Global Policy Forum

Contending Nationalisms – Kashmir and the Prospects for Peace


By Kamal Chenoy

Harvard International Review

Since 1947 the Kashmir dispute has bedeviled relations between Pakistan and India. It has led to three separate wars, in 1947, 1965, and 1971, and a serious armed conflict in Kargil in 1999. In addition, because both countries are declared nuclear weapons states, Indo-Pak hostilities may have serious repercussions for South Asian relations in the future. Although attempts at regional cooperation—such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the South Asia Free Trade Agreement—have been made in the past, almost all of them have floundered without making any meaningful progress.

The roots of the Kashmir conflict lie beyond the controversial accession of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir to India; the core tension between the two countries is the confrontation between their two nationalisms. Pakistani nationalism and the "two-nation theory" are founded upon the belief that Muslims would be oppressed under Hindu-majority rule; hence the need for a Muslim state that is separate from Hindu-majority India. And since Kashmir (shorthand for Jammu and Kashmir) is a Muslim-majority state and is part of the unfinished agenda of the 1947 Partition, it should therefore belong to Pakistan. On the other hand, Indian nationalism is secular and initially opposed the idea of Pakistan. It believes that Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews can live together under one unified nation as they have done for centuries. Kashmir is critical to Indian nationalism because ceding Kashmir would represent a defeat of Indian secularism in a Muslim-majority state. As a result, Kashmir has become hostage to these bitterly contending nationalisms.

Nationalist Struggles and Problems of Governance

India has always recognized the unique nature of Kashmir and, in 1949, incorporated it as such into the Indian Constitution. The special Article 370 granted most governing powers to the Kashmiris, except for some critical powers such as defense, foreign affairs, currency, and communications, which remained vested with the federal government. Kashmiris received their own constitution and flag, and the Kashmir Assembly was to decide which Indian laws, if any, would be permitted to apply to Kashmir. These concessions were quite remarkable for a constitution that was otherwise centralized and never once mentioned the word "federal."

The powers of the Kashmir Constitution, however, did not last long. By 1953 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru could no longer stomach the popular Kashmiri Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah's assertions of Kashmir's autonomy or even independence from India. Sheikh Abdullah was summarily removed and placed under house arrest. Soon afterwards, Article 370 was systematically whittled down at the behest of the central government by pliant assemblies produced by rigged elections.

The growing Kashmiri tension did not become militarized until the 1987 elections, wherein opposition Muslim United Front candidates were robbed of a significant number of seats while counting agents and candidates were beaten and thrown out of counting centers. In response, large numbers of Kashmiri youth crossed over the border to Pakistan and were trained and armed. This led to the Kashmir insurgency, which by 1989 was backed by a wave of popular support within Kashmir and Pakistan.

Though Pakistan trained and armed the young Kashmiris who had crossed over to garner support for their "freedom struggle," the provocation arose primarily from India, not Pakistan. Henceforth, Pakistani-trained militants, most of whom were non-Kashmiri, have fought against the Indian security forces in Kashmir, marking a new stage in the dispute. The violence spread, and terrorist attacks were launched against innocent civilians throughout the rest of India, causing thousands of civilian deaths. In retaliation, sectarian Hindu parties have invoked the Kashmir struggle to identify Indian Muslims with Pakistan. This has led to pogroms against Muslims—most notably in Mumbai from December 1992 to January 1993 and Gujarat from February to March of 2002—killing more than 4,000 innocent civilians. In the entire Kashmir conflict, some 50,000 to 80,000 innocent individuals have been killed, primarily Kashmiris. If other Pakistani-backed secessionist movements in Punjab and the Northeast are added, the death toll approaches 100,000. Nor have the attacks ceased; on July 11, 2006, almost 200 civilians were killed in bomb blasts on suburban trains in Mumbai.

Continuing Political Implications of the Struggle

Civil societies in both countries have paid and are still paying a terrible price for these sanguinary struggles. In Pakistan the fighting over Kashmir has legitimized military dictatorships and draconian anti-terror laws, which are often used against dissidents and to suppress civil society movements. In India it has also led to sweeping anti-terror laws, which are sometimes used against Muslim civil society movements, innocent Muslim civilians, and petty Muslim criminals. The more recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai have led to the postponement of Indo-Pak talks, despite the Left parties' pressure on the Indian government to proceed as planned. As a result, the Indo-Pak conflict has grave consequences for both countries, and the peace process has often broken down.

If the Kashmir issue is to be solved to the satisfaction of Pakistani leaders, who dub Kashmir the "core issue" in the Indo-Pak conflict, there would first have to be a durable peace. India, while accepting the importance of the Kashmir problem, refuses to separate it from other outstanding issues such as the Siachen glacier, Wullar barrage, and above all the cessation of cross-border terrorism. India argues that to create the atmosphere for a comprehensive settlement, Pakistani-backed terrorism must be stopped first.

Meanwhile, Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir remain fruitless. Pakistan insists that it is not training, arming, or providing logistical support to militants in Kashmir. The rise of militant attacks in Kashmir and the rest of India, however, belies this assertion. While it is clear that some of the groups, such as the much-feared Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Hizbul Mujahiddin, occasionally function autonomously, these militant attacks and low-intensity conflicts are nonetheless designed to force India to accept a solution palatable to Pakistan. It is now widely accepted that Pakistani support and guidance of the Kashmiri militancy keeps the armed struggle going, and until such support is halted, India will almost certainly be unwilling to negotiate a permanent peace settlement.

Critical Problems Still Unresolved

One major obstacle to the creation of a lasting peace solution is the lack of Kashmiri representation in Indo-Pak negotiations. The Indians insist on speaking to the Kashmiris in India and oppose trilateral dialogue. In Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK), parties that support accession to Pakistan, such as the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, are not allowed to contest the Assembly elections, including the recent July elections. This is understandable because the Pakistani state decides the premier of Pakistani-administered Kashmir through its nominees, regardless of the wishes of any party or coalition that has a majority in the Assembly, and the Northern Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan have scarcely any representation at all. Kashmiri opinion on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) should be fully represented in the talks, even if Indian objections prevent trilateral talks. If India simultaneously discusses with Pakistanis and Kashmiris, it would provide concrete assurance to the Kashmiris that their interests on both sides of the LoC are being represented and duly considered. But the Indians remain wary. Their constant refrain is that the Kashmir problem is a bilateral issue that merits no third-party intervention.

Furthermore, the Indian establishment has consistently argued that there can be no substantive talks concerning Kashmir until cross-border terrorism from Pakistan ends. At the same time, it argues that terrorism in Kashmir is purely a result of Pakistani support and sheltering of terrorists. But this argument—that cross-border terrorism has caused the Kashmir situation today—is circular. If cross-border terrorism ends, there will be no Kashmir problem.

The Indian government has failed to recognize its own role in creating the alienation and suffering of the Kashmiri people. Human rights violations are consistently denied, and access to international human rights groups is forbidden. The blame is consistently heaped on Pakistan, with little to no mention of India's role. The backdrop of the conflict of the two contesting nationalisms on Kashmir, together with the enduring bitterness over the partition, has facilitated the demonization of the other country by elites on both sides. Demonization has spread to the peoples of the two countries and has weakened the peace constituencies in both.

The core issue in Indo-Pak relations, then, is the way in which each ruling elite demonizes its counterpart. Pakistani scholars such as K.K. Aziz and A.H. Nayyar and Indian scholars such as Bipan Chandra and Ram Puniyani, among others, have shown how textbooks in both countries have distorted the histories of their own country and of the other side, thereby providing an enduring basis of hatred toward each other. This is not just a problem in madrassas or the Hindu Right's Sarawati Shishu Mandirs schools; it is also present in public school texts and teaching. Similarly, the mass media, including the electronic media, present few programs that humanize the other and reflect the true realities and similarities between the two countries. The simple fact that both peoples lived together in harmony for thousands of years is barely reflected in Pakistani and Indian texts and media. On the contrary, the media and major opinion makers in both countries are quick to blame the other for their own problems.

The consistent demonization of the other side can be countered only by resolute and sustained action by state and civil society in both countries. Despite propaganda about people-to-people contact, such contact remains informal and fettered by the principle of reciprocity. For example, India invited 800 Pakistanis to the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai. In return, Pakistan admitted only the same number of Indians to the 2006 World Social Forum in Karachi. The lack of contact is deeply troubling because it undermines the peace process by perpetuating negative stereotypes and by preventing the exposure of the other side to civil society activists and common people. Direct, personal interactions are indispensable to building sustainable peace in both countries. Yet it is given grossly inadequate support by both governments. Even today, obtaining visas for people-to-people dialogues is extremely difficult. To create grounds for better Indo-Pak relations, visa rules and facilities for people to travel to both countries must be considerably liberalized.

Track II and III talks, which are unofficial dialogues between influential actors in civil society, will also continue to be useful in countering the impact of demonization. Track II talks tend to be dominated by retired bureaucrats or military personnel, whereas Track III talks are dominated by activists in civil society. Both are necessary for breaking down false negative stereotypes. Other people-to-people contacts help to counter the chauvinist propaganda and mindset in both countries. National chauvinism is what has made the Kashmir problem so intractable and the Pakistani and Indian power elites so inflexible and unyielding. Unless a non-chauvinist attitude becomes dominant in both countries, the peace constituencies will remain too weak to pressure their respective governments to reach a reasonable and fair compromise. Both polities are still far from that situation, but the success of efforts such as the Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy founded in 1994 and the recent World Social Forum in Karachi, in which prominent Indian activists were represented, point to the rich possibilities of sustained people-to-people contact.

Feasible Plans Toward a Resolution

At this moment, it appears that India and Pakistan are far from reaching a lasting solution. India is complacent because militancy is contained and is no threat to the survival of the Indian state. Indeed, militancy only strengthens Indian chauvinism over Kashmir. Tragically, the militants who are killing innocent civilians are only delaying a solution to the Kashmir problem, not bringing the countries closer.

But despite the bleak situation, solutions are possible. Before the grounds for any solution can be created, however, the demonization process must be reversed. Right-wing political parties such as the Bhartiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena as well as other political forces such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh continue to publicize the bitter memories of the bloody Partition, constraining steps toward peace while furthering demonization. Popular history would have to be rewritten and retaught. From textbooks to media, the neighboring country would have to be presented in a realistic and friendly manner. This would also require a change in the political discourse and mindsets of the elites in both countries. Only after this crucial step occurs will substantive short-term solutions be plausible, because the problem of Kashmir is mired within the problem of demonization driven by historical memory. Indeed, despite subtle international pressure, the Indo-Pak peace talks continue to move slowly.

One such short-term solution is to give both Kashmirs maximum autonomy in accordance with the original intentions of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution and with the demands of the Kashmir Assembly. Both countries can retain defense, foreign affairs, and communication, while remaining powers will be vested in the two Kashmirs. The LoC should become a soft border with simple and quick procedures of entry and exit. Both countries should immediately accept all international human rights and humanitarian law, including the International Criminal Court, and amend their own laws accordingly, which even India has not done. The LoC could be policed jointly by Pakistani and Indian paramilitary forces. An international tribunal, as the Indian jurist A.G. Noorani has suggested, could be set up to address human rights complaints by India about PaK as well as Pakistani complaints concerning Indian administered Kashmir.

While this is neither a full accession to Pakistan or India nor the creation of a sovereign Kashmir, it would largely meet the Kashmiri demand for "azadi," or independence. But what about a long-term solution? Once a common Kashmiri society and polity is restored and bonds are allowed to strengthen despite the LoC, new solutions may emerge. Kashmiris may decide that they want complete independence or alternatively, accession to India or Pakistan. If the peace process continues to gather steam, other problems are resolved, and fears and suspicions diminish, both Pakistan and India may consider new long-term solutions for Kashmir that are currently unacceptable.

The acceptance of such a short-term solution will be the true test of both countries and their commitment to the Kashmiri people. The international community can help through indirect mediation, because the Indian government insists on treating Kashmir as a purely bilateral matter. Both Pakistan and India must be told that there is no military solution to this problem, because it is not just a territorial dispute. While it pressures Pakistan to completely end its support for militancy and give full political rights to PaK and the Northern Areas, the international community should also mediate with India to restore Article 370 in its original or extended form and to ensure that both countries ratify all human rights agreements.

At the moment these ideas seem to be no more than a wish list. But the same was true for the Indian struggle for independence against Britain and again during the struggle for Pakistan. Civil society will have to lead the way by vigorously combating national chauvinism and by strengthening the forces of peace and justice. Above all, both Pakistanis and Indians must realize that no country that oppresses another can itself be free.

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