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Taking stock of the Kashmir dispute

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Nyla Ali Khan
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has recently claimed that Kashmir will be a changed place within a year.The presence of several mainstream political organisations is a hallmark of politics in the Sub-continent. Similarly in conflict zones, there are several separatist organisations, attempting to outdo one another in taking the moral high ground and adopting righteous attitudes. And this has obviated the necessary repairing of dysfunctional institutions.The deployment of violence to quell insurrections has, historically, been seen as depoliticising societies and metamorphosing organisations meant for protection of borders and trained for land warfare into political stakeholders. I recall a conversation with a politically influential acquaintance about the role of the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir. I had asked, rather acerbically, how the Army had become a stakeholder in the Kashmir imbroglio. My acquaintance had responded, hurriedly and just as acerbically, “there are good stakeholders and there are bad stakeholders, and the armed forces are, inevitably, stakeholders in an insurgent zone.”
I was rather ticked off by that response and I wondered how a mediator with such a mindset could be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations. If the political evolution of a society is nipped in the bud by a puissant military establishment, state policies always fall short of becoming coherent. The more a military establishment makes incursions into democratic spaces, the more shaky institutions of state remain and the more fragmented the polity becomes. Once a populace begins to question the validity of choices it exercises in the electoral process — because it sees processes of electioneering and institutions of democratic governance lack transparency — the sociopolitical fabric is ripped to pieces. The “sovereign” role played by the GHQ in Pakistan is an example of such a scenario. In civilised societies, political dissent is not curbed and national integrity is not maintained by military interventions. The more military officials get involved in issues of politics, governance, and national interest, the more blurred the line between national interest and a hawkish national security concern becomes. Contrary to what the Indian and Pakistani military establishments are doing in J&K and the Northeast and Balochistan, respectively, the people of the two countries must learn to work together, across ethnic and ideological divides. They must insist that everyone should be included in democratic decision-making and given full access to basic social services. It is an egregious mistake, and one that has severe ramifications, to allow the military of a nation-state to bludgeon its democratic processes. Belligerent political and military voices at the federal level conveniently forget that the special constitutional position accorded to J&K would enable the strengthening of a closer association between the state and India. The Constituent Assembly of India had been careful to take note of the special circumstances for which provisions had been made for J&K. It is interesting to note that the Jammu Praja Parishad party had fought tooth and nail against the special status granted to J&K. It had merged with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh party in 1963. It had raised the slogan of Ek Pradhan, Ek Bidhan, Ek Nishan as early as the 1950s and a spokesperson of that organisation had claimed that they would strive for the replacement of the national flag of India by a bagwa-flag.

In addition to addressing the political aspect of democracy, it is important to take cognisance of its economic aspect as well.The geographical location of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is such that it depends for its economic growth on an unhindered flow of trade to India and Pakistan. Kashmiri arts and crafts have found flourishing markets in India for decades. At the same time, rivers and roads of Kashmir stretch into Pakistan. Prior to 1947, Rawalpindi used to be Kashmir’s railhead, and Kashmiri traders would use Karachi as the sea-port for overseas trade. The welfare of the people of the state can be guaranteed by securing goodwill of the political establishments of India and Pakistan, and by display of military discipline and efficiency at the borders. The forte of the armed forces of a country, to the best of my knowledge, is national security, not national interest or foreign policy.

Besides, the road to Kabul from India and Pakistan runs through Kashmir. Central and Southern Kashmir shares borders with India, Pakistan, and China. Pakistan-administered Northwest Kashmir shares a border with Afghanistan and China. China administers the Northeast Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram tract in the northeast. Various territorial disputes persist. Thus, a crucial step to winning peace in Afghanistan is to ensure the empowerment and stability of Kashmir’s culture, economy, and democratic institutions.

The purported “statesmanship” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cohort has just further deterred the growth of democracy in the state. Instead of empowering the populace of J&K sufficiently and ensuring that a disempowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive political ideologies, the BJP has left no stone unturned to exacerbate the alienation of the people of the state.

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