Monday, May 23, 2011

Reclaiming Kashmir’s Centrality


Kashmir conflict is increasingly becoming a multi-layered and complicated one. Apart from the indigenous anti-India uprising that Kashmir has witnessed for the last many decades, more noticeably in the last two decades, there is an equally important external – read Pakistan – dimension to the conflict. While these, in my opinion, constitute the core of the Kashmir conflict, other minor conflicts/issues have been added to these two primary dimensions of the conflict from time to time by various interested parties. Jammu, for example, many observers, politicians and a lot of Jammuites say, have a problem with Kashmir, so do various other regions of the state, i.e., Ladakh, Kargil etc. It is often said that the developmental and other related problems of these regions and the genuine aspirations of the inhabitants therein have often been ignored and neglected in the larger context of the Kashmir conflict. In other words, the aspirations of the people of Jammu, Kargil and Ladakh etc. have traditionally been sacrificed at the alter of the conflict in Kashmir.

On the face of it this seems to be a perfectly valid argument and it has therefore gained much sympathy in official circles, New Delhi-based think tanks, and mainstream Indian media in general. Most government-sponsored studies and scholarly analysis churned out by research institutes in New Delhi have almost always tried to create a vast canvas of issues when analyzing the contours of the Kashmir issue. While this has certainly brought out the nuanced and complex nature of the (Jammu and) Kashmir problem and has, to a great extent, positively complicated the issue, such analysis also serves to deflect the attention that is due to the core conflict in Kashmir thereby interfering with the process of meaningful conflict resolution in Kashmir. The trouble with this kind of an otherwise genuine all-in-one broad-based argument, couched in democratic terms, is that it ends up becoming a reactionary sentiment.

In order to further explain my point I wish to differentiate between the core conflict in Kashmir and the other issues that have now become part and parcel of the Kashmir conflict. The core conflict in Kashmir is two-fold as pointed out above: the territorial conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and the internal insurgency in Kashmir against the Indian government. The basic nature of this two-pronged conflict is characteristically different from the other ‘add-on’ aspects of the Kashmir conflict. The problems in Jammu, Ladakh or Kargil which are often expressed in terms of malgovernance, lack of infrastructure, lack of devolution of powers, or administrative neglect do not, by any stretch of imagination, belong to the category of the core conflict(s) in Kashmir. They are administrative or governance issues, at best. On the other hand, let us face it, the Kashmir conflict is not about good governance or infrastructure development. Governance or economic issues are neither unique to J&K nor are they of any unique or special nature. These problems are found in all parts of the country and are dealt with by the various levels of government. They are of course important issues but should not be seen on par with the core issues relating to the Kashmir conflict.
While most of the ‘add-on’ aspects of the Kashmir conflict are contemporary in nature, the core conflict in Kashmir has its clearly identifiable historical roots. This is often traced back to the circumstances surrounding the accession of J&K state into India, failed promise of a plebiscite in the state, watering down of Article 370, imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah, installing of puppet regimes in Srinagar by New Delhi, rigged elections and most importantly rampant violations of human rights of the Kashmiris. Indeed most of these issues are not the concerns of the people of Jammu or Ladakh and yet these very issues form the core conflict in Kashmir.

The team of interlocutors and various other committees appointed by New Delhi in order to address the employment, infrastructure and development situation in the state are mandated to look at not just Kashmir but also other regions and not just the political issues but also the developmental and other grievances of the entire state. And yet these committees are in existence because there is a problem ‘in Kashmir’. But the very purpose of these committees – resolution of the Kashmir conflict - stands defeated right from the start because their attention is divided since their mandate is to look at each and every issue in the state of which the Kashmir conflict is just one of them.

I am unprepared to accept that this conflation of issues is a spontaneous outcome of the natural evolution of the conflict in Kashmir. There is a clear line of thinking or at least an increasing tendency in New Delhi to pass of the problem in Kashmir as a result of malgovernance and lack of economic and infrastructure development. The tendency to ‘crowd out’ the core conflict in Kashmir needs to be seen as part of that well-conceived agenda. Once the Kashmir conflict is reduced to the questions of good governance and economic development, it becomes akin to any other problem in any other part of the country. And questions of development are neither new nor news in a country like India and they will take a long time to be resolved. Let us understand that once the Kashmir conflict is made out to be a complicated and multilayered one, New Delhi can always argue that resolving Kashmir is a very complex and time-consuming process. Moreover, when more and more issues are included in what is understood to be the Kashmir conflict, there will be many more voices, concerns, complaints and considerations competing for attention and resolution and in all that confusion the core issues of Kashmir will be submerged and eventually forgotten.

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