Kashmir. India. Pakistan. US. And the interlocuters.
The Government of India’s choice of interlocuters had raised eyebrows. Now they are raising hackles. The ‘open mind and big heart’, as one of the interlocuters declared with gusto, is looking more like an open mine and a big mouth.
Academicians are particularly destined to carry their share of the dubious weight of collective memory. The past is always their only ally, portioned into convenient parcels they often sling it on to a stick on their shoulders as they set out to win the world with argument. But history has a habit of reviling those who wish to grasp it in handfuls of hurrah. At first sight, the Government’s latest initiative looks like window dressing. It also reflects the tired old phenomenon so frequently employed by it – when in doubt, send a scout. Their mandate to talk to ‘everyone’ is withering down to a focus on only those who want to secede, while the nationalist Bakarwals, Gujjars, Pahadis, the Dogras and the Shia muslims apart from the Buddhists and the Kashmiri Pandits are almost back benched. As if that weren’t enough, their few exchanges with the secessionists has them mouthing their favourite lines already, making us wonder if they have been assigned by the Indian Government or in fact, the Pakistanis.
Interlocuters? Or Intercolluders?
It does not augur well. The main secessionist factions have already given them short shrift. Their obduracy and jingoism is losing them support of the main opposition party. Soon, it seems we will see the unraveling of yet another back-packer effort to bring peace to Kashmir – or Kashmiris, as is perhaps more apt. But the real bother for us is the harm they will do to the process by rationalization of the arguments they have put in play. The danger is imminent, because this latest initiative is not an isolated act of intuitive intelligence on part of the Government of India, but as we will see, it is an orchestrated operatic experience with many concomitant acts that are being put on show for clearly tangible, if mistaken, ends and which will be severely debilitating in their aftermath.
Our interlocuter-in-chief, as Mr. Padgaonkar is coming across with his frontal style, is all but indicating amnesia coupled with a dyslexic reading of both history and situation. The flawed argument first offered by him – about Pakistan being a party to the Kashmir issue – and then reiterated after checking with his employer, only serves to take back the process to its beginnings. In their keenness to appeal to the harshest critics – since their agenda is to talk to everyone, even those who do not want to talk to them – they look like that man with a hammer who sees everything as a nail. They are losing sense of proportion, even time.
Bringing back the dead.
Pakistan is a pariah for most of the world today and its stock is at its nadir. It takes very ordinary insight to know that. Taimur Khan in his article “Rethinking Pakistan’s Kashmir Policy” as far back as 2004 begins with an abominable damnation: “Pakistan’s Kashmir Policy is in desperate need of re-evaluation. Today, there is very little international support for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. Most of the world looks at Pakistan as being part of the problem, not part of the solution.” But there are more compelling reasons to move on from the reverse fixation with Pakistan that Mr. Padgaonkar exhibits. The turmoil in Pakistan and its failing faculties of administration have thrown up enough challenges for the international community to question its legitimacy as a state. The progressive denouement of that Islamic state and its highfalutin ideals is not lost on the majority of Kashmiri separatists and moderates either. The youth of Kashmir is categorically clear that there is no question of accession or even a symbiotic relationship with Pakistan. They simply do not consider it an option and it could be stated with resolute certainty that the new Kashmiri generation does not see Pakistan as an arbitrator of their future. That makes Mr. Padgaonkar’s rant look like a dangerous misreading of his brief – unless the brief was in effect to revive the linkage of the issue with Pakistan – in which case, at whose behest, is the critical question.
Law and behold.
But the madness does not cease there. The other interlocuter in the group, in clipped accent now suggests an amendment to include the demand for freedom, or in effect secession, within the ambit of the constitution. This must be a raving first. So why have a unifying constitution if the nation is severable in the first place by decree, and by degrees! This beats internationally established benchmarks on the limits of freedom in the context of statehood, whether in the United Kingdom or America, all of whom have journeyed the democratic process for far longer that our nascent experiment with it. Surely, Ms. Radha Kumar is way out of her depth here for if it weren’t a patently absurd proposition it would also fail the test of logic for it suggests that if the peg doesn’t fit the hole, just make the hole larger, or more draconian, that since there is incidence of rape, we should legalise it. The Congress has been at pains for us to ignore the recent comments of a one-book wonder novelist in her diatribe against the Indian state and it is also curiously ambivalent on the treatment it advocates for the other secessionist leader, Geelani. But for all its defence of their interlocuter when he espoused the ‘P’ word, it would be satisfying to now have their views on the latest proposal floated by Ms. Kumar.
The limp references to the past and the now bandied position that Pakistan was always a party to the dispute is not only erroneous but a case of missing the context completely. The argument offered by a senior lawyer that if Pakistan was not a party to the issue what were we doing with them in Shimla deserves the curt answer that we were negotiating the release of 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war and that if the Congress leadership then had not suffered an emotional breakdown, we would have also, en passant, got the Pakistani leadership to cede the POK areas or at least have them vow to desist from bringing up the K word, once and for all. In his well researched and balanced Carnegie Endowment publication, ‘Pakistan’s Endgame in Kashmir’, Husain Haqqani states, “ When the President of residual Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Simla for peace talks in June 1972, it was hardly a meeting of equals. Bhutto had to secure the release of Pakistani POWs from an Indian leader who had humiliated and broken up his country.”
The K word.The P word.
To those who claim that we have admitted to Pakistan’s role in the solution to Kashmir based on the numerous state level and Track II negotiations, it becomes necessary to refresh their memory about the context of such diplomacy. The dispute with Pakistan as far as we are concerned has been that Pakistan occupies a large part of Jammu, Kashmir and the Northern Ares of Gilgit and Baltistan which are our territories and it must vacate those areas. At the cost of repetition, let it be restated that our dispute with Pakistan on the question of Kashmir is a misnomer: our dispute with Pakistan is in the regions occupied illegally by them since 1947 in what is known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir but is actually provinces of Jammu, Kashmir and the Northern Areas of Gilgit & Baltistan. We have no dispute with Pakistan in the area of Kashmir administered by India simply because we are in control of the territory. This failure to communicate to the world audience what the Kashmir issue is, from our perspective, is one of the reasons for the poor and stilted understanding of the issue internationally. The internal problems of Kashmir are our administrative and governance related problems – sure we should fix them, and that is why we call the Omar Government inert, inept and corrupt. But the external problem, and with which the world should be concerned with, is the occupation of our territories since 1947 by Pakistan. Before the reader jumps to the conclusion that this is pure posturing on my part, or the part of my party, let me remind him or her of the Congress-led resolutions of February 22, 1994 passed unanimously in both houses of Parliament which state this fact. Now then, the real question to ask is whether Mr. Padgaonkar and his motley group have the mandate to supersede the Parliament of India? And, if the Prime Minister and the ruling party have indeed shifted the goal post, the nation has the right to know.
Notion above nation. Lost causes cost losses.
It is not lost on anybody that the notorious ideas of unfettered freedom that haunt liberals of all hues from time to time often pushes back progress in other, more vital areas by decades. Jaiprakash Narayan’s leaky humanism in 1964 in a belated plaint to refer back to the promise made to the people of Kashmir may be poignant all right, but it suffered from two critical historical and legal infirmities: self determination was not part of the legal agreement, and that 1947 and 1964 were separated by 17 years of dynamic shifts and that times had changed. Childish regression or epileptic bouts of self righteous guilt are no substitute for consistency and clarity of purpose. State craft is not for those who do not understand the function of it, or have no appreciation for the minutiae that go into a functional democracy. People who constantly harp about Pakistan’s role in our side of Kashmir are in effect investors in the status quo. They benefit from the stalemate. Statesmen see through and go beyond that. Those who confuse demands with desires, are destined to mistake greed for need. Raucous militancy that comes from a bellyful of delectable Goshtabas will always fail the test of genuine revolution. If an interlocuter cannot make out the difference between the two, maybe it’s an intraocular intervention they need to be considering first.
Obamanama, and the audacity of Hype.
The spectre of insolvent public figures fast acquiring such media mileage is almost intriguing, were it not for the explanatory backdrop of the visit by president Obama of the United States. I have it on reasonable authority that this interlocutory assault was only to act as a membrane to soften the visuals of the recent escalation in Kashmir. The disproportionate press and eyeballs their antics are drawing is stemming out of the same context – everyone knows the US has an axe to grind in Pakistan. What is lesser known is that the ‘P’ word came up in the first place thanks to a nudge by the US to the Government of India in advance of President Obama’s visit. In the context of the floor scrubbing that our foreign policy mandarins are indulging in, in thrall of the Obama visit, it is hardly suspect whose brief we are following. It is not for nothing that Howard B. Schaffer in his book ‘The Limits of Influence: America’s role in Kashmir’, published just last year is emboldened enough to suggest “… that the time may be ripe for a fresh U.S. effort to help resolve the Kashmir dispute, highlighting the principles that should guide any future efforts…”
The pressure to do business with rogue states cannot be the leitmotif of our new relationship with the US. Neither can it be the extension of trenchant policies that have served us poorly in the past, and with disastrous results. But it also won’t do to have jaded journalists and academic acolytes preen about like they have it all sewed up, when in fact they have already screwed up.
Parts of this post have also appeared in The Pioneer of October 30th 2010 under a different headline.
Image Credit: http://www.pokermaster.org