By Rasul Bakhsh Rais
Thedisputed region of Jammu and Kashmir,
a lingering legacy of partition of the British Indian Empire in 1947, has been
a source of three wars and continuing animosity between India and Pakistan over
the past seventy years. As the two new states staked claims over the then
princely state, war broke out in 1948, resulting in de facto division of the
territory into two parts — Indian administered and Pakistan controlled. The
region’s demography, history and ethnic complexion is as confused and entangled
as the conflicting territorial claims by the two neighbouring states. While
India argues that its annexation of the region is final and makes it as an
integral part, Pakistan counters it by insisting that it is unfinished problem
of the partition and requires a satisfactory resolution after ascertaining the
wishes of the people of Kashmir, which all parts put together, is a Muslim
majority state. Over the past seven decades, indigenous Kashmiri groups have
remained divided over the destiny of their states.
There are those who wish to remain within the Indian union, some groups want to join Pakistan, and a good number of them would like to pursue a third course—an independent state.
While consolidating its position over the region in 1948, after getting a controversial instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir, India made several moves to diffuse resentment of the Majority Muslim community. It accepted the resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations to hold plebiscite, which required both India and Pakistan to vacate a bulk of their forces out of the region. Neither of the two was willing to quit and pave the way for such an exercise risking losing whatever they could have gained by use of force and coercion. Had it been held then, perhaps the people ‘s verdict might have been against India. Both the countries played by the logic of power over principles. As we have seen in this situation, and many similar ones in other parts of the world, the might has proved itself right.
To diffuse popular demand for a referendum, the founders of the Indian Republic accepted a special autonomous status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, guaranteeing regional autonomy to it under the Article 370 of the Constitution. This is what a popular political party, the National Conference led by its charismatic leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah could bargain in the circumstances. He was not comfortable with the two-nation theory—meaning that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations—and thus accession with Pakistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, stoked the flames of passions for resistance against accession to India and for the disputed territory joining Pakistan. There is a long story of proxy wars, major conflicts, and a continuing stand off along the Line-of-Control that divides the states between India and Pakistan.
The rise of the
BJP, which comprises hard-line, extremist Hindu groups, has been phenomenal.
The social and political forces that wish to reinterpret history and redefine
India’s identity as essentially a Hindu nation and country have been opposed to
the special status for Kashmir. It is a well-known fact that India’s central
governments have created a mess in the region by manipulating the democracy
process in the state, adding further to the historical alienation of the Muslim
majority community. Taking a leaf from Afghanistan and other militant resistant
movements, a section of the Muslim Kashmir youth has been locked in a violent
resistance against the Indian security forces for decades. Many times in the
past, similar groups from the Pakistani side joined them that further
aggravated a tense situation between India and Pakistan. Issues of national
security, ideology, rivalry and complex geopolitics continue to define
Pakistan’s position toward Kashmir and India, which has quite often created
space for non-state actors. For this, India has been accusing Pakistan of
sponsoring ‘terrorism’ in the region.
The Kashmir issue is very enmeshed into Pakistan’s politics and national security framework. Abrogation of Article 370, ending special autonomous status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, though long on the agenda of the BJP, has come as a rude awakening for Pakistan. Actually India has challenged Pakistan, daring it — this is what we have done, what can you do? Pakistan’s options are unfortunately very limited. It cannot go to war, even some quarters in Pakistan have engaged in that self-destructive rhetoric for political mileage. There is a feeling of isolation and despondency in the country, as it sees the world looking the other way when India has locked down the region by military means, forcing people to stay home over the past three weeks.
This feeling was reflected in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation on August 26 when he said “whether or not the world stands with us, we will continue to support the people of Kashmir.”
The big question is what can Pakistan do in the prevailing situation of national political divide, economic downturn, and international isolation? First of all, it wants to be seen as counted on their side by the people of Kashmir when India is bullying them into submission. It can take only symbolic measures at home, like hold anti-India rallies, passing resolutions in the assemblies and giving wider media attention to the situation there. Abroad, it is mobilizing international audiences and engaging friendly countries for support to the Kashmiris. It feels buoyed by the Security Council bringing the old dispute for discussion and by President Trump’s offer of mediating the problem, if India and Pakistan agree to it.
Pakistan finds itself at a critical national and regional juncture when conflicts are ravaging and some appear to present better prospects for resolution, like Afghanistan. There is some soul searching for many debacles but not enough of a national vision to rethink issues that have dragged Pakistan into regional conflicts. Having invested too much of its political and security capital into the Kashmir cause, it finds itself in a blind alley, unable to influence events there. Much will depend on its own resilience, leadership and national resolve to maintain a posture of resistance and defiance against Indian domination in Kashmir and round the region. By what means, how long and with what strength and unity the Kashmiri Muslims resist Indian forces may perhaps matter far more in the final outcome of the ‘festering wound’ of partition. Nothing is certain in an uncertain world of conflicts shaped by clashing nationalisms, interests and power politics, as we don’t see visionaries and statesmen taking control of things and changing the pattern of conflicts between India and Pakistan.