Clueless in Kashmir


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PARTICIPANTS in the political drama unfolding this winter in Jammu and Kashmir resemble nothing so much as a group of boys poking a sleeping tiger with a pointed stick, just to see what happens.

Underlying what has come to pass for a peace process in Jammu and Kashmir is the assumption that dialogue is a good thing. This proposition is difficult to dispute, for the same reasons that it is impossible to assert that motherhood is a vice. But the media-fuelled euphoria generated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Ramzan ceasefire has veiled the deeply problematic processes on which the peace initiative is premised. While we have been inundated with detail on the participants in process, and are, thanks to television, made familiar with their public pronouncements on an hour-by-hour basis, there is still little understanding of the larger political context within which peace is sought to be brought about.

I shall argue here that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s peace initiative has costs that transcend Jammu and Kashmir – implications for the future of India as a secular state which have largely been censored out of public debate. The price of peace now sought to be brought about could, paradoxically, prove higher than the admittedly horrific loss of life that takes place each day in the troubled state.

It has been clear for some time that the contours of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government’s initiative in Jammu and Kashmir lie in the covert diplomacy that took place during the Kargil war. The content of the larger political parameters of the government’s Kashmir policy, of which the Ramzan ceasefire is just a part, has sadly passed almost unnoticed.

Writing in the Pakistani news-paper, The Nation, Talaat Hussain had reported that Niaz Naik and R.K. Mishra, the back-channel diplomatic negotiators who operated through the Kargil war, discussed what was called the ‘Chenab plan’. The term was a reference to the 1950 plan put forward by the United Nations mediator on J&K, Owen Dixon, calling for a partition of the state along its communal-ethnic fault lines. It would have broadly cut apart Jammu and Kashmir along the Chenab river, with the predominantly Muslim areas to its north going to Pakistan, and its predominantly Hindu and Buddhist areas remaining in India.

According to Hussain’s report, discussions between Mishra and Naik were documented in a Pakistani proposal, an Indian response, and a Pakistani counter-proposal. The idea was evidently in circulation at the time, for Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, called in an article for ‘deliberate incremental advances’ towards a settlement in which ‘the two sections of Kashmir would have open, porous borders.’

Efforts to realise a Dixon-style resolution to what is called the Kashmir problem continued apace after the Kargil war. On 8 March this year, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and a group of his top Cabinet colleagues held a closed-door secret meeting with Farooq Kathwari, a US-based secessionist leader. Kathwari heads the Kashmir Study Group (KSG), an influential New York think tank which has been advocating the creation of an independent state carved out of the Muslim-majority areas of J&K.



The owner of Ethan Allen, an upmarket furniture concern which counts the White House among its clients, Kathwari’s associates in the KSG have included influential Indian establishment figures, notably former Foreign Secretary S.K. Singh and retired Vice Admiral K.K. Nayyar. The furniture tycoon, whose involvement in Jammu and Kashmir began after his son died in a camp run in Afghanistan to train cadre for the jehad, was earlier blacklisted by successive Indian governments, on one occasion being denied permission to visit a seriously ill relative. Shortly after the second BJP-led coalition took power in 1998, however, he was quietly granted a visa.

Kathwari arrived in New Delhi in March 1999, carrying a series of proposals for the creation of an independent Kashmiri state, compiled in a volume called Kashmir: A Way Forward. In September 1999, a fresh version of the document was finalised after, its preface records, receiving reactions from ‘government officials in India and Pakistan.’ The new document was even more disturbing than the first. At least one KSG member, the University of South Carolina’s Robert Wirsing, refused even to participate in the discussions. Essentially, the new Kashmir: A Way Forward contained five proposals for the creation of either one or two new states, which would together constitute what is described in somewhat opaque fashion as a ‘sovereign entity but one without an international personality.’

This ‘new entity would have its own secular, democratic constitution, as well as its own citizenship, flag and a legislature which would legislate on all matters other than defence and foreign affairs. India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defence of the Kashmiri entity, which would itself maintain police and gendarme forces for internal law and order purposes. India and Pakistan would be expected to work out financial arrangements for the Kashmiri entity, which could include a currency of its own.’



Four of the five possible Kashmiri entities the KSG discusses involve two separate states on either side of the LoC and territorial exchanges between India and Pakistan. But the fifth Kashmiri entity outlined in Kashmir: A Way Forward, of a single state on the Indian side of the Line of Control, is the most interesting of the KSG proposals. Premised on the assumption that Pakistan would be unwilling to allow the creation of a new entity on its side of the Line of Control – although there is no discussion of what would happen if India were to be similarly disinclined – the new state would come into being after a series of tehsil-level referendums. All the districts of the Kashmir valley, the districts of Kargil and Doda, three northern tehsils of Rajouri and one tehsil of Udhampur, the KSG believes, would choose to join the new Kashmiri state.

The KSG report attempts somewhat desperately to prove that its new state is not built on communal foundations. ‘All these areas,’ it argues, ‘are imbued with Kashmiriyat, the cultural traditions of the Vale of Kashmir, and/or interact extensively with Kashmiri-speaking people.’ But this argument is patently spurious, for several of these areas also interact similarly with peoples who do not speak Kashmiri.

There is no explanation, for example, of why the linguistic, cultural and trade linkages the three northern Muslim-majority tehsils of Rajouri district have with the three southern Hindu-majority tehsils are of any less significance than those they have with the Kashmir region. Nor is it made clear what linguistic affiliation the tehsils of Karnah and Uri in Kashmir, where just 3.2% and 31% of the population were recorded as Kashmiri-speakers in the 1981 census, the last carried out in the state, might have with the valley.

Similarly, while Ramban and Bhaderwah tehsils in Doda are not Kashmiri-speaking and principally trade with Jammu, the KSG proposals make the a priori assumption that they would vote to join the new state. Indeed, these tehsils have recorded some of the highest voter turnout in successive elections from 1996, suggesting their residents have little sympathy for Kashmir valley-centred secessionist politics.



Abdullah has admitted meeting Kathwari, but claims to have little sympathy for his ideas. It is interesting, however, to note that the KSG’s ideas suffuse the National Conference’s own proposals for Jammu and Kashmir’s future; the latter have striking similarities with those the KSG has floated. The controversial report of the Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC), tabled in the J&K Assembly last year and now in the process of being implemented, bears striking similarities with the KSG proposals. Muslim-majority Rajouri and Poonch are scheduled to be cut away from the Jammu region as a whole and recast as a new Pir Panjal province. The single districts of Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Leh, too, will be sundered from each other and become new provinces.

In some cases, the RAC report and the KSG proposals mirror each other down to the smallest detail. For example, Kashmir: A Way Forward refers to the inclusion of a Gool-Gulabgarh tehsil in the new state. There is, in fact, no such tehsil. Gool and Gulabgarh were parts of the tehsil of Mahore, the sole Muslim-majority tehsil of Udhampur district, until 1999. Gool subsequently became a separate tehsil. But the proposal for Mahore’s sundering from Udhampur and inclusion in the Chenab province was first made in the RAC report. According to the RAC plan, as in the KSG proposals, Mahore would form part of the Chenab province, while Udhampur would be incorporated in the Hindu-majority Jammu province.



As significant, Abdullah’s maximalist demands for autonomy for J&K dovetail with the KSG’s formulation of a quasi-sovereign state. The report of the State Autonomy Commission (SAC), adopted by the J&K Legislative Assembly earlier this year, would leave New Delhi with no powers other than the management of defence, external affairs and communications. Fundamental rights in the Union Constitution, for example, would no longer apply to J&K if the SAC has its way. They would have to be substituted by a separate chapter on fundamental rights in the J&K Constitution, which now contains only directive principles.

The Supreme Court’s and the national Election Commission’s jurisdiction in the state would also end, and the State Election Commission would conduct polls in the state. While the National Conference’s demands for greater autonomy aren’t in themselves disturbing, the context in which they have been made and their character most certainly is. The US’ enthusiastic endorsement of the autonomy report gives even more reason to believe it sees some variant of the KSG plan as the eventual solution to the Kashmir problem.



The National Conference isn’t the only political formation that seems to see some kind of inevitability in the realisation of a reworked Dixon plan. The Hizb-ul-Mujahiddin’s chosen mediator for its own August ceasefire, Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, gave a fairly fleshed out idea of what its vision of a negotiated settlement to violence in Jammu and Kashmir might constitute. In a 1 September interview to an internet news site, the People’s Political Front leader said he had submitted formal plans for a quasi-independent Jammu and Kashmir to the Union government. ‘The model,’ Qureshi said, ‘envisages a semi-sovereign status for Jammu and Kashmir, and joint control exercised by both India and Pakistan.’

It was lost on no-one that Qureshi’s announcements closely mirrored proposals made by other Kashmir-based figures on the Islamic right. On 9 May, just a month before Dar came out with his ceasefire declaration, then APHC chief and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had announced his organisation was ‘not for the division of the state, (but) if in the talks the parties reach a consensus to divide the state, we will accept that.’ This was a startling departure from the APHC’s formal position. But, although power has since changed hands in the organisation, no one has flatly rejected the idea of a religion-based partition. Indeed, senior APHC figures have been telling journalists, off-record, that such a partition is the minimum concession they could accept.

Also of significance is the role of United States’ diplomatic establishment in pushing not-dissimilar ideas. In May, US-based investment banker and nuclear physicist Mansoor Ijaz had visited Srinagar, visiting top political figures there and in New Delhi through the offices of the Research and Analysis Wing. What he discussed during this visit, Ijaz outlined in a 22 November article in the International Herald Tribune.

Ijaz says he ‘proposed a framework for dialogue to General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military leader, and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, India’s Prime Minister, that envisioned empowering ordinary Kashmiris, civilian and militant alike, as the central partners for peace.’ ‘The initiative,’ Ijaz wrote, ‘had backing from President Bill Clinton as an effective means for preventing the internal implosion of Pakistan at the hands of its Islamic zealots.’ These efforts, Ijaz has claimed, led to the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddin ceasefire, which fell apart after Musharraf, under pressure from the Islamic right, ‘developed cold feet.’



But Ijaz and the US diplomatic establishment renewed their efforts, and in August proposed a formula in which ‘Pakistan would be brought to the negotiating table at the outset of political discussions after the ceasefire had taken hold, first bilaterally and then, at the Kashmiris’ request, trilaterally. India’s adamancy to not talk to Pakistan unless cross-border ‘terrorism’ stopped would disappear in the valley-wide ceasefire call from Salahuddin. He would receive critical support from General Musharraf to bring unruly Islamists on board, and General Musharraf in turn would get a much needed nod from Washington along with some much needed International Monetary Fund aid.’

As the dialogue process proceeded, Ijaz notes, ‘India would agree to a significant, verifiable and permanent reduction of its forces in the valley in exchange for a verifiable withdrawal of Pakistani militants. In the process, the Mujahiddin voice would be strengthened and unified, and Pakistan could take credit for having tangibly supported peace through its military advocacy of the Kashmiri cause.’ This framework, the businessman wrote, ‘was agreed to by the Indians and, conditioned on Pakistan intelligence accepting it, by Salahuddin in late August. With virtually all of Islamabad’s demands met, and an historic opportunity created to find a permanent solution, why has Pakistan not yet embraced it?’

Ijaz has been described by his critics as a windbag, claiming official US support where none exists. That Pakistan’s de-escalation of hostilities along the Line of Control, and its new support of the Ramzan ceasefire followed the approval, on 30 November, of $596 million International Monetary Fund standby facility, however, lends at least some credibility to the contours of his story. More important, Ijaz’s emphasis on the need to save Musharraf from ‘Islamic zealots’ illustrates US concerns. Important US diplomatic figures have in the past suggested that the need to contain the right in Pakistan makes it necessary for India to make a unilateral concession.



In November 1999, Michael Krepon, who heads the influential Stimson Centre, argued that ‘India’s Kashmir policy has been predicated on the passage of time theory, and limited to counter-insurgency operations.’ ‘The question that needs to be asked,’ he insisted, ‘is whether or not this is working in India’s favour, because as time passes, Pakistan is becoming weaker.’ Thus, the US’ de-facto mediation of post-Kargil conflict in Jammu and Kashmir seems premised on the belief that India will, eventually, agree to some kind of quasi-autonomy, however packaged, for the Muslim majority areas of Jammu and Kashmir.



Where does the Union government stand in this complex, fluid political landscape? There’s little doubt that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh would be more than delighted with what has come to be called the ‘trifurcation’ of Jammu and Kashmir into separate states of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Indeed, the RSS has said as much on several occasions, most recently at an 2 October rally in Jammu. A plethora of figures on the Hindu right, ranging from local Jammu politicians to national figures like Dogra royal scion Karan Singh, have at various points endorsed similar ideas.

Very little imagination is needed to see the structural similarities between trifurcation and the Kathwari project, since without a united, secular Jammu and Kashmir, claims for the valley to chart its own separate destiny would acquire momentum. Hindu and Islamic fascism, after all, are striking not only for their differences, but also for their unity. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani has distanced himself from the creation of three new states, but the fact remains that Vajpayee, along with Union External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who is believed to be increasingly influential in charting Jammu and Kashmir policy, have said nothing on the subject.

Received wisdom has it that it would be impossible for the BJP to make such a unilateral concession on Jammu and Kashmir. The occasion of 6 December, however, is a good time to remember that the Hindu right has acted in unpredictable ways before. If it cannot do so in this case, it would appear that two sets of false assumptions are guiding the engagement of India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian policy-makers seem to believe that economic desperation and US pressure will, sooner or later, compel Pakistan to accept a solution based on the conversion of the LoC into an international border. Indian officials believe that the most New Delhi can concede is broad federal autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir and, subject to the cessation of violence, free movement for residents across the LoC.

But Pakistan’s military establishment sees things very differently. Criticism of India’s human rights record in the media, and repeated assertions that the army is tiring of its internal security role, are seen as signs of a weakening resolve to hold the state. Sooner or later, Pakistani strategists seem certain, India will agree at least to a sundering of Jammu and Kashmir, something they can then market as a victory. These sharply varied visions of how events will play themselves out bode ill for any serious dialogue process.



As important, the configuration of Pakistan politics, specifically the compulsions faced by Musharraf, could push events in a direction drastically different from that peace process protagonists seem to envisage. For one, Musharraf has failed to realise the promises he made when taking power of ending corruption and reviving Pakistan’s moribund economy. That means he is in no position to alienate senior army officials, many of them ideologically committed to the Islamic right, by engaging in a de-escalation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Then, there are signs of a broad coalescing of political forces against continued military rule. The grand alliance of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, though tentative, is beginning to take shape. The only political organisations Musharraf can depend on for support are the right wing groups whose raison d’etre is war in Jammu and Kashmir. For Pakistan’s Islamic right, a cessation of hostilities in J&K would plainly be disastrous. Since most of these groups have no political role in Jammu and Kashmir, they would have no future should conflict end.

Organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Badr and Jaish-e-Mohammadi have built their political and financial empires on the foundations of their war in Jammu and Kashmir. While all these groups are offspring of the ISI’s US-backed war in Afghanistan, many believe the tail now wags the dog. Musharraf had to back down on each of his confrontations with the religious right after he took power – on issues ranging from the reform of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws to efforts to rationalise taxation.



Nor is it clear that US pressure in Pakistan will have either the intensity or effect many in the Indian policy establishment believe it will. Despite its undisputed influence in Pakistan, the US has been unable to secure even limited objectives like the extradition of Osama bin Laden. Although the US banned the terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Ansar for its involvement in terrorism years ago, both that organisation and its successor offshoot, the Jaish-e-Mohammadi, continue to thrive in Pakistan. The US also has, as Ahmed Rashid has pointed out, entrenched interests in the ‘new great game,’ the battle for control of central Asian oil, which has Pakistan and Afghanistan at its core. Finally, the US is profoundly unlikely to risk alienating Pakistan, which is after all a nuclear power, to the point where it becomes hostile and desperate.

So far, the signal achievement of the peace process has been to push the National Conference to the right, and legitimise the worst kinds of reactionary elements active in J&K today. An ironic situation has been created where the National Conference’s wholly legitimate demands for federal autonomy have been ignored, and the Union government is instead, through its covert negotiators, engaged in dialogue with people who believe a shot through the knees is appropriate punishment for women who dare to wear trousers.



As is evident from the SAC and RAC reports, the National Conference has been preparing itself for the eventual prospect of some kind of sundering of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also competing with the APHC in adopting extreme postures against New Delhi and the security establishment in an effort to consolidate its constituency in the Kashmir valley. This has been done at the expense of its historic secular principles, and by abandoning the party’s aspirations to represent all the peoples of J&K and not just one region or ethnic-religious community.

Since any deal the Union government engages in with the APHC must, of necessity, involve applying the cleaver to the National Conference’s neck as well, a further rightward lurch in the party seems inevitable. In the meanwhile, desperately needed debate on federal autonomy, both between the governments in Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi, and between politicians of various shades of opinion in the state, has simply not come into being.

A bird in hand, goes the old saying, is worth two in the bush.

With the backroom boys busy in the bushes in search of peace, it is perhaps appropriate to wonder if the premises of our intellectual engagement with Jammu and Kashmir are well-founded. Part of the problem is that our understanding of the decade-long conflict in the state has become mired in received wisdom, and lacks a complex and nuanced understanding of the play of class, culture, community and ethnicity that drive violence in J&K today.

The veteran Punjab communist leader Satyapal Dang recently suggested to me that the ways in which we have come to comprehend such conflicts is grossly inadequate. For a decade, he pointed out, what was called the Punjab problem was understood to consist of several other problems – the sharing of river waters, the status of Chandigarh, the federal demands of the Anandpur Sahib resolutions, the scars of Operation Bluestar, and so on. Yet, when peace did come about, Dang pointed out, none of these problems had in fact been resolved.



One explanation was that pure coercion had put an end to the violence that began in the early 1980s. Another possibility was that the real basis of the Khalistan movement, its ideological content and resistance to it, had not been understood properly. The question is relevant in Jammu and Kashmir today. Although Kashmir, as experts never cease to remind us, is not Punjab, it is not inhabited by Martians either.

A real peace process in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be manufactured: it needs to emerge from real political activity, not closed-door intrigue and diplomatic manoeuvre. It will need mass mobilisation, and the creation of genuinely democratic fora in which issues, not deals, are discussed. And it will need to foreground the diverse cultural, economic and democratic aspirations of the peoples of the state, not meaningless cliches. Such a process, sadly, appears nowhere near even its beginning.