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Kashmir Problem: A democratic Solution?

23 September, 2011

By Shams Rehman


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The latest tendency emerging from the Indian and Pakistani official discourse on Kashmir can be described as a dis-integrationist if viewed from the unified independent Kashmir perspective and perhaps multiple self-determinationist if seen from a wider South Asian approach. For the argument which indicates to such a tendency claims that due to the multiplicity the option of a united independent sovereign Kashmir cannot considered in bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir question.

Interestingly both India and Pakistan appear in agreement over this claim as they did in their opposition to an independent Kashmir. However, while Indian efforts to undermine independence of Kashmir by magnifying the multiple identities focuses on the diversity of political opinions in the state, especially in Jammu and Ladakh where there is vocal opposition to the Huriyat version of independent Kashmir as Valley centric and too close to the 'Two Nation Theory', Pakistan, a product of that theory puts greater emphasis over the Huriyat type tendencies in the resistance politics that praises Pakistan for supporting them in their uprising against Indian occupation. Huriyat Conference has never demonstrated any clarity on such issues as multiple identities and political pluralism. Indeed it seems that while they did issue a cautious statement over recent Pakistani moves to declare Gilgit Baltistan regions of Kashmir state as de facto province of Pakistan, they rarely try to address such questions as why Huriyat does not exist in Ladakh and Jammu and why even in Azad Kashmir it is composed exclusively of Valley Kashmiris. Even Yasin Malik a staunch proponent of independent Kashmir who heads JKLF after a split in early 1990s confined his high profile Safar e Azadi or Freedom March to the Valley. There are strong and vocal voices in Jammu, Ladakh and Gilgit Baltistan against this Valley centric Kashmiri nationalism.

One possible reason for the silence of Huriyat and evasion of JKLF in the valley about the questions of diversity is the fact that while they are continuation of the independence sentiment, their politics is shaped more by the religious Islamic political ideology than the national political tradition mainly because the national tradition has been championed by the National Conference (NC) within the framework of Indian secularism and Congress nationalism. Therefore, for Huriyat Ladakh, Jammu and AJK and GB are the headaches of those who want an inclusive united Kashmir State. For Huriyat the Kashmir Valley is the Kashmir and it is ok for them if the Valley becomes independent or goes with Pakistan. It seems that Pakistan would probably welcome the independence of Valley from India with expectations that Valley will have close relations with Pakistan. That is why the Huriyat and Pakistani establishment find natural allies in each other. However, this version of Kashmiri independence politics is not acceptable to those in Azad Kashmir and to some extent those in Gilgit Baltistan. They would like to become independent in a united Kashmir State or United States of Kashmir or autonomous within that state and not to merge with India or Pakistan.

In this context the question posed by the Indian and Pakistani officialdom and academia to the independent Kashmir discourse seems only reflecting the contemporary realities of Kashmiri State with division of Kashmir between India and Pakistan as the only viable solution. Indeed the solution to Kashmir based on autonomy has also been described as the best possible and achievable solution by many South Asians on the left. I heard of this first from the renowned British Pakistani revolutionary activist and analyst Traiq Ali at a Marxist gathering in 1995.

However, when discussing division it appears that the major fault line runs through religious differences rather than regions or cultures which means the extension of two nation theory and acceptance of Pakistani claim over the state's Muslim regions that of course cannot be acceptable to India so Indian perspective would argue for united autonomous but not sovereign Kashmir. Pakistan also has no objection to the united Kashmir state as long as it's united within the jurisdiction of Pakistan. Merger of the entire state with India is not acceptable to a significant section of Muslim population and accession to Pakistan is vehemently opposed by the Pundits of the Valley, Hundus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh and a very large numbers of Muslims in Valley, 'Azad' (free) Kashmir (the Pakistani Occupied Southern Kashmir) and Gilgit Baltistan (the Pakistani Occupied Northern Kashmir).

In an attempt to address the complex situation General Pervez Musharaf floated a 'win win' proposal characterised by demilitarization, self-governance and freedom of movement and a Joint mechanism consisting of Indian, Pakistani and Kahsmiri representatives for defense, communication and foreign affairs. The recent Wiki Leaks have indicated that this was almost agreed by the Indian and Pakistani governments with most Kashmiri leadership on board. It's only ironic that policies in Pakistan are continuously given birth by and die with individuals rather than institutions.

In this context the new trend in the Indian and Pakistani approach to resolve the issue of Kashmir on the basis of cultural diversity seems a positive step forward and needs reciprocation from the proponents of independent Kashmir, especially who claim that the issue of Kashmir is that of justice and democratic rights for people and is hindering the progress and development of Kashmiris as well as of the wider South Asians .

The summary of such a solution offered below incorporates the suggestions floated by Parvez Musharaf (despite him being a dictator) that were considerably favored by Jag Mohan a democratically elected Indian premier. However, the proposal presented here argues that such a solution should be accomplished through a democratic mechanism which gives the State Subjects across the Kashmir state an opportunity to express their aspirations. If the problem with Independence politics is that it does not represent all or majority of the people of Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, it must be made sure that any alternative to does that beyond any reasonable doubt. For this the people of these regions should be given a fair and transparent chance to elect their representatives who then chose Statewide Representative Body that should negotiate with the Indian and Pakistani representatives under some type of democratic international auspices of UN or some other mutually agreed body or panel. For this purpose India and Pakistan immediately need to take the following steps:

1. Enhance and expand trade and movement across the division line;

2. Release all political prisoners including the remains of Maqbool Bhatt from Tihar prison Delhi;

3. Demilitarize the state by withdrawing all foreign armies and militant groups;

4. Introduce if any constitutional amendments are required for democratizing the existing setups in all five regions of the state namely the Hill Council of Ladakh, J&K Assembly, AJK Assembly and Gilgit Baltistan Assembly. There is no justification for evading the demand for an autonomous Jammu Assembly when all other regions have their assemblies. The constitutions of these Kashmiri assemblies should have provisions that if they join any of the neighboring countries or neighboring assemblies they will have right to do so without giving up their autonomy if they so wish. Kashmir Council in AJK to be abolished and Act 74 be amended as well as all regulations, laws and bodies set up by the Indian government to control Kashmiri government;

5. Lift all restrictions on pro-independence Kashmiris' participation in elections at any level;

6. Lift all restrictions on Media, Assembly and Campaigning;

7. Invite independent observers;

8. Announce elections of all assemblies to be held simultaneously where possible;

9. If any assembly wants to join neighboring India or Pakistan (or China?) they should make such a decision within an agreed time scale;

10. The remaining assemblies, and if none opts out for any neighboring countries all, should elect their respective representatives for the State Assembly that should then negotiate the future of the entire state.

In my view the best solution to Kashmir question is a united and democratic Kashmir with Kashmiriyat at the heart of its political and governance philosophy (our secularism) and regional autonomy for all the regional and administrative components of Kashmir state. However, if the majority of certain regions of Kashmir do not want to stay with the state and prefer joining India or Pakistan or China then democratically speaking no one should stop them. In relation to this form of self-determination that can be described as 'multiple self-determination' or 'grassroots self-determination' or 'self-determination from below', one question, however, remains to be answered.

Would this 'multiple self-determination' be confined to Kashmir only? What about the diversity and multiplicity in India and Pakistan that is even greater and sharper than, and actually spills over from, Kashmir? Will the devolution process be carried through the entire South Asia? After all Kashmir and all other distinct political entities form part of a wider south Asia with great deal in common and cannot exist in isolation. Are we moving towards the Indian communist party's solution to the colonial question that there is not 'one 'or 'two' nations in the Indian sub-continent but over a dozen and all should be recognized, respected and incorporated in a federation of South Asia?

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