Imagine a hypothetical jury of world public opinion sitting in judgement over the Indian and Pakistani positions on Jammu and Kashmir. Assume that this jury will only base its judgment on what it has heard from India and Pakistan, regarding the morality of their respective positions. All other considerations, such as economic prospects, blame for attacks on one another, and so on are to be set aside.
What would such a jury decide if it had to render a verdict today? What if the jury were all Indians, completely impartial, the sole requirement being that they focus only on what they heard from each side regarding the morality of its position?
I think such a jury will have to decide that Pakistan has made the more compelling moral case. India's case, as far as it has been articulated in recent times, largely consists of complaints that Pakistan is using terrorist and military attacks on Indian territory to force India to concede Pakistan's demands over Kashmir. But Pakistan's case, which that country has stated with admirable consistency and regularity, is on stronger moral grounds. It is helping the plucky people of Kashmir liberate themselves from Indian tyranny - a brutal military occupation and state terrorism - perpetrated on the Kashmiri people. That's a powerful moral stance, and people's right to be free of tyranny must, any day, trump a country's ownership claims on territory. For that matter, India too, demonstrated this principle when it invaded and liberated erstwhile East Pakistan in1971 in response to widespread tyranny and genocide by Pakistan's army.
As for jihadi terrorism, it's all a matter of perspective: if the cause be just, who is to draw the line on adopting a religious ideology and attacking the enemy where he is most vulnerable? Well, there was Gandhi for one, who insisted on purity of means, but he was really the exception in practically all of human history. And surely, before India was militarily prepared to invade East Pakistan in force, it sponsored the Mukti Bahini guerillas who were viewed as terrorists by the Pakistani authorities.
And thus, viewed from Pakistan's moral framework, the present suspension of hostilities and peace talks with India amount to an acknowledgment that Pakistan's righteous fight for a just cause has simply been rendered untenable for now, due to a combination of India's growing economic strength, and American concerns about Islamic terrorism, exploited cleverly by an India that shifted the debate towards a portrayal of the freedom fighters in Kashmir as terrorists, and away from India's own state terrorism and genocide. The rightness of the cause and the justness of Pakistan's war remain unchanged; it is just that the enemy's present superior position makes active warfare infeasible at this time.
This is a strong moral and strategic position for a country waging long-term war: it accommodates a tactical retreat from warfare, and even allows for professions of friendship and constructive participation in a peace process that would bring economic, and by extension, military growth. At the same time, by retaining a clarity of collective moral purpose and a long-term strategic vision, all options remain open to pursue vigorously the objective at a more opportune time, using all appropriate means.
It is an admirable strategic accomplishment for Pakistan, all the more precious for having been secured from a position of sustained disadvantage. But the true brilliance of Pakistan's (that is to say, its military's) triumph lies in the propaganda department: its entire moral edifice underlying the Kashmir conflict has been built upon a tissue of blatant lies, and moral inversions that transpose rights and wrongs. The Big Gobbelsian Lie, employed with confidence, audacity, and steadfastness, has worked its magic for Pakistan.
India, for its part, has largely maintained a contemptuous indifference to this strategic vision of Pakistan’s, and its propaganda warfare in relentless and patient pursuit of that vision. To the best of my knowledge, India has made all of one strenuous effort to address seriously and demolish Pakistan's moral and legal case in Kashmir. That was way back in 1957, in the form of Ambassador Krishna Menon's marathon 8 hour speech to the U.N. Security Council that sought to lay out India’s case in a comprehensive manner. Seemingly exhausted for all time by this effort, India has been content ever since (all these 47 years!) to lazily wave, as it were, in the general direction of Ambassador Menon's 1957 speech, in response to virtually all of Pakistan's propaganda asserting and promoting its moral claims on Kashmir.
Of course, India has not been entirely idle in the propaganda department; it has done a decent job of plucking the low-hanging fruit of the day by labouring the obvious to the Americans: if they are really worried about terrorism, they can't condone Pakistan's terrorist attacks in Kashmir, since terrorists recognize no boundaries. And it has performed with fair credibility in the economic department as well.
While these efforts deserve acknowledgement, they are both little more than amoral realpolitik in the context of the Kashmir conflict. While that is valuable in its own right, a true and permanent victory which culminates in the conversion of foes into friends can only be achieved by articulating, and vigorously communicating, one's own moral framework and contrasting it with that of the enemy. America's victory in the Cold War is a famous example of this.
Contrariwise, failure to erect a moral standard and unite one's people around it often results in the conversion of short-term victory to long-term defeat. Witness Prithvi Raj Chauhan's several wins over Mohammed of Ghori, and eventual defeat. The former failed to recognize and respect Ghori's moral clarity and his determination to prevail. Having omitted to assert the moral principle that a determined invader must be ruthlessly eliminated for the preservation of the state, Chauhan magnanimously freed Ghori after each of the latter's defeats, until Chauhan himself deservedly met his own ignominious end at Ghori's hands.
Considering what is at stake -- India's long-term survival and growth -- and how easy it is to nail Pakistan's Big Lie over Kashmir while simultaneously propagating India's own moral framework, India's indifference to the moral-strategic imperative in Kashmir is startling. Just waving at Ambassador Menon's admirable but overlong and legalistic statement of 1957 won't do; today's hypothetical juries of public opinion simply will not read and absorb a dry 58 page document, just to oblige India. Not even other Indians will do that. Besides, communicating a well-thought-out case to the public should be doable in a pithy manner (as Pakistan has been doing) without unduly taxing the attention span.
The central Lie in Pakistan's case is the Kashmiris' right to self-determination. Leaving aside Pakistan's obvious hypocrisy in disenfranchising and virtually colonizing Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, we must inquire what transcendent moral values underlie this right that is being asserted. The picture that emerges on examination is a vile and distasteful one.
Clearly, liberty for all, gender equality, and democratic pluralism are not the values that the Kashmiris and their Pakistani patrons are fighting for in Kashmir. Not to put too fine a point on it, Pakistan is a fascistic and misogynistic polity, a culture whose citizens are schooled to hate the Other (mostly Hindus and Indians in this case), and bred to embrace the wholesale murder, dispossession, violation, and marginalisation of minorities in the cause of the triumphalist ideology their country was founded on. Disenfranchisement of religious minorities and dehumanisation of women are two key values enshrined in that country's law, values that are endorsed and diligently practiced by that society.
(The current bonhomie and warmth exhibited by individual Pakistanis towards Indians need not distract us from an objective consideration of the nature of their society. Individuals tend to be better-behaved than groups. It is also worth remembering that some of the worst atrocities of the Partition Holocaust took place among members of rival communities that lived cheek by jowl, and enjoyed warm relations. It seems that the human heart is capable of simultaneously harbouring murderous hatred and an inclination towards warm relationships.)
It is easy to see that the vision, such as can be discerned by examination, of a free Kashmir is virtually indistinguishable from that of fascistic Pakistan. We only need to look at the selective murder of Hindus and Sikhs by the freedom fighters, and the wholesale expulsion of Hindu Pandits from the Valley. A free Kashmir is not a place for Hindu Kashmiris to live in safety and dignity.
In this connection, individual Kashmiris' heartfelt laments on the plight of the Pandits should be appreciated; however, their feelings as individuals can have no bearing on an understanding of the collective phenomenon of the Kashmiri freedom movement. After all, as individuals, Kashmiris are already guaranteed all reasonable rights of civilised self-determination by the constitutions of India and Jammu and Kashmir. It is as a collective entity that Kashmiris have been seeking independence from India, and therefore we can only consider what their movement, taken as a whole, has wrought on its victims.
The record of the Kashmiris in responding to the expulsion of the Pandits speaks eloquently -- there has been much shedding of crocodile tears, but not a semblance of an effective movement of any sort that would disavow and reject the ethnic cleansers among them. In matters like this, a failure to disavow actively is tantamount to endorsement. (Witness the well-merited worldwide disgust at Gujarat’s eloquent collective silence on the anti-Muslim atrocities of 2002.) And the sophistry of the freedom movement's leaders in this regard has been breathtaking in its audacity: out of one side of their mouths, these leaders have claimed a unity between themselves and "the boys" -- the militants who murder and expel Hindus among others -- while out of the other side, they have professed a helplessness to rein them in when it came to organised atrocities against Hindus. If they will not stop the freedom fighters’ pogroms when the Indian Army is present to support them, can they be trusted to do so in a free Kashmir in which those same militants would be wielding all power?
Add to the Kashmir freedom movement's shameful Pakistanesque record on religious minorities the rank misogynistic flourishes that movement has consistently exhibited -- acid attacks on unveiled female faces for one thing -- and the fascistic nature of this movement emerges clearly.
In contrast, India's democratic, pluralistic and liberal ideals and polity are alive and well. Despite having taken a beating at the hands of India's own fascists recently in Gujarat, it is a good bet that these ideals will not perish from Indian soil; the country's own diversity and vitality will see to that, and no one is about to throw away the Constitution any time soon.
So, there we have it -- a barely-concealed fascist state, Pakistan, campaigning for over half a century to establish a clone of itself in Kashmir, versus an India broadly committed to a liberal, pluralistic democracy: this is the moral crux of the struggle over Kashmir, not territory or yellowed legal parchment, or economics. The nearest analogy to this Manichean conflict would be the American Civil War. Then, the Southern states waged war against the Union for their right to self-determination, which meant the right to own humans as chattel. Though those states had a legal right to secede, the Union under Lincoln was morally obligated to fight to subdue and demolish this barbaric ambition of the proto-fascist Confederacy -- ideologies of freedom and fascism cannot abut each other for long without a showdown sooner or later.
Similarly, it is India's moral obligation to put an end, for all time, to Pakistan's war that has aimed to impose a cancerous extension of its fascistic self next door to free India. It is a war that must be fought by moral suasion when possible, by force when necessary. What Pakistan portrays as repression of the Kashmiris is only a natural, though regrettable, outcome of the use of force by India to fight a moral war that Pakistan and the Kashmiri freedom fighters have imposed on it.
It is all to the good that the vile aspirations of Pakistan and the Kashmiri freedom fighters have been subdued for now, and they seem amenable to a truce and parleys. But, India must not fail, any longer, to articulate the moral foundations of this war and propagate them with vigour. If, due to the chronic lack of moral conviction that has plagued post-colonial India, the moral question continues to be evaded, then the present thaw will prove to be but a temporary respite for the forces of freedom. In the months to come, it will be especially important to confront forcefully Pakistan and the Kashmiri freedom fighters with the appalling wrongness of their cause and the immorality of the campaign they have been waging. Only by doing so can they be induced to shed their perverse moral vision and become rehabilitated as full partners of India in the subcontinent's journey towards liberty for all.
(c) 2004 K.V. Bapa Rao. This is the first of a multi-part series of articles by Bapa Rao, examining the question of morality in India's conflicts. The next part will discuss the reasons -- including the Indian people's own ambivalence about their professed national values -- that prevented India from forcefully asserting its moral case over Kashmir.