Why giving in to Kashmir-fatigue is not a good idea

There are no easy solutions to the problems in Kashmir. Not least self-determination.

Last week, two leading op-ed columnists argued that current crisis in Kashmir calls for India to yield to the demands of the separatists, hold a plebiscite and accept the verdict of the Kashmiri people, even if that means secession.

Swaminathan Aiyar comes from a liberal perspective: he dislikes “ruling people against their will” and that “India has sought integration with Kashmir, not colonial rule. But Kashmiris nevertheless demand azaadi. And ruling over those who resent it so strongly for so long is quasi-colonialism, regardless of our intentions.” Vir Sanghvi, on the other hand, takes a cost-benefit approach. He argues that the costs of holding on to Kashmir—in economic and political terms—outweigh the benefits.

Both are wrong. Mr Aiyar, who is perhaps India’s best newspaper columnist, misses the nuances of the undeniably complex political-legal history of Partition. But he makes a good point—for all the moralising that the Indian state indulged in, and the legal arguments it used to defend Jammu & Kashmir’s accession, the fact remains that the integration of Indian princely states was a feat of realpolitik. And it was the same on the part of Pakistan. Just as Goa, Junagadh and Hyderabad were made part of the Indian Union by force, so was Kalat (part of modern Balochistan) secured by Pakistan. And Jammu & Kashmir came to be divided along the lines of the balance-of-power then obtaining between the two states.

There’s no need for believers in democracy and liberalism to feel apologetic about the fact that force played a role in forging the Indian Union. On the contrary, democrats and liberals must ask themselves why—for sixty years—they tolerated the fundamental principle of equality of all citizens to be undermined by granting a special status to people of Jammu & Kashmir. The same goes—albeit to a much lesser extent—for the people of the North Eastern states. The constitutional provisions only aggravated the geographical seclusion and the different religious composition to continue, preventing the real integration of Jammu & Kashmir into the national mainstream. Little wonder then, that the Kashmiri people should feel estranged.

Be that as it may, isn’t there a case for giving the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination, through a plebiscite? Here, Mr Sanghvi’s argument suggest that he considers that the problem can be got rid off by allowing Kashmiris to secede. Advocates of a plebiscite and secession though have a duty to articulate what happens next—to Kashmir and to India. Will the Valley’s independence or integration with Pakistan miraculously solve the fundamental problem, or will it merely lead to its reconfiguration? And can any serious advocate of a plebiscite, leave alone secession, plausibly argue that such a move will be free of the immense human tragedy that characterised drawing of new international borders in the subcontinent in 1947 and 1971?

And what next? Kashmir coming under the sway of the Taliban-like forces that hold sway in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas; or under a puppet regime that becomes the agent of regional and foreign powers; or under authoritarian rulers like those in Central Asia; or all of the above [See Offstumped]. One thing it will not become is Switzerland. What this implies for India is that the costs will not go away—they will mount. Kashmir is, as Mr Sanghvi puts it, a 20th century problem. But a 20th century solution—for that’s what self-determination is—won’t prevent it from disrupting India’s 21st century future. As for Kashmiris, self-determination is no guarantee that they will not be ruled against their will.

This is not to argue that holding on to Kashmir and its alienated population won’t be costly. It always was, and those costs will inflate. But it is foolhardy to believe that plebiscite and secession will lead to savings. In any case, neither Mr Aiyar nor Mr Sanghvi have even attempted to show why all those affected will be better off if Kashmir were to secede. Mr Aiyar would probably counter by saying that self-determination is an end in itself, and the consequences are immaterial. But Mr Sanghvi can’t take that position.

The reality is this: To ensure the well-being of people in the region, including those of its neighbours, India as a whole, and not just Jammu & Kashmir, needs to place a premium on individual freedoms on the one hand, and on tolerance on the other. Kashmir-fatigue, predictable political opportunism among state and national politicians, Pakistan’s continuing policies of destabilisation, and the failure of the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ must not distract attention from this. But to move in this direction, India has to climb out of the hole it has dug itself into. That requires a process of national reconciliation.

71 thoughts on “Why giving in to Kashmir-fatigue is not a good idea”

  1. Label me paranoid if you will, but I can’t help but wonder about the congruence of the “let Kashmir go” articles, not only in the Indian press but also in some western think tank publications.

    Hmmmmmm, I wonder some more:
    1)Which entity has the resources to influence some of India’s top journalists to do its bidding?

    2)Which entity/nation has the most to gain from an “independent” Kashmir?

  2. @Dsylexicus Indicus: India is a Union, not a federation. The GoI exists at the pleasure of the Indian electorate, not that of the State govts. So much for you basic idea.

  3. @Nandu :
    1. Thanks for accepting the dodgy nature of your data !

    2. Australia, Canada, Caribbean were all dominions under the British empire i.e they were ruled by Britain, so technically they were in the same boat as India then, albeit with lots more rights and privileges. Morever, none of these countries contributed a penny to India , neither did they have any historical relationship with India, so I don’t see how they were a stakeholder in the decision to grant freedom to India. Au contraire, it is Indian tax money that has been been paying for Kashmir’s upkeep . Historically, J&K has been a part of some kingdom which constituted India, so we ARE indeed stakeholders and we should have a right .

    3. If you dont share my opinion, that is your right. As a democracy, we give you the right to have your own thoughts, however trivial they may be. So if you don’t agree with me, that is OK, I just said ‘a majority’, I never said ‘all’ ; there is a not so subtle difference between them:)

  4. Almost all Indian states are divided along the lines of linguistic or cultural identity. I think the right time has come to divde Jammu & Kashmir into 2 separate states. Make Ladakh a UT. (I can already hear demands for Telangana & Vidharbha gaining speed). But we can’t sit and watch. President’s rule is pure BS. Kashmiris deserve to be ruled by their own people and not by someone sitting in New Delhi and the unelected Governor. Split J&K into 2 states, remove all special status nonsense and you will see Kashmir & Kashmiris taking 2 steps forward. Some people will say – divding J&K – Kashmiris might end up electing right wing separatists. If that’s what they want – let them do that. States after states have done that. Look at Tamil Nadu for instance and the NDA at the center for instance. Right wingers will learn to deal with governance. People will realize how competent they truly are. Time is now. Let’s welcome 2 new states to the union!

  5. @sparx – we’re stakeholders in Kashmir, so is Pakistan. Are they allowed to vote on the plebiscite as well? And to be clear, I did not say that there is no difference between ‘majority’ and ‘all’. What I’m saying is that, if the question is framed the way we discussed it (i.e. would non-Kashmiri Indians be willing to live without Kashmir as a part of India in return for having to pay lesser to the government in taxes), I think a majority of Indians would be fine with the proposition.
    What it all boils down to is that we have opposing viewpoints and are, as you say, entitled to them…:)

  6. Why should Pakistan be a stakeholder in this decision? If you are forgetting, may I remind you that they are the enemy here and are the cause of all the trouble ??So what you are suggesting is invite the thief into your house 😉 As for me, Pakistan is personn non grata in any decision involving the status of Kashmir (what we have of it)

    I am challenging you to put the second part of your comment to a public vote here on this very blog. We will then see whose argument is stronger.

  7. @Nandu: How is Pakistan a “stakeholder” on the issue of plebiscite to be held in J&K (or in a part of it)? A plebiscite has certain legal implications, and is very different from an opinion poll that you might conduct somewhere.

    Read up some of the history before calling Pakistan a “stakeholder” in a plebiscite. Try this to begin with: http://meaindia.nic.in/jk/plebiscite1.htm

    If Pakistan is a stakeholder by some logic, may be China is too (shared border, territorial claims). And Afghanistan (shared border)? Why not Saudi Arabia even (Look Ma, Muslims!)?

  8. @B.O.K.: Please read “political implications” in place of “legal implications”. There might also be legal implications, but that’s not what I intended to write in the comment.

  9. This is the worst time to discuss the azadi question of kashmir. The US and Europe have joined in to fight the taliban in Afghanistan and the pakis are in a difficult situation as to which side to join. They have been doing double talk for years but slowly this stance is no longer credible. If we have to do anything in kashmir, it has to wait until the afgan situation is stable. For now, some intellos are crying about kashmir independance but no single govt has commented on it- this means that no one really wants it now. I think India should make some comforting noises about independance but wait for the outcome of the war in afganistan. If the taliban win, pakistan will become more dangerous but if they lose and pakistan is able to purge itself of the extremist elements and ready to make a large number of concessions- perhaps that is the time to talk about opinion polls.

  10. @sparx – what about the fact that there exists a territory called PoK? Or do the wishes of the people living there not matter while deciding the issue?

    @B.O.K – how about reading this instead? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1766582.stm
    You must admit that Government of India websites, just like Govt of Pakistan websites, are potentially biased in this matter.

  11. @Nandu: Okay, I read it. If I wanted to read someone merely stating that Pakistan is a stakeholder, I’d been satisfied with your comment.

    The article you cited, BTW, takes a huge leap from the UN calling for a plebiscite (preconditioned on withdrawal of Pakistani troops and tribals from J&K – which NEVER happened) to citing the vague 1950s when GoI distanced itself from the plebiscite.

    Didn’t it make you wonder about the actual dates of UN resolutions and India’s supposed withdrawal from its commitment? Didn’t it make you wonder about what actually happened? That is what the link I cited was supposed to educate you about. That link, incidentally, is an excerpt from a book (published way back in 1967) and not a government press release. Here is an excerpt from the excerpt, and it is the observation of a neutral observer (not the book author) in the UNSC in Feb 1957:

    When the Security Council appointed the Commission which went to India and Kashmir in 1948, it committed without design the same error as we are about to commit with the present draft resolution: the Commission’s sole terms of reference being to negotiate within the framework of the resolution of 21 April 1948 (S/726) which one of the parties-India, in this case-had denounced before the Commission left New York. Thus on its arrival in India the Commission found itself in the following rather absurd position: it was acting in accordance with Chapter VI of the Charter, in other words, it was engaged in conciliative procedure, and was required, in doing so, to keep strictly to a resolution that had been denounced by one of the parties. Despite this completely illogical situation, the Commission scored an unexpected success by getting the Indian Government to agree, subject to certain conditions, that the question of Kashmir’s future should be submitted to decision by its inhabitants by means of a plebiscite … what was arrived at, therefore, was a compromise solution whereby it was possible to elicit an offer from India to submit the final disposition of Kashmir to a plebiscite. Two points have to be made clear, however: first, the Commission accepted the sovereignty of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as a fact and avoided entering into a discussion of the legality or illegality of the act of accession, which meant that it recognized the de facto sovereignty of India. Secondly, the Commission never recognized the legality of the presence of Pakistan troops in Kashmir. These points must be stressed in order to appreciate why the Commission ordered the complete withdrawal of the Pakistan forces but only requested India to withdraw part of its forces, while permitting it – and even giving it special rights- to maintain internal order and take charge of external defence. For the same reason, the Commission, when the idea of a plebiscite was discussed, was the first to recognize that Pakistan had no right to take part in drawing up the rules and regulations for the plebiscite, except in an advisory capacity, whereas India was recognized as having the right to be consulted…. The Chairman of the Commission, during these discussions, was the representative of Colombia, and therefore I felt it was my duty to examine the records. And of course I found, first of all, that when the Commission was asked whether it wanted to enter into a discussion on the legality of India’s sovereignty over Kashmir, the Commission said it would prefer not to do so; second, that when Mr. Nehru asked Mr. Lozano whether the offer to hold a plebiscite would, in the Commission’s view, entail an unconditional commitment if the first and second parts of the resolution of 13 August 1948 were not carried out, Mr. Lozano replied very definitely, “‘No.” It is very clear that there would be no commitment on India’s part until after the first and second parts of the August resolution have been complied with.”‘

    The position is 100% clear – the plebiscite was to happen if and only if Pakistan fulfilled its commitments. This, Pakistan never did. The party that can’t be bothered to fulfill its obligations in a deal can not claim to be a stakeholder 6 decades later.

  12. @Everyone: I would strongly recommend reading “War and Diplomacy in Kashmir: 1947-48” by C. Dasgupta to know and understand the events of that period.

  13. @B.O.K – 2 points
    a) All the independent observer in that article said is what you’re saying now. Pakistan violated its terms of the deal first. So they are untrustworthy stakeholders, at best. How are they not stakeholders at all? I’m only saying that we can’t ignore the fact that there is this space called PoK where ‘Indians’ live (its hardly like they’ve integrated into India). What price their lives?
    b) Whoever said you were quoting from a GoI press release? However, with respect, a book written by ‘Officer on Special Duty for Kashmir Affairs in the Indian Foreign Office’ is hardly going to pander to Pakistan’s point of view!!

  14. @Nandu : No we do not need to hold a plebiscite in PoK. Infact it is time to be realistic and accept that the only way we will get back PoK is by force. While the question of do we convert the LoC into an international border , can be left for another day, what has conclusively been answered is that the part that we hold, is ours. There is no doubt about it and we are not giving it away. Plebiscite be damned.

    I have no idea what the bbc link you posted adds to this debate.Perhaps it is like your DNA link.It is an example of western journalism that adds no real value.Kindly enlighten to its purpose

  15. Shorn of all sophistry and intellectual ratiocinations, the hard, plain truth is this: Muslims cannot live in harmony with others, they”re ill at ease in any multi-religious society. They demand and exact religious freedom from others but when they reach 50.01% of the population, the society perforce becomes an Islamic state and Allah save the minorities. Kashmir is a problem only because it is a Muslim majority state. And because Indian intelligentia and political class believe (an opinion not shared by the people) that Muslims are children of a superior God. What’s so special about Kashmiri identity that I don’t deserve as a Tamilian or a Kannadiga or a Marathi. If simply because the majority of the population is Muslim and deserves special status, time when Malapuram for instance gets that status is not far off. The country was divided on religious ground, the Islamic ground, make no mistake, and you cannot divide the country for the same reason again. This question will not be even countenanced in any society, except ours. If Kashmiri pundits cannot live in Kashmir for religious reasons, extension of the same logic to the rest of the country is inevitable, and is bound to be raised some time, with disastrous results. What’s needed is a firm handling of the situation, not freezing when the word ‘Muslim’ is uttered, not stopping in the tracks when the word ‘Islam’ is uttered. Kashmir question should be dealt with in the same manner as it would be if it were to be present in any other part of the nation.

  16. @Nandu:

    (a) Thanks for adding that “untrustworthy” adjective, but as you admit, this assessment is “at best”. Nothing that Pakistan has done in the last 6 decades or so (and continues to do to this day) makes me want to assess them so charitably.

    (b) By all means, be sceptical of *opinions* hosted on GoI (or any) websites. However, do also take note that facts speak for themselves. I cited the link because it is a good collection of facts, and not a repetition of MEA talking points. Contrast it to the BBC article, which leaps all over the place without actually giving the reader anything valuable.

    What are your ideas on PoK? How do you think India is going to hold a plebiscite in PoK? And what incentive does India have to spend its resources in working towards such a goal?

    It is all well for GoI to include PoK in Indian maps and label the people living there as Indians (even though they were never under the control of any post-1947 GoI). These actions of GoI make for good negotiating positions. However, as any practical person would recognize, Pakistan has no interest or incentive to “give up” PoK, nor does it have an iota of inclination to provide the kind of autonomy to PoK that India has granted to the parts of J&K under its control.

    All the PoK-is-also-India rhetoric is useful only for the scenario of settling LoC as border. Such talk implies that (in the event of such a settlement) India is giving up its claims on PoK while Pakistan is giving up its claims on the rest of J&K. Both parties can then claim a win-win sort of compromise, which is important from the point of view of the political survival of the government that decides to implement such a thing.

  17. If there was a free flow of people across the LOC, then POK will not exist. There will be only one kashmir. I think this is what the kashmiris want. They will no longer be dependent on the jawahar tunnel for their existence.
    So this is a good move.
    However, we know now that POK is a World terrorism development center, so even if Kashmir is ready to love the terrorist, will the rest of india survive it?

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