Untangling a knot

Untangling a knot

The part of Kashmir that is with India has been a source of constant bickering because it has not been integrated with the rest of the country.

When the newly anointed prime minister Narendra Modi invited the Saarc leaders, significantly including the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, for his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi about three months ago, most Indian people and particularly much of the Indian media went gaga over this invitation calling it a ‘master stroke’ of diplomacy.

Anticipation grew that this would follow an upswing in Indo-Pak relations. Us Indians, of the land of Mahatma Gandhi, believe in the power of ‘Gandhigiri’ (Gandhism in action) and ‘Jadoo ki Jhappi’ (magical embrace); at least we seem to take pride in the ‘elevated’ thought process behind it.

However, nothing of that sort of magic seems to have happened, in this case. Instead, recently Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi met with the Kashmiri separatist leaders from both the Gilani and Mirwaiz factions of the Hurriyat despite our government’s loud advice (warning) to Pakistan to ‘either choose dialogue with India or the Hurriyat’. In a huff, our ministry of external affairs cancelled the impending Indo-Pak secretary level meeting. From a ‘Jhappi’ and/ or a warm handshake our government has now done a volte face. So, did we really believe in Gandhigiri? One wonders.

Pakistanis on their part are now making the matters worse by violating the ceasefire on the line of control in Kashmir. There have been scores of firings from across the LOC in the RS Pura and Akhnoor sectors in Jammu & Kashmir at this time of writing.

In our country, people keep wondering as to why Pakistan should keep adopting such a belligerent stance despite our friendly overtures. If a warm embrace or handshake does not work, we think that surely economic incentive will work. We have been thinking that giving easier market access to goods from either country – Pakistani goods in India and vice versa – would be a great economic move which would lure the Pakistanis into becoming less confrontational.

It is said that the Indo-Pak bilateral trade currently at around US$ 3 billion, can scale up to $10-12 billion in the years to come provided India and Pakistan behave with each other keeping this economic rationality. However, Pakistan does not seem to buy this line of thinking. Of course, we Indians forget that this bilateral trade is loaded heavily in our country’s favour; most of the trade involves Indian goods finding Pakistani markets. 

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the problem of Kashmir is central to its existence. The very rationale of partition was based on religion and there have been no pretensions regarding the status of the non-Islamic population in that country. By this token, they believe that Kashmir that has a majority Muslim population should have joined Pakistan. It is the Maharaja of Kashmir and then the Indian union that have been responsible for the current state of affairs of Kashmir.

Futile attempts

If they acquiesce on Kashmir, the very basis of Pakistan as a nation may be in jeopardy. Therefore, neither friendly words, hundreds of bilateral talks at various inter-governmental levels, nor economic and trade incentives are going to radically change Pakistan’s attitude towards India.

The part of Kashmir that is with us has been a source of worry and constant bickering for us mainly because we have not truly integrated that part with the rest of the country. Today a few Manipuris may feel that India is ill-treating them; a few Nagas may feel like having a separate Nagaland. Some Assamese may still feel disgruntled. However, despite all problems, these states are ‘integrated’ economically and politically with all of us in India.

Such is not the case with Jammu & Kashmir mainly due to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that grants J&K a special status whereby it has its own ‘permanent residents’ unlike in any of the other states of the Indian union.

It is some kind of a state within a state – a kind of ‘autonomy’ already granted to it at its birth. Only the permanent residents of J&K have a right over the land in that state – a restrictive property ownership law that has done much economic harm to that state than any good.

Although the historic conditions under which Article 370 was promulgated have ceased to exist decades ago, India has continued to retain this artificial and temporary constitutional provision in the portion of J&K that is with us. After the accession of J&K to the Indian union, Pakistan occupied a considerable portion of that state.

Article 370 cannot be held valid for our J&K state that is only a truncated part of the original kingdom that joined the Indian union. Add to this the control of the Aksai Chin area, a considerable portion of land, by China. Thus, the parties in Kashmir have also changed.

The idea behind the removal of Article 370 shall be to hasten the process of full integration of the J&K state and its people with India. We can very well imagine the economic progress that J&K can make when it receives investments from all over India. Today economically speaking, the state of J&K is tied hand and foot.

Once the people of Kashmir experience economic growth, separatist movements may slow down and eventually vanish. It is possible that seeing the growth on Indian side, the Kashmiris on the Pakistan-occupied portion too may reconsider their status. Former Chief Minister of J&K Farook Abdullah’s statement made sometime earlier that “No right minded person in J&K would like to join either the failed state of Pakistan and/or separate from the economically thriving India” is very pertinent even in this regard.

If Indian government shows statesmanlike courage and integrates J&K ‘heart and soul’ with India, the antiquated basis of Pakistan would be jolted. Perhaps that will propel it into political modernity and into a truly joint program of action on the economic and social progress of the two nations together.

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