Revisiting The Forgotten Valley

Jul 28, 2012 by     Comments Off on Revisiting The Forgotten Valley    Posted under: The Diplomat

For an issue that once straddled Pakistan when it was a nascent state, that dominated the campaigns of politicians before elections, that broke down the walls of diplomacy and brought two powerful nations at the precipice of nuclear war, and very much defined the course of the Indo-Pak relationship, Kashmir today seems eclipsed and irrelevant. You wouldn’t hear the word Kashmir in politicians’ speeches, not in an endless array of newspaper articles, not in the sphere of public discussion, and probably not even in your own mind. So, is the Kashmir issue over? Far from it.

A nation so deeply buried under the turf of economic frailty, political instability and social unrest, would obviously care little about reclaiming a historical territory (which it has failed to regain for over 60 years). In fact, we (the media – most of us are obviously enjoying our elusive public holiday) only take the pains to discuss the issue on our national Kashmir Day.

Unsolved Kashmir Issue

Why has the Kashmir issue vanished from public discussion?

It can’t be denied that a sense of hopelessness and resignation does enshroud the Pakistani vision of Kashmir. Pakistan has fought tirelessly across the annals of history for the cause, enduring several wars and mishaps along the way. But each time, its efforts and pains have led to nothing, and today, many people have turned to more pressing issues at hand.

“Primarily because we have other issues on our mind. Why did Joseph Kony vanish from public discussion? Why is no one talking about the soldiers who died in the avalanche at Siachen? Two months ago, the governments of India and Pakistan wanted to turn the region into a ‘garden of peace’. Nowadays, trending matters of discussion are the elections. We’ve embarked upon the long road towards them whilst India has just managed to secure a new President.
Srinagar and Muzzafrabad are still hotbeds of contention. The situation hasn’t changed or improved”, asserts Zainab Aqdas, an intern writer at Dawn.

Shouldn’t the UN ‘solve’ it or something?

It is safe to say that the UN has failed miserably when it comes to territorial disputes-Palestine, Tibet, Gibraltar, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Senkaku Islands and the list of unknown disputes goes on… The failure of the UN is almost certain though- treaties such as the Simla Agreement have made Kashmir a primarily bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to discuss in their talking shops once a year. This has made external intervention impossible and has darkened the prospect of a mediated solution.

Recognizing the bubbling imbroglio in South Asia, the UN passed its first resolutions on the Kashmir issue – resolution 38 and 39 (1948) – which managed to halt the war, but it was only a short-term solution. In the same year, it also passed the more long-term Resolution 48 (strengthened by Resolution 51), which, for the first time, stipulated that the Kashmir issue “would be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite”. But, discussing, drafting and voting on a document in an air-conditioned conference room is one thing and implementing the document’s clauses in the politically heated environment in Kashmir is another.  India claims that the plebiscite can only be held once the situation in Kashmir stabilizes and Pakistan apparently stops supporting internal rebellion. Pakistan rejects the claim and blames India for unnecessary procrastination.

In 1957, the UN Security Council President visited India and Pakistan, to try to mediate a solution, but his efforts bore no fruit. Since then, many attempts to negotiate and many calls for demilitarization by the UN have failed to placate either side. In 1971, the Simla Agreement snubbed the UN by making Kashmir a bilateral issue. Therefore, Kashmir is rarely a topic of active discussion at the UN today.

The United Nations Military Observer Group (UNMOGIP) still patrols the Line of Control (LOC) but its mandate and effectiveness is largely limited to an observational and reporting capacity.

What is the situation in Kashmir today?

Media freedom is still a fantastical dream in Kashmir. Journalists have restricted access and need a curfew pass to conduct their activities. In the recent past, reporters such as Riyaz Masroor (BBC, July 2010) have been stopped, beaten up or harassed. Such incidents mean that many problems in Kashmir stay in Kashmir rather than entering the shade of the world’s eyes.

Human rights violations are reported to be rampant, with over 1417 missing persons reported in 2011 (according to a Human Rights review by the JKCCS). Kashmir almost thrives with a culture of enforced disappearances and unmarked graves. In addition, cases of custodial killings, rape, molestation and torture are reported occasionally. Many people don’t even report such crimes because they see no hope of justice.

To lay the final blow, most Indian officers, allegedly responsible for these crimes, have a great level of impunity through the Armed Forces and Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

The last major unrest saw large hordes of young students pelting stones at officers, setting cars on fire and leading large-scale anti-Indian demonstrations. Even housewives joined the protests, audaciously trying to avenge their sons, who had fallen during the riots.

Today, the rebellion has lost most of its steam. Local riots are sporadic, rare and not as large-scale as they used to be. The curfews and mass worker strikes are still commonplace, and continue to endanger the economy. On 31 May 2012, the BBC reported that hundreds of local insurgents are renouncing militancy and returning to their native homes, in response to an offer of amnesty by the Indian government. Clearly, the Kashmiri sense of resignation emulates that of the people in Pakistan. For most, an issue that has remained so stubbornly unresolved for over six decades is a lost cause.

“Despite that, statelessness, violence and riots still define the Kashmiri society today. One of the most heartbreaking incidents was the death of a young boy a few days ago”, adds Zainab.

What do the people of Kashmir want?

Without an unbiased, independent referendum, it is impossible to know for sure. Kashmir is an ethnically diverse region, with Kashmiris, Dards, Ladakhis, Dogras, Hanjis, Gujjars – who belong to different religions across Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism etc. The cultural disparity mirrors the disparity in opinions and ideologies. Kashmir, like any other nation, does not have one voice. It has many different voices, and this cacophony of voices makes it impossible to find one acceptable solution. Therefore, different people of Kashmir want very different things for the future of their children, which is a major boulder in the path of resolution.

“Peace. They want peace”, says Zainab. Truly, no matter how different their opinions may be, all Kashmiris desire the restoration of peace and stability.

What if they join Pakistan?

“That is extremely stupid.
A referendum is the best solution here. All in favour head towards Pakistan, all against head towards India. You have to understand that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Jammu and Kashmir – Hindu refugees – who migrated to India at the time of partition. They are stateless at the moment because Jammu and Kashmir’s constitution does not grant Pakistanis citizenship.

Joining Kashmir to Pakistan is unfair towards the citizens of Kashmir. It goes against basic human rights. They should not be bound to accept citizenship of a country in which they do not want to reside.

Independence too seems questionable. How can such a small ‘country’ ridden with contention from both sides foster itself on its own?”, adds Zainab.

Pakistan can hardly govern the territory it currently possesses. Taking up Kashmir is like adding 220,000 square kilometers of more problems to a nation so troubled already. Pakistan is not ready to govern such extra chunks of territory –  it does not have the resources, the money, the political will or the right laws that cater to the needs of so many dissimilar minorities. The blasphemy law, the rampant forced religious conversions and the backwardness of Baluchistan all tell us-Pakistan needs to work on the quality, not the quantity of its territory.

Can we expect a ‘happily ever after’ for Kashmir?

The biggest problem with this question is that we don’t know what the Kashmiri ‘happily ever after’ is. At present, no option on the table seems wonderfully viable. Amusingly, the present scenario doesn’t even seem to have a table in the first place. India is adamant on sticking to Kashmir and there are no signs of budging as far as the eye can see.

“Can you expect a happily ever after for Abkhazia and South Ossetia? As long as relations between India and Pakistan remain tense – which they will – a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem seems unlikely”, says Zainab.

What is the way forward?

“Evade prospects of armed confrontation. We’ve lost enough lives in the three wars we’ve fought with India. And a large proportion of Kashmir WANTS independence – don’t forget that. You can’t force yourself upon a population.

Bearing in mind the fact that there are three entirely conflicting view points involved in this problem, you can’t expect the way forward to be without hurdles. Neither can you mutilate Kashmir valley into three parts – one independent, one for Pakistan and one for India – because proportions and refugee influx is going to trigger huge problems for all three parties involved”, concludes Zainab.

My advice to India and Pakistan: Stop acting like territory-hungry Mongols. You can’t hold people against their will forever – the Arab Spring has made that clear. Let the people of Kashmir decide. Chill out. Idealistic? Yes. The practical world has no solutions.

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Further Reading

 Last week, we analyzed the Afghanistan-India-Pakistan relations, and how these relations effect the situation in the region. You can read that and more in The Diplomat

The Author

I have an avid interest in international politics, disparate global perspectives, human social and economic evolution, cultural diversity and how all these ideas tie together with Pakistan's current scenario. I believe in a secular, culturally integrated and stable Pakistan, and I hope to work towards the materialization of this dream.

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