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Construction Of A Unique Kashmiri Identity:
Awakening or Disaster

By Nyla Ali Khan

13 August, 2011

As a Kashmir observer and someone who has been writing on Kashmir for a while, I am of the opinion that L. K. Advani's recent attempt to resuscitate the ultra right-wing nationalism of the BJP is ludicrous. Such right-wing propaganda ought to be challenged by the intelligentsia, not just Kashmiri, but mainstream Indian as well. It might not be a bad idea for Advani and his cohort to take a quick history lesson. It is a bit presumptuous of me to assume that Advani would unlearn his old methods by reading my piece, but I shall take the liberty of indulging myself. Reading this write-up would enable his ilk to, perhaps, fathom the construction of a nationalism which erased the denigration of the past, and created a space for democratic (a foreign term for some mainstream political organizations) debate. The following is an excerpt from my book, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir : Between India and Pakistan .

Despite the support that the Quit Kashmir movement launched by Abdullah's cadre received from various regional councils and state Congress committees, the movement was crushed tactically and militarily. On 20 May 1946 , speaking at a public rally at the Shahi Masjid (mosque), Srinagar , Abdullah thunderously condemned the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar, which had legitimized the Dogra possession of Kashmir (Copeland 1991: 251). In addition to the brutal opposition that the NC encountered from the Dogra regime, it faced vociferous resistance from a section of the MC leadership who vehemently opposed any attempt to create a syncretism that would bridge the divide between Hindus and Muslims.

As the NC made its support of secular principles and its affiliation with the All India National Congress more forceful, the gulf between the upholders of secularism and the guardians of an essential Muslim identity became wider. The communally oriented group characterized itself as the Muslim segment of society attempting to undermine the political dominance of the Dogra maharaja and create an Islamic theocracy governed according to Islamic laws and scriptures. Despite its tenacious hold on secular principles, the NC found itself gasping for breath in the quagmire created by the maharaja's duplicitous policies. For example, the maharaja's government had passed a special ordinance introducing two scripts, Devanagari and Persian, in Kashmir 's government schools, and, under the Jammu and Kashmir Arms Act of 1940, had prohibited all communities except Dogra Rajputs from owning arms and ammunition. Such communally oriented policies created a rift between the Muslim leadership of the NC and their Hindu colleagues.

The rift within the organization was further widened by Ali Mohammad Jinnah's insistence that Abdullah extend his support to the Muslim League and thereby disavow every principle he had fought for. Abdullah's refusal to do so sharpened the awareness of the Muslim League that it would be unable to consolidate its political position without his support. Initially, the Congress supported the Quit Kashmir movement and reinforced the position of the NC on plebiscite. The Congress advised the maharaja, right up to 1947, to gauge the public mood and accordingly accede to either India or Pakistan . Nehru's argument that Kashmir was required to validate the secular credentials of India was a later development. Jinnah refuted the notion that Pakistan required Kashmir to vindicate its theocratic status and did not make an argument for the inclusion of Kashmir in the new nation-state of Pakistan right up to the eve of partition. As Behera (2006) writes, “If Kashmir was integral to the very idea of Pakistan , it is difficult to see why the Muslim League and the Muslim Conference did not ask the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan until as late as 25 July 1947 .” The Congress's support to and furtherance of partition, however, eroded the notion of a united India .

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, on the contrary, was ambivalent about the partition because he did not agree with the rationale of the two-nation theory. He was equally ambivalent about acceding to India , because he felt that if that choice was made, Pakistan would always create juggernauts in the political and economic progress of Kashmir . As for the idea of declaring Kashmir an independent state, he recognized that “to keep a small state independent while it was surrounded by big powers was impossible” (Abdullah 1993: 60). Was Abdullah willing to concede the necessity of political compromise and accommodation? Did Abdullah draw attention to the political, cultural, and territorial compromises that the autonomy model might entail? He did categorically declare that “Neither the friendship of Pandit Nehru or of Congress nor their support of our freedom movement would have any influence upon our decision if we felt that the interests of four million Kashmiris lay in our accession to Pakistan” (quoted in Brecher 1953: 35). The decision to accede to either India or Pakistan placed Maharaja Hari Singh in a dilemma. On the one hand, if the state acceded to India , the maharaja would be forced to hand over the reins of political power to an organization that had vociferously opposed his regime, the Congress, and the NC. On the other hand, if the state acceded to Pakistan , the maharaja's Dogra Hindu community would find itself in a position of subservience. Consequently, the maharaja disregarded the advice of the Congress and the British about the infeasibility of independence and opted for that choice because it would allow him to maintain his political paramountcy. He was unable to recognize how independence would enhance the political and military vulnerability of the state. Hari Singh's decision to maintain his political paramountcy was supported by Pakistan , but not by India .

Standstill Agreement

On 15 August 1947 , Maharaja Hari Singh's regime ratified a standstill agreement with the government of Pakistan . This agreement stipulated that the Pakistan government assume charge of the state's post and telegraph system and supply the state with essential commodities. Given the political and personal affiliations of the Congress with the NC and its antipathy toward monarchical rule, the maharaja and his cohort considered it worthwhile to negotiate with Pakistan 's Muslim League in order to maintain his princely status. But this already tenuous relationship was further weakened after the infiltration of armed groups from Pakistan into J & K. After Pakistani armed raiders and militia attempted to forcefully annex Kashmir on 22 October 1947 , the maharaja did a political volte-face by releasing NC leaders from prison, seeking Indian military help to keep the Pakistani forces at bay, and acceding to India in order to protect his own security and interests. Subsequent to his release after sixteen months of incarceration, Sheikh Abdullah delivered a speech at a public rally at the Hazratbal shrine where he declared the establishment of a popular government to be the priority and primary concern of the people of Kashmir , and relegated the accession issue to the background.

Invasion by Pakistani Tribal Militia and Military Leaders

The validity of the division of India into the nation-states of India and Pakistan along religious lines was unequivocally challenged by Sheikh Abdullah: “My organization and I never believed in the formula that Muslims and Hindus form separate nations. We did not believe in the two-nation theory, or in communalism. . . . We believed that religion had no place in politics” (Abdullah 1993: 86). Abdullah's noncommunal politics were vindicated by the ruthlessness of the Pakistani tribal raiders' miscalculated attack, which drove various political forces in the state to willy-nilly align themselves with India . Although the raiders, or Qabailis , were unruly mercenaries, they were led by well-trained and well-equipped military leaders who were familiar with the arduous terrain, and the raiders launched what would have been a dexterous attack if they had not been tempted to pillage and plunder on the way to the capital city, Srinagar (Dasgupta 1968: 95). En route to Srinagar , the tribal raiders committed heinous atrocities: they raped and killed several Catholic nuns at a missionary school, and tortured and impaled an NC worker, Maqbool Sherwani (Copeland 1991: 245). The brutal methods of the raiders received strong disapprobation from the people of the Valley who had disavowed a quintessentially Muslim identity and replaced it with the notion of a Kashmiri identity. This political and cultural ideology underscored the lack of religious homogeneity in the population of Kashmir . The raiders antagonized their coreligionists by perpetrating atrocities against the local populace, including women and children. The undiplomatic strategies of the tribal raiders and Pakistani militia expedited the attempts of the All India National Congress to incorporate Kashmir into the Indian Union.

Validity of the Provisional Accession to India and Role of the United Nations

On 26 October 1947 , Maharaja Hari Singh signed the “Instrument of Accession” to India , officially ceding to the government of India jurisdiction over defense, foreign affairs, and communications. The accession of J & K to India was accepted by Lord Mountbatten with the proviso that once political stability was established in the region, a referendum would be held in which the people of the state would either validate or veto the accession. After signing the Instrument of Accession, the maharaja appointed his political adversary, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, as the head of an interim government. The political monopoly of the NC was bolstered by the organization of a “National Militia,” which was established by Abdullah's trusted lieutenants, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and G.M. Sadiq. In keeping with Abdullah's socialist politics, this organization had a women's wing as well, which I discuss at length in chapter five. I provide oral testimonies from two of three surviving members of the women's militia, in chapter five, about the political and cultural initiatives taken by them during the Pakistani tribal invasion.

Bose (2003: 36) observes that on 27 October, Abdullah told a correspondent of The Times of India that the tribal invasion was a pressurizing attempt to terrorize the people of the state and, therefore, needed to be strongly rebuffed. Pakistan 's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, termed the accession of J & K to India “fraudulent” and declared that the very existence of Pakistan was a sore spot for India (quoted in Dasgupta 1968: 36). On 2 November 1947, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, reiterated his government's pledge to not only the people of Kashmir, but also to the international community, to hold a referendum in Indian and Pakistani-administered J & K under the auspices of a world body like the United Nations, in order to determine whether the populace preferred to be affiliated with India or Pakistan. Nehru emphasized this commitment several times at public forums over the next few years.

In January 1948 India referred the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations (Rahman 1996: 15–19). Prime Minister Nehru took the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir beyond local and national boundaries by bringing it before the UN Security Council and seeking a ratification of India 's “legal” claims over Kashmir . The UN reinforced Nehru's pledge of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir , and in 1948 the Security Council established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to play the role of mediator in the Kashmir issue. The UNCIP adopted a resolution urging the government of Pakistan to cease the infiltration of tribal mercenaries and raiders into J & K. It also urged the government of India to demilitarize the state by “withdrawing their own forces from J & K and reducing them progressively to the minimum strength required for the support of civil power in the maintenance of law and order.” The resolution proclaimed that once these conditions were fulfilled, the government of India would be obligated to hold a plebiscite in the state in order to either ratify or veto the accession of J & K to India (Hagerty 2005: 19). Sir Zafarulla Khan, Pakistan's minister of foreign affairs, while discussing the volatile Kashmir issue at the UN on 16 January 1948, said that the maharaja's government had attempted to brutally quell the spirit of revolution in Kashmir: “They were mowed down by the bullets of the State Dogra troops in their uprising but refused to turn back and received those bullets on their bared breasts” (United Nations Security Council: 65).

This political stalemate led to the resumption of bitter acrimony in 1948. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's NC voiced its disillusionment with the wishy-washy role of the UN Security Council. It expressly declared on 22 April 1948 that the Security Council resolution was “yet another feature of power politics on which the Security Council has embarked ever since its inception.” Abdullah condemned the machinations of imperialist powers like the United States and the United Kingdom , which “saw Kashmir only as the neighbour of Russia and therefore an essential base in the encirclement of Russia for future aggression” (Krishen 1951: 19–20). A provisional cessation of hostilities, however, occurred in January 1949, with the establishment of a political and military truce.

The ceasefire line left the Indians with the bulk of Jammu and Kashmir 's territory (139,000 of 223,000 square kilometres, approximately 63 per cent) and population. The Indians had gained the prize piece of real estate, the Kashmir Valley , and they also controlled most of the Jammu and Ladakh regions. These areas became Indian Jammu and Kashmir (IJK). The Pakistanis were left with a long strip of land running on a north–south axis in western J & K, mostly Jammu districts bordering Pakistani Punjab and the NWFP . . . a slice of Ladakh (Skardu), and the remote mountain zones of Gilgit and Baltistan (the Northern Areas or NA). (Bose 2003: 41)

The de facto border carved in 1949 worked to India 's territorial and political advantage.

The president of the UN Security Council, General A.G.L. McNaughton of Canada , endeavored to outline proposals to resolve the dispute. He proposed a program of gradual demilitarization and withdrawal of regular Indian and Pakistani forces, which were not required for the purposes of maintaining law and order from the Indian side of the cease-fire line. He also proposed disbandment of the militia of J & K, as well as of forces in Pakistani-administered “Azad” Kashmir . McNaughton recommended continuing the administration of the Northern Areas (NA) by the local authorities, subject to UN supervision. He recommended the appointment of a UN representative by the secretary general of the UN, who would supervise the process of demilitarization and procure conditions necessary to holding a fair and free plebiscite (Das 1950). Although McNaughton's proposals were lauded by most members of the Security Council, India stipulated that Pakistani forces must unconditionally withdraw from the state, and that disbandment of Pakistani-administered Kashmir troops must be accomplished before an impartial plebiscite could be held (Rahman 1996: 90–91). In the interests of expediency, the UNCIP appointed a single mediator, Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan , Australian jurist and wartime ambassador to the United States , to efficiently resolve the conflict.

A meeting of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's National Conference was convened on 18 April 1950, in order to pass a resolution expressly warning the United Nations to take cognizance of Pakistan's role as the aggressor (Korbel 2002: 170). The Communist writer Rajbans Krishen wrote an entire book to establish that the UN, its Commission, and its representative, Sir Owen Dixon, were instruments of the United States and the United Kingdom to annihilate the progressive movement pioneered by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in order to create in Kashmir, with the aid of Indian and Pakistani capitalists, a military base for an attack on the Soviet Union (ibid.: 257). The Communist leader in Kashmir , G.M. Sadiq, underscored the skepticism prevalent in Kashmir at the time:

. . . the time has come for India to withdraw the Kashmir question from the Security Council . . . [as] the Kashmiris realized that the talk of fair plebiscite was a mere smokescreen behind which the Anglo-American powers were planning to enslave the Kashmiris. Nothing will suit them better than the façade of trusteeship in Kashmir behind which they can build war bases against our neighbours [ sic ]. ( Delhi Express , 1 January 1952)

Even as Abdullah was aware of the infeasibility of withdrawing the Kashmir issue from the UN, the NC reiterated its commitment to securing the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir . It was suspicious of the UN, which was subservient to the hegemony of the United States and the United Kingdom and flinched when it came to holding a plebiscite in Kashmir (Korbel 2002: 259). Abdullah declared that if a plebiscite was held in Kashmir and the people of Kashmir did not validate the accession to India that would not imply that, “as a matter of course Kashmir becomes part of Pakistan . . . . It would regain the status which it enjoyed immediately preceding the accession [i.e., independence]” ( The Hindu , 26 March 1952). In 1949 Abdullah candidly told Michael Davidson, correspondent of the London Observer , that, “Accession to either side cannot bring peace. We want to live in friendship with both the Dominions” (quoted in Saxena 1975: 33).

The distrust that pervaded the Kashmir political scene was outlined by the Communist paper People's Age , which assessed the report of the United Nations Commission to the Security Council as an instrument of the political intrigues and machinations of imperialist powers against the engendering of democracy in J & K. It was critical of the complicity of Pakistan with these powers to destroy the beginnings of a democratic mass movement. It evaluated the attempt of the United States and the United Kingdom to preside over a purportedly “free and fair” plebiscite that would be held “under the direction of the military and political agents of American imperialism, masked as the UNO Commission officers,” as a strategy on their part to create and secure war bases on the subcontinent against the Soviet Union and China (Krishen 1951: 38).

As a placatory measure, in 1949 the UNCIP declared that “the Secretary-General of the United Nations will, in agreement with the Commission, nominate a Plebiscite Administrator who shall be a person of high international standing” (Dasgupta 1968: 402–03). Needless to say, the plebiscite was never held. The inability of the Indian government to hold a plebiscite is regarded by the Pakistani government and by proindependence elements in Kashmir as an act of political sabotage. The Indian government has been rationalizing its decision by placing the blame squarely on Pakistan for not demilitarizing the areas of J & K under its control, which was the primary condition specified by the United Nations for holding the plebiscite. Josef Korbel, the Czech UN representative in Kashmir, observes that ten weeks after the Security Council had passed an injunction calling on both India and Pakistan to demilitarize the Kashmir region within five months, Sir Owen Dixon found that not an iota of work had been done in that regard. Although both parties had agreed to hold a plebiscite in the state, they had failed to take any of the preliminary measures required for a free and fair referendum. Sir Owen Dixon, therefore, decided to take matters into his own hands and asked for the unconditional withdrawal of Pakistani troops. This was followed by a request to both countries to enable the demilitarization of Kashmir . The then prime minister of Pakistan , Liaquat Ali Khan, agreed to initiate the process by calling for the withdrawal of his troops. But this request, which would have enabled the maintenance of law and order, was denied by India (Korbel 2002: 171). The rationale that India provided for its denial was the necessity to defend Kashmir and maintain a semblance of order. India vehemently opposed any proposal that would place Pakistan on the same platform as India , and that would not take into account the incursion of Kashmir territory by Pakistani militia and tribesmen. In order to neutralize the situation, Sir Owen Dixon suggested that while the plebiscite was being organized and held, the entire state should be governed by a coalition government, or by a neutral administration comprising nonpartisan groups, or by an executive formed of United Nations representatives. But his proposal did not meet with the approval he expected. He noted, in 1950, that the Kashmir issue was so tumultuous because Kashmir was not a holistic geographic, economic, or demographic entity, but, on the contrary, an aggregate of diverse territories brought under the rule of one maharaja (Schofield 2002: 4–10). In a further attempt to resolve the conflict, Sir Owen Dixon propounded the trifurcation of the state along communal or regional lines, or facilitating the secession of parts of the Jhelum Valley to Pakistan (Ganguly 1997: 3–4, 43–57; Rahman 1996: 4).

Despite the bombastic statements and blustering of the governments of both India and Pakistan , however, the Indian government has all along perceived the inclusion of Pakistani-administered J & K and the NA into India as unfeasible. Likewise, the government of Pakistan has all along either implicitly or explicitly acknowledged the impracticality of including the predominantly Buddhist Ladakh and predominantly Hindu Jammu as part of Pakistan . The coveted area that continues to generate irreconcilable differences between the two governments is the Valley of Kashmir . Dixon lamented:

None of these suggestions commended themselves to the Prime Minister of India. In the end, I became convinced that India's agreement would never be obtained to demilitarization in any such form, or to provisions governing the period of the plebiscite of any such character, as would in my opinion permit the plebiscite being conducted in conditions sufficiently guarding against intimidation and other forms of influence and abuse by which the freedom and fairness of the plebiscite might be imperiled. ( The Statesman , 15 September 1950)

Sir Owen Dixon nonetheless remained determined to formulate a viable solution to the Kashmir issue and suggested that a plebiscite be held only in the Kashmir Valley subsequent to its demilitarization, which would be conducted by an administrative body of UN officials. This proposal was rejected by Pakistan, which, however, reluctantly agreed to Sir Dixon's further suggestion that the prime ministers of the two countries meet with him to discuss the viability of various solutions to the Kashmir dispute. But India decried this suggestion. A defeated man, Sir Dixon finally left the Indian subcontinent on 23 August 1950 (Korbel 2002: 174). There seemed to be an inexplicable reluctance on both sides, India and Pakistan , to solve the Kashmir dispute diplomatically and amicably. Sir Dixon's concluding recommendation was a bilateral resolution of the dispute with India and Pakistan as the responsible parties, without taking into account the ability of the Kashmiri people to determine their own political future.

After Dixon 's inability to implement conflict mitigation proposals, Frank Graham was appointed as mediator in 1951. Graham proposed the following: a reaffirmation of the cease-fire line; a mutual agreement that India and Pakistan would avoid making incendiary statements and that would reassert that Kashmir's future would be decided by a plebiscite; and steady attempts at demilitarization. But he was unable to dispel the doubts raised by the governments of India and Pakistan on securing the approval of both governments on a strategy for withdrawal of forces from the state, and agreement of both governments on a plebiscite administrator (ibid.: 239–40). Given the unviability of its proposals, the UN soon bowed out of the political quagmire, leaving an unhealed wound on the body politic of the Indian subcontinent: the Security Council resolutions affirming that the future of the state should be decided by its denizens.

Jawaharlal Nehru's Stance vis-à-vis Plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir

In August 1952, Nehru declared in the Indian parliament: “We do not wish to win people against their will with the help of armed force; and if the people of Kashmir wish to part company with us, they may go their way and we shall go ours. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions” (Bhattacharjea 2008: xiv; Lamb 1991: 46–47). But, once again, he equivocated and sought to capitalize on the formation of the de facto border by declaring in 1955 that he had asked his Pakistani counterparts to consider resolving the Kashmir issue by converting the de facto border into a permanent international one between the two nation-states. Nehru's endeavor to renege on his oft-repeated promise of holding a plebiscite created a hostile obstinacy in Pakistan . After the troubling failure of Sir Dixon's various proposals, the London Times ( 6 September 1950 ) observed:

Like most great men, Nehru has his blind spot. In his case it is Kashmir , the land of his forebears which he loves “like a woman.” Because he is not amenable to reason on this subject, but allows emotion to get the better of common sense, Kashmir remains a stumbling block in the path of Indo–Pakistan friendship. So long as it is so India 's moral standing is impaired, her will to peace is in doubt, and her right to speak for Asia is questioned by her next-door neighbor [ sic ]. Critics may well ask, if self-determination under United Nations auspices is valid for Korea [as India advocates], why is it not valid for Kashmir ?

Nehru's sentimentalism and vacillation regarding Kashmir , perhaps, played a large role in keeping this issue of international dimensions in limbo. The Kashmir dispute has thus remained troublingly infantile in its irresolvability. The remushrooming of the separatist movement in Kashmir in 1989 and the subsequent creation of a political vacuum has allowed the insidious infiltration of distrust and suspicion into the relationship between Kashmir and the two nuclear powers in the Indian subcontinent, India and Pakistan .

Legitimacy of Article 370

All doubts about the attenuation of Article 370 were removed when the ruling faction of the NC, led by Sadiq, heralded the dissolution of the party and its subsequent integration into the Indian nationalist Congress Party. This attempt at discounting a historic political movement that foregrounded a separate Kashmiri identity was an exclusionary tactic deployed by the Union government. The Congress Party's working committee unhesitatingly accepted the integration of the NC (Sadiq faction or Democratic National Conference) into it. This substantive development proclaimed the victory of the Hindu nationalist project in Indian-administered J & K, which had sought the subsumption of religious minorities into a centralized and authoritarian state since the 1940s. The furtherance of the Hindu nationalist agenda in the state was enabled by the complicity of one of the architects of democracy and secularism, Jawaharlal Nehru. His adherence to the unitary discourse of nationalism galvanized the suppression of demands for the autonomy of the Indian-administered J & K state (Puri 1995: 89). These integrative and centralist measures were met with massive opposition, which the Indian government suppressed with bloody maneuvers. The volcanic nature of the protests in the Valley gave a veneer of legitimacy to its action of large-scale repression of leaders of the Plebiscite Front. Abdullah was also arrested, for the umpteenth time, under the Defense of India Rules, to further hush the voices of dissent. The uproar in Kashmir was an opportune moment for Pakistan to jump in the fray; this augmented the unrest and led to an India–Pakistan war in 1965 (see Dasgupta 1968).

The flames of discontent in Kashmir were fanned by Pakistan , which expected cooperation from the Muslims of the Valley. But it ended up being disappointed because the Kashmiri populace did not get involved in the war on a massive scale. The mindset of the Kashmiri people, which the Indian government had culpably ignored, was articulated by Prem Nath Bazaz ([1967] 2005: 99–100), who like Nehru, as I have mentioned in earlier chapters, was of Kashmiri Pandit descent and an eminent advocate of socialist democracy: “An overwhelming majority of them [Kashmiri Muslims] are not happy under the present political set-up, and desire to be done with it. But they are reluctant to bring about change through warfare and bloodshed.” The nonaggressive and compliant attitude of the Kashmiris prior to the resurgence of violent secessionist movements in 1989 has been highlighted by other writers as well. Eminent political and social activists such as the aforementioned Prem Nath Bazaz, Jayaprakash Narayan, and others, conceded that India 's image as a secular democracy had been tarnished by its repressively undemocratic tactics in the state (ibid.; see also, Akbar 1985).

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism ( New York : Routlege, 2005) and Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir ( New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). She is alsoa a Visiting Professor, Department of English , University of Oklahoma




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