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A people-centred peace

Why have all peace-building measures failed in Kashmir? In this article, Dileep Padgaonkar, one of the government interlocutors appointed to study the Kashmir conflict, discusses the importance of going beyond positing the crisis as a Hindu-Muslim one, or one of competing nationalisms, to seeing the plurality of concerns, interests and aspirations in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and putting the people at the centre of a settlement, not nations, ideologies and faiths

When the prime minister invited me and two of my colleagues to become interlocutors on Jammu & Kashmir in October 2010, we took a couple of decisions. The first one was that we would not go to meet the usual suspects. There were people who were appointed as interlocutors before us. They were men of great intelligence and experience, but by and large they confined themselves to Srinagar and Jammu. More often than not people came to call on them in the state guesthouse. We would definitely meet the usual suspects, but we would also travel extensively across the state to find out directly from people what their concerns and interests were, and what their aspirations were in economic, social, cultural and, above all, in political terms. So far, in seven months we have covered roughly 17 of the 22 districts in the state and met more than 530 delegations, or a little more than 4,000 people in all parts of J&K. They belonged to all communities and all kinds of ideological and political persuasions. And this is where we realised that for 63 years a certain mindset has been created which needs to be revisited.

Three issues in particular have been significant. The first is that the entire issue of Jammu & Kashmir has been posited in ideological terms largely as a Hindu-Muslim problem. Secondly, we found that it was posited also in terms of Indian and Pakistani nationalism. And thirdly, it was posited in terms of Kashmiri nationalism.

The heaviest concentration of Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir has been and is still in the valley of Kashmir. The Kashmiri-speaking Muslims, especially Sunni Muslims, were against Dogra rule of Maharaja Hari Singh but they were also solidly behind their leader Sheikh Abdullah, whose own political instincts were much more in tune with the secular traditions of the Indian National Congress. On the other hand, the Muslims of Jammu came under the umbrella of an organisation called the Muslim Conference which was much closer, ideologically, to the Muslim League. So there was an ideological divide even before 1947 within the Muslim community.

The second issue was of national ideology. Pakistan has always believed that without Kashmir Pakistan is incomplete. For India, the fact that a Muslim-majority state was with the Indian Union was the absolute litmus test of India’s secularism. Probe that a little and you find that the Pakistani case was always weak. Because Jinnah insisted that any princely state had to choose between India and Pakistan based solely on what the maharaja or the nawab of that particular state wanted. In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh chose India, but there was legitimacy to his choice because the most popular leader of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, was also in favour of his accession. Secondly, after the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, the whole case of the two-nation theory on which they claimed Kashmir could not work. In the case of India, to say that secularism is really a test for Jammu & Kashmir is correct. But at the same time one has to understand that it is the people of Kashmir who have really been caught between these two dimensions of nationalism because if you accept one, you automatically negate the other. So if you accept that Jammu & Kashmir should be part of India it is not just because it is a Muslim-dominated state but also because the homeland for Indian Muslims that was created in 1947 left behind more Muslims in India than there were in Pakistan, including the people in East Pakistan.

The third is about nationalism in Kashmir. That nationalism is couched in a single word called ‘Kashmiriyat’. What you do find however, when you probe a little deeper, is that Kashmiriyat refers almost exclusively to the Kashmir valley. The people of Ladakh and Jammu do not share it. Kashmiriyat is rooted in the Sufi tradition of Islam which is certainly very prominent in Kashmir. It has also been rooted in a long historical memory. Kashmir is the only part of India which has a recorded history of 4,000 years. This part of the subcontinent has been a crucible for three very distinctive civilisations to come together and form a kind of fusion which you find nowhere else in the world -- namely that of Hinduism, Sufi Islam and, in between, Buddhism. And it is from the experiences of Kashmir that Buddhism, in fact, spread to Central Asia, Tibet and China. So the basis of Kashmiriyat is conviviality, a living together of people belonging to different cultures and different faiths. But that was in the past.

Today, Kashmiriyat represents the strong, ideologically-motivated nationalist force of sections of opinion in the Kashmir valley. From there on we soon discovered that we have been living with three myths that have gone unchallenged for the past 63 years. The first is to try and look at the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir primarily, if not exclusively, from the prism of the valley. This is to ignore Jammu which is a far more interesting part of the state because of its diversity. The tendency is to take the people of Jammu for granted. Likewise, the people of Ladakh constitute a very small number in terms of population but in terms of territory it is larger than Kashmir and Jammu put together. Because you look at the entire problem primarily through the prism of the valley you ignore the interests and aspirations of people in Jammu and in Ladakh. Simply put, those aspirations are for closer integration with the Indian Union. In fact, there has been a strong demand for giving Ladakh the status of a union territory just as in Jammu there have been significant sections of opinion wanting a separate state for Jammu.

In a sense one can understand why the focus has been primarily on Kashmir: all the chief ministers have come from the valley, except for Ghulam Nabi Azad. Secondly, all the secessionists, armed or unarmed outfits, have been from the valley. Almost all the violence that has taken place in the state, particularly in the past 20 years, has affected the people of Kashmir more than it has affected the populations of the other areas. Media and scholarly attention has therefore focused on the valley, to the neglect of the other two regions of the state.

Secondly, the myth is being perpetuated that this is primarily a matter of a Muslim-majority state pitched against Hindu-majority India. If you examine the facts on the ground you get a very different picture. For example, the Shia Muslims, the Sunni Muslims along the LOC, people like the Bakkarwals, the Gujjars and the Paharis do not share the political aspirations of the people of the valley. They have their own set of aspirations. So, for any one region or community to claim that they represent the people of Jammu & Kashmir is incorrect. I don’t even mention people like the Rajputs and the Dogras, people who have seldom found space in the media, who are migrants who came to Jammu in successive waves in 1947, 1965, 1971, and who today are in many respects worse off than the Kashmiri Pandits. Then you go to the regions and find the Kargillis feel they are caught between the valley population and the Buddhist population of Leh, under pressure from both sides. There is a plurality of concerns, interests and aspirations in all the three regions, and also within these regions, which needs to be taken care of.

The third myth is that no one acknowledges that there is a similar pluralism also in Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir. Year after year, Pakistan had been using every opportunity at the international level to cite India’s so-called human rights violations in Kashmir. Hardly any attention has been paid to human rights violations on a massive scale in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In fact, the Pakistanis detached a portion of the erstwhile princely state which they called the Northern Areas. These are not even administered by the government of Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir. Attempts have been made, with a degree of success, to change the demographic constitution in Gilgit Pakistan, and also to bring in sectarian conflicts there because a large number of the population is Shia, so they have brought Pathans and Punjabis and tried to change the demography there. Until less than 25 years ago there was not even adult franchise in Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir. None of this has been discussed in our media.

So we have got to contend with these three factors where we look at the whole issue primarily through the prism of the valley, not countering western propaganda, ably aided by Pakistan, that this is a question of a Muslim-majority state pitted against a Hindu-majority country, and not looking sufficiently at what has been happening since 1947-48 on the other side of the LOC.

How do you therefore look for a political settlement in this situation?

First and foremost, it will be necessary to inform public opinion in India and abroad of this complexity. You can no longer think in terms of facile labels. Changing mindsets is a huge task before us. We said to ourselves that it would be completely foolhardy to come up with solutions, but what we can attempt to do is gradually change the narrative on J&K to look at it in terms of the interests of its people rather than through the spectacles of ideologies. Then you will at least recognise that things are not what they appear to be. From there on I think it’s possible to take another look at what these aspirations actually are. It is the pluralism and the diversity of the aspirations that have to be recognised and understood.

Secondly, it is imperative that we do not look at a solution primarily through the prism of security. I think the armed forces have been doing a splendid job in Jammu & Kashmir but they have to be under public scrutiny because there have been allegations of human rights violations. I have spoken to army generals and I think they are as aware as anyone else that force cannot be an answer to the issues that we face in Jammu & Kashmir; that the only way out is through a political process leading to a political solution. That means that you have got to get public opinion on your side; to say that first and foremost they are doing a difficult and a good job in extremely difficult conditions but also to see that there are perceptions, particularly in the valley, of the army being an occupational force. Different political parties are not going to like what I am saying, but those of us who are not aspirants to high political office and are very happy being journalists like me can come up-front and say that this is the picture. It is a messy picture; a confused and complicated picture.

Add to that the fact that great emotions are involved in Jammu & Kashmir. We will not move forward unless we choose words carefully, unless we learn to listen to people more carefully, and unless, finally, we accept that terrible errors have been made by people in India as well. If you take a quick look at history from 1952 onwards, it is a history of failed promises. Chief ministers have been elected and dismissed. Elections have been rigged. And in the past 20 years the due process of law which is applied all over the country is not being applied with as much care as is required in J&K. People have been languishing in jail for years without trial. Last summer, 117 youngsters who pelted stones were killed, but the reasons for the incident have not been properly gone into. Action has been taken, because we made a series of recommendations to the government saying that crowd control, the manner in which you deal with agitating youth, needs to be handled with much greater care, and techniques and instruments are available for this. Yet you go back to last summer’s agitation and find that, yes, there has been provocation, yes, the provocation has come from sources that we know pretty well. But the manner in which you handled it is a matter of great concern. If you can get continuous television coverage of the Arushi murder case, how come the death of 117 youths did not merit a fraction of that media time? How come the deaths did not find a single mention in Parliament? How do you expect people in the Kashmir valley to look at the Indian state and Indian concern if there is no concern shown by the elected representatives?

So you have got to deal with very hardened perceptions about India in the valley. For 22 years, a whole generation has grown up not knowing anything but violence. That sense of alienation is there and to believe that this is again a concoction of this or that group is wrong. There is an alienation which needs to be addressed at the highest levels. An all-party delegation went there. That was a move that was welcome, but after they got back I thought they would raise these issues in Parliament and ask why so many young people were killed.

There are other issues like youngsters being picked up and put in jail under the Public Security Act. We have made suggestions like the kids should be released by taking bonds from their parents or community leaders. This provision has started as a result of these recommendations, but then they were let off on bail. This means that they have to make court appearances from time to time, and there is a permanent stamp now on these kids when they apply for jobs and so forth.

There have been other instances of denying democratic rights to the people of Kashmir, like passports -- even for the Haj -- being denied because some distant member of the family may have been engaged in some kind of militant activity. This has changed because the chief minister has now said that if anyone applies for a passport they will get one, and I am glad that this too flows from the recommendations that we have been making. But all these months have gone by and those perceptions have hardened. We need to take a look at the mistakes that have been made, and obviously these mistakes are exaggerated by a section. But that does not mean that you should deny the fact that mistakes have been made and are being made.

The other major development that has taken place in J&K is the latest elections to the panchayats. The kind of voter turnout despite calls for background, despite a couple of killings, has been absolutely impressive. It has been more than 75% and has reached 92% in certain areas. You have to acknowledge that faith is being shown in the democratic system of governance at the grassroots level, and this is a very impressive thing. But you cannot say that this shows you once and for all that they are all with India, etc. No, they are not with India. The political problem has to be addressed and the political problem is one of determining what kind of political future they envisage for themselves.

So we come back to where we began -- to acknowledging the pluralism of interests, concerns and aspirations of politics, economy, society, culture. Acknowledging it should not lead to what some people have been proposing, and which I believe is dangerous, namely splitting up the state. The trifurcation of the state into three independent regions is dangerous and I don’t think that anyone in India is ever going to accept any kind of solution which smacks of communal division. We have gone through that once, in 1947. The challenge is to address the political aspirations in all their plurality but without in any way damaging the unity and integrity of J&K. We have got to keep it in one piece and ensure that the differing, even divergent, aspirations are addressed differently. Therefore, I believe that we have got to go back to the history of Kashmir if we have to look at the future of Kashmir.

The Kashmiris have ruled themselves for about 250 years and, therefore, the sense that they must be masters of their own future is extremely strong and acute in the Kashmir valley. Their sense of victimhood is not found elsewhere in the country. But addressing Kashmiri aspirations must not deflect attention from the aspirations of others. Jammu, in particular, believes that it has been at the receiving end of the valley politicians. They give you statistics to tell you what the representation of Jammuites is in the state civil services, in economic disbursement of loans and projects. They also tell you that the delimitation of constituencies has been such that in Jammu, for example, to become an MP you need a certain number of voters, but to elect an MP in the valley you need a smaller number of voters. This is equally true of electing an MLA. So there is a sense of victimhood throughout the state. Much of it is real, and a lot of it is perceived. But a group like ours has to first and foremost listen and understand each sense of victimhood before even thinking of a possible political settlement.

I will conclude by telling you that until about a month or so ago, every time I was asked a question like ‘do you see light at the end of the tunnel?’ my answer was ‘I have yet to discover the tunnel’. Today I can say with a certain degree of authority that yes, we think we know what the tunnel is like and, in fact, it’s a labyrinth, but for a number of reasons which are both internal and external we believe that we see a small ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

A political settlement that can work is a settlement that places the people at the centre of things and not nations, ideologies and faiths. We will not come up with a prescription, because the solution or political settlement should emanate from the people of Jammu & Kashmir themselves. All we can do is tell them that we understand the complexities, we acknowledge and admit the terrible errors that have been committed. That we accept that there is an external dimension to this issue, which is Pakistan. And then we will see how to reconcile these varied aspirations of the regions, sub-regions and communities within the framework of a united agenda.

Wherever you go, young people particularly speak of the need to respect democratic rights. They want to end Kashmir’s isolation from the rest of the world. One of the things that continuously crops up is, please open all roads that lead from Jammu & Kashmir to the other side. This is interesting because we have to make a distinction between people who ask for this in Jammu or Srinagar and people along the LOC. They have different perspectives. And the reason is that once you start looking at the composition, history and aspirations of people in Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir, among the first things that strikes you is that they constantly speak about Kashmir but in fact the Kashmiri-speaking population of Pakistan-administered J&K is less than 1%. Not too many people know this. So what you have is political Kashmiris who have come to the fore, largely because over the last 100 years about half-a-million people from today’s Pakistan-administered Kashmir have migrated to Britain. They trace their lineage to the area around Mirpur, which is not a Kashmiri-speaking place at all. These are people who speak other languages which are fairly close to Punjabi. Mirpur has also provided a large number of soldiers to the Pakistan army. Generals have come from this area. These half-a-million British citizens call themselves Kashmiris because the state is called J&K also, on the other side. They are extremely influential in terms of votes in several constituencies which are Labour-dominated around the area of Birmingham. And it is they who have been at the forefront of making sure that Kashmir figures in a prominent way in British foreign policy.

In the end we have to reckon with the fact that we have got to deal with our Kashmir and to address people who are on our side. That will require an enormous amount of political imagination because the hurt that we find in the valley, particularly, runs so deep that it cannot be easily solved by giving more money, more packages. I don’t think that free and fair elections alone can resolve the issue. The issue is a political one and it requires a political answer. The political answer has to come from within the state itself. And that’s why we have urged the two mainstream parties in the valley to produce a document each, making a series of proposals. We have also told the two major separatist outfits that all of them should come up with a kind of consensus. That is not enough. They ought to seek similar consensus with other parties in Jammu and in Ladakh and evolve something which is acceptable to all the regions, sub-regions and communities. That is going to be our endeavour. We are going to list the issues, suggest alternatives, but it is for the people of J&K to say which alternative -- either the ones that we have suggested or they might have their own -- would be acceptable to all the people of Jammu & Kashmir. This would also be acceptable to the people of India and Pakistan.

(This article is based on a lecture delivered by Dr Dileep Padgaonkar, noted journalist and commentator and member of the team of interlocutors appointed by the government on the Kashmir crisis, on May 28, 2011, in Pune, as part of CCDS-Open Space’s lecture series titled ‘Keeping the Peace’)

Infochange News & Features, October 2011