Wednesday, 24 April, 2024

The Kashmir Tangle

Laxman Pant


The decision taken by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in India to put all the political leadership of Jammu Kashmir under house arrest and scrap the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in order to dissect Jammu Kashmir into two entities namely, Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh for bringing the entire region under the direct rule of the federal government is debatable. No one who believes in democracy, pluralism and secularism could hail the decision neither in the context of democratic procedure nor in terms of its substance. The decision will further divide Indian society along the religious, ethnic and communal lines.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the nation on August 8, 2019, claimed that the government’s move would end terrorism and separatism in Kashmir once and for all. In spite of the assertion from the Indian Prime Minister that the decision was taken to integrate India, it would essentially have far-reaching negative impact on the fabric of democracy, pluralism and secularism. The impact of this action would not be limited in India alone; it would further widen the gap between India and Pakistan, escalate the tension in South Asia and intensify the covert and overt confrontation between the super powers of the world. The decision would provide ideological base and space to Islamic fundamentalists guided by extremist philosophy of ISIS and Taliban who are involved in violence from Syria through Yemen, Sudan to Afghanistan as well as in other parts of the world. Under Article 370 of Indian constitution, Jammu and Kashmir was accorded special status implying that the laws applicable to the rest of India are not applicable there.
Over the last three decades, a large part of Indian army is stationed across Jammu and Kashmir turning it into one of the most militarised zones in the world after the border between North Korea and South Korea. In view of the sheer size and the limitless powers granted to the army deployed in Kashmir, the special status given to it was almost insignificant because the state had been virtually ruled by the army for long. In the aftermath of revocation of Article 370, the nominal special status, too, has ended completely.
In the changed circumstance in Kashmir, additional forces have been deployed to bring the situation under control. One month has passed since the enforcement of a clampdown in Kashmir. However, the situation there is still far from normal. The landline telephones, mobile phones and Internet services are still not fully restored. Kashmir remains almost cut off from the rest of the world. The print editions of the newspapers are reduced to few pages. The government has claimed that Kashmir remains peaceful by and large. It had also claimed that the people of Kashmir were supportive of the decision.
In spite of the curfew-like situation and a huge military presence across Srinagar, the people are gradually coming out of their homes and beginning to stage demonstrations and taking out rallies. It would be earlier at this moment to predict which course the struggle of Kashmiri people take in the days to come. But it is safe to say that Kashmir would see increased violence and counter-violence, making the region further unstable.
Kashmir was an independent nation before 1947. Bordering with India, China and Pakistan, and having enormous natural resources, it is one of the most important regions of the world geopolitically and geo-strategically. Muslims account for 80 per cent of the population there. The rest are Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. In the British-ruled India, the Hindus and Muslims were deemed as two nations for the purpose of the partition of India. The Muslim-dominated regions were included in Pakistan while Hindu dominated regions remained in India. According to this formula, Kashmir was almost a part of Pakistan. But the sovereign ruler of Kashmir, King Hari Singh, was both Hindu as well as a nationalist to the core. He was against the merger of his country, neither with Pakistan nor with India.
When Pakistan sent security forces to bring Kashmir under control, the king sought assistance from Delhi. National Conference, popular political party in Kashmir, was spearheading a struggle to dethrone the king. The king was under tremendous pressure from three fronts-- Pakistan, India and National Conference. Nehru agreed to send Indian forces only after King Hari Singh agreed to merge Kashmir into India. The king succumbed to the pressure. He signed an instrument of accession under duress. The two-thirds of Kashmir thus became part of India and one third remained in Pakistan in 1947. Kashmir was wiped out from the world map. Pakistan took the matter to the United Nations that mandated that a referendum be held in Kashmir. Since 1947, three wars have been fought on Kashmir between India and Pakistan, first in 1947-48, the second in 1965 and the third one in 1999.
The freedom movement of Kashmir entered in a new phase after 1989. The Kashmiri rebels launched guerrilla warfare against the Indian security forces. From then onward, Kashmir has witnessed unprecedented violence and counter violence. The decades-old violence has claimed as many as 100,000 lives. Pakistan has supported the movement in Kashmir.
Kashmiri people are fairly divided on the issue of Kashmir. One group believes that Kashmir should remain in India as it has become a part of India legally following the king's decree in 1947. Another group thinks that being a Muslim majority region, Kashmir belongs to or should be a part of Pakistan. The third group does not subscribe to both the views. They want an independent Kashmir. However, this opinion is not dominant one. In the later phase of the movement, the penetration of the elements like Taliban or ISIS into the fold of movement who dream to transform Kashmir into a Taliban state has become a cause of alarm.
Modi has succeeded to constitutionally integrate Kashmir with the rest of India by revoking Article 370. Would he also succeed to assimilate the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people having different religions, cultures, languages and lifestyles? It is most unlikely at least in the foreseeable future. The only answer to the Kashmir tangle is dialogue between all the domestic as well as international stakeholders. Nepal in its capacity as the chair of the SAARC ought to give an advice to India accordingly. It is a moral imperative as well as political obligation on the part of the Government of Nepal to offer a friendly piece of advice to India.
(Pant is a Central Committee Member of the Nepal Communist Party-NCP. He can be reached at