Path to peace runs through Kashmir
By M J Akbar
When was the last time you read the front of a Christmas card? This seasonal benevolence begs an intriguing question: Which comes first? Peace on earth or goodwill towards men?
Any Indian visitor to Pakistan will vouch for the genuine goodwill he finds. We are an emotional people; cricket is the perfect pitch for hostility since all its crises can be sorted out over a sumptuous dinner afterwards. But all the warmth between Indians and Pakistanis has not translated into peace between India and Pakistan. The relationship began with war over Kashmir within six weeks of birth because the two nations are founded on antagonistic concepts of nationalism.
Pakistan is a child of the two-nation theory. This is not a matter of geography. Its premise is that Hindus and Muslims belong to separate nations. Jinnah reiterated a million times that living with Hindus was submission to Hindu tyranny and sneered at Maulana Azad when the latter insisted that a secular multi-faith state was not only possible, but desirable. This is the basis for every Pakistani’s conviction that the Kashmir valley is rightfully a part of Pakistan, and Indian rule in Srinagar is ruthless colonization.
India has accepted the fact of Pakistan. It supported Pakistan’s membership of the United Nations even when Afghanistan opposed it. But India’s ideology cannot accept that there should be two nations because there are two faiths. Its Constitution and six decades of democratic experience say so. India’s ideology makes Kashmir as inviolable a part of India as Pakistan’s ideology makes it a part of Pakistan. Pakistan would not want Hindu-majority Jammu even if anyone offered it, since Pakistan is a Muslims-only state. Its Constitution forbids non-Muslims from becoming president or prime minister.
Kashmiris have added a singular twist to this existential dilemma, with a three-nation theory. The progenitor of the concept of Kashmiri independence was not a Muslim: in 1947 Maharaja Hari Singh delayed accession to either state in the hope of acquiring a unique and separate status. Over time, and particularly after the marginalization of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, independence has become a Kashmiri Muslim, rather than a Kashmiri, demand.
Where is the median point at which such conflicting aspirations meet or merge? The difficulty should be apparent to even the most optimistic goodwill-salesman. One of the three has to abandon a fiercely-held ideology, with attendant consequences.
Delhi seems to believe that the easiest negotiating space lies in the three-nation theory. It has set in motion, through the familiar ruse of committees, a virtual-nation option for Kashmir in the guise of autonomy. Islamabad would match Delhi’s rearrangement after a pre-arranged signal, and Kashmiris would be offered the substance of independence without the reality. Such a solution would be illusory without legal and Constitutional permanence. It would be vulnerable on disparate counts. Many Pakistanis would not see it as a solution, only as partial victory in the long haul to the full acquisition of Kashmir.
This is certainly the declared objective of terrorist networks and their allies in government, who would be tempted towards greater violence. The Lashkar-e-Taiba and its friends are unlikely to sign any peace-on-earth deal with India. There could also be a change of mood, or change of government, in Delhi. Nehru withdrew many of the commitments made in the Delhi Agreement with Sheikh Abdullah because they were incompatible with the federal structure and a potential threat to Indian unity. Fudge is inedible.
The idea of Pakistan is being battered each day on the streets by guns and suicide bombers. A common faith could not prevent a revolution in Bangladesh, a revolt in Baluchistan, or, last week, the massacre of Shias. It would be interesting to find out through a poll whether Shias today feel more secure in Lucknow or Karachi. Pakistan’s Muslims created a separate country because they could not live with Hindus and Sikhs; today they are discovering that they cannot live with one another. The evidence is in front of us; the inference is too inflammatory to be uttered.
The solution to Kashmir cannot lie in a failed theory. And Kashmiris surely appreciate that independence is not possible. Perhaps this subcontinent needs one last touch of surgery. The price of Partition in Punjab and Bengal was horrific, but it brought peace. Six decades later, West Bengal has the highest density of Muslims among all states in India, and the strength of secularism has persuaded Bihari Muslims to migrate to Punjab. Kashmir was divided along the ceasefire line because Pakistan, in 1947, chose war over talks. If Pakistan insists on an ideological claim over the valley, there will be no peace. If it can find space for pragmatism, Islamabad and Delhi can shake hands on a Happy New Year without needing to count their fingers afterwards.
Times of India Column