Wither Kashmir: Short-Term Glory or Long-Term Solution

Intra-Kashmir Politicking

The mere mention of Kashmir, brings about an inevitable gush of emotions, a slew of stanched resolutions, sterile accords and pacts, impulsive wars and the incessant violence. In the recent years, where the relation between India and Pakistan is thawing in many regards, and the movement in Kashmir has been wallowing amidst different narratives emerging from organizations, which previously claimed to represent the sole aspiration and dream of a free Kashmir. In the initial years of rejuvenated Kashmiri resistance, the Hurriyet Conference emerged as a conglomerate of the 22 separatist organizations, becoming a formidable “force to reckon with in the Valley.”1 Today, the Hurriyet conference is split into moderate and extremist, as termed by the media, while people have relegated them to pro-India and pro-Pakistan positions. A range of views emerges from the splintered group, which ironically was the bulwark embodying the Kashmiri struggle. Having said this does not challenge Hurriyet’s overall credibility, if anything the consultant factions still represent the travesty of Kashmiri presence in a peace process that is working within a seemingly magnanimous bilateral agenda, but is fraught with a myopic vision and a narrow view of resolution for Kashmir.

The quest of looking at the political conundrum that the bilateral peace process has created within Kashmir manifests in a badly split Hurriyet Conference, the dissonant offshoots of which effect other surrounding pro-freedom parties. This phenomenon raises significant concerns for understanding which faction represents the true aspirations of Kashmiri people and more importantly, brings the scope of inquiry into understanding motivations behind the dalliances that either country, whether India or Pakistan is carrying on with them.

It is quite evident that both countries would prefer a minimalist approach to a Kashmiri participation in the peace process. There are staunch believers in the fact that Hurriyet was an impressive presence for New Delhi before the split, lending credence to the belief that New Delhi and Islamabad were burning the midnight oil to create a rift among the separatists.2 As the factions combat internal bickering and ever-spreading schisms, their placebo inclusion on the sidelines has become handy and convenient for both Pakistan and India. The Kashmiri participation at the bilateral negotiating table has been a tacit non-issue for India and Pakistan. The rampant diversity in the agenda proffered by the consultant groups makes it more and more elusive. With the steady departure from core issue being Kashmir, the thrust on a composite dialogue which discusses “outstanding issues especially Kashmir” as opposed to what should have been “the core dispute of Kashmir and other outstanding issues” has become stronger.

The inquiry into the composition and representation of the Kashmiri aspirations is not intended to challenge the legitimacy of Kashmiri parties involved on the fringes of the peace process, but their placement amidst the dialogue with either Pakistan or India is indicative of success they will be able to garner as they pursue finding solutions for Kashmir. Their genuine intentions of finding the way out from the status quo is more than evident in the variety of propositions and plans that they have put forth before India and Pakistan and the extreme flexibility they have shown in their departure from previous positions and the alacrity in shuttling between New Delhi and Islamabad. However, there is a considerable reserve emerging from people concerning the original sentiment personified by a united front from Kashmir and the departure from that position towards compromises, which are at the moment mostly viewed as pro-India or pro-Pakistan. The allegiance these factions have shown for a peace process that has had little to offer Kashmiris apart from the 14 buses that traveled the Srinagar-Muzafarabad route in the last two years is no doubt a matter of skepticism in the valley.

Consultation with Kashmiris in matters of a composite dialogue also indicates the dilemma, the peace process represents for Kashmiri people and the priority it accords them in the whole scenario. The location of the repository of Kashmiri will, which the two countries — either India or Pakistan can address, is needed to garner a relevance that this engagement will have for the entire Kashmir, not just for a particular faction. These are crucial issues, which need an urgent cognizance in case Pakistan and India are genuinely motivated to solve the Kashmir issue for the sake of Kashmir and its people, and not just for their mutual benefit or the global audience.

The Indo-Pak motivations and their engagement with moderate Hurriyet and other outfits, manifest the preconditions that each country clings to inherently, even if the extrinsic gestures, at least at the level of CBM’s appear to be internationally endearing. The progress in bilateral relations over Kashmir and in their contact with Kashmiri representation, whichever faction that is, is to be viewed, through what President Musharraf expressed, in no uncertain words, “Certainly, because none of us [Pakistan or India] is in favor of their independence”.3 This sentiment offered Pakistan’s stand and in an ironic twist, President Musharaf also spoke on behalf of India to Kashmiris; nevertheless, India had for its part, had issued a diktat way earlier, if Kashmiris ever wanted to negotiate. In 2003, the then prime minister of India, Atal Bihar Vajpayee had declared, “Our doors are open, to all those, who reject militancy and extreme positions and wish to play a constructive role in taking Jammu and Kashmir forward on the high road of peace and rapid development.”

So within the ambit of the rules laid out, independence and extreme positions have come to be perceived as an anathema by a deeply fatigued and war torn Kashmiri leadership, foremost by Hurriyet who scurried to reorganize their positions and plans in order to find some audience for their woes and views. Pakistan’s departure from its historically stated position of implementing United Nations security Council Resolution on Kashmir, and succumbing to the rhetoric for demilitarization and self-governance as alternate solutions, even as India stands firm on Kashmir being an integral part of India and its avoidance of calling it a disputed territory, has added fuel to the harried reactions issuing from the valley and furthered deviations and diversions in the political map within Kashmir. The split in Hurriyet also marked a surge in diverse and chaotic narratives that currently exist elsewhere on the Kashmiri political firmament. For Kashmiri representatives renouncing pre-conditions and extreme positions, may have garnered them a presence in the dialogue and consultations at different level of talks, but it is highly improbable that there will be a mature benefit, which satisfies all of them.

The present strategy of the bilateral process and indigenous engagement utilized by India and Pakistan have relegated Kashmir issue to pesky tangle in the overall political and intellectual goodwill generated in both countries in the recent years. Within that context, as both countries veer towards establishing what has been time and again termed as a relation of mutual benefit, Kashmir issue seems to devolve into a mere issue of self-governance or its variant at best. The present Pakistani government may be poised for historical glory in opting for flexible, creative “out of the box” solution for Kashmir but in terms of the actual implementation this move appears short-sighted at best. The same goes for the union government in India, which is taking full advantage of playing on the schisms ravaging Kashmir’s erstwhile single-front leadership. India tacitly continues to reiterate its hold on the valley, be it in shape of the pro-India parties administering the region or the security forces, which continue the scourge of human rights abuses.

Pandering to the clamor for Kashmiri participation, which is overridden at the bilateral table, and in the recent times engaged less surreptitiously at the sidelines, is not a working solution for involving Kashmiri will in its true splendor. President Musharaf’s four point proposal, which includes reorganization, demilitarization and specific withdrawal of Indian forces, self-governance in Jammu and Kashmir and “Joint Management” or what was agreeably re-termed as “Institutional Arrangements” similar to those in Northern Ireland is a strategy which emphasizes a categorical negation of self-determination and independence as an option for Jammu and Kashmir. Within these parameters the engagement with Kashmiris in general and the consultant groups in particular can be viewed as a mollifying interaction, which calms the outcry for their inclusion. It also assuages international pressures engulfing both Pakistan and India, as well as becomes a talking point for intellectuals and media, which is ever keen on reporting the supposedly historical developments.

In consulting the specific Kashmiri groups, who claim to represent peoples will, is indicative of Pakistan conferring with preferred ideologues, which will no doubt widen the scope of dissent in future, if ever any solution were to be reached. As far as India is considered, in widening their span of dialogue, they have thrown open the door to more chaos and bickering within the Kashmiri parties. This lends a shadow of doubt to the motivations of both the countries towards resolving the Kashmir issue. The validity of a relevant long term solution for Kashmir, is also falling prey to foreseeable benefits for some genuine concerns that the Hurriyet factions or other parties in Kashmir voice repeatedly; which is finding an end to this long protracted conflict and stopping the violence in Kashmir. Even as the core objectives appear to be genuine and crucial, the strategy envisaged and implemented to attain them is not plausible.

Contrary Missions: Quest for Fragments of Peace

The spate of contrary narratives emerging from the moderate Hurriyet faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the extreme faction, Tehreek E Hurriyet, headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, indicate changing perceptions of the solution for Kashmir, within the valley. In January 2006, this dissonance was showcased for international audience, as the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed support for Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and arrived in Islamabad for consultations. This visit was opposed in a rally organized by Millat-e-Islamia Kashmir, an outfit that supports Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s breakaway Hurriyet faction. Geelani’s faction dismisses the peace process as a sham meant to divert people from the UN promised plebiscite. It perceives the moderate Hurriyet’s stand as a surrender and opposes reopening the bus route between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar fearing dilution of the Kashmir problem. As a votary of self-determination, Geelani does not engage in plans for self-governance, autonomy, joint management, and soft border, that he thinks will be a surrender before India.4 Ironically, Geelani as a staunch ally and a passionate advocate of the state’s accession to Pakistan is perceived as fighting against the very entity he has been drawing succor from all his life. Although, Geelani may remain committed to plebiscite and seeking people’s aspiration, he has so far presented no plan or strategy for achieving this goal within the modalities and ground realities of the existing situation and his politics stands deeply isolated by both Pakistan and India. Another section of Kashmiris, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) is actively pursuing the third option of Independence, instead of a plebiscite which would offer choice between Kashmir’s accession to either India or Pakistan. JKLF launched a public protest in 2001, also in Pakistan-administered Kashmir when the contestants in the assembly elections required there to declare their support for the accession of the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. Neither India nor Pakistan, however, has taken cognizance of the third option.5 Amanullah Khan, one of the founding members of JKLF expresses motivation for outright independence; believing the Kashmiri will for independence is overwhelming and assesses that the Hindus of Jammu will never opt for Pakistan and have no option other than independence.6 Yasin Malik, heading the JKLF in the Indian administered valley, in an unprecedented campaign gathered about 1.5 million signatures (or thumb impressions of people, with names and addresses). This campaign has been hailed by progressives in India for affirming Kashmiri identity cutting across religious, regional and ethnic divides and his language of peace and the Gandhian mould of activism is more than welcome in the intellectual circles in India.7 If on one hand, Malik is successful in abstaining from violence and putting a positive agenda before the people, on the other hand, he has not put forth any strategy for achieving Independence for Kashmir. His campaign for Kashmiri participation does not offer much understanding of the role or benefit that such engagement will yield at the Indo-Pak negotiating table, which does not recognize the third option for Independence. In the saga of deepening fragmentation in the political firmament in the valley, JKLF has also broken up with the rival group staking a claim at the party leadership. Another splinter faction, led by Javed Mir, a former staunch colleague of Malik, joined Geelani’s breakaway party, only to leave and ally with Mirwaiz’s Hurriyet faction, which for a heady period was pivotal in parleying with Islamabad and Delhi.

The interesting part of the bilateral political theatre which began with accepting a Kashmiri consultation for a largely premeditated agenda, heightened further, after Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference was invited by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Delhi, close on the heels of Hurriyet’s Islamabad visit. In an article in Tribune titled, “Invitation to Lone: PM kills two birds with one stone”,8 this development was seen as Delhi emphasizing a deliberate change. In engaging groups other than the Hurriyet, Delhi was undermining the credence that Pakistan has bestowed on them as well as their claim of being the sole representatives of the genuine will of Kashmiris. Despite Hurriyet’s outcry at being sidelined even though it was the largest conglomerate, Delhi was in no mood to appease and continued its strategy of what they called, “broadening the scope of dialogue”; and which in the case of Kashmir, amounts to nothing short of a cacophony. Hurriyet was even relegated to present their proposals to Narayanan (National Security Advisor) before discussing them with the prime minister.9 So as the bilateral seduction worked its magic intermittently on the different Kashmiri representatives, attaching ephemeral importance and assuring them of alternate benefits, the more their role eroded in the whole exercise. As far as the mood of the Kashmiri people during the apparently breakthrough meetings was concerned, newspapers reported that the Indian meeting (Sajjad Lone with Manmohan) did not generate any enthusiasm in the valley and people remained equally indifferent to the Hurriyat’s Pakistan sojourn.10

The most complex aspect of intra-Kashmir political scenario, the interweave and contrariness that exists therein, is a sad legacy of combating powers which have ravaged the very core of Kashmir polity. Although this complexity does not invalidate the existence of the political pursuits, it nevertheless makes them extremely vulnerable. Sajjad Lone had been a part of Hurriyet and was expelled after attacking Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for attending the funeral of his father’s alleged killers. In attending the funeral of the man killed by the Indian security forces and who was named in the FIR on Lone’s assassination, Farooq invoked Sajjad’s ire who demanded a public apology for “glorifying the killers of our leader.” The senior Lone, who favored negotiation with India was shot dead in 2002. He was also expected to field several proxy candidates in the upcoming state legislative, a move that some of his opponents called a sellout to India.11 Sajjad Lone, who incidentally is married to JKLF chief Amanullah Khan’s daughter, was dismissed from Hurriyet, which led to bifurcation of the Peoples Party and his brother Bilal Lone, continued representing his faction in the moderate Hurriyet.

Moreover, in the political food chain in Kashmir, one cannot forgo the “in-power and out of power rhetoric” practiced by the carriers of the mainstream pro-India politicians. In the current milieu, prominent amongst them is Mehbooba Mufti, of the People’s Democratic Front (PDP), who is calling for demilitarization after her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, completed three years in power. In the chaotic political formulations and their subsequent aspirations, the thin line between some mainstream pro-India parties and pro-freedom groups seems to be growing vague, as their demands have begun to sound alike. The over zealous media assiduously reports the unfocused rhetoric further worsening the chaos for the hapless masses. An editorial in times of India indicated that PDP’s support for demilitarization signifies the growing proximity between it and Hurriyat12 [ostensibly the moderate faction]. This can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, either casting doubts on Hurriyet’s intentions or a change of heart in PDP, whatever it may be — it inevitably becomes the indicator of the extreme political befuddlement that has been planted in the Kashmiri soil. With active engagement of pro-freedom groups like the Sajjad’s faction of the People’s party, which is perceived as being inclined to join mainstream politics, the bedlam seems poised to proliferate further rather than be stanched any time soon.

The Only Way Forward

In the past few years, as is quite evident that New Delhi and Islamabad have embarked on bold initiatives to bolster mutual relations and chalk out, at least a rudimentary plan for resolving the crucial issues between them. Although the Kashmir issue, which fits the definition of what actually is crucial (or wrong) between them, has been substituted by a host of CBM’s and an unwavering need for a seemingly protracted composite dialogue process. In the meantime, the opening up of Line of Control (LoC) for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which by far an apparent manifestation of the whole process, comes across as a mere peripheral milestone for people in Kashmir whose real problem stands sidelined. There is criticism foremost within Kashmir, as well as India and Pakistan regarding this peace process, which has yielded so little for Kashmiris.

In the initial days of rummaging for a way forward with India, as Pakistan became receptive to the winds of change blowing through Asia for greater economic integration, a 9/11 hued world and hinted at making borders irrelevant, an article in Tribune expressed the following views,

President Pervez Musharraf ultimately realized the significance of softening the Line of Control for handling the question of Kashmir. India has been hammering this point for a long time. This was the central idea behind promoting people-to-people contacts by starting the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad with the minimum requirement of travel documents. Once people find it easy to travel from one side of Jammu and Kashmir to the other with facilities for trade and commerce, they will develop a stake in peace. The advantages of peaceful coexistence will make the people concentrate on their economic well-being. The pressure from the people, which is bound to increase in such a situation, may force the two governments to find a workable remedy for the problem, which has been one of the major roadblocks to peace (Tribune, May 2005)

Although this report chalks a cyclical roadmap for achieving an end to the Kashmir dispute. However, it evokes apprehensions about the historical malady that ails both India and Pakistan, which is a predilection for diluting Kashmir issue. Moreover, there is strong precedence to support the premise of trying to solve Kashmir problem first, and then awaiting the rest to follow. Currently, the whole scenario has become a conundrum similar to that of chicken before egg or egg before chicken. It reverberates incessantly as Pakistan continues to rustle up plans, reworks its historical stand, urges India to reciprocate; while Indian government firm on its stated positions on Kashmir, stresses the condition of creating an environment suitable for stable peace.

In a recent development, India downplayed Pakistan’s assertion that Kashmir was the core issue between the two countries, saying it was not perturbed and remains optimistic about progress in the bilateral composite dialogue. With the fourth round of composite dialogue underway, confidence-building measures piling up and the ceasefire in place for the last three years, India seems confident. With its newfound global alliances and economic potential, Kashmir issue in the Indian mainstream has almost been demoted to the status of a chronic malaise. It is also being conveniently lumped within the overarching threat of the so-called Islamic terrorism, a stereotype that finds a ready and sympathetic audience inside and abroad. With such reinforcement and the fact that Kashmiri cry for self-determination has been subsumed within new overarching narratives for self-governance and joint institutions; Kashmir issue is gradually undergoing an unsolicited makeover.

Kashmiris for their part, living in the siege like atmosphere prevalent in the valley and suffering unbated human rights abuses, are hard to convince regarding an easy achievable solution. Their disenchantment with the peace process and the parties involved therein, is rooted in the failures of past and shortcomings in the current one. They have watched too many people and parties fall prey to the demon of interim solutions borne of the edgy friendship between India and Pakistan. The Indo-Pak romance has a familiar pattern for those who know it intimately, “talks — tension — and more talks. Rather than enjoying the peace initiatives, one gets more concerned when the honeymoon is going to end.”13

The peace process to many keen eyes appears to be a big rigmarole which is has been birthed by the two countries, only to be carried upon a desperate population represented by a reactive, diverse, and impressionable leadership. There is an evidence of preordained mindsets, which are reworking the canonical truths about Kashmir in order to maintain the claim on the real estate within their grasp and the efforts they make to override the constraints created therein; in order to catch up with the global trends and pressures as they make cosmetic changes in the regional relations.

Even if the basic travesty of a democratic process was to be followed in Kashmir, no non-elected leadership can be engaged on behalf of hapless people or substituted for an overarching process of self-determination, as in a UN mandated plebiscite. Having said that does not lend any credence to the elected or governing parties, who with their pro-Indian loyalties are inherently discredited in the eyes of Kashmiri people especially during the last 16 years. Therefore, the issue remains, what is the best viable option for a stable peace in Kashmir? To court that resolution requires more patience and sincerity than, India or Pakistan is willing to extend to Kashmiri people. The solution can only be found in a UN mandated plebiscite. The demand for plebiscite is not an irrelevant one, provided it has an option for Independence. However, the very idea of plebiscite leading to a free Kashmir, which has cost a lot of Kashmiri blood is pushed on to the backburner by most factions, including the moderate Hurriyet and is endorsed by the Pakistan. If anything, it is most relevant in the current situation prevailing in the valley where the narratives emerging from the Kashmiri political firmament are fragmented. In such circumstances, the groups which are courted may be appeased momentarily but the ones sidelined and disgruntled will multiply and create further unrest. As far as Kashmiri masses are considered, they have receded into an inert and fearful submission. They can only be roused to express their free will if no threat exists to their life or property, and which in the current circumstance is not possible.

The UN Resolution albeit updated with a third option, is the only means to pave way for a permanent solution for Kashmir. Contemporary world, has witnessed South Africa, Angola, and East Timor emerge as Independent countries. More recently, Montenegro, became a sovereign state after a little over the required 55% of the population opted for independence in a May 2006 referendum. In Kashmir a two-phased referendum could be held under the UN auspices; the first one would have options for Independence or Union14. The second would only take place if people chose Union and would have options to join either India or Pakistan. Fanciful or naïve as it seems, such a resolution is not an irrelevant pipe dream; it can be a lasting solution for genuine deliverance of Kashmiri people, that is if bilateral will and motivation is ever dedicated towards solving Kashmir for Kashmir’s sake.

  1. Jamwal, A. B., (February 2004), Much Ado About Nothing, Newsline, Retrieved on April 2 2007. []
  2. Jamwal, A. B., (Febuary 2004), Much Ado About Nothing, Newsline, Retrieved on April 2 2007. []
  3. Noorani, A. G. , (August 12-25 2006), There is so much to gain mutually, Retrieved on April 3 2007. []
  4. Kashani, S (March 9 2007), Interview with Geelani, IANS, Retrieved on April 10. []
  5. Sriraman, J., (October 10 2004), Solving Kashmir Without the Kashmiris, Global Policy Forum. []
  6. Rawat, A., (2006), Interview with Amanullah Khan, Kashmir Affairs, Retrieved on April 4. []
  7. Bidwai, P. (March 26, 2005), Marching to Peace – New citizens’ initiatives are afoot, The News International, Retrieved March 13, 2007 from Communication & Mass Media Complete database. []
  8. Kak, L.M, Invitation to Lone: PM kills two birds with one stone. Retrieved March 13, 2007 from Communication & Mass Media Complete database. []
  9. Geelani, Iftikhar, Manmohan meets Sajjad Lone, Retrieved March 15, 2007. []
  10. Mirwaiz Asks Delhi To Give Proposals On Kashmir, (January 11 2006) The Daily Excelsior. []
  11. Lakshmi, R & Chandrasekaran, R., Kashmir Separatist Leader Killed. (2002, May 21). The Washington Post. []
  12. Bamzai, S., Valley Needs Army, Retrieved on April 2, 2007. []
  13. Rashid, A. (2006), No mourners for a dying peace process in Kashmir, Retrieved on March 30th 2007. []
Ather Zia is a Kashmiri journalist, currently pursuing a doctorate in Anthropology at UC Irvine. She is the Editor of Kashmir Lit, and she can be reached at: editor@kashmirlit.org. Read other articles by Ather.