Saturday, Oct 23, 2021

'A Framework For A Solution'

'To see such a confluence of young blood and brains across all shades of the political spectrum is rare indeed. Not many places in the world can claim to have its top political leadership in their late twenties and early thirties.'

'A Framework For A Solution'
'A Framework For A Solution'

Text of the Speech delivered by the J&K chief minister at the two-day seminar on Peace Dividend – Progress for India and South Asia organised by the Hindustan Times at New Delhi on December 12, 2003

It is personally a pleasure and intellectually a privilege to be invited to speak at this scholarly summit organised by the Hindustan Times. I will not even try to pretend to give you an expansive view of the dynamics of global peace as was done by Professor Francis Fukuyama here a couple of days of back.

Given my current position and may I say my pre-occupation, I will much rather take you through a much smaller slice of the world history – small but very intense and very troubled – one that has engaged mightier minds and greater leaders: the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Let me start by saying that any attempt to place the Kashmir issue into water-tight compartments – Islamic militancy, cross-border terrorism, secessionist insurgency, ethno-national demand -- does less good and more damage to the variety of factors and the sheer complexity of elements, and their radical hybridity that have caused the problem in Kashmir. There is no gainsaying that it is a highly volatile and extremely contentious matter for which there are no, indeed cannot be, any easy answers. 

Road maps prejudge the issue; readymade solutions make the problem a distorted image of what it actually is and models make a mockery of the specificity of the issue. All that one can hope to discuss at a forum like this is to look for a framework for a solution. A context in which the issue can be placed and the contours of solution worked out.

Prior to doing so, it might help if we quickly run through the major strands of thought in the resolution paradigm. First, and perhaps, the oldest are the "internationalists" who look towards the United Nations for a settlement. I believe that it is time that we look beyond it.

Sometimes, those who are aggrieved, use the international community as an object of appeal for more than human rights. But the fact of the matter is that there is no international community. It had some type of structure as long as the United Nations was an organization which exerted a certain pressure on the policies and situation of governments. With the United Nations having been marginalised, there is no centre where a long-term view can be taken and a platform of principle constructed. If we do this, it is akin to assuming the position of litigant before a court which does not exist.

The second most popular strand of thought comes from the  "status quoists". They want to convert the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir into an international border. Given that it is the Line of Conflict, to recommend that the problem should be resolved on the basis of the Line of Control, can at best be a part of the solution not the solution, if done on a stand-alone basis. Internal dimension of the problem cannot be wished away.  

The oft-repeated demand for autonomy, which has its origins in the early 50s, is itself a compromise solution. Even though it recognises, the ethno-nationalism of Kashmiris, the implied political position is that ethnicity need not engender nationhood. That is why independence is not the pursued goal of autonomist viewpoint. Instead, the issue was whether Kashmir should join Pakistan or India.

The political movement of the mainstream parties was not to pursue the process of nationality-formation to the point where political structures were sought to be made congruent with nationality by creating an independent entity. This came to the fore in 1975. The view thereafter was that even if Kashmiris are a nation it doesn't axiomatically follow that they are entitled to a nation-state. Hence the desire to create an "enclave of autonomy within India".

While most political analysts subscribing to the autonomist viewpoint do recognise the ethno-nationalism of the Kashmiris -- Kashmiriyat -- they differ from the advocates of independence insofar as the latter go further and make an ethno-territorial demand.

Further, the basis of this form of autonomy as practiced in the early 1950s was flawed as it sought to create an enclave of federalism within a unitary system and combine the advantages of a loose federation with those of a centralised system without impairing its functioning. But now these situations have changed with the regional parties gaining in prominence and the centre being ruled by a coalition of political parties. Even though it is the same Constitution, the spirit is far more federal today and the autonomy issue may not suffer from the same ills as it did earlier. 

But then there are down-the-line issues. How can one conceive of political autonomy without a fiscal autonomy? Political autonomy derives its substance and sustainability from economic independence. The most serious problem with the pre-1953 position is that there will be no financial or fiscal links between the Union of India and the state of J&K.

In the current dispensation it will be difficult for the state government even to pay its wage-bill, let alone finance its development. This is not a reflection of the non-viability of the state economy but a commentary on how over the years, successive regimes – at the Centre and the State – colluded and worked in tandem to make a vibrant economy completely dependent on central resource transfers. In its present form, this demand shows a complete stagnation of ideas and lack of foresight.

The real danger in this case is that the autonomist viewpoint, can be very easily diluted which then goes to compromise the basic principle of ethno-nationalism. The entire effort to create an autonomous unit in recognition of the historically inherited ethno-nationalism can with the stroke of pen be firmly condemned to the byzantine labyrinth of Indian federal issues. Indeed, in the fifties, even the position of the head of government – Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir -- was not institutionalised and hence could be subverted without much effort. 

The moot point is not to look for solutions in the past; but to find them in the future. A return to the past may not be possible; indeed it may not even be desirable. The world has undergone a change and we have to be a part of that changed system. The past offers no hope.

It is very important to recognise that we are living through a period where definitions of cultures, societies, sovereignty, nationality themselves are changing very rapidly and radically. All these issues have gone through a large number of transformations and sometimes dramatic shifts.

Along with the end of the political bi-polarity, an equally important set of factors has been the pressures and opportunities of globalisation.  Technological innovations in communications and transportation, and in particular the movement of capital across borders, have circumvented or eroded traditional state sovereignty not only in the conduct of international finance and trade, but increasingly in their own domestic affairs. This is a crucial fact that will have to be borne in mind for any future dispensation that we might conceive for Jammu and Kashmir.

The vacuum left behind after the Cold War, coupled with the vagaries of globalisation, has created serious external strains on the traditional nation-state apparatus, particularly in the developing world.  Many developing states that were already weakened or failing due to a variety of internal factors, will be under greater pressure now. All this will lead to newer and more relevant definitions of sovereignty.

Indeed, I think that the seeds of a solution lie in using the logic of this change that is spearheaded by globalisation to evolve a framework for new political dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir, which will resolve the issue on a long-term basis. In this context, our first move has to be to look for and create a much larger common economic space in the sub-continent and beyond. We can, for instance, look for a SAARC economic space where we can have a free movement of factors of production like labour and capital; have greater market relations and indeed, have a single currency, a consistent and congruous monetary and fiscal policy, and uniform trade policy.

Today the dominant analytic in the global order is economic power and economic interests override all other kinds of interest. With binding and self propelling economic interests, political disputes will automatically become less intense, frozen positions will get surely thawed, and all economic relations will bring us to being just one step away from political resolutions. 

Fortunately, we are thinking along these lines at a time when in the Islamic world, there is an extraordinarily energetic debate taking place from Morocco to Indonesia as to what Islam is, what it can be interpreted as, and where it might be going. This is routinely overlooked in the West, where a traditional Orientalism maintains its hegemony and overrides the dynamic of cultures and the diversity of what is within them. All this will have a bearing on how the masses in Kashmir react to a solution; how they see the road ahead and how actively they further it. It is no longer correct to say that globally Islam is in the grip of a wave of unyielding fundamentalism: this is very far from the truth. There are serious movements of self-assessments taking place within Islam.

Finally, I think it is of utmost importance to recognise the inter-generation dimension of the problem. We are now well into the third generation of the problem. The first generation, which was involved in the freedom movement, did not accept a division of Kashmir on the basis of religion but the divide across secular lines – Hindus versus Muslims -- did become a part of the mental makeup. 

The second generation witnessed the 1965 war between India and Pakistan and the East Pakistan crisis in 1971, responded differently mentally and a majority of them developed animosity, mistrust and suspicion towards each other. Using nationalistic perspectives, this generation was not prepared to maintain friendly relations with each other.

As historical memories recede, the third generation, which belongs to the age group of 30s or slightly more, is not emotionally swayed as the earlier generations. The third generation did not witness any large-scale war between India and Pakistan. Emotional detachment helped them to rise above psychological barriers and be more forward-looking and future oriented.

As Stephen Cohen puts it, "A Third Generation is now emerging…the third generation does not have a sense of responsibility for the gloomy history. Their competence and their interest in the things that matter—above all a fresh approach to economic issues, plus the collapse of many institutions dominated by a generation in the past—will bring them to power sooner rather than later. More than any other development in the region, this new group of regional leaders will make it possible for a change to occur."

A generational shift in the politics of Kashmir is near completion now. It is a process that is well and truly entrenched.  Look around and you will find that every major political group in the wide spectrum of the state has its leader who is in his/her 40s or even less. Maulvi Umar Farooq, Sajjad and Bilal Lone, Omar Abdullah, Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah and of course, the leader of my party, Mehbooba Mufti.

To see such a confluence of young blood and brains across all shades of the political spectrum is rare indeed. Not many places in the world can claim to have its top political leadership in their late twenties and early thirties. I can’t think of any place especially in the age obsessed politics of the subcontinent, which even comes anywhere close. That of all the places in the world, this should happen in Kashmir -- the oldest and the most intractable problem in the world – not only augurs well but makes the static state of affairs not only interestingly significant but also pregnant with possibilities. A breakthrough is more than a mere possibility when the excess baggage of the past is not a hindrance.

Will the new generation bring about the minimization of the ethnic, class, regional, and ideological distinctions that have – independently and collectively – a major bearing on the core of the Kashmir issue? Or will it heighten these tensions? While a view of the broad political culture appears to have been passed from one generation to the next, will the most salient issues shift along with a change in the agents of politicisation?  One hopes not. However, what one does hope that there is a complete break from the past in the manner in which the issue is conceptualised, the politics conducted, and the conviction communicated. For what my generation has done is to let the issue fester. We are guilty and shall be deemed so in the court of history unless we act and act fast. 

Sure, there will be an attitudinal change: the young populations the world over is increasingly connected to international culture through new means of mass communication; slow economic development and limited political opportunities threaten governmental legitimacy all over the globe; moves toward democratization are taking place at many levels.

To understand these disparate and inter-connected dynamics and initiate action what the new leadership, irrespective of their political affiliations and goals, needs to do is to combine comparative politics and political economy with the emerging international political order and strategic analysis.

What have we achieved? First, we have shown that political fundamentalism was the face of frustration; frustration because of the lack of dialogue. It was not the norm, but the exception to the historically known mental make up of Kashmiris.

In the first year of governance, we did not focus our attention so much on changing the political systems, but we tried to change the structures in which political, civil and economic life is conducted. Our attention went to the major responsibilities of state which is provision of public goods and provide (at a minimum) the infrastructure to allow for economic activity. 

This is a part of the overall resolution strategy of mine, because I do believe that complex political emergencies are not only to be found in the issues around which conflicts are politicised, such as ethnicity or regional identity, but also in the prior trend towards a failure of governance.  In fact, it is often this prior failure of governance that is the causal factor in the politicisation of ethnic identity issues. So we have tried to focus on these, less glamorous issues of conflict resolution, in the first year.

It must be recognised that it is for the first time in the troubled history of our state, the state government is not in an adversarial role while talks are being conducted with the separatist groups. Indeed, we are the facilitators and see this as a major achievement of our one-year in power.

We believe that we have met our first objective: of being a means for effective articulation of political, social and economic aspirations of Kashmiris. The illegitimate symbiotic relationship with the State, its repressive arms and the civil bureaucracy, which had imparted a strand of authoritarianism to the governance in J&K, has been substantially broken and it is this that has allowed us to pursue a meaningful non-violent agenda.

Second, we have stopped the marginalisation of moderates in the political spectrum of Kashmir. It cannot be denied that this has to a large extent, been possible because of a change in the attitudes and policies of the Government of India. The grim visage of a central authority determined to use coercion over an increasingly alienated people was the source of this marginalisation. This has decisively undergone a change for the better.

We are now at the threshold of the third step. Empowering the legitimate democratic institutions of the state to the extent that they are not played around with anymore by anyone. For instance, if the current or future legislatures of the State that have been democratically elected make recommendations that are within the purview of the Constitution of the State and the Country, it is obligatory on part of the Centre to treat it with more respect than has been done in the past.


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