Let me first wish my readers a very happy and prosperous New Year. I brought in the first few hours of 2015 with wonderful friends in a splendid, aesthetic environment. But even so, I continued to feel a sense of despondency. Mostly about the state of our country, and even the world at large, my thoughts rambling into Kashmir. Despite a peaceful, praiseworthy and democratic exercise by voters, political leaders are still not able to form a government. I have argued for years with Indians and important Pakistanis that if the present century is to avoid a horrific war, we must transcend history and forge an alliance based on unity and cooperation. I am sad beyond measure at the proliferation of insane terrorism across the world, and mounting loss of innocent life; the capture of individual minds, known and unknown, through dangerous indoctrination, and the growing number of terrorists, practising and potential, that inhabit our world. I hope Pakistan has realised that terrorism has achieved nothing for it, other than endangering its fragile democracy, and devouring its own children. The UN must put together all its resources and ensure that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of any terrorists.
Coming to the complex saga of Kashmir, we have seen it descend over the last few decades from misgovernance and political instability to terrorism. And because of its history and its geography, every sneeze in Kashmir spells some degree of cold in India.
It all started with the inexplicable and fatal blunders committed by Jawaharlal Nehru. The first, for ordering the advancing Indian Army to halt at the present Line of Control when they could have taken the whole of Kashmir, after the Pakistan sponsored, tribal invasion of Kashmir in October 1947. And the second, by referring the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, converting a national issue of integration of the states, just like Junagadh and Hyderabad, into an international dispute, that till today has defied solution. The only charitable, though unpardonable excuse I can venture is that Nehru was a new and inexperienced Prime Minister, utterly naïve about the complexities and chicanery of international politics, though theories do circulate regarding whose influence these decisions were taken under.
This wholly avoidable and troubled Kashmir legacy bequeathed by Nehru has cost India dearly — two direct wars with Pakistan, the loss of lakhs of lives of our soldiers and innocent civilians, continuous tension and insecurity of our northern borders, and escalating defence expenditures eating into India’s development. The international ramifications of Nehru’s decision have only now become neutralised, but over the decades, Kashmir became the most convenient excuse for the monster of terrorism that spawns our northern borders, to enter so easily into our country. With its exceedingly difficult and porous terrain, Kashmir became a gateway and haven for trained terrorists from Pakistan.
Kashmir has been an extremely valuable political tool for the survival of Pakistan’s governments, military and non-military. A hysteria that can be whipped up whenever needed, to distract people from their real problems, and for the army to stay in an ascendant position permanently.
I wonder how many people among the post 1947 generations in Pakistan or India even know the terms of the ceasefire laid out by the United Nations resolution of August 1948, that required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, both regular and irregular, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in Kashmir, to preserve law and order. Only on compliance of these conditions a plebiscite was to be held under the Indian flag, to determine the future of the territory. Pakistan knew that its local followers, the Muslim Conference, had no majority or adequate political hold over the people. The Sher-E-Kashmir and his National Conference were the real representatives of the people of the state and power was effectively transferred to them democratically. So how could Pakistan ever agree to hold a plebiscite and hope to win Kashmir during those years? In these circumstances, Pakistan knows that its claim to Kashmir is both legally and morally void, and it finds no support or encouragement, even from the UN and the US government. However, Pakistan refuses to stop the Kashmir rhetoric — after all, it has become its heart-lung machine. For India, it is of utmost importance that the highest political priority should be placed on solving the Kashmir problem. Since it is impossible to rewrite history, there is no point in ruing our mistakes or lost opportunities since 1947. Let us be happy that the mandate of the recent Jammu and Kashmir elections has provided a propitious window of opportunity to solve the problem. There are enough positive milestones in the Kashmir saga that need to be revisited, to restart the solution process.
To begin with, we must realise that the history and geography of Kashmir was distinctly different from all the other princely states. Kashmir’s borders are international, touching Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. It was the hotbed of international intrigue during Independence and during the process of accession to India by the princely state. It has a revolutionary history of demanding democratic rights, even before the Quit India Movement was launched. The National Conference, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, had already framed a manifesto in 1944, demanding rule of law, freedom of conscience and worship, right to education, equality of women, in short everything modern and democratic. The manifesto also demanded an elected National Assembly with the ruler as the constitutional head. This manifesto was clearly a promise of creating a secular democracy with constitutional guarantees of liberty in the state.
After Independence, while the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir was still hobnobbing with both India and Pakistan about remaining independent and negotiating Standstill Agreements, came the tribal attack upon Kashmir, and that ended Maharaja Hari Singh’s ambition and vacillation. He signed the Instrument of Accession with India on 26 October 1947, conceding defence, foreign affairs, communications, and some ancillary matters to the Union of India.
In 1948, the National Conference formed the interim government in the state. It was expressly declared that as soon as normal conditions are restored, steps would be taken to convene a National Assembly based upon adult suffrage to frame a Constitution for the state. In September 1951, the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly was established to carry out this great task and, in exercise of its independence and sovereignty, Kashmir legally became a part of the Indian Union. It is true that Government of India had promised a plebiscite to confirm the accession, but the plebiscite was to be for the entire state, including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). The plebiscite had to be held under Indian sovereignty, under the Indian flag after every Pakistani soldier and civilian had withdrawn. Pakistan never fulfilled this condition. Instead it gave away a part of Kashmir to China, changed the demographic character of PoK, and denied it freedom and democracy. Plebiscite was, in substance, a promise to the inhabitants of the state. But after so many years, the composition of the state has changed, with Pakistan continuously importing settlers into PoK, even while India scrupulously kept its promise of not altering the demographic character of the part under its control. The UN itself has ruled out plebiscite, due to the change of circumstances that makes it meaningless now.
The point I am trying to make is that neither the Constituent Assembly nor the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir were foisted upon it by India. It was the expression of the people that had started long before independence, legitimised through a democratic process, and adopted in the state.
The next positive milestone that must be revisited is the Tashkent Declaration of 10 January 1966, signed by the Prime Minister of India and President of Pakistan, after the second Indo-Pak war of 1965. Apart from stating that the ceasefire line, that is the LoC, would not be violated, the Declaration also stated that the two leaders “have agreed that both sides will discourage any propaganda directed against the other country, and will encourage propaganda which promotes the development of friendly relations between the two countries”. We should return to the provisions of the Tashkent Declaration to move forward.
The Kashmir Committee chaired by me was able to achieve a big breakthrough with the Hurriyat Conference, in searching for a settlement that left no one disgruntled, defeated or humiliated. It reached an agreement with five salient features:
1. Terrorism and violence are taboo. 2. A lasting and honourable peaceful resolution must and can be found. 3. The resolution must be acceptable to all political elements and regions of the state. 4. Extremist positions held by all for the previous five decades have to be and will be abandoned. 5. Kashmiri Pandits will be rehabilitated with honour and rights of equality.
Reading between the lines, what emerges is that demands for “abrogation of Article 370”, and “secession” were dropped from the solution agenda. Only legitimate interests and rational expectations of all elements and regions in the composite state would be paramount.
Attitudes of Kashmiri leaders have seen a great change in the last few years. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone have shed their extremist positions. Except for Syed Ali Shah Geelani, no one speaks of secession; they only speak of self-determination. And if the philosophy of Yasin Malik is to introduce Shariat, India will do everything possible to prevent it as its constitutional and moral obligation. Our Constitution has placed protection of the liberty, well-being and constitutional rights of the minorities as a trust to India.
I am hopeful that the PDP and BJP can come together and form the next government, and I sincerely hope that Mirwaiz and Ghani would be part of it, to demonstrate complete inclusiveness and harmony. Let the healing process begin. Let there be development and prosperity in the beautiful land of Kashmir. And may the tradition of Kashmiriyat and Sufism return to paradise.