South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The heart goes out to the residents of Indian Occupied Kashmir, for their dark night may just have gotten a whole lot longer. The problem, which has defied settlement for seven decades, has become even more complex with India’s scrapping of the law that granted a special status to Kashmir. Not only those affected directly, but those on this side of the Line of Control and across Pakistan are understandably devastated. Many of the latter have resorted to venting their anger on the Pakistani government for not responding to the situation as it should have. Also, there’s no dearth of well meaning, yet simplistic and half-baked notions regarding how to liberate the IOK, or at least help the Kashmiris there. While it’s hard to say with any kind of certainty how best to approach the issue, there are some popular suggestions which it doesn’t require a genius to recognize as ranked non-starters.

The Indian attempt to change the demography of the region (a crime according to the Geneva Convention) is also inexorably linked to the issue of self-determination.

It will be counterproductive to continue to treat and present the Kashmir issue as Partition’s unfinished agenda. This is certainly not to say that it’s not that – it is, and this is something on which there has always been consensus across the nation. But presenting it to the world as a territorial dispute today is a certain recipe for it to be trivialized. A lot has happened since 1947; and portraying the issue as an India-Pakistan dispute is certain to relegate the Kashmiris (the principal party) to the background.

Nor will it be a particularly brilliant idea to portray it as a religious issue. The fundamental matter has always been Kashmiris’ inalienable right of self-determination, and that remains the key issue today. The second important issue is that of genocide and other human rights atrocities the Kashmiris have been subjected to for demanding that right. The Indian attempt to change the demography of the region (a crime according to the Geneva Convention) is also inexorably linked to the issue of self-determination.

There’s this popular opinion in Pakistan that an armed struggle is the only realistic way forward for the Kashmiris. This view is based on the premise, which may even be true, that the Kashmiris were forced to pick up arms only after the Indian authorities had persisted in refusing to listen to their peaceful demands. With the benefit of hindsight, it can safely be said that the Kashmiris are none the better today for that decision. The challenges faced by the average Kashmiri in the past as well as today certainly aren’t something to be trivialized. But his well-wishers must encourage him to employ a non-violent mode of resistance. By way of justifying an armed insurgency in Kashmir, a counterexample is increasingly doing the rounds: the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan that has forced the US to invite them over to the negotiating table. That may have been a victory of sorts, but it came at the cost of an Afghanistan utterly in ruins. In any armed struggle of this sort against a military juggernaut, there’s only one loser, really. Combine the two – an armed insurgency which is seen to be rooted in religion – and one would be hard pressed to come up with a better plan to sabotage the Kashmiris’ genuine cause.

And then there are naïve demands for a direct military intervention by Pakistan to rescue a persecuted people. This ‘solution’ suffers from the obvious limitation of totally ignoring the situation on the ground. Notions of right and wrong alone aren’t going to carry the day – they never do. There’s a widespread tendency, especially among the youth, to trace the history of the issue to its origin: who’s in the right? Who is to blame? What about justice? One lesson worth learning early in life is that if international affairs were resolved on the principle of justice, it would be a very different world than it is. It’s true that those in the right sometimes do prevail, but it can invariably be observed that might, has more often than not aligned favourably with the right whenever that happens.

There’s no shying away from the bottom line, which is this: in geopolitics a nation either has enough clout to enforce its will, in which case its adversaries may feel free to lick their wounds; or (if it doesn’t possess that kind of power), it has no option but to play by the rules. And since it must, it may as well play its hand to the best of its abilities. The rules can often be stacked against it, and it may have been dealt a weak hand by design; both of which are themselves dependent on the prevailing power dynamics. Outrage never helps; being realistic and devising one’s strategy based on reality often does.

The Kashmir problem has a long history and there are plenty of things that could – and probably should – have been done differently. On a positive note, after Aug 5, barring a voice or two pandering to populist sentiments, the government has taken a sane stance free of popular jingoism. What sort of a future is waiting for the Kashmiris will depend for the most part on how they sustain their political struggle, and what sort of indigenous leadership they produce in the process. A lot will also depend on how Pakistan makes its case focusing on the fundamental issues of self-determination and human rights violations in an increasingly fascist and bigoted India – a case undiluted by unnecessary and counterproductive details.

It won’t be quick. It certainly won’t be easy. It may not even prove to be enough. But it will certainly be worth trying, which cannot be said about the ‘quicker’ fixes. For a plan of action formulated after having taken stock of uncomfortable ground realities is more likely to succeed than one grounded in comfortable delusions.


Updated On: 03.09.2019