The situation in Kashmir is arguably the worst it’s been since the beginning of militancy in 1989. Perhaps the military will succeed in putting a lid on it. But below this, the pressure will continue to build until it explodes again. And no one seems to be able to do anything to prevent it.
In Kashmir, everyone is a prisoner. The ordinary people are prisoners of violence and uncertainty. They have been, for two decades now, and even when the situation is ‘normal’ they go about the business of their daily lives with the knowledge that normalcy could disappear at any time. One moment you’re taking your child to school, or meeting a loved one over tea or coffee; the next moment you’re running to save your life, or theirs.
The security forces in Kashmir are prisoners too. They are in Kashmir to earn a living, but it is a hard living. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men mostly live in camps that are mostly tin sheds, with no flooring, unheated even in the bitter Kashmir winter. Their bunkers where they spend months are really just holes in the ground. The rules do not allow the men to step out of either camp or bunker without orders. These men spend their years within the confines of their bunkers and camps, occasionally being stoned or shot at, and always being hated.
The mainstream politicians are prisoners in Kashmir. In physical terms, they are prisoners of their own security bandobast. Politically, they are hemmed in into the narrow space between the Indian government and the separatists. They cannot afford to be seen as favouring India too much. Nor can they afford to antagonise Delhi too much. After all, India is the dominant power in the state.
The separatists are prisoners in Kashmir. They are prisoners of failed dreams. They dreamt of independence, but that the dream cannot be realised as long as both India and Pakistan exist.
India is a prisoner in Kashmir. It is a prisoner of great fear. It is afraid to give an inch on Kashmir, because the whole country might then disintegrate.
Pakistan is a prisoner in Kashmir. It is a prisoner of unrealistic ambition. Since 1947 it has been battling to wrest the state from India, without success. In the process, it has lost the territory that is now Bangladesh. Both India and Pakistan are now nuclear States, and a war to win Kashmir could end in the destruction of all three.
So all these parties play their parts in the unending tragic drama of Kashmir. Every player knows in his heart what the truth is. Yet, decade after decade they all remain resolute in their prisons, determined not to step out. That’s because they are all prisoners of history.
In Kashmir, it is said, moments have made mistakes, the ages have suffered. Errors and mishaps of times past haunt the present in Kashmir. So, the sale of Kashmir by the British to Dogra king Gulab Singh for Rs 75 lakh in 1846 cannot be undone. It happened, and life moved on. The war of 1947 that ended with Kashmir being split cannot be undone. It happened. The promise of a plebiscite before the United Nations by India cannot be undone. That, too, happened. That this plebiscite was to be held only after Pakistan withdrew its forces from all of the princely state of Kashmir is also a fact. Pakistan’s forces never left. And so it goes.
Whoever wants a solution to the Kashmir ‘masla’ now must account for all that has happened. There is only one way ahead when all that is taken into account. All parties must let go of the past, and the fears and dreams it has left behind. There is no future in the past. This is a huge thing to ask of those who have lost family and friends, or their ancestral homes. Yet, it is the only way.