68 years since Kashmir's accession: Want peace? Talk to locals, not US

If the relationship of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union remains in limbo on the sixty-eighth anniversary of the state’s accession to India, it is largely because the Government of India has over-emphasised global projection while missing out on local persuasion.

David Devadas October 26, 2015 11:32:27 IST
68 years since Kashmir's accession: Want peace? Talk to locals, not US

If the relationship of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union remains in limbo on the sixty-eighth anniversary of the state’s accession to India, it is largely because the Government of India has over-emphasised global projection while missing out on local persuasion.

The effort to persuade world powers of India’s juridical claim was based on a naïve faith that those powers were unbiased. Chandrashekhar Dasgupta’s superbly researched (2002) book clearly shows that geostrategic concerns made Britain steer the United Nations Security Council towards backing Pakistan’s claims in 1948. Not only did it think Pakistan was far more likely to give the West such strategic benefits as landing rights for aircraft, it did not want to alienate `the whole of the Muslim world’ at a time when it was installing Israel in Palestine.

68 years since Kashmirs accession Want peace Talk to locals not US

A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as policemen detain him for participating in a religious procession during restrictions in Srinagar on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. AP

From 1949, the US took the lead role for the West regarding Kashmir, proposing that the United Nations appoint US Admiral Chester Nimitz to arbitrate a solution between India and Pakistan. That could have opened the way for introducing an `independence option’ but Jawaharlal Nehru rejected Nimitz’s nomination.

The US’s stand on Kashmir shifted radically only in 1995, when Ambassador Frank Wisner asked Pakistan to reassess its options when he addressed Pakistan Army’s staff college. That contrasted sharply with a volley of shrill anti-India statements from Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel just a couple of years before.

That change in the US’s stand had nothing to do with all the time, effort and resources the Ministry of External Affairs had earnestly put in over the past 47 years. It was powered by Wall Street’s pleasure over India’s investment liberalization and the US’s desire to wrap up India’s nuclear programme through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Even thereafter, though, world powers including the US have been happy to keep the fires in Kashmir burning. Happiness with market access aside, world powers still want to see India and Pakistan unstable – and therefore beholden to them.

The government would therefore be well advised to concentrate instead on engaging the Kashmiri people in a meaningful dialogue. No one in the world can raise a peep on the issue unless common Kashmiris raise a hue and cry.

Sadly, the current trends of targeted violence across the country are achieving the opposite effect. This is tragic, for reports from Dadri and other places across the country bolster the revulsion already caused by the horrific repression of counterinsurgency, the mindsets which political Islam have moulded, and the effects of the global `War on Terror’ – all vital motivating factors for the current round of militancy.

On this anniversary of accession, the government would do well to not only take stock of the damage from these trends but to also examine other reasons why many Kashmiris think of accession as fundamentally illegitimate.

One of the most important factors is skewed narratives about what happened between 25 and 27 October 1947. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up on these, and some still do. But, as with most social realities of this state, the Union government is oblivious – and several state governments have used these narratives to their advantage.

One common narrative goes something like this: 'Sheikh Abdullah acceded to India temporarily when he asked his friend Nehru to send troops to help Kashmir against the kabalis (tribesmen from Pakistan who invaded the state on 22 October 1947). When the kabalis had been expelled, the army never left. They still occupy our land.’ No mention of the maharaja. Nor, generally, any understanding of what an accession means.

Other narratives abound – for instance, that Kashmir was an independent country until Indian troops arrived. Ironically, Kashmiri intellectuals routinely highlight tyrannical repression by Dogra rulers (1846-1951), but rarely point to how these narratives contradict those other ones.

The education system does not address these vital issues. The approved curriculum simply ignores Kashmir’s recent history. But this does not prevent teachers, family elders and other educators from promoting narratives about the illegitimacy of India’s presence in Kashmir.

Unsubstantiated narratives are also peddled by many of the shoddily-written notes (kunjis) on which most students rely to pass examinations, particularly in the current phase when the education system has been badly mauled by a quarter-century of militancy.

If the Government spent on ground-level education just a fraction of the resources it has spent on international projections, it would diminish the ready levers that the UK, the US, Pakistan or China pull to geostrategic advantage as and when any of these or other countries see fit.

Government spokespersons who routinely disparage Kashmiri agitators as 'misguided’ have no clue how they are misguided. As long as the young men believe that India’s role 68 years ago was illegitimate, those who want to excite agitators will have a field day.

Of course, questioning populist narratives about accession will not suffice in isolation. Straightforward answers also need to be given regarding the promised plebiscite. If the government could develop policies beyond throwing money and military force at Kashmir, nurture responsive multi-layered democratic governance, and abide by the rule of law, it could move towards a plebiscite or negotiated settlement acceptable to the people.

David Devadas, an expert on political and international affairs, is the author of In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir

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