A few days ago, Indian Prime Minster Dr Manmohan Singh suggested that Pakistan should leave the Kashmir issue alone and focus on its own internal problems. This idea led to the usual protests in Pakistan. If we excise our pathological fear and dislike of anything Indian (at least officially), does this statement still seem outrageous?
Let me quote another politician. In a recent interview, Maulana Fazlur Rehman remarked on Kashmir: “Obviously, we are in favour of a political solution… Things have changed so much. Now the concept of wining Kashmir has taken a back seat to the urgency of saving Pakistan.” Does this comment sound better and sensible? Things have indeed changed a lot during the last 60 years and we need to take cognisance of the changed scenario and adjust accordingly.
Nearly 64 years ago, when Indian troops landed in Kashmir on October 27, 1947, Pakistan refused to accept the accession of Kashmir to India on grounds that the wishes of the people of the state had not been ascertained. This was certainly the rightful moral position. As a matter of fact, when India refused to accept the legal accession of Junagadh to Pakistan and occupied the state on November 9, 1947, Pakistan only resorted to indignant protests, as it knew that the vast majority of its Hindu population were eager to join India. Pakistan had obviously hoped that India would apply the same principle to Kashmir — something which both Nehru and Mountbatten promised to do.
However, our moral high ground is now leading us to political and economic suicide. It is a no-brainer that if Pakistan had not embarked on a costly confrontation with India over Kashmir, the military would not have been so strengthened as to take over the government four times. It is also no secret that if the conflict with India had not been present, we would have had no reason to spend over half of our budget on defence and that our country would have easily been a high middle-income country by now.
These historical reasons aside, now there are several more complicating factors. Pakistan is under a severe attack from terrorists almost every day, its economy is extremely shaky and its politics is corrupt, fractured and baseless. While accurate economic indicators are hard to obtain, it is clear that despite being practically a war zone since 1989, Indian Kashmir has managed a higher literacy, economic growth and per capita income rate than most of Pakistan. Thus, why would the Kashmiris want to join Pakistan now? What do we have to offer them any longer?
In 1947-8, Pakistan was a new country, full of ambition and striving to become a progressive homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. In that context, the Kashmiris naturally felt an affinity towards their Muslim brethren in Pakistan and wanted to join them. Since then, official Pakistan has time and again shown its contempt for diversity within the national polity and the East Pakistan, Baloch and anti-Pakhtunistan operations are a clear example of the state’s unwillingness to accept true provincial autonomy.
Therefore, unless we put our own house in order first, we should not harbour any grand ideas about attaining Indian Kashmir. It is ludicrous to hope to incorporate a large territory, with a different development trajectory over the last six decades, when parts of our own country are not under the government’s control, and when most people in Pakistan are worrying about its dire economic and security situation.
Moreover, if not for our sake, we should shelf our hawkish stance on Kashmir for the sake of the 140 million Indian Muslims. If the government is really concerned about the suffering Muslims of Kashmir, it should also care about the suffering of the millions of Muslims in India proper who are suffering (among other things) the suspicion being Muslim brings in a Hindu majority state due to the antagonistic attitude of Pakistan.
Kashmiris deserve their right of self-determination, but that should certainly not come at the cost of our own survival and not when all that we will be able to offer them is a failed state.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2011.