Phased deterioration of Kashmiriyat in Kashmir

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A man paints to hide anti-India graffiti written on the shutters of a closed shop during a curfew in Srinagar.   | Photo Credit: Mukhtar Khan

by Dr. Rajkumar Singh 5 July 2019

In between the demand of Plebiscite and the doubtful political viability of an independent Jammu and Kashmir, the urge of self rule in Kashmir’s popular consciousness is remarkable. Despite the coercive and manipulative of both the Indian and Pakistani authorities, mass opinion in the valley is not only confused but by and large unambiguous and unequivocal in the belief that only independent statehood would constitute genuine emancipation. The irony of fate is that the autonomist claim has been treated virtually as a form of criminal political behaviour by the Indian state since 1953, and constantly demonised as an expression of pro-Pakistan chauvinism. At the same time the popular appeal of the independence slogan is such that even overt and covert pro-Pakistan forces are usually compelled to adjust or defer to it. Neither India nor Pakistan wants to accommodate the strategic changes what would, at the very least, include Kashmiris in discussions about their future. Neither wants to revise its political philosophies, or alter the reflexive domestic opinion that supports Indian army powers on the one side and jihad on the other. Neither wants to shed the light of democratic debate on the contentious subjects of nationalism and self-determination.

Concept of self-determination

The idea of self-determination is the transformed version of the notion of plebiscite.

The spirit of nationalism and self-determination had a long and distinguished lineage, and deep roots in Kashmir’s political culture going to the popular movement against the tinpot despotism of the Dogra dynasty during the thirties and the forties.  Except for seven years (1975-82) of his life Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was a crusader for Kashmir’s right to self-determination, and that this faith is what won him the love and devotion of the people of Kashmir. His National Conference, despite severe repression went from strength to strength. In May 1946, on the pattern of Indian National Congress, ‘Quit India’ Movement of 1942, the NC launched a mass agitation called’ quit  Kashmir ‘against the last Maharaja Hari Singh and declared that the time has come to tear up the Treaty of Amritsar-sovereignty is not the birthright of Maharaja Hari Singh. ‘Quit Kashmir’ is not a question of revolt. It is a matter of right. Even the word ‘national’ in the National Conference’s name refers to the territory and population of J & K. Sheikh Abdullah speaking before the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in August 1952 referred to Jammu and Kashmir as ‘our country’ and made it clear that accession to India was final and complete and the issues at stake concerned the terms of membership in, and association with the Indian union.

The year 1947 was a crucial one for the state of Jammu and Kashmir because the British paramountcy ceased to exist over princely states and the state was provided the option either to choose one of the dominions or remain independent. The idea of state declaring an independent one was supported by Ram Chandra Kak, the then Prime Minister of J & K and a political party named Muslim Conference. They also assured the Ruler that he would be acclaimed as the first constitutional king of a ‘democratic and independent Kashmir. Insistence and persuasion had led the Maharaja to cherish the dream of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir, which at that time was looking real. But the notion was found unfeasible after Maharaja’s meeting with Lord Mountbatten, who visited the state on the request of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the last week of June 1947. This was one of the reasons, which, it appears, prevented the Maharaja of the state not to sign the Instrument of Accession soon after the lapse of paramountcy as done by other Rulers of Indian states.

Emergence and expansion  of  Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front

Despite several ups and downs the State of Jammu and Kashmir never abandoned the struggle for self-determination. After Sheikh Abdullah’s admission of defeat in 1975, a new organisation-the People’s League was at hand to keep the quest for self – determination alive. But as frustration with the Indian state’s increasingly egregious authoritarianism in Kashmir mounted through the eighties, more and more Kashmiris became convinced that Kashmiriyat could only be safeguarded in an independent state. As commented by Qasim Khokhar, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. (JKLF), the eighties were an especially difficult and frustrating decade for independence activist, what with the crushing burdens of material law and Islamisation. Kashmir’s democratic aspirations were callously sacrificed at the alter of the ‘nation’ to which Kashmiris were expected to be loyal. But the inevitable result was that when mass Kashmiri alienation from Indian ‘democracy’ eventually surfaced in an explosive form, as armed resistence, it was simultaneously total and violent rejections the India ‘nation’, it converted in the demand for azaadi or self determination.

In the circumstances, the JKLF who had never enjoyed much support in the valley, emerged as the spearhead of a mass uprising, and a new generation of Kashmiri youth took up the gun in a desperate attempt to wrest the rights their father and grand fathers had been unable to obtain through peaceful means. The JKLF is still, as claimed by its leader Mohammad Yasin Malik, ‘the most principled and consistent advocate of independence, that represents the wishes of the people’, is not far off the mark. Despite its sufferings at the hands of both – the Indian forces and pro-Pakistan gunman, organisation’s ideology continues to resonate powerfully with both the middle class and the masses in Kashmir. The ultimate denial of democracy – rule through violence and coercion produced a situation by 1990-91 where the gunman came to be revered as the harbinger of freedom. For example, in April 1990, the largest political rally in Kashmir’s history, surpassing even Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral, took place when over 500,000 mourners turned out defying curfew orders to honour Ashfaq at his funeral, who had been killed in a shoot-out with security forces. He and countless other Shaheed  have become part of Kashmiri lore and Srinagar’s Id Gah ground, which houses the biggest martyrs’ graveyard, is practically a pilgrimage site for Kashmiris today. It was followed in early April 1991 when large anti-Pakistan demonstrations erupted in Srinagar after a JKLF area commander was killed by Hizbul Mujahideen gunman and in February 1992 after Pakistani forces shot dead at least twelve people, apart from beat and arrest of hundred more to break up a symbolic cross-border ‘Unity March’ from Azad Kashmir to Indian administered Kashmir by an estimated 30,000 JKLF supporters. The episode was described as a major victory for JKLF groups operating in the valley over Pakistan-sponsored factions.

The regional, religious and other forms of social diversity of the state of Jammu and Kashmir prevent us applying majoritarian principle and one should remain extremely vigilant of attempts made by pro-independence factions of the state from time to time. For example, in January 1994, Raja Mohammad Muzaffar, a senior leader of the Azad Kashmir-based JKLF submitted a blueprint for a possible solution to the Kashmir question to a Conference on Kashmir, organised by the United State Institute of Peace. He proposed a plebiscite throughout the territories of the former princely state with three options presented to the electorate – accession to India, to Pakistan or independent Jammu and Kashmir to be decided by a simple majority of 51 per cent of the electorate. However, the right to self determination or the plebiscite decided by simple majority, has serious flaws and risks of its own. It is not feasible in the present day circumstances due to India’s implacable opposition to any notion of plebiscite, and Pakistan’s manifest lack of interest in the idea.

Possible way-out

The question of plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as committed by Indian leaders and as provided in the Security Council’s resolutions of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949, does not arise at the present stage. It has now become time – barred, out – dated, impractical, absolete and bear only historical importance. The resolutions of the Security Council have become invalid because the circumstances under which they were made have undergone a drastic change and as such the principle of rebus sic stantibus clearly applies. This principle is recognised not only by the classical international law but by the Vienna Convention on Treaties (1969) as well. According to it, a state is not obliged to perform its obligations under an international undertaking if there occurs a fundamental change in the circumstances existing at the time the obligation was undertaken.

For India and Pakistan, Kashmir is still about their respective strengths and sovereignties and senses of security, about their titles to land and peoples, about their statures in the region and the world. Hence, they do not want independent Kashmir because each has a vital stake in Kashmir and also because they are afraid that an independent Kashmir may become an arena of world power politics. The current Indian strategy vis-a-vis the problem consists of three basic elements: first, continue the policy of sustained repression and further weaken the insurgents, second, arms and sponsor criminalised gangs that have broken away from the militant ranks, should be used to intimidate and demoralise the public as much as possible; and third try and undermine the Hurriyat Conference’s standing by playing up allegations of corruption and ineptitue against some of its leading figures.

It is less than certain that any ‘solution’ to the struggle in and over Kashmir can be stable and final without some level of participation and acquiescence on the part of the rulers of Pakistan. But on the other, responsible political leaders and activists in Kashmir whatever their public positions and ideological commitments, know perfectly well that the gun alone cannot liberate their people. Indeed they fully realise that they themselves, and the political future of their people, are increasingly being held hostage by the environment of violence and fear. There are clear indications that some of these forces would be willing to participate in a genuine dialogue without any precondition of any kind on any side, that they feel the need of a serious, substantive talk for their people.

The likelihood of greater international involvement, particularly by the US, in  the subcontinental affairs is on the cards due to the fact that the international community considers Kashmir a territorial dispute in which Pakistan has an equal status and stake. Second, despite the passage of more than seventy years, the dispute remains unresolved and it has sparked off four major conflicts between India and Pakistan. Third, the anxiety about such conflicts that qualitatively increased in the international community because of the acquisition of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities by India and Pakistan. Fourth, the phenomenon of cross border terrorism and pan-Islamic militancy has become a matter of global concern after September 11, 2001, and the assessment is that it finds fertile grounds in disputes like the one over Kashmir. Now India does not have the leverage any more of the special equation with the former Soviet Union. The insistent advice to India to remain restrained vis-a-vis Pakistan, the pressure generated to Pakistan to desist from sponsoring terrorism against India, manifest third party involvement. India has to be responsive to these realities. If we want to avoid third party involvement, we must give the highest priority to resolving the internal dilemmas in Jammu and Kashmir. At the sametime, we must convince the international community that we are willing to have a serious and substantive discussions on the issue with Pakistan.