Leave Kashmiris Alone!
By Mohammad Ashraf
04 January, 2016
Indo-Pak bonhomie is welcome but it would be successful only if both countries decide to leave Kashmiris alone by declaring Kashmir as neutral territory!
The recent dramatic and unscheduled visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi to Lahore to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif created quite a stir. There have been umpteen comments and reactions about this meeting out of the blue ostensibly to greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. The comments have been both positive and negative. While as some people have hailed it as a breakthrough in the Indo-Pak reconciliation process, others have criticised it as the histrionics of Modi who is given to such dramatic gestures to steal the show. It has been observed by some commentators that it is not very easy to have a real and true rapprochement between these two neighbours who have been at each other’s throats right from their creation in 1947. One needs to analyse all aspects of the relationship before making a final judgement.
It is a fact that the partition of the sub-continent by the British created two antagonistic neighbours. It was the worst tragedy in the history of the sub-continent. Had India not been divided, it would truly have been a super-power. However, the British had their own ideas to keep their presence in the sub-continent after their departure. There could not have been a better solution than to have two antagonistic neighbours always at each other’s throats and dependent on the weapons of war most of the time on the west. India is the largest importer of arms in the world and Pakistan spends more than 22% of its budget on defence. Both the countries have piles and piles of nukes, missiles, and other lethal weapons of war. At the same time they have millions of their citizens living below the poverty line not being able to get a single square meal. All their defence deals have huge paybacks. If only they could cut their defence budgets by half, these would become real welfare states.
Why are not these two countries able to work out a rapprochement? Apart from the vested interests of the western powers that are milking these countries only because of a perennial conflict there are also deeply entrenched vested interests on the two sides of the divide. People on either side do not want war but they want to live in peace. The greatest tragedy is that the people across the divide cannot meet each other freely. There is a barrier worse than the notorious Berlin Wall. Dramatic meetings between the top leaders or the interaction of the Civil Society members from the two sides in five star hotels is not going to bring the real meeting of the hearts. It is the totally free people to people contact which can break the ice. The Indo-Pak barrier has to break. Unfortunately, both the sides are swimming against the tide. While as barriers in Europe have totally broken down, we are here creating new ones and strengthening earlier ones! Reportedly there is a plan to build a concrete wall on the International Border and the Line of Control in J& K.
The barriers will break only when the mind-set of the persons manning the Security related organisations on both the sides’ changes. The Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan feels that they have to bleed India from a thousand cuts for their survival. Also Kashmir has to be merged into Pakistan to complete the agenda of partition. On this side the Research and Analysis Wing feels that they must keep Pakistan on the boil to prevent them from harming India. Apart from this a large extremist Hindutva population feels that the Muslims who came from Saudi Arabia have stolen half of their country and it is to be retrieved to make India the Akhand Bharat of the ancient times. The silver lining in the dark clouds of war hovering over the sub-continent is a possible rapprochement between the top leaders in spite of all the hatred and venom being spitted out by the professional war-mongers. It could be a good beginning if there is sincerity. The leaders have not only to meet and work out a practical approach but have to rein in the Chauvinists on the two sides. It is here that the question of Kashmir comes in. For last 68 years people on both sides have been fed a very fanatic line. Pakistanis claim Kashmir to be their jugular vein while as the Indians claim it to be their crown. Kashmir has been made out to be the core issue. However, in reality it is a symptom and not the disease.
As regards Kashmiris themselves, neither of countries is bothered about their fate. Here, the question of the egg and the chicken comes in. Which came first, Kashmir the chicken or the eggs of India and Pakistan? Historically, Kashmir has been an independent sovereign country for thousands of years. Pakistan did not exist before 1947. India has been united as one country in the time of Chandragupta Maurya, Asoka the Great and under the British. Both the countries do not represent nations but a group of ethnically different people clobbered together. On the other hand Kashmiris are a nation by every definition of Political Science.
The reaction in Kashmir about the talks has been mixed. Some have welcomed it while others have opined that any rapprochement without Kashmir is meaningless. To be realistic, one has to admit that the rapprochement is practically impossible without removing the sore of bleeding Kashmir. Would both the sides agree to leave Kashmiris alone! It could be geographically as well politically converted into the Switzerland of the sub-continent. Instead of a bleeding Heart of Asia, it could be the real Tulip Garden of Asia where people from the entire area could meet for peace and pleasure. That may be a possible solution. Will the two leaders take such an initiative in the interests of the future generations? That is the million dollar question!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir