Let me start with a familiar story that should provide a moment of introspection. A prominent Kashmiri politician met a friendly foreign news reporter in Srinagar one day and invited the reporter to his 30th.wedding anniversary.
The foreigner readily agreed and in fact expressed surprise as he was unaware that the politician was married, much less for so long. The politician surprised him further by saying that his wife was a prominent social worker.
Indeed, when the foreign reporter showed up for the celebrations, he was surprised by the large crowd that had gathered around the wife, whereas only a few aides were by the side of the husband.
The reporter could not resist the temptation and asked the lady what explained it. To which she replied without a moment of hesitation, "Well he worries 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 like the UN resolutions, Indo-Pak war, nuclear flash point, excesses of security forces, taking care of foreign reporters, international TV and press coverage, while I worry about mundane things like children’s education, quality of medical care, improvement in sanitary and public hygiene, job opportunities, improved civil infrastructure, ecological damage due to lack of zoning, impact of terrorist violence, curtailment of women’s rights by Islamic zealots - in short my husband keeps you engaged with his polemics, while I tend to real problems 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-called experts, who churn out glossy reports year after year, promoting one solution or the other, without fully comprehending the internal dimensions of the Kashmir problem.
Like the politician in our story, there is a temptation to deal with international aspects of the Kashmir issue, when in fact the solution lies in resolving local issues and concerns.
I would encourage those taking a fresh look at the Kashmir issue to adopt a new approach that puts the focus on people, all the people from Jammu and Kashmir, rather than on the real estate.
The solution to the Kashmir problem does not lie in satisfying egoistic and publicity seeking politicians, but in understanding and satisfying the aspirations of common people who are more concerned about peace than about who is in charge.
In 1994, the University of South Carolina invited our organization to present a "Kashmiri Pandit perspective" of the Kashmir issue. We told Prof. Bob Wirsing that we will provide a "Kashmiri perspective", and indeed we proposed a path forward that relied on two key policy assumptions.
Even though the media and academics largely ignored our proposal, it is not surprising in the least that in the last few months the U.S. and especially both Pakistan 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 and
peace 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 becoming the cornerstone of American policy in the Indian subcontinent during the Kargil war.
But it was a different picture in 1994 -- the link between stability of the subcontinent 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 possibility of appointing a troubleshooter to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), working in tandem with the administration, initiated a Track-II diplomacy that provided recognition to separatists 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, a former intelligence officer and the former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, was an architect of the formation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) that has been demanding total independence from India.
But even more important is what the permanence of the LOC represents - that there are two Kashmir problems, one on each side of the LOC, and it is futile to think in terms of a global solution when in fact local issues will dictate the final outcome in each region.
Such an approach, almost by definition, implies that final resolution of the Kashmir issue in the two regions will be made on a mutually exclusive basis, though a comprehensive resolution of the problem will require that both regions arrive at the final settlement in the same time frame.
This revelation has a greater impact on Pakistani held Kashmir, as the people in Gilgit, Skardu, Baltit ("Northern Areas") and Mirpuris ("Azad Kashmir") have traditionally based their political aspirations on the ability of the valley Muslims in the Indian Kashmir to be at the vanguard of the independence movement that involved both parts of Kashmir.
(To some extent this hope is justified by the official Indian position that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is an unitary issue, and further compounded by the efforts of the Indian government in 2000 to negotiate with Kashmiri Mujahideen based in Pakistani held Kashmir.)
But all that has changed now, and even the people in the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir are beginning to realize that time has come for them to stand on their own and demand their political rights from the government of Pakistan.
The recent effort by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to participate in the Azad Kashmir elections reflects this change of attitude.
Even though the Pakistani supported local government in Muzaffarabad rejected the nomination papers of all JKLF nominees (as they did of lesser known pro-independence parties in the 1996 elections), the first shot has been fired across 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 the formation of the All Party National Alliance (APNA).
Similarly on the Indian side, the Central government in New Delhi has appointed a federal political negotiator, Mr. K.C. Pant, who has publicly stated that he will only deal with political entities in Indian Kashmir.
The bottom line, in our view, is that Kashmir is now a local issue and Kashmiris 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 and Kashmir.
The state was carved by the British and consists of people drawn from numerous ethnic identities. In the Indian Kashmir there are at least four major cultural entities - Sunnis, Pandits, Dogras, and Bodhs - and a host of numerous subcultures.
Even though Sunnis (Muslims) are numerically in a majority, they occupy the smallest of the regions within the State. Bodhs (Buddhists) occupy a region that is 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 goes back 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 recognizing that various ethnic constituents are not uniformly distributed in the State, it is unimaginable that anyone would support the idea that any single ethnic entity could speak on behalf of all the constituents of Jammu and Kashmir. And yet that is exactly what has happened.
As I have already stated, the pro-independence conglomerate in Kashmir, the APHC (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 to promote Abdul Gani Lone, a Hurriyat executive member, as a possible leader of the 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 not only because of a lack of political smarts shown by Hurriyat leaders (as the U.S. believes), but also because in our opinion those behind the creation of the Hurriyat forgot the unique demographic structure of the State.
Hurriyat may have represented the majority (Muslim) community of Kashmir, but that community occupies the smallest fraction of the land and cannot dictate the future of a State in which the land is predominantly occupied by Hindus (Pandits and 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 consistent with the secular and pluralistic ideals of its people and a fine political balance is needed to meet aspirations of all ethnic constituents of the State.
There are Kashmir experts who continue to believe that Muslims of Kashmir deserve a special attention that should not be accorded to other communities in the State.
Even the Indian government has tacitly supported this notion by indefinitely extending the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution giving a great degree of autonomy to the state, which in reality has turned out to be an instrument of hegemonic rule by the valley Muslims to dictate political, economic and social terms to the remaining constituents and regions of the State.
The continuing demand by the State administration for greater autonomy is a convenient smoke screen for valley Muslims to severely curtail all norms of transparency and accountability that are inherent in the liberalized environment emanating from New Delhi.
Otherwise what good is autonomy or independence in a State that depends primarily on subsidies from the central government, where taxation favors the ruling rich class (the only state in India without wealth tax), where outside investment is actually discouraged (investment in immovable property and tax credits for non-state subjects are mostly disallowed), and where public feels little obligation to discharge their duties as responsible citizens (people have used public utilities - water, electricity and even telephone services - for years without feeling any obligation to pay up for such services).
Indeed the attitude of valley Muslims, whether belonging to the National Conference (pro-India) or to Hurriyat (anti-India), towards the minorities in the State is virtually the same. Both believe that as representatives of the majority community, they are the only "legitimate" organization that can decide on the future of Kashmir.
Just because Pandits, Dogras and Ladakhis have not resorted to violence does not mean that their demands are any less important or urgent.
This is one of the most common mistakes made by outside observers who customarily equate violence with severity of demands, not fully comprehending the totally non-violent culture that has historically existed in Kashmir among the non-Muslim communities.
In this regard, the Pant initiative is a welcome news and consistent with our demand that there can be no stability and peace in Kashmir until all communities are heard from and the peace dividend is equally shared by all the State subjects.
But there is another inherent weakness in justifying that Kashmiri Muslims deserve a higher prominence than other communities in the demographically challenged State.
In effect this is a tacit admission that Kashmir is indeed a religious problem. While most people in the Indian subcontinent relate the "religious problem" with Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, in reality any solution to the Kashmir problem that is primarily proposed to suit any particular religious community is an acknowledgement of the religious problem.
If so, then it has been made equally clear by other communities in the State that they want out and have proposed a quadrification of the State to allow Pandits, Dogras and Ladakhis to control their own destiny.
In summary, the framework for peace begins with the total and absolute renunciation of gun culture that prevails in the State. It should be followed by a serious political dialogue involving all major constituents within their respective regions of the state, with India and Pakistan having the burden to ensure that such a dialogue in their respective regions is responsive to the needs of Kashmiri populace under their respective jurisdictions.
The formalization of the LOC as an international boundary is not a major concession to India, but a liberal give-away from India, which has the legal right to claim all of the Jammu and Kashmir State.
Illegal occupation should not be equated with normalcy, but a concession by India to allow Pakistan to retain conquered lands would greatly enhance peace and stability in the region.
Finally, within the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims have to decide on the vision for the future. Either there must be devolution of power to share it equitably among various regions and communities within the State accompanied by abrogation of the Article 370 to allow an open and democratic society to flourish with transparency and full accountability, or the feudal minded rulers will precipitate an eventual quadrification of the State with each region and community 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 like Kashmir is possible without properly recognizing the aspirations of all of its people and not just the majority community. This is what separates Kashmir from Kosovo, East Timor, Northern Ireland and other troubled regions.
I will close with the words taken from a letter that U.S. Congressman Sherrod Brown, a member of the House Committee on International Relations, wrote to Ms. Christina B. Rocca, who recently took over as the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and serves as Bush Administration’s point person on Kashmir:
In the letter dated June 7, 2001, Congressman Brown wrote and I quote,
"Unless conditions are created to stimulate return of Pandits to Kashmir and steps are taken to guarantee their survival and way of life within the Kashmir valley, there can be no satisfactory closure to the Kashmir dispute."
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)