A Reality Check on Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir is again in news for violence and counter violence. Again, several solutions are proposed. Any such exercise, however, need to be informed of a reality check if peace is to return in the state in a foreseeable future.
The present unrest began after killing of Burhan Wani, a local commander of Hizbul Mujahidin, an organization that vows to liberate Kashmir by unleashing suicide bombers in Kashmir (Times of India, 4 September 2016). The unrest is restricted to the Kashmir valley comprising 7.1 percent of land and 54.9 percent of population of the state numbering 6.8 million (Census of India, 2011). In a fresh round of bloodshed over seventy people have died and thousands are injured.
To defuse the situation, one of the solutions being offered is merger with Pakistan and other ‘freedom’ from India. The third solution -the status quo, is supported by the major political parties, though with differing caveats.
Merger with Pakistan
The merger with Pakistan is incongruous for a simple reason that Kashmiris will be an additional minority group in Pakistan that has a disturbing record towards its ethnic and sectarian minorities including Mohajir, Baloch, Pashtun, Ahmadis and Hazaras. Many of these people are forced to seek refuge in other countries. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees’ latest figures, Pakistanis are the sixth largest group seeking asylum in Europe following Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. Australian immigration report 2013-2014 also reveals that largest number of people who sought humanitarian visa on arrival came from Pakistan (Elibritt Karlsen: 2014, Parliament of Australia).
Pakistan’s human rights record on Baluchistan has also been disconcerting. Since the last decade about 18,000 people have allegedly involuntarily disappeared in the province. According to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, 157 mutilated bodies were found and 463 people disappeared in the state in 2015. (Balochwarna News, 3 January 2016). The prime suspects in these incidents are the security forces.
Pakistan held Kashmir is no better. Of $38bn proposed investment in energy sector under China Pakistan Economic Corridor, Gilgit-Baltistan has not received any allocation as against other provinces (The Dawn, 12 May 2016). On the contrary, planning minister of Pakistan warned the protesting farmers of the region that the terrorism act would be invoked against them if they obstructed the project (Times of India, 18 August 16).
The option of freedom for J&K is equally fraught with problems. If freedom is a demand for all the five regions of the state, then it seems a non-starter given the Indian and Pakistan position on it; and if it relates only to the Indian part then without taking into consideration the views of the people of Jammu and Ladakh region it is unlikely to move any farther.
The demand of freedom for only the valley of Kashmir is fraught with a moral dilemma in light of about a half a million Kashmiri pundits’ virtual exile from the region. Besides, freedom for Kashmir will have a ripple effect in Muslim majority districts of Poonch and Rajouri and Kishtwar and Doda, separated by Hindu majority districts of Jammu and Udhampur, which will further add to the instability in the region.
Another difficulty to the freedom for Kashmir is use of violence and terrorism as a method to achieve it. Contemporary history shows that a violent movement does not produce a sustainable democratic state as is seen in many African countries which were inspired by various violence based ideologies.
And finally, there are reports that mosques are used for mobilization of people and ISIS flags are waved in rallies in Kashmir. (Indian Express, August 21, 2015). Successful culmination of such a movement can only lead to a theocratic state that would be against the spirit of ‘kashmiriyat’, which has already suffered considerable erosion in the valley.
The central government owes it to the constitution of India to restore civil liberties by withdrawing the laws like AFSPA from civilian areas, ensure accountability for human rights violations, secure transparent governance, launch de-radicalisation programs and identify a genuine leadership in the valley for a dialogue. Nationally, toning down the saffron nationalism might greatly assist. It is the only way forward for a humane and democratic Kashmir.