More than India’s Jammu & Kashmir state, it is Pakistan that needs self-governance
Although equality of all its citizens is a guiding principle, the Indian constitution accords a special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, thereby contradicting itself. Unless they are also residents of the state, Indian citizens cannot own property in Kashmir. Consequently the Indian government cannot and has not attempted to change the state’s demographic profile. Neither has it siphoned off its natural resources. On the contrary, on a per capita basis Jammu & Kashmir state is the second largest recipient of central government funds. Elections were regularly held (and sometimes rigged) until cross-border terrorism destabilised the state. The latest round of elections were applauded for being free and fair, and a representative government runs the state. According to Freedom House’s 2005 report, the residents of Jammu & Kashmir have more political rights and civil liberties than the whole of Pakistan.
According to the same report, the areas of Jammu & Kashmir that Pakistan controls fare even worse than the Palestinian territories in terms of political rights and civil liberties. The Northern Areas, comprising of Gilgit and Baltistan are in a constitutional limbo and have no say in how and by whom they are ruled. The Pakistani government has wilfully changed the regional demography by encouraging the influx of Sunni and ethnic Punjabi migrants in what used to be a Shia majority area. The Shias of Gilgit were massacred in 1988. A certain Brigadier Pervez Musharraf who was in command of the Pakistani forces in Gilgit at that time led the operation. Gilgit remains on the boil, with the local population resentful of being relegated to second-class status by the new politically powerful immigrants.
‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, on the other hand, has all the semantic trappings of a state, but its fictional freedom is only used to deny it a say in the Pakistani federation. Not that it matters much in practice, but unlike Pakistan’s other provinces ‘Azad’ Kashmir does not send legislators to the federal parliament. It used to be run by the Pakistani army through the federal ministry of Kashmir affairs. That is, until the recent earthquake destroyed the facade that Pakistan had worked so hard to maintain. It is now openly run by jihadi groups and their Islamic fundamentalist parent organisations.
Isn’t it patently ridiculuous then for India’s national security advisor to agree to even consider Pakistan’s proposals for ‘self-governance’ for Kashmiris? Yet this is what he seems to have done. Even for a government whose creepy policy on Kashmir has left India slipping dangerously down the slope, this touches a new depth. This is no trifling matter, the Indian government must come forward and clarify whether this is its official position.