If a common thread weaves the story of Kashmir together, it is that of heartbreak. For too long now, paradise on earth has begun resembling a ghettoised hell, courtesy India’s occupation. But after months on the back-burner, Kashmir has bled back into the headlines — as we knew it would. Troops trade fire across the Line of Control, while pressmen snipe at each other across the border. To signal restraint is to show weakness, and weakness, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, is provocative.
That is a shame. Because while Pakistan’s neocons wax lyrical over Kashmir’s awesome beauty, their ‘jugular vein’ also happens to be India’s most ‘integral’ part. Meanwhile, India’s own savage occupation is encouraging the exact conditions it claims to be fighting in the valley: sickening human rights abuses, furious youth, and a broken people.
Yes, the war over Kashmir has been fought and refought all our lives: gone are the days when Jawaharlal Nehru promised his fellow Kashmiris a plebiscite, and the intrinsic right to self-determination. Gone also, says the other side, are the days Pakistan could posture for international involvement in the issue — that was buried in the blood and dust of 1971, and the Simla Agreement soon after.
But as passions rise across the region, now is not the time for posturing; the stakes have never been higher. Kashmir continues to burn — an open wound on the world stage. The old to and fro of United Nations interventions and Simla stopgaps have led us nowhere. Our two nuclear nations duelling it out for each inch of land, need to put fresh thought into the conflict.
|Standoff between police and Kashmiri protesters during an anti-election protest in Baramulla district, north of Srinagar May 7, 2014. Photo — Reuters|
Thought that seems to have occurred in the unlikeliest of places: the whiteboard of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. Not since former United States president Nixon went to China did Pakistan stage such a remarkable turnaround — the general forsook public opinion, as military rules are wont to do, and forged a path of his own in the mid 2000s. In 1999, that had led to Kargil. But having moved from Rawalpindi to Islamabad in the interim, the general had a change of mind — and method.
This was received warmly by the Indian government, and the world woke up to the four-point formula: the borders would remain, but restrictions on movement would be lifted; there would be both self-governance and increased autonomy for the Kashmiri people; both sides would move their militaries out (in phases, of course); and a joint mechanism with representatives from Pakistan, India, and Kashmir would supervise the plan’s implementation.
It is to the credit of both Musharraf and his Indian counterparts that such a plan was welcomed widely in Kashmir, from moderates in Jammu to the likes of the state’s Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, who said the formula “deserves the serious consideration of the Government of India”. On paper, it seemed both sides had arrived at the kernel of an idea.
But that is where it ended. Musharraf’s reign grew unjust and arbitrary, and he was forced out soon after. India, too, is now ruled by a man deemed a ‘textbook fascist’ as early as 2001. Today, Pakistan’s leadership is (rightfully) beholden to public opinion to a far greater degree, while India is managed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a gent that has long catered to the lowest common denominator. Attitudes have hardened.
Then there are the structural issues no number of pretty proposals can fix: India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, lending the army leverage in Kashmir’s cities. There’s Delhi’s sabre-rattling over terror, the kind it says is dreamed up in Islamabad. There is both the hanging of convicted Indian terrorist Afzal Guru and the discovery of mass graves in Srinagar. For Delhi, it would seem, peace isn’t a priority.
A great man once said, ‘“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. The 21st century has proven intensely allergic to colonialism. How ironic that the Republic of India, of all places, seems not to realise as much.