February 2008 News

Is Independence A Solution To The Kashmir Problem?

23 February 2008
Kashmir Watch

Srinagar: The K-word, which has so long bedeviled Indo-Pak relations, has now added a new alphabet to its lexicon - 'I'- an Independent Kashmir. There is a feeling that a 'Swiss solution' wherein a neutral, independent, multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious state, its borders guaranteed by the United Nations and by covenant between India, Pakistan, and China is the solution to this festering problem. Is it or is it not? Let's analyse. A section of the Kashmiri people feel that instead of the two given options joining either India or Pakistan, a third option of independence should also be included. A similar opinion was expressed in a gallop poll conducted by an Indian weekly, Outlook, in 1995. 72 per cent of the people interviewed in Kashmir Valley stood for complete independence. As Amanullah Khan, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, says, 'Kashmiris in the heart of their hearts want reunification of their divided motherland and complete independence with democratic secular federal system of government and having good relations, friendly relations with both India and Pakistan'. He views such an arrangement to be advantageous to both - India and Pakistan as '… the national ego of India is not disturbed because India doesn't have to handover her part of Kashmir to Pakistan. The national ego of Pakistan is not disturbed because we don't ask Pakistan to handover her part of Kashmir to India.' An independent Kashmir has been, according to its proponents, supported by the Indian representative Mr. Gopala Swami Ayengar at the UN Security Council on Jan. 15, 1948 and later by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on August 9, 1951. Both of them reportedly said that India fully recognised Kashmiris' right to complete independence. This sentiment has also been expressed by the father of Pakistani nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his policy statements of June 17, July 11, and 30 of 1947. The example of Bangladesh has been cited to refute all contentions that an independent Kashmir is not a viable option. When it came into being, Henry Kissinger felt Bangladesh was an international 'basket case.' But the country has proved its critics wrong and has in fact outperformed both India and Pakistan in many areas. Kashmir has other added advantages like tourist potential and good literacy rates. An independent Kashmir is likely to change the current geo-political situation of the sub-continent. Apart from India and Pakistan, that is sure to oppose the move, in the words of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, '…China and Russia will not accept it, because it might become the footstep and base camp of America.' The unique demographic pattern in Kashmir also goes against the possibility of independence being a lasting solution. Sunni Muslims, the predominant residents of Kashmir alone favour a union with Sunni Pakistan. To add to this there has been a sea change in the character of the so-called 'freedom-fighters' in Kashmir. Since the 1990's a third of the 'freedom-fighters' in Kashmir are guest freedom fighters. They hail from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan or other Islamic countries. These foreign elements have now taken over the movement from the traditional Kashmiris, who are by nature more secular, and infused fundamentalism into Kashmir. This aspect was highlighted by a report prepared by the US Congressional research service. The report states, 'There is the real danger that an independent Kashmir, given the Jihadi nature of some of the insurgent groups, could end up as another permanent sanctuary for Islamic extremist terrorist operations'. Moreover a viable independent Kashmir has to be secular in character, given the fact that there are Shias, Hindus, Sikhs among the population and the recent changes go against this. India's creed of secularism gets a tremendous boost if Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim area, stays with her. Kashmir is like a crown on India's secular polity. Many sections within the Indian society view partition as something that was forced on the majority by the colonial power. …section still dreams of an 'Akhand Bharat' as it existed prior to 1947. Any move towards an independent Kashmir can surely raise much opposition from this section with still unknown results. There are genuine fears in India that independence for Kashmir would lead to the breakup of the Indian union into various ethnic and linguistic entities. More than India, Pakistan has more to fear from an independent Kashmir. It strikes at the very raison d'ętre for its existence, as the creation of Bangladesh had done in 1971. Pakistan, to say the least, was the end result of the belief that the Muslims in the subcontinent are different from the rest. Islam was supposed to override ethnic, linguistic and geographic differences. An independent Kashmir can also end up altering the geographical boundaries. India would naturally demand that non-Muslim areas around Jammu in the extreme south and Buddhist parts of mountainous Ladakh be kept out from an independent Kashmir. Recent remarks made by the now exiled former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto has given a new twist to the issue. Addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative conference on December 13 at New Delhi, she acknowledged that Pakistan had taken a conscious decision to launch a low-intensity proxy war against India in the late 1980s to draw the world's attention to Kashmir. She said, 'A joint politico-military decision was taken (by Pakistan) in 1989. The view was that low-intensity operations would help focus attention on Kashmir'. This statement supports the Indian contention that the Kashmir problem has been the creation of an external agency (read Pakistan). Also, it makes Kashmir a non-issue, for if the support were to be withdrawn Kashmir would regain normalcy. In conclusion, an independent Kashmir is like a pandora's box, which can create more problems than solving the existing problems. It will only help in adding to the present confusion in the subcontinent. A more lasting solution would be for the two countries to sit across the table and discuss the issue under the Simla Agreement which states: 'That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance and encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations.

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