Mulberry Bush Of Kashmir
13 December 2005
Karachi: IT was the sheer audacity of the suggestion that challenged them: Undo the knot that has vexed their elders for over 50 years. Find a solution to the Jammu & Kashmir problem. For a moment, they baulked and then lapsed into an impotent silence. Gradually, though, they saw the glimmer of an opportunity in the murkiness of the difficulty. They were all students, between 18 to 25 years of age, not much older than Alexander the Great was when he was confronted by the Gordian knot. They came from a diversity of backgrounds - from the north and south of Pakistan, from all over India, and from both sides of Jammu & Kashmir. And they had gathered in the comparative neutrality of a conference on peace held this autumn in New Delhi under the aegis of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. While they possessed no power or authority, they did feel a sense of responsibility, for they knew they belonged to a generation that will have to face the consequences of continuing failure. The conference sponsors had formed them into groups. Each segment was required to examine one of nine options or precedents and to test-check their utility as a possible solution. These ranged from the Scandinavian example of the Aland Islands to the mid-European Tyrol model to the on-going Northern Ireland peace process. The others were recommendations made over the years by discussion groups and think tanks such as the Kashmiri American Council. All of them looked over-used and dog-eared. To stimulate the students into thinking outside the box, as it were, they were asked to sit together as one group - Indians, Pakistanis, East and West Kashmiris alike - and to determine a single formula that should be endorsable by all, one that should be reducible to a single sheet of paper, and one that could be signed by three hypothetical parties. These three fictional signatories were called - for want of any better names - Pervez Musharraf, the other Manmohan Singh, and the third any unknown person who could be regarded as a representative of all Kashmiris. The students were asked to focus on the following five elements. 1. Territory: What did they understand by Jammu and Kashmir. 2. Sovereignty: If so, when? 3. Autonomy: If so, how much? 4. Governance: The preferred style of representation. 5. Security: Internal as well as external. Rather like their elders, the various factions knew what they wanted. They could articulate their own specific objectives but did not know how to fit their separate interests into a collage of collectivized demands. Eventually, after an hour or so of noisy debate and discussion, a consensus began to emerge and they found to their surprise common areas of agreement. Finally, before the deadline, they reduced their conclusions into a single sheet of paper. Their answer to the Kashmir problem was succinct, clearly expressed and startling from such young unjaundiced minds. On territory, they were all clear: the former state of Jammu & Kashmir, including the Northern Areas, Gilgit, Hunza, Chitral, etc. In effect a reversion to the pre-1947 status. On sovereignty, they thought it should be an ultimate goal, but not yet. On autonomy, they demanded it now and completely, independent of both India and Pakistan. On governance, they preferred an Indian-style democratic election process. On security, they wanted Internal security to be the responsibility of the Kashmiris themselves, and external security to be guaranteed by three countries - Pakistan, India and China. Of course, no sooner had their proposal been presented to the conference than every disparate interest present shredded it, dismissing it because of its inherent unworkability, its unjustifiable optimism, its political naivete, etc. What no one could fault was the searing truth that came out of the mouth of babes - Kashmir belonged to the Kashmiris, and anyone else who professed any interest in Kashmir or the plight of the Kashmiris did so at one remove, gratuitously, as an outsider from the outside. Since that conference in New Delhi, nothing has happened in that sorry state that has altered the ground realities there, not even the devastating earthquake. If anything, it has accentuated the feeling amongst the Kashmiris that, while donors may have flocked to Islamabad to express their gilt-edged grief and to contribute to the cost of their rehabilitation and reconstruction, in the end it is the Kashmiris themselves who will have to pay the price and to bear the burden. Privately, Kashmiris cannot understand why there was no legal representative of Azad Jammu & Kashmir visible on the main podium at the much-vaunted donors' conference on November 19 held in Islamabad. The president of Pakistan was there, the prime minister of Pakistan was there, the Secretary-General of the United Nations was there. Inexplicably missing was any symbol of the victims of the trauma and of the needy in whose name six billion dollars of largesse was being accumulated. Perhaps it was felt by Islamabad that the Kashmiris, like coy brides during a Muslim nikah, could not be trusted to represent their own interests and therefore needed the services of an agent to receive commitments on their behalf. Some would argue that the sheer quantum of the pledges by donor countries should have been enough to quash any squirming ingratitude, and yet there remains a residual feeling of disappointment that the spotlight of the donors was focused on Musharraf's Pakistan, instead of being allowed to highlight the real victims. This noticeable absence was not lost on the Indian contingent to the conference. Having denied any aid for Indian Kashmir, the Indians sent their minister of state for foreign affairs to Islamabad with a hamper of support, having already ferried tents, medicines and other relief supplies across the Wagah border. President Musharraf had hoped for something infinitely more substantial as India's donation to the relief effort. He demanded nothing less than a solution to Jammu & Kashmir. Like Salome, he wanted the head of St John the Baptist. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is no Herod. He has declined to oblige. What he has done is to open up five crossings across the Line of Control. His expectation from the Pakistan side was that permission would be given to the citizens of Pakistani-controlled Azad Jammu & Kashmir to cross over without let or hindrance. Instead, when they agitated, they were tear-gassed by the Pakistani authorities. The problem is not Jammu or Kashmir. It is not even the Kashmiris. It is India and Pakistan. How do the two parties negotiate with one another when neither sees a future in negotiation? How do the two sides play a game of tug-of-war when one has bound its own end of the rope to the flagpole of defensive nationalism, and the other finds its boots unable to find a grip on the yielding sands of an inconsistent foreign policy? Will the Indians ever give up Jammu & Kashmir? To paraphrase a children's rhyme, Indians would if they could, and as they can't, so they won't. Will Pakistan ever give up its claim for a referendum? It already has. All that remains is for both parties to stop trying to drink soup with a fork, and for someone from either side to have the common sense to use a spoon.