee has the vision and Musharraf has the realism.' Bhatt has been quoted as saying: 'If both come together, a lasting solution can be found. It is very much in the realm of possibility since both are talking about going beyond the stated positions [on Kashmir].' The options the sheikh had hammered out with C Rajagopalachari, fondly called Rajaji, an elder statesman of the country, apparently at the behest of Nehru, were: a condominium over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, with defense and foreign affairs being the joint responsibility of the two countries; acceptance of the Line of Control (LoC) with both India and Pakistan giving more autonomy to the parts of the state under their control; a full-fledged confederation of India, Kashmir and Pakistan. There is no doubt, says Inder Malhotra, a former editor of The Times of India who had accompanied the sheikh to Pakistan, that Rajaji encouraged Abdullah to promote the confederation idea and that the sheikh did press it on Ayub. But, far from being willing to discuss it, Pakistan's first military ruler rejected it summarily and not very politely. Malhotra reminisces: 'This was my impression and information at that time and voluminous evidence available since then has only confirmed my belief. It so happened that, along with several other colleagues, I was constantly by Abdullah's side during the relevant period. Indeed, right from April 8, 1964, when he was released after his prolonged and deplorable imprisonment to the moment we reached Muzaffarabad almost exactly at the time of Nehru's death. The news of the great man's illness had caught up with the sheikh's caravan at Murree.' That India's deputy prime minister and the strongman of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lal Krishan Advani Advani has repeatedly called in the recent past for an India-Pakistan confederation acquires new meaning in this context. Ayub called this an idea 'which, if pursued, would lead to our enslavement'. It would be interesting to see if Musharraf reacts differently or if India is able to convince him that a confederation doesn't mean enslavement of Pakistan. The 1964 options, however, are also attracting strong opposition in India from commentators who are denouncing it as a call to surrender. Most political thinkers and analysts in India cannot countenance anything but the status quo or the conversion of the LoC to an international border. What Indian people think has, however, never been ascertained, though from all appearances, they, too, would prefer the status quo. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah said in Srinagar on Tuesday that it was at the initiative of his late father Sheikh Abdullah that the process of normalization of relations between India and Pakistan began way back in 1964. 'The process was initiated by Sheikh Sahib and supported by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which resulted in the Abdullah-Ayub Khan meeting,' he said while addressing an election rally in Poonch. Farooq disclosed that it was decided in the Sheikh- Ayub meeting that the solution of the Kashmir imbroglio must be based on the following three premises: 1) It should be acceptable to the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. 2) It should protect the interests of Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan. 3) It should be a solution which is a win-win situation for all and no party to the dispute is a loser or a gainer. One cannot help being reminded that Musharraf repeatedly invoked at least two of these premises - the first and third - in his recent statements. Apparently the premises of the 1964 solutions are not entirely dead, even in Pakistan. Guha has been studying documents from the Nehru era as part of his research. Having made his disclosures on the basis of Rajaji's papers, he writes: 'Nehru's papers are closed to scholars, but a letter by his foreign secretary gives a clue to his own thinking at the time. The PM had asked legal experts to explore the implications of a confederation 'as a possible solution to our present troubles'. Such an arrangement would not imply an 'annulment' of partition. India and Pakistan would remain separate, sovereign states. Kashmir would be part of the confederation, with its exact status to be determined by dialogue. There might be a customs union of the three units, some form of financial integration, and special provisions for the protection of minorities.' While noting similarities between the efforts made 1964 and the present, Guha finds a fundamental difference in the two situations: 'The one difference is the absence of a Sheikh Abdullah. Back in 1964, he could be reliably seen as the 'sole spokesman' of the Valley of Kashmir, whereas there are now multiple claimants to that title: the established political parties, the factions and fractions of the Hurriyat Conference, and the various militant groups.' Personalities apart, however, he feels, there are some fundamental similarities between the events of April-May 1964 and the peace talks of our own time. Then, as now, for instance, any lasting solution must satisfy Sheikh Abdullah's three criteria: it must strengthen - not weaken - the position of minorities in the sub- continent; it must not lead to a sense of defeat in either India or Pakistan; it must be consistent with the desires of the Kashmiri people themselves. The most striking similarity, in his view, however, pertains to the likely costs of failure. For in truth, every effort to forge a lasting solution to Kashmir constitutes a 'last chance'. The final word on the Nehru-Abdullah peace bid of 40 years ago must rest with C Rajagopalachari, the scholar-politician once called the 'wisest man in India'. In words that ring as true in 2004 as they did in 1964, Guha quotes Rajaji as having written of the need to 'try and think fundamentally in the present crisis'. 'Are we to yield to the fanatical emotions of our anti-Pakistan groups?' asked Rajaji. He continued: 'Is there any hope for India or for Pakistan, if we go on hating each other, suspecting each other, borrowing and building up armaments against each other, building our two houses, both of us on the sands of continued foreign aid against a future Kurukshetra? [Kurukshetra is the land where the famous mythological world war was fought in the Indian epic Mahabharata.] We shall surely ruin ourselves forever if we go on doing this ... We shall be making all hopes of prosperity in the future a mere mirage if we continue this arms race based on an ancient grudge and the fears and suspicions flowing from it.' The revival of the 1964 solutions in this debate has, however, angered several analysts. Some of them have found time from their busy schedules covering the ongoing general election campaign to vent this anger. The most vociferous is Chandan Mitra, member of parliament and the editor of the daily newspaper Pioneer, considered close to the BJP: 'Thanks to cricket and the periodic mass migration of Page 3 Persons [P3Ps], Pakistan is quite the flavor of the season here in India. We have heard and read gushing accounts of the magnanimous deeds of the 'friendly neighborhood Pakistani', of how shopkeepers refused to charge our P3Ps, how cricket spectators burst into bhangras [song] each time Sachin [Tendulkar] lofted Shoaib [Akhtar] for a mighty six. 'They are just like us,' commented many starry-eyed celebrities fresh from Lahore, flaunting this as an astonishingly original thesis on the racial similarity of South Asian people. 'All this is not unexpected. The Indian intelligentsia and the bulk of our media comprise ostriches with the memory of an ant. So, not only has all been forgotten and forgiven but also there is hardly any concern about what lies in store in the months ahead. Indians are notorious for living for the moment. But the 'just like us' Pakistanis aren't; they are long on memory and firm on their objectives. Even as India jubilates to triumphs on the cricket field and gets bowled over by ostensible Pakistani generosity, there are enough signs that the ruling classes in Islamabad are getting restless. Meanwhile, stirrings of a renewed intellectual campaign to bamboozle India into submission over Kashmir are already discernible, unless I am reading too much into my friend Ramachandra Guha's two-part treatise in the Hindustan Times last week.' While admiring Guha's scholarship, with whom he studied at Delhi's St Stephen's College, and expressing 'profound regard for his intellectual honesty', Mitra, however, finds the appearance of his article and Musharraf's comments 'a remarkable coincidence'. He comments: '... those who regard President Musharraf as malleable putty in the hands of US are mistaken. He recognizes that unlike India, opinion in Pakistan is not overtly enamored of peace if that comes without a sizeable slice of Kashmir. Ershad Mahmud of the Institute of Policy Studies was quoted in the same Reuters report about the general setting an August deadline, as saying: 'There is enthusiasm among Pakistanis [about the peace process] but it is superficial. It will be short- lived unless we get some concrete gesture on Kashmir'.' Commenting on the 1964 proposals themselves, Mitra comments: 'Of these hare- brained schemes, the only one that makes some sense is option two [turning the LoC into a border]. But options one and three are absolutely preposterous, there can be no doubt about the thrust of India's negotiating position, if indeed these proposals were actively discussed between Sheikh Abdullah and Ayub Khan, as Ram Guha tends to suggest. 'Besides who needs a solution that entails a 'condominium' or something as outrageous as a 'full-fledged confederation' - both of which would place Kashmir firmly on the road to physical separation from India? What worries me is that fresh from the excitement of visits to Lahore and India's innocuous victories in cricket, our chattering classes may pick up the threads of the 1964 'solution' as revealed by Ram Guha. So, I can only hope that when our negotiators resume their dialogue with Pakistan, they will be guided by the mantra, 'Cricket is cricket but Kashmir is Kashmir; and never the twain shall meet'.'

 

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