Many commentators on the subject, some with good intentions, do not know, or do not care to bear in mind, the vital distinction between ‘Kashmir’ and the ‘State of Jammu and Kashmir’. The former is an entity, known as the Vale of Kashmir or the Kashmir Valley and by its own inhabitants as ‘Kasheer’, which has sustained an independent existence and settled continuity over centuries and whose individuality, as defined by its terrain, its customs, its language, its literature and its memory, has been historically established and recognised.
The latter, by contrast, was a product of a sale deed conducted by the British in the mid-nineteenth century which, by sheer logic, should have disappeared with the end of that period.
It follows that what is being talked about as the ‘Kashmir dispute’ has never had any existence in reality for large parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood in 1947. What, however, has not been settled, what is very much the heart of the matter, what is, indeed, the cause of the death and depredation of the last more than six decades? Is the conflict over the status and future of Kashmir as historically known i.e. the Kashmir Valley and its adjacent Kashmiri-speaking areas?
This point may strike some as either academic or elementary. It is neither; in fact, ignoring it would doom any effort to resolve the tragic conflict on a basis of just principle. Some consequences of disregarding it, although only in thinking, have already become apparent. One of these is the suggestion of partitioning the State of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control. This suggestion may have some attraction for the ignorant and the unwary, as well as for those who wish to settle the dispute on India’s terms in a disguised form.
First, as the Line of Control does not run through Kashmir — the Vale falls entirely on one side of it — the suggestion seeks to gift the territory in dispute in one fell sweep to one party, India, and to dismiss the respective claims of the other two parties, Pakistan and Kashmir, while assuming an air of impartiality. Second, it purports to partition a mythical entity, the State of Jammu and Kashmir, while it seals the fate of an actual living people, the people of Kashmir.
It is a central fact of the Kashmir dispute that the Security Council recommended a settlement on the basis of the will of the people as impartially ascertained through a plebiscite under the control of the United Nations. The council did not pull this recommendation out of thin air nor was it inspired by the idealistic promptings of either the council or the leadership of the world powers. If it were so, India would have been within her rights to question why the formula should be held to be sacrosanct and immune from repudiation. But the proposition was squarely based on what the contestants themselves — both of them — demanded separately; the only thing the council supplied was the mechanism of setting the stage for, and organising, the required plebiscite.
It is a unique characteristic of the Kashmir dispute that it is one on which the parties have recorded their voluntary agreement on the principle as well as the lines of the desired settlement. This happened more than once, first, spontaneously in official exchanges between the parties; second, when India approached the Security Council and Pakistan followed; third, when the council appointed a commission which adopted two resolutions and the parties conveyed their acceptance of them in writing. The dispute erupted into a major conflict only when one of the parties, India, reneged on that agreement.
The official exchanges I mentioned are categorical, not twisted by ifs and buts on either side. The assurances solemnly given by India are numerous. Jawaharlal Nehru, originator of India’s Kashmir project, summarised them in his broadcast to the nation on November 2, 1947: “We have declared the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”
And this is what a senior Indian journalist, Vir Sanghvi wrote in his column for The Hindustan Times in 2010: “If we are the largest democracy on the planet then how can we hang on to a people who have no desire to be part of India?... Why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with us? The answer is machismo... Is the future of India to be held hostage to a population less than half the size of the population of Delhi?... If you believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do. And even if you don’t, surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives and our honour as a nation”.
Reportedly, the US State Department has labeled the violence and repression in Indian Kashmir as “an internal Indian matter”. A former senior CIA officer, Robert Grenier, on Al Jazeera on July 14, 2010, called this posture by the Obama administration “craven”. When one contrasts this with the legitimate interest that the US showed in human rights in Arab states, and the consequent action it took, one loses all faith in protestations of moral concern underlying American policies and attitudes.
At the present stage, whatever may be the real impulse and intent of US policy, the prevailing public impression is that it is governed by the strategic partnership between the US and India, with the latter envisioned as a counterweight to China.
Then, as a Kashmir-born, I feel acutely distressed. As an American, I feel simply outraged. That it should happen during the presidency of Barack Obama begs belief.
(The above was modified from a paper presented by the writer at a seminar “Kashmir and the regional jigsaw puzzle for peace” organised by the Muslim Alliance Foundation, and held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC on November 14)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2011.