Moving Beyond Stated Positions

  • Asma Khan Lone
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 4:15PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 17 2016 5:50PM
Moving Beyond Stated Positions

 

As India and Pakistan embark upon yet another cycle of bonhomie, Kashmir is back in the script, only this time without the attendant fanfare, at least in Kashmir. Years of false dawns, shifting goalposts and undelivered promises have inured Kashmir to a guarded anticipation.
By bringing Kashmir back onto the radar, the present government in New Delhi has come full circle of sorts. After calling off the NSA level talks in August merely four months ago, not only have the NSA’s of both countries met but the Indian foreign Minister has also travelled to Pakistan initiating a “comprehensive” bilateral dialogue –in many ways an antidote to the Indian advantage in Ufa. While posturing an unyielding stance of talking “terrorism” only, the newly baptized dialogue very much includes Kashmir; in fact it goes a step ahead by including the Siachin issue, which the previous Manmohan Singh dispensation had successfully taken off the bilateral arrangement, citing changed dynamics post the Kargil incursion.
What was it then that brought about this sudden departure of policy and, to an extent, ideology towards Pakistan with its long shadow cast over Kashmir too? Beyond the fact that the futility of coercive diplomacy was becoming ever so evident, better relations with Pakistan also overlapped with the Indian Premiere’s personal ambition. That PM Modi, having risen to India’s most coveted office, wanted to move beyond that had been much of the speculation before his election and that Kashmir could prove the vehicle part of the hope. The invitation to PM Sharif and his eventual attendance at PM Modi’s Inaugural ceremony was seen as a welcome step, though things soon slid downhill on that front. There however emerged glimmers of hope within Kashmir itself as steps such as the accountability and punishment of Indian Army personnel for human rights violations – a first in Kashmir – or the announcement of the Rs.1000 crore relief package in the aftermath of the 2014 floods and the PM’s personal visit to the valley raised hopes and expectations. These hopes soon dissipated as general inefficiency and fiscal glitches set in, making the whole process of post flood rehabilitation a travesty.
The initial aspiration for statesmanship stature, even if obscured by realpolitik considerations elsewhere, may have gained renewed impetus with the PM’s foreign travels. Not only by aspiring to acquire a status of equals among the International “bigwigs” that he interacted with, earning it through a lofty vision and its implementation, but also by the constant nudging by these foreign leaders towards a stabilized region by engagement with Pakistan. This was a core demand especially by the US which has much at stake in the region as it plans a peaceful exit from the Af-Pak arena. It also wants New Delhi to play a more engaged and constructive role in Afghanistan. The growing presence of trans-national extremist organisations such as ISIL within the region was also a cause of concern for these leaders. There have also been murmurs of intermediaries with vested commercial interests pushing for reconciliation between the two neighbors.
The Bihar election was the other tipping point. It was the latest in a string of political gambles the BJP had dismally failed. The upset led to the urgency for a game changer capable of reclaiming the thunder; the “ten day diplomatic miracle” delivered just that. The Bihar election was also demonstrative of the rejection of communalism by the larger segment of the voters which evinced the pursuit for development and opportunity instead. Having acquired the acquiescence of the RSS for a Rs.80,000 crore package for Kashmir, post Bihar, PM Modi also assumed greater personal maneuverability with regard to relations with Pakistan. His initial vision displayed in the invitation to all SAARC members to his swearing-in ceremony underlined a regional approach especially in terms of economic and commercial integration. PM Modi’s push for the TAPI pipeline, culminating in the recent groundbreaking ceremony in Turkmenistan, was a step in that very direction. Furthermore, access to the Central Asian states and its untapped resources and market through Pakistan, despite an alternative route and port being developed through Iran, would go a long way in serving India’s economic interests, especially its trade and energy security. And if adequate quid pro quos are extended to Pakistan, it could usher in apolitical architecture of “Complex Interdependence”, increasing stakes, hence investment in peace by both the nuclear armed neighbours. The dividends of such a peace will be unimaginably beneficial not just for Kashmir but for the region at large. Though as a caveat it is pertinent to mention that the cross-LoC trade initiated across the divide in Kashmir, while serving a symbolic purpose of greater institutional interaction and harmony, has been unable to provide the much envisioned spur to the local Kashmiri industry or economy.
Coming back to the present, how much of the latest Indo-Pak embrace (literally) will trickle down to Kashmir is yet to be seen. However, beyond the Kashmir-India-Pakistan tripartite, there is also an eclipsed Srinagar-New Delhi axis that forms a crucial part of the Kashmir Jigsaw and yet remains to be properly explored or addressed. For any meaningful forward movement to take place this core axis representing the central contestants (Kashmiris and New Delhi) will have to be accounted for and the reference points of its engagement revisited. India on its part needs to move beyond the discourse of overlapping political visions (with Kashmir) before and during Partition and realise that it was but a transactional union bereft of any ideological convergence. While the Kashmiris need to acknowledge the calculated political gambit (whether prudent or not) of joining India at the time (its propounded democratic ideals, leftist leanings of Indian leadership in sync with “naya Kashmir”, cultural pluralism – to accommodate the Pandits, and promise of special status to guard Kashmir’s indigenous identity). Only by moving away from their stated positions and engaging within the backdrop of these realities will any meaningful and result-oriented dialogue ensue. The fulcrum of this relationship was Article 370 which was both the legal and emotional link between the two entities and continues to be till this date. Any tinkering with it, despite its watered down version, will snap both the legal and more importantly emotional (of whatever remains) link with India.
A peep into the past with the aim of drawing historical understanding will show how despite being situated at the crossroads of various civilizations, be it the impressionable Persian, Central Asian, Indus or Chinese civilizations, Kashmir always retained its distinct identity, while absorbing certain aspects, yet resisting the complete sway of these civilizations. This is testimony of its pride in its eclectic Identity and the zeal with which it has guarded it through the centuries and continues to do so today. Any foreign imposition, especially political, without any ownership on the part of the Kashmiris, will always be resisted in Kashmir.
India also needs to shift its paradigm and tactics in Kashmir from trying to manage it through the optics of its Pakistan policy and instead invest more in addressing Kashmir’s genuine grievances and aspirations. A manifestation of these aspirations is Kashmir’s overriding. sentiment of “Azadi”, a de-construction of which spells: ownership, indigenous decision-making and self-sufficiency. While Kashmir will continue its fascination with Pakistan in terms of shared geography, culture and religion, yet its Political aspirations will always remain indigenous and autonomous.
There has to be a realization on the part of India of these and other nuances of the Kashmir context and the political will to address them accordingly. A way forward would be engagement with all shades of Kashmiri people and leadership beyond the bondage of a patronized few. It’s recent bid of sidelining the separatist elements in the valley misfired and only ended up bringing them center-stage; more due to the potency of the ‘sentiment’ they represent than anything else. It’s tough talk vis-à-vis Pakistan whether through its spokespersons or the guns on the LoC further drew a latent Pakistan into the conflict which it had long left dormant due to the exigencies of its own challenges at home. Growing unease at the LoC, a trigger happy paramilitary force, rising intolerance, both political and societal, and a general sense of indifference on the part of New Delhi towards Kashmir has further bred alienation, especially amongst the youth who after having carved a narrative of ‘peaceful resistance’ seem to be once again toying with a discourse of armed insurgency. While the waving of ISIS flags by a few mischief mongering youth in downtown Srinagar may be just that right now, but a rapidly securitizing situation in Afghanistan – the new theatre of Indo-Pak rivalry – may find many collaborators in Kashmir, not so much out of conviction for that particular ideology but for the fervor to spite India.
If New Delhi needs to step back and salvage the fraying normalcy in Kashmir so meticulously constructed over the past decade, Kashmiris too need to display political maturity and a constructive mindset. They need to move beyond rhetoric and self-defeating strategies and forge a realistic and deliverable vision. Taking a cue from history, both recent and distant, Kashmiris can no longer afford to outsource their struggle or the responsibility towards it, to a few or single leadership – it is just too labyrinthine to be reposed within a handful. There needs to be a concerted effort where each and every aspect of Kashmiri life is engaged and contributing towards the issue and its resolution, be it as teachers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, doctors, IT specialists etc. We need to keep the initiative within Kashmir rather than reacting to situations where Kashmir is employed as a mere pawn in a scheme of political posturing between India and Pakistan. There is space and a role for everyone in Kashmir – from the romanticism of our elders to the realism of our youngsters – as long as the leitmotif remains Kashmiriyat.
We need to stop the blame game and unilateral outcast of others or assume over-riding representation ourselves as that will only make our cause weaker. Even within Palestine, the epitome of resistance, there are various strands of struggle, be it the armed struggle, the diplomatic advocacy or addressing of the more mundane issues by the PA (Palestinian Authority), an interim governance structure catering to the administrative and governance needs of the populace. No entity or movement can survive in a social security vacuum. Kashmir too has exercised such parallels in history wherein an underground resistance movement always existed alongside electoral politics with members periodically crossing over from one format to another. Of course there were those who stayed their course throughout. It’s time we too rose beyond bitter infighting and upped our game in sync with the changing dynamics and structures of global politics.

So, as Kashmir enters the 69th year of its conflict – well Internationally, Kashmiris like to appropriate it to 1931 – hope may streak the horizon but fulfillment remains a distant dream.

Postscript: The resumption of “secret Diplomacy” on Kashmir akin to the Musharaf-Manmohan Singh practice is on the cards. Seems interesting times ahead for Kashmir again, but the million dollar question remains – Will it deliver?

(Asma Khan Lone is a Political commentator and has contributed pieces in leading publications around the globe. She is Assistant Professor at Jindal School of International Affairs. Feedback at asma_sgl@hotmail.com)