In this context the question posed by the Indian and Pakistani officialdom and academia to the independent Kashmir discourse seems only reflecting the contemporary realities of Kashmiri State with division of Kashmir between India and Pakistan as the only viable solution. Indeed the solution to Kashmir based on autonomy has also been described as the best possible and achievable solution by many South Asians on the left. I heard of this first from the renowned British Pakistani revolutionary activist and analyst Traiq Ali at a Marxist gathering in 1995.
However, when discussing division it appears that the major fault line runs through religious differences rather than regions or cultures which means the extension of two nation theory and acceptance of Pakistani claim over the state’s Muslim regions that of course cannot be acceptable to India so Indian perspective would argue for united autonomous but not sovereign Kashmir. Pakistan also has no objection to the united Kashmir state as long as it’s united within the jurisdiction of Pakistan. Merger of the entire state with India is not acceptable to a significant section of Muslim population and accession to Pakistan is vehemently opposed by the Pundits of the Valley, Hundus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh and a very large numbers of Muslims in Valley, ‘Azad’ (free) Kashmir (the Pakistani Occupied Southern Kashmir) and Gilgit Baltistan (the Pakistani Occupied Northern Kashmir).
In an attempt to address the complex situation General Pervez Musharaf floated a ‘win win’ proposal characterised by demilitarization, self-governance and freedom of movement and a Joint mechanism consisting of Indian, Pakistani and Kahsmiri representatives for defense, communication and foreign affairs. The recent Wiki Leaks have indicated that this was almost agreed by the Indian and Pakistani governments with most Kashmiri leadership on board. It’s only ironic that policies in Pakistan are continuously given birth by and die with individuals rather than institutions. The so called Musharaf proposal also shares a great deal with the popular Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in IOK’s Self-Rule which according to some sources has full backing and approval of several main political parties of India.
Sometimes the lack of unity and consensus also is highlighted as one of the main hurdles in resolving Kashmir problem. However, the list included below clearly shows that such claims are rarely informed by the historical and current realities of Kashmir.
1. Almost all proposals recognize the distinct identity and entity of the State of Jammu and Kashmir by accepting that the problem of Kashmir is a problem of the entire state and not of any particular region of Kashmir. (The Valley Centric Formula by Yusuf Buch sb can be seen as an exception)
- That the problem is to determine the future of this state which implies that the future is not determined as yet. Indian official position is that the entire state belongs to her while Pakistan claims it is hers and Kashmiris are generally divided between the accession to either India or Pakistan and independence.
- There also seems a general agreement, at least, amongst Kashmiris that for any solution oriented exercise to be meaningful the involvement of Kashmiri peoples is indispensable.
- Almost all external and internal proposals recognise the ethnic diversity of the State and suggest for the diversity to be incorporated in the processes to develop any mechanisms for a solution.
- The view that Kashmir is primarily a political problem that has to be addressed through a political mechanism also seems shared by various forces involved in efforts to resolve the issue.
- It is largely recognized in India, Pakistan and internationally that the movement in Kashmir Valley has not been instigated from outside. However, it is also widely perceived that foreign involvement had been there for various interests that not necessarily have been compatible with the interests of the peoples of the Valley or the wider State.
- It is well documented and acknowledged fact that the Human Rights are widely violated by the Indian armed forces in the Indian Administered Kashmir and that the first and foremost priority for engaging the peoples of Kashmir in any peace process is to end all human rights violations in the Indian Occupied Kashmir more specifically the Kasheer Valley.
- The fact that a large number of political activists and civilians are kept in Indian prisons without substantial grounds or in some cases without any charges is also acknowledged. Some who were charged and tried are kept in even after they have spent their tariffs.
- Human Rights are also violated by some of the militant activities carried out by several groups fighting the Indian occupation.
- Human Rights of the Kashmiris under Pakistani occupied Kashmir including Gilgit Baltistan are also not respected by the Pakistani governments in these parts of the State. Suppression of pro-independent Kashmir politics is institutionalized in AJK and Gilgit Baltistan. Open violation of State Subject, restrictions on the participation in politics and employment of pro-independence Kashmiris are also the other most identifiable and quantifiable examples.
- There is also an expressed desire that peoples of Kashmir State must have right to free movement, socio-economic, cultural and political interaction and rights of free speech and association that have to be assured in all parts of the state.
- At present the right of the peoples of the State to participate freely without any restrictions in the existing administrations in Gilgit, Muzaffarabad and Srinagar-Jammu is not fully recognized and respected.
- The wishes repeatedly expressed by the people of Jammu and Ladakh for their regional assemblies similar to those in Valley, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan carry significant support amongst the Kashmiris across the division line as well as amongst Indians and Pakistanis.
- It is also very obvious that none of the existing political parties, alliances or assemblies can claim as democratic representatives of the state in its entirety.
- An estimated three million strong Kashmiri Diaspora in India, Pakistan, Middle East, Europe, Britain, USA and Canada has multiple links and attachments with, and stakes in, the affairs of their “homeland” and can play positive and constructive role in finding the solution as well as in the development of the State.
- This list of course is not exhaustive and more possibilities for a broader consensus can be traced in the proposals. However, the most significant task facing the peoples of the divided State of Kashmir at present is whether a mechanism can be developed through which a wider consensus and state wide representation can be achieved?
- India and Pakistan are internationally recognized states with relatively established systems of electing representative governments but no such system is currently available to the peoples of Kashmir for the entire state.
In this context the new trend in the Indian and Pakistani approach to resolve the issue of Kashmir on the basis of cultural diversity seems a positive step forward and needs reciprocation from the proponents of independent Kashmir, especially from those who claim that the issue of Kashmir is that of justice and democratic rights for people and is hindering the progress and development of Kashmiris as well as of the wider South Asians.
The summary of such a solution offered below incorporates the suggestions floated by Parvez Musharaf (despite him being a dictator) that were considerably favored by Jag Mohan a democratically elected Indian premier. However, the proposal presented here argues that such a solution should be accomplished through a democratic mechanism which gives the State Subjects across the Kashmir state an opportunity to express their aspirations. If the problem with Independence politics is that it does not represent all or majority of the people of Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, it must be made sure that any alternative does that beyond any reasonable doubt. For this the people of these regions should be given a fair and transparent chance to elect their representatives who then chose Statewide Representative Body that should negotiate with the Indian and Pakistani representatives under some type of democratic international auspices of UN or some other mutually agreed body or panel. For this purpose India and Pakistan immediately need to take the following steps:
- Enhance and expand trade and movement across the division line;
- Release all political prisoners including M Afzal Guru and the remains of Maqbool Bhatt;
- Demilitarize the state by withdrawing all foreign armies and militant groups;
- Introduce if any constitutional amendments are required for democratizing the existing setups in all five regions of the state namely the Hill Council of Ladakh, J&K Assembly, AJK Assembly and Gilgit Baltistan Assembly. There is no justification for evading the demand for an autonomous Jammu Assembly when all other regions have their assemblies. The constitutions of these Kashmiri assemblies should have provisions that if they join any of the neighboring countries or neighboring assemblies of the State they will have right to do so without giving up their autonomy if they so wish. Kashmir Council in AJK to be abolished and Act 74 be amended as well as all regulations, laws and bodies set up by the Indian government to control Kashmiri government;
- Lift all restrictions on pro-independence Kashmiris’ participation in elections at any level;
- Lift all restrictions on Media, Assembly and Campaigning;
- Invite independent observers;
- Announce elections of all assemblies to be held simultaneously where possible;
- If any assembly wants to join neighboring India or Pakistan (or China?) they should make such a decision within an agreed time scale;
- The remaining assemblies, and if none opts out for any neighboring countries, all should elect their respective representatives for the State Assembly that should then negotiate the future of the entire state.
In my view the best solution to Kashmir question is a united and democratic Kashmir with Kashmiriyat at the heart of its political and governance philosophy (our secularism) and regional autonomy for all the regional and administrative components of Kashmir state. However, if the majority of certain regions of Kashmir do not want to stay with the state and prefer joining India or Pakistan or China then democratically speaking no one should stop them. In relation to this form of self-determination that can be described as ‘multiple self-determination’ or ‘grassroots self-determination’ or ‘self-determination from below’, one question, however, remains to be answered. Would this ‘multiple self-determination’ be confined to Kashmir only? What about the diversity and multiplicity in India and Pakistan that is even greater and sharper than, and actually spills over from, Kashmir? Will the devolution process be carried through the entire South Asia? After all Kashmir and all other distinct political entities form part of a wider south Asia with great deal in common and cannot exist in isolation. Are we moving towards the Indian communist party’s solution to the colonial question that there is not ‘one ‘or ‘two’ nations in the Indian sub-continent but over a dozen and all should be recognized, respected and incorporated in a federation of South Asia?