Talk to the real people


The discourse on Jammu and Kashmir is currently and overwhelmingly defined by those who resort to terrorism, their sponsors and their front organisations. Other political constituencies, including the elected representatives of the people in Indian administered areas, the people of the regions that are denied democratic representation and political and human rights in Pakistan occupied areas. The Government of India and its satellite in Srinagar continue to react to the voices of violence, deepening the marginalisation and neglect of the many and legitimate issues of those who reject terrorism.

It is impossible to find any quick and simple settlement or "formula" for the resolution of the multiple conflicts and contradictions in wider J&K. The various "formulae" that have been proposed from time to time reduce essentially to the flawed logic of India's disastrous partition of 1947 and are aimed to further divide J&K along religious majoritarian lines.

Even within the context of the conflict within the Valley, there is no reason to believe that the terrorists and their backers are in any measure motivated by their concerns for the rights and aspirations of the people. It is useful to remind ourselves that Kashmiri Muslims, whose cause the terrorists claim to be fighting for, are the principal civilian victims of terrorism in J&K and account for 85 per cent of the civilian victims of terrorism in the State.

The terrorists represent essentially Pakistan's geopolitical ambitions and efforts to corner greater natural resources, crucially water, and possibly a narrow minority committed to an Islamist extremist ideology in a small geographical fraction of J&K.

South Asia in general and India in particular has long been proof that, while religious identifies can be mobilised for violence, there is no fundamental psychological divide between communities which have long histories of living in mutual respect and accommodation despite the enormous cultural diversities that characterise this region.

While religious identities formed the basis of Partition, they cannot constitute the basis of any future solution to the multiple crises of Kashmir and of South Asia in general. Pakistan's history, and in the present context, the conditions of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan and what is called "Azad Kashmir" provides ample evidence that, if Partition was intended to solve the problems of the people, it has failed comprehensively. Division serves no purpose if the objective condition of the lives of the people remain unaltered, and there is no more than a peripheral reconfiguration that satisfies the powerlust of a few individuals or a section of the elite.

It is precisely this consideration that leads us to the conclusion that "freedom" is nothing more than a slogan, unless it is backed by plans, programmes and institutions that alter the realities of the ground, and secure the resources, institutions and mechanisms that can help meet the aspirations of large populations.

The past century has often been described as the "Century of Freedom", and it is useful to note the sheer number of new nations that secured their "independence" during this period. Yet, how many of the people of these free nations are actually free? How many are able to reap the benefits of this new "liberty"? And how many of them lapsed into new tyrannies?

The crisis of minorities - ethnic, religious or cultural - is another aspect that should receive our considered attention. Minorities in J&K have come under threat in many places, while in others, experiments in demographic re-engineering have been launched to diminish local majorities and reduce them to a minority status. This has encouraged some segments within such minorities to seek greater security and protect their culture by trying to build barriers of separation.

Isolationism is, in fact, a powerful political position among many communities today, as marginalised populations seek to create "smaller worlds within borders", and protection in communal, ethnic and cultural ghettos. But this is a strategy of inevitable failure, possibly of collective cultural suicide.

The religious, ethnic or cultural ghetto is the worst way to protect these identities. The ghetto eventually weakens the capacities of communities. All isolationist solutions eventually weaken nations and people who seek to protect themselves through such measures; and these nations and people are then gradually overwhelmed by the forces and trends of history. Insularity makes all cultures and communities brittle, increasingly fragile, internally vulnerable and susceptible to external intervention or manipulation. It is only by securing modern instrumentalities of power that peoples can secure their cultures and their identities.

The people of Kashmir have such instrumentalities within their grasp, but to secure them they will have to tear down the walls of mutual suspicion and hatred, reject the idea of "unique and choiceless identity" and recognise the plurality of our affiliations". This region is strategically poised at what was historically seen as the ancient "axis of Asia", where South, Central and East Asia converge. Located at the crossroads of three great civilisations - described in another age, as the point "where three empires meet" - this region was once both India's and China's gateway to Central Asia and beyond, into the heart of Europe, along the ancient Silk route that contributed so much to the wealth and civilisation of the many peoples it touched. Within an order that seeks to integrate rather than divide, this strategic centrality and economic dynamism can easily be recovered.

Since the Partition, violence has dominated too much of the discourse on J&K. But there will have to be a generation that makes a break with this fractious past. We need to decide whether we are to be that historical generation.

The discourse must move from an essentially Valley-centric focus to the larger issues concerning the diverse communities of the entire J&K region. There is also an urgent need to move away from the positions that have become entrenched in the current negotiating processes, and to evolve a more inclusive understanding of the diverse interests and communities of J&K.

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