It has become fashionable, while discussing the ongoing violence in Kashmir to state that we need a political solution which looks into the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. That makes for good copy, but is merely stating the obvious. All conflicts having an ideological construct require political resolution, unless the military victory is so overwhelming that the will of the victor can be enforced. World War II is an apt example of such a victory, where the Allied Forces imposed their will on the vanquished powers. Within a country, when dealing with internal fault-lines, such dynamics do not apply. An example is the complete and total victory of the Sri Lankan state against the LTTE, which finally brought down the curtain on decades of violence. But an absence of violence by itself does not denote peace, which has to be brought about through political interventions. The progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka on this score is still a work in being and a permanent peace in the Island nation will depend on how the political situation is handled.
A military victory in J&K will not provide the panacea for a more durable peace. In any case, how can peace be achieved by defeating one’s own people? No one is more cognisant of this fact than the Armed Forces, who have been on the forefront of this conflict since its inception in the eighties. The security forces have however, managed violence in an exemplary manner, and given many opportunities to the state to affect a political resolution. This sadly has not come by.
Perhaps a solution has evaded the policy makers because it is premised on a series of false assumptions. An oft repeated chestnut is that the Kashmiri population has been discriminated against and that its angst has to be quenched with what is euphemistically called the ‘healing touch’. This fallacy is continuously touted in the print and audio visual media, with the concerned people mouthing such platitudes without having an iota of understanding of what the conflict drivers are. A simple analysis debunks this hypothesis. The state of J&K (excluding the areas illegally occupied by Pakistan and China), has three geographical and administrative divisions of which Kashmir is but one part, the other two parts being the Ladakh and Jammu Divisions. In terms of area, the Kashmir Division is the smallest, having 15.7 percent of the land area, but with 55 percent of the population.
Jammu Division has 26 percent of the land area with 42.6 percent of the population while Ladakh Division has the largest land area (58.3 percent), but with just 2.4 percent of the population. The Kashmir Division in the state of J&K is the politically dominant force, which garners the lions share of the development and employment cake, far in excess of what its population holdings or land area suggest. Yet it is only this group which is agitating and not their brethren in the Jammu and Ladakh Divisions, who receive the short end of political empowerment and of development, economic and employment opportunities.
The discourse has cleverly been subverted to make it appear that the whole state is affected which is apparently not the case. Unrest exists for the main part only in the Kashmir Division and that too confined mostly to South and Central Kashmir. In geographic terms, violence is restricted to less than ten percent of the states land area. Population wise, it covers less than 20 percent of the state’s population. The cause of violence is obviously not discrimination but is rooted in a separatist mindset fanned by Pakistan and a communal ideology fanned by ‘Wahhabism’ propagated by virulent preachers and generously funded by Saudi Arabia. It is the Kashmir-based Sunni leaders, both the so-called mainstream and the separatists, who have fanned discontent based on a communal agenda. Surprisingly, this minority has garnered both political power and financial clout in the state at the expense of the other communities.
The Shiite Muslims in Kashmir do not subscribe to the separatist ideology being promoted by Kashmiri Sunnis. They, like the people of Jammu, Ladakh, and other religious and ethnic minorities, constitute the group that has been persecuted and discriminated against. Yet, it is the Sunni leadership which agitates, despite having a disproportionate share of state power.
Journalists, intellectuals and media personalities may be well meaning, but they often miss the woods for the trees. Most speak of the angst of the people of Kashmir, some to drive their TRPs, but invariably none give any cogent reason for this angst, merely presuming that such angst is justified by the mere reason of its existence. What has also not been touched upon is the lack of such angst in the Jammu and Ladakh Divisions of the state. This begs the question as to why such angst is confined to only that section of the populace that lives in just 15 percent of the land area of the state and who for the most part are Sunni Muslims? Is there a divide based on religious fault-lines? Do the people in Kashmir, most of whom are Sunni Muslims, seek a separate identity, based on their religion? Does that explain why the entire Kashmiri Pandit population, the only remaining Hindu community native to the Valley, was forced to flee Kashmir in the nineties, following threats by radical Islamists and militants. Particularly vicious were the events of 19 January 1990, when declarations were made from mosques that the Kashmiri Pandits were ‘kafirs’ and that the males had to leave Kashmir, convert to Islam or be killed!
It is often stated that all political parties, while in power in the state and in the Centre have squandered opportunities to bring in a lasting peace, especially in the last decade. But there remains a deafening silence on the contours of what such a settlement should constitute. ‘Insaniyat’ is a word much bandied about. Does ‘Insaniyat’ mean sacrificing the interests of the majority of the population to a fringe in the Valley which seeks secession from India? Does it mean succumbing to a perverse ideology, which has place for only one type of religious belief? What happens then to the spirit of ‘Kashmiriyat’, so oft spoken about, but practiced only in the breach? And what happens to the Kashmiri Pandits who have been displaced from their hearths and homes because of radical Islamist ideology which does not accept any belief but their own and who have been forced to live as refugees in other parts of the country? Does it mean succumbing to Sunni religious fanatics and sacrificing the concept of India as a secular state? These are uncomfortable questions, but no solution to the Kashmir imbroglio can be found unless such questions are asked and truthfully addressed.
The issue of state sponsored terrorism as a causative factor for violence in Kashmir also finds little resonance in the intellectual and media circles of India. This is dishonesty of a perverse kind. Following its humiliating defeat in 1971, Pakistan embarked upon a policy of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’. Terrorist organisations were created and raised in Pakistan and terrorists were infiltrated into India to spread chaos and venom as part of this diabolical policy. The Saudis too got into the act, sending humungous amounts of money to spread a virulent form of Islam, based on Wahhabi ideology. This is the cancer which must be excised from the Kashmir Valley and in other parts of the state where its presence is now being felt.
A solution to the Kashmir imbroglio must hence be factored on countering state sponsored terrorism and on countering a ‘Wahhabi’ mindset. The former has been largely kept in check by the Indian security forces, but eradicating the roots of the problem would require addressing Pakistan’s covert war being waged against India. Islamabad needs to be delivered a firm message, that the will of the Indian people is not to be trifled with and will invite severe retribution. Pakistan believes that its nuclear weapon capability has foreclosed Indian options in dealing with conflict at the conventional level. They need to be disabused of this notion. No longer can the Indian state succumb to nuclear blackmail from across the border. The bluff has to be called and aggression must be responded to in a manner that imposes heavy costs on Pakistan for its misadventures.
Within the Valley, a clear message must go to the separatists and other anti-national forces that the state will not compromise with the Indian Constitution. To that end, a comprehensive perception management campaign needs to be undertaken to inform the people of the agenda of Pakistan and to counter the virulent Wahhabi ideology, which is being propagated through Saudi funding. The choice for the Muslims of the state is between Sufi Islam and Wahhabism; between a pluralistic society based on ‘Kashmiriyat’, which is the soul of Kashmir and a closed closed society based on radical Islam. Between modernity and forward thought on the one side and obscurantist medievalism on the other.
Problem definition is but one step towards conflict resolution. That peace has still not returned to the Valley despite years of conflict does not reflect on the effectiveness of the Armed Forces. It is primarily because the Armed Forces are effective that the state of J&K has not slipped into chaos, and become another sore like Iraq, Syria, or another dysfunctional entity like Pakistan. The genocide perpetrated by the Pakistani state against its own people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA and in occupied Balochistan, is indeed a telling indictment of that state.
However, serious deficits continue to exist in the state of J&K and I daresay in the Centre, in issues pertaining to administration, governance, justice delivery and economic upliftment of the state. These are by no means unique to the state of J&K, and afflict many other states of the union as well. However, they need to be dealt with on a war footing, and could even encompass the setting up of fast track courts with time bound disposal of cases, changing the administrative set up and putting in place procedures to ensure accountability in governance. This must go alongside an effective perception management campaign to challenge the Wahhabi ideology. Externally, the actions of Pakistan in promoting terrorism in the Valley and in other parts of the country must be effectively countered and a stern message sent to that country that an interference in India’s internal affairs will meet with serious consequences.