Dogma is not a substitute for conflict resolution

  • Omar Abdullah
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 3:21PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 15 2016 7:10PM
Dogma is not a substitute for conflict resolution

The din of loud rhetoric and idealistic posturing we often tend to forget about the staggering human costs of conflict. Deaths, disappearances and devastation – the morbidity of political turmoil becomes either a matter of statistical and academic arguments or hyperbolic ideological posturing. Human suffering eludes the political narrative as press statements and stentorian speeches exude confidence in a ‘self-evolving’, itinerant journey of sacrifices and more sacrifices. The fact that these sacrifices are exceptionally and exclusively demanded from the poor common man by those far removed from the misery and costs of conflict makes a very strong case for review and rethink.
‘Kashmir Issue’ has been simmering since 1947 and so has the mutability between realism and idealism, manifesting in a checkered history of uncertainty and turmoil. Driven by a strong nationalistic sentiment that came in the way of India’s sovereignty and Pakistan’s theocratic claim to Kashmir, our people have rendered enormous sacrifices. Between various phases of political uncertainty, subversion and re-engagement, the people of our state have demonstrated their irrefutable commitment to a political sentiment that can neither be wished away nor pacified by economics.
The unreconciled distance between the advocacy of cognitive resolution and emotional resolution is the biggest challenge in Kashmir. This is as complicated as a political conflict can be. While there are parallels that can be drawn, the Kashmir Issue is neither about the shifting of a line on the map nor about the reconciliation of territory in a border dispute. The confluence and structural interplay of internal and external dimensions of the political issue is the proverbial Gordian knot. There are no easy solutions in sight, no absolute victories to be claimed by either side. However, the sinecurist attitude of the separatist leadership coupled with an absence of a sustained engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad has resulted in the ostracisation of political evolution and innovation – perhaps even the stigmatisation of dialogue. Every formula, every suggestion has come to be questioned as at best either a ‘half-baked’ solution or at worst a ‘sell-out’. This convenient investment in the status-quo is a misrepresentation of the travails and tragedies faced by the ordinary Kashmiri whose sacrifices have been taken for granted with brutish contempt by those who claim to champion and articulate his political aspirations.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir are the primary stakeholders in the political issue. Despite this irrefutable fact, today political entities of J&K (both mainstream and separatist) have been relegated to the sidelines of bilateral political engagement on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. While both countries have expressed their eagerness to resolve all outstanding issues that plague their relationship and while Kashmir has been included in the agenda of the recently announced ‘Comprehensive Dialogue Process’, there is a complete and very conspicuous lack of political engagement between New Delhi and Srinagar. Thousands of deaths, innumerable sacrifices, countless hartals and decades of turmoil have sadly not earned Kashmiris a place at the table where their fate could be possibly negotiated. This, first and foremost is an unambiguous indictment of the Separatist Leadership in Kashmir – of their inability to translate sacrifices into political empowerment and representation, a substantial cost of their sheer lack of political strategy. To then blame the people of Kashmir for their own failure to negotiate a favourable settlement, in my opinion, is a highly unfair deflection of responsibility.
‘Where are we headed?’, ‘How do we get there?’ and ‘What’s achievable and sustainable?’ are equally important questions in the science and art of conflict resolution. We have either evaded these questions for the more lucrative, safer platforms of rhetoric or we have answered them wishfully – and both these attitudes have compounded the miseries and sufferings of our people. In 2013, while talking to Dean Nelson of ‘The Telegraph’ in Srinagar, I voiced my views about a possible comparative study and theoretical emulation of the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the Scottish Devolution to inspire a future settlement of the Kashmir Issue. The separatist leadership responded as expected – in the language of rhetoric and idealism and said this was an attempt to “dilute the Kashmir Issue”.
The more rigid quarters of the separatist Leadership had earlier responded similarly to President Musharraf’s ‘Four Point’ Formula to resolve the Kashmir Issue. The formula had proposed demilitarisation, greater autonomy and freedom of movement and no change of existing borders as the broad contours of an agreement between the two countries. While certain moderate quarters of the separatist leadership supported this proposal in hushed, characteristically apologetic tones, the hawkish faction outrightly rejected it and termed it as a “compromise”. The fact that the hawkish faction commands a greater social sanctity for agitation and idealism than the overly apologetic moderate faction has complicated things further. This impetuous rejection of proposals and negotiations and the sanctity for rigidity and political radicalism is a huge challenge – the biggest internal roadblock to conflict resolution and sadly exclusively detrimental to the people of Kashmir.
We cannot expect our people to suffer in perpetuity for the honour of our own idealism. While both India and Pakistan might afford the political status-quo in Kashmir for decades to come, the people of Kashmir cannot continue to live embroiled in political uncertainty and governed by the shadows of operational management. We need to account for our geo-political and economic constraints and adjust our sails conscious of those realities. Surrounded by three nuclear super-powers, the noble idealism of secession does not reflect on the efficacy and vision of political leadership – but the complete lack of it. Any possible models of resolution have to not only account for the political aspirations of our people but also the constraints of the external political dimensions that cannot be wished away. Since realism has been ostracised and scorned at from the high-altars of morality for far too long and since the very thought of accountability has eluded the separatist leadership, we continue to be clueless. Dogma is not a substitute for conflict resolution.
Today we are confronted by the challenges of a resurgent global unrest that could possibly aim at feeding on our political issue. Internally, the call for a complete disavowal of institutions of governance and democracy has been rejected time and again by the people. Appeals for election boycotts have been overwhelmingly turned down. This, by no means is a negation of the political sentiment. This however is an unambiguous collective expression of realism that the separatist leadership needs to not only acknowledge but respect. It is also time for the mainstream political parties to be a part of the processes of negotiation and engagement on the Kashmir Issue between New Delhi and Islamabad. It is vital to empower a common Kashmiri in a dialogue process that pertains to their political aspirations and can come to decide their political fate. Voices of moderation and enlightenment, those conscious of the inconsolable costs of turmoil, need to speak up and do so courageously. Status-quo is not the answer.
Any model of resolution that questions Indian sovereignty is at best a theory. To expect another generation of our children to forsake their futures for a theory that is neither supported by reality nor by the science of possibility is unfair and unjust – it’s a sin. Also, any model of resolution that questions Kashmiri Nationalism or tries to negate and discredit it operatively or economically will be an exercise in futility. The solution could perhaps lie in acknowledging and providing due institutional and constitutional space for this sentiment of Kashmiri nationalism without contesting India’s sovereignty or contesting Pakistan’s stake in the issue.