Multiple Narratives On Kashmir!
An informed, frank, lively and nuanced discussion on Kashmir took place at the Civil Services Officers Institute last fortnight when members and their guests interacted with ex-bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who has had a long and distinguished innings both in the Valley and the Government of India. Readers may recall that Mr. Habibullah was the country’s chief negotiator during the Hazratbal crisis (when militants occupied and threatened to destroy the shrine), and for the release of Indian Oil director Mr. Doraiswamy. Even as a serving bureaucrat, he had argued that there was a role for the US and UN to assist the process of mediation and consensus building in Kashmir, a remark that was blown out of context for the main argument was that Aside in the real sense meant ensuring the same rights which every other Indian enjoyed, including the right to protest peacefully!
It must be mentioned here that Mr. Habibullah is the author of the best selling work My Kashmir: The Dying of Light. As he says “ It’s a product of a lifetime spent grappling with the bewilderingly intricate confluence of history, religion, folkways and political institutions, thousands of years in the making, that forms today’s Kashmir.” He has outlined nine critical, interconnected issues that need to be understood to take the dialogue on Kashmir towards a positive prognosis.
Firstly, Kashmir’s turmoil is far more complex than the traditional India Pakistan rivalry, now exacerbated by the fact that both have nuclear capabilities.
Secondly, Islam in Kashmir has strong Sufi influence, which is syncretic and reaches back not only to Prophet Mohammed, but to ancient Rishis and Buddhist traditions as well. However, with the spread of more exclusivist schools, commonly called Wahabism, political polarisation has gained some ground, even though the Sufi tradition continues to exercise its influence in the daily lives of Kashmir.
Third, any effort at conciliation is subjected to a lot of pressure from hawks on both sides. Translation too takes its toll—for example the grant of MFN status “Yaroon Ka Yaar’ to India requires great political sagacity, which hopefully Mr. Nawaz Sharif will show. The TV anchors on both sides also make it difficult for diplomats and
opinion leaders to take a nuanced approach.
Fourth, the position taken by the Government of India at the UN-seeking legitimacy to accession on the basis of the Maharaja’s signature, rather than the popular will reflected in the
overwhelming support to Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference did not assuage popular sentiment in the Valley. Rather his subsequent removal and arrest in 1953, and support to ‘regimes’ whose claim to fame was a working alliance with the ruling party at the Centre aggravated the sense of alienation.
Fifth, Pakistan—especially the ISI—has been lending its overt and covert support to terrorism. It has been extending logistics, training and financial support to young men from Kashmir in border crossings. It suits their short-term goals in keeping alive an active insurgency in the area.
Sixth, much of the problem lies in the inability of different sectors of government to work together. In fact many initiatives like computerisation of land records and registration of documents which have been so successful in other parts of the country are still at an inception stage in the state. The multiplicity of directorates and the Ahigh levels of distrust between Kashmiri Muslims with Dogras, Sikhs, Punjabis and Ladhakis have accentuated the problem, as also the composition of troops deployed to secure peace and tranquility. The armed forces have never been clearly briefed about the long-term vision and have often received mixed or muddled messages
Seventh, corruption and nepotism, as epitomised in the BBC (Bash Brothers Corporation) has been higher in J&K than in other parts of the country, where the local media, civil society and RTI activists and regular reviews by GoI brought in some checks and balances. The charge is that GoI deliberately did nothing to stop corruption, nay, encouraged it to buy peace and co-opt the vocal middle class.
Eighth, investment in J&K, especially foreign investment in Kashmir valley has not received the unstinted support from the Central government. There is need for both India and Pakistan to support job creating opportunities in Kashmir. Also, as India and Pakistan have failed to make meaningful headway, there is no harm in trying seeking mediation and consensus building from the international community, including the UN.
Last but not least, the problem is not intractable. As shown in the recent Pakistan elections, India and Kashmir were not the most contentious issues. The Indian polity is also showing far greater maturity, and the situation seems amenable of being resolved in a manner that provides peace, freedom and economic opportunity to people of Kashmir.
This was followed by a barrage of questions and comments, but he fielded them with finesse and facts, which set at ease several misconceptions, especially about the safety of Kashmiri Pandits, the practice of Islam in Kashmir, the wide ethnic and linguistic diversity in the state, the willingness to participate in elections, preparation for civil services and have the same aspirations as the rest of the country. However, when asked about the reason for “the dying of light” the sub-title of the book, he spoke, almost in anguish, that the spirit of tolerance, understanding and syncretism that marked the Sufi tradition was losing out, perhaps, irreversibly, on account of the insensitive (almost brutal) handling of Kashmir by all those who wished to control Kashmir by force, rather than by love and conciliation.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)