In India’s drive to become a superpower, an unresolved Kashmir issue cancels all positives, according to the Valley’s politicians. Ordinary Kashmiris, on the other hand, would want to be part of a superpower India so long as it benefits them economically.
Politically, the Valley looks for an out-of-the-box solution, since, as National Conference president Omar Abdullah puts it, Kashmir has tarnished India's image internationally. Pakistan uses it as a lever to put India on the back-foot. "India comes across as being apologetic, always on the defensive," says Abdullah. "Consequently, there is an impression that it is India which is responsible for the mess in Kashmir."
Abdullah feels India needs to be aggressive against Pakistan's propaganda, as it not only diverts attention from the real issues, but also puts the clock back for India.
People's Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti says India can turn the Kashmir issue to its advantage. "India is on the threshold of being a superpower," she says. "But the Kashmir conflict poses a challenge. India can lead if it is able to reconcile its differences."
Mehbooba feels that handling Kashmir distracts India — politically and economically — but that India is now at the point of winning back Kashmiris. "We must find a solution. How do we achieve a win-win situation? And more importantly, how do we do this within a democratic framework? For India could then be a torchbearer to the world, and Kashmir a model for other nations." She warned, however, that a national consensus was a must: "If we miss the bus this time, we may not get another chance."
The UN imperative
Separatists see things differently. They say India will not make it to the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member if the Kashmir dispute remains unresolved. Shabir Shah, J&K Democratic Freedom Party president, says, "Until India shows commitment towards Kashmiris, it cannot find a place on the world-stage. Its track record on human rights violations is enough to cancel its other gains. Once concrete steps are taken in that direction, there is no stopping India."
‘What is in it for us?’
Scan non-political opinion, however, and you hear a different answer, particularly when it comes to business.
"Will India's becoming a superpower help me sell my apples in PoK?" asks 54-year-old Rafiq Dar of Srinagar. He supplies Sopore apples all over the country. Though he supports the demand for autonomy, he says it is unlikely any Kashmiri will not welcome India's ambitions to be a superpower. "Everyone here wants to know what is there for him or her in this new found global recognition," he says.
His tone is commonplace. Students, teachers, politicians and businessmen would all love to be citizens of superpower India but hope New Delhi understands the difference between being a superpower and a developed nation.
Reviving trade routes
"I think India needs to tackle corruption, poverty and unemployment first. This sounds idealistic but a superpower cannot have political instability and militants in many parts," says Amir Ali, a J&K government engineer.
Noor Mohammad Baba, political science professor at Kashmir University, points out that the Kashmir economy is not yet a partner in India's quest for high growth. "Unemployment is still very high among youth and that is not a good thing for a superpower," he says.
One of his prescriptions is the revival of traditional economic routes for Kashmir. "It is profitable for apple growers in Sopore to sell in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir because it is just 25 kilometres away," he says.