Framework For Peace In Kashmir

Is it an international or a religious problem? One involving self-seeking politicians? Of a piece of real estate? Or a problem of the people and their aspirations? A Kashmiri perspective.

Framework For Peace In Kashmir

Let me start with a familiar story that should provide a moment ofintrospection. A prominent Kashmiri politician met a friendly foreign newsreporter in Srinagar one day and invited the reporter to his 30th.weddinganniversary.

The foreigner readily agreed and in fact expressed surprise as he was unawarethat the politician was married, much less for so long. The politician surprisedhim further by saying that his wife was a prominent social worker.

Indeed, when the foreign reporter showed up for the celebrations, he wassurprised by the large crowd that had gathered around the wife, whereas only afew aides were by the side of the husband.

The reporter could not resist the temptation and asked the lady whatexplained it. To which she replied without a moment of hesitation, "Well heworries about the big things while I take care of the small things."

"Like what?" asked the reporter.

To which the wife replied, "Well my husband worries about big items likethe UN resolutions, Indo-Pak war, nuclear flash point, excesses of securityforces, taking care of foreign reporters, international TV and press coverage,while I worry about mundane things like children’s education, quality ofmedical care, improvement in sanitary and public hygiene, job opportunities,improved civil infrastructure, ecological damage due to lack of zoning, impactof terrorist violence, curtailment of women’s rights by Islamic zealots - inshort my husband keeps you engaged with his polemics, while I tend to realproblems faced by Kashmiris".

The irony in this almost factual story should not be overlooked.

In dealing with the Kashmir problem, one has to feel sorry for the so-calledexperts, who churn out glossy reports year after year, promoting one solution orthe other, without fully comprehending the internal dimensions of theKashmir problem.

Like the politician in our story, there is a temptation to deal withinternational aspects of the Kashmir issue, when in fact the solution lies inresolving local issues and concerns.

I would encourage those taking a fresh look at the Kashmir issue to adopt anew approach that puts the focus on people, all the people from Jammu andKashmir, rather than on the real estate.

The solution to the Kashmir problem does not lie in satisfying egoistic andpublicity seeking politicians, but in understanding and satisfying theaspirations of common people who are more concerned about peace than about whois in charge.

In 1994, the University of South Carolina invited our organization to presenta "Kashmiri Pandit perspective" of the Kashmir issue. We told Prof.Bob Wirsing that we will provide a "Kashmiri perspective", and indeedwe proposed a path forward that relied on two key policy assumptions.

Even though the media and academics largely ignored our proposal, it is notsurprising in the least that in the last few months the U.S. and especially bothPakistan and India, including Kashmiris, are coming around to our point of view.

The two policy issues that, in our opinion, form the basis for stability andpeace in Kashmir are:
(a) recognizing the sanctity of the Line of Control (LOC), and
(b) recognizing the unique demographic challenge that Kashmir represents.

Let us examine these two requirements in greater detail.

The sanctity of the LOC is taken for granted today, more so after becomingthe cornerstone of American policy in the Indian subcontinent during the Kargilwar.

But it was a different picture in 1994 -- the link between stability of thesubcontinent with the sanctity of the LOC was obvious as daylight but the U.S.government was busy drawing up plans for an independent Kashmir.

Ms. Robin Raphel, Clinton Administration’s point person on Kashmir,publicly questioned the State’s accession to India, and raised the possibilityof appointing a troubleshooter to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), working in tandem with theadministration, initiated a Track-II diplomacy that provided recognition toseparatists in Kashmir and encouraged them to unite under a single banner.

In fact many believe that Ambassador Bob Oakley, then the head of the USIP, aformer intelligence officer and the former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, was anarchitect of the formation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) that hasbeen demanding total independence from India.

But even more important is what the permanence of the LOC represents - thatthere are two Kashmir problems, one on each side of the LOC, and it isfutile to think in terms of a global solution when in fact local issueswill dictate the final outcome in each region.

Such an approach, almost by definition, implies that final resolution of theKashmir issue in the two regions will be made on a mutually exclusive basis,though a comprehensive resolution of the problem will require that both regionsarrive at the final settlement in the same time frame.

This revelation has a greater impact on Pakistani held Kashmir, as the peoplein Gilgit, Skardu, Baltit ("Northern Areas") and Mirpuris ("AzadKashmir") have traditionally based their political aspirations on theability of the valley Muslims in the Indian Kashmir to be at the vanguard of theindependence movement that involved both parts of Kashmir.


(To some extent this hope is justified by the official Indian position thatthe entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is an unitary issue, and furthercompounded by the efforts of the Indian government in 2000 to negotiate withKashmiri Mujahideen based in Pakistani held Kashmir.)

But all that has changed now, and even the people in the Northern Areas andAzad Kashmir are beginning to realize that time has come for them to stand ontheir own and demand their political rights from the government of Pakistan.

The recent effort by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) toparticipate in the Azad Kashmir elections reflects this change of attitude.


Even though the Pakistani supported local government in Muzaffarabad rejectedthe nomination papers of all JKLF nominees (as they did of lesser knownpro-independence parties in the 1996 elections), the first shot has been firedacross the bow, and more fireworks are very likely.

In keeping with the creation of the APHC in the Indian Kashmir, twelve (12)political parties in Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas recently announced theformation of the All Party National Alliance (APNA).

Similarly on the Indian side, the Central government in New Delhi hasappointed a federal political negotiator, Mr. K.C. Pant, who has publicly statedthat he will only deal with political entities in Indian Kashmir.


The bottom line, in our view, is that Kashmir is now a local issue andKashmiris on both sides of the LOC are beginning to reconcile with that reality.

Our second key assumption deals with the unique demographics of the Jammu andKashmir.

The state was carved by the British and consists of people drawn fromnumerous ethnic identities. In the Indian Kashmir there are at least four majorcultural entities - Sunnis, Pandits, Dogras, and Bodhs - and a host of numeroussubcultures.

Even though Sunnis (Muslims) are numerically in a majority, they occupy thesmallest of the regions within the State. Bodhs (Buddhists) occupy a region thatis more than half of the State, and among the major ethnic entities, Pandits(Hindus) are aborigines of the Kashmir valley with a unbroken history that goesback about 5,000 years, and Dogras (Hindus) are a majority in the Jammu region.


Given such a diversity and rich cultural mix in the State, and recognizingthat various ethnic constituents are not uniformly distributed in the State, itis unimaginable that anyone would support the idea that any single ethnic entitycould speak on behalf of all the constituents of Jammu and Kashmir. Andyet that is exactly what has happened.

As I have already stated, the pro-independence conglomerate in Kashmir, theAPHC (Hurriyat for short), came in existence with the blessings of the U.S.officials. Indeed, there was a time when the U.S. government actively tried topromote Abdul Gani Lone, a Hurriyat executive member, as a possible leader ofthe independent Kashmir and brought him to the U.S. for consultations (1996).


The fact that Kashmir has not ended up as another Kosovo or East Timor is notonly because of a lack of political smarts shown by Hurriyat leaders (as theU.S. believes), but also because in our opinion those behind the creation of theHurriyat forgot the unique demographic structure of the State.

Hurriyat may have represented the majority (Muslim) community of Kashmir, butthat community occupies the smallest fraction of the land and cannot dictate thefuture of a State in which the land is predominantly occupied by Hindus (Panditsand Dogras) and Buddhists (Ladhakis).

Hurriyat has failed because it lacks the composite culture of the state.Thus, I believe that a stable framework for peace in Kashmir must be consistentwith the secular and pluralistic ideals of its people and a fine politicalbalance is needed to meet aspirations of all ethnic constituents of the State.


There are Kashmir experts who continue to believe that Muslims of Kashmirdeserve a special attention that should not be accorded to other communities inthe State.

Even the Indian government has tacitly supported this notion by indefinitelyextending the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution giving a great degree ofautonomy to the state, which in reality has turned out to be an instrument ofhegemonic rule by the valley Muslims to dictate political, economic and socialterms to the remaining constituents and regions of the State.

The continuing demand by the State administration for greater autonomy is aconvenient smoke screen for valley Muslims to severely curtail all norms oftransparency and accountability that are inherent in the liberalized environmentemanating from New Delhi.


Otherwise what good is autonomy or independence in a State that dependsprimarily on subsidies from the central government, where taxation favors theruling rich class (the only state in India without wealth tax), where outsideinvestment is actually discouraged (investment in immovable property and taxcredits for non-state subjects are mostly disallowed), and where public feelslittle obligation to discharge their duties as responsible citizens (people haveused public utilities - water, electricity and even telephone services - foryears without feeling any obligation to pay up for such services).

Indeed the attitude of valley Muslims, whether belonging to the NationalConference (pro-India) or to Hurriyat (anti-India), towards the minorities in theState is virtually the same. Both believe that as representatives of themajority community, they are the only "legitimate" organization thatcan decide on the future of Kashmir.


Just because Pandits, Dogras and Ladakhis have not resorted to violence doesnot mean that their demands are any less important or urgent.

This is one of the most common mistakes made by outside observers whocustomarily equate violence with severity of demands, not fully comprehendingthe totally non-violent culture that has historically existed in Kashmiramong the non-Muslim communities.

In this regard, the Pant initiative is a welcome news and consistent with ourdemand that there can be no stability and peace in Kashmir until all communitiesare heard from and the peace dividend is equally shared by all the Statesubjects.

But there is another inherent weakness in justifying that Kashmiri Muslimsdeserve a higher prominence than other communities in the demographicallychallenged State.


In effect this is a tacit admission that Kashmir is indeed a religiousproblem. While most people in the Indian subcontinent relate the "religiousproblem" with Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, in reality any solution tothe Kashmir problem that is primarily proposed to suit any particular religiouscommunity is an acknowledgement of the religious problem.

If so, then it has been made equally clear by other communities in the Statethat they want out and have proposed a quadrification of the State to allowPandits, Dogras and Ladakhis to control their own destiny.

In summary, the framework for peace begins with the total and absoluterenunciation of gun culture that prevails in the State. It should be followed bya serious political dialogue involving all major constituents within theirrespective regions of the state, with India and Pakistan having the burden toensure that such a dialogue in their respective regions is responsive to theneeds of Kashmiri populace under their respective jurisdictions.


The formalization of the LOC as an international boundary is not a majorconcession to India, but a liberal give-away from India, which has the legalright to claim all of the Jammu and Kashmir State.

Illegal occupation should not be equated with normalcy, but a concession byIndia to allow Pakistan to retain conquered lands would greatly enhance peaceand stability in the region.

Finally, within the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims have to decideon the vision for the future. Either there must be devolution of power to shareit equitably among various regions and communities within the State accompaniedby abrogation of the Article 370 to allow an open and democratic society toflourish with transparency and full accountability, or the feudal minded rulerswill precipitate an eventual quadrification of the State with each region andcommunity doing what the majority community is reluctant to do.


The final outcome, in a sense, is really in the hands of the valley Sunnis.

From our perspective, no solution in a demographically unique region likeKashmir is possible without properly recognizing the aspirations of all of itspeople and not just the majority community. This is what separates Kashmir fromKosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland and other troubled regions.

I will close with the words taken from a letter that U.S. Congressman SherrodBrown, a member of the House Committee on International Relations, wrote to Ms.Christina B. Rocca, who recently took over as the Assistant Secretary of Statefor South Asian Affairs, and serves as Bush Administration’s point person onKashmir:


In the letter dated June 7, 2001, Congressman Brown wrote and I quote,

"Unless conditions are created to stimulate return of Pandits to Kashmirand steps are taken to guarantee their survival and way of life within theKashmir valley, there can be no satisfactory closure to the Kashmirdispute."

I write this on behalf of this disfranchised community.

Adapted from the presentation, "From Paradise to Ideological Battleground: An International Symposium on the Kashmir Conflict" at Freemont, California, USA held on June 9, 2001.

(The writer Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D. is National President, Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF) Washington, DC, USA)