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Home / Columns / A new history has begun in Kashmir | Opinion

A new history has begun in Kashmir | Opinion

Its territorial status will never change. Modi’s move is irreversible. And Pakistan has lost the initiative.

columns Updated: Sep 13, 2019 14:24 IST
Shekhar Gupta
Shekhar Gupta
A security person stands guard at a blocked road during restrictions, after the abrogration of Article of 370 and bifurcation of state, Srinagar, September 9, 2019
A security person stands guard at a blocked road during restrictions, after the abrogration of Article of 370 and bifurcation of state, Srinagar, September 9, 2019(PTI)

Here is a somewhat different way of looking at Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) today.

One side in the conflict had used one description for the Kashmir issue for 70 years, as if it was cast in a Pir Panjal rock: It is the unfinished business of Partition. That side was Pakistan.

India never agreed. Not even by way of emphasising its claim on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India’s view was this: Partition ended in 1947. We have moved on, so should you. It wasn’t stated, but unambiguously implied. Pakistan disagreed. In the decade of the 1950s, it waited to strengthen its armed forces by joining United States-led military pacts. That achieved, in the 1960s, it launched a full-fledged military campaign to take Kashmir by force to settle that “unfinished business”, but failed.

It spent the 1970s recuperating from defeat and the dismemberment of 1971. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto turned its attention westwards towards Islamic countries, especially the Arabs and sought solace in the Ummah. The “unfinished business” wasn’t forgotten. The Pakistani establishment was biding its time.

The time came in the late 1980s. By 1989-90, Pakistan believed it now had a proven strategy. It was the one used to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. It also had the nuclear umbrella. The asymmetric war launched in Kashmir at that time is now in its 30th year.

In the 1990s, it waned (after PV Narasimha Rao crushed the insurgency). It rose again with pan-Islamisation of the insurgency as foreign mujahideen surfaced. The intrusion in Kargil was the next gambit. That failed because of India’s resolute response and Pakistan’s non-existent international leverage.

After General Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, the insurgency was fully revived, now manned entirely by Pakistani jihadis. As it peaked, the AB Vajpayee government accepted a Pakistani overture for a summit. But the imperious manner in which Musharraf conducted himself at Agra shocked even an incorrigible peacenik like former prime minister IK Gujral. He said Musharraf was behaving as if he was visiting a “defeated country”.

The Agra summit failed. Pakistan’s global leverage also returned soon with 9/11. From being an expendable old ally-turned-nuisance, Pakistan emerged as a “stalwart ally” (former United States President George W Bush’s description) yet again. Bloodshed in Kashmir peaked. You want to know how strong Pakistan’s hold on the Americans was in this year? When Kashmir’s first suicide bomber blew up its assembly, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell infamously described it as an attack on an Indian government “facility”.

The attack on Parliament, a near war following it, and then the long peace process with Musharraf during the tenures of Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh is relatively recent history. Regrettably, the Pakistani establishment was again only buying time.

Keeping pace with all the peacemaking efforts was proactive asymmetric warfare. India was hit with something big the moment the Inter-Services Intelligence calculated India had had “too long” a period of respite. There were many train bombings, attacks here and there in mainland India (besides routinely in Kashmir), and then the Mumbai massacres of 2008.

The pattern continued in the following decade. Every thaw was followed by a kick in India’s shins. Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Pulwama, keep counting. India responded in a variety of ways: From counter-insurgency in Kashmir, a localised fight back (Kargil), coercive diplomacy (after the Parliament attack), and strategic restraint (26/11).

The initiative was always with Pakistan. For 70 years, Pakistan had brainwashed itself into believing that if it kept bleeding India, India would one day give in.Pakistan had given up hope of winning Kashmir after its 1965 misadventure. But there was always the hope for something, at least a face-saver, something to write home about.

From a four-district Valley land grab deal in the pre-1965 Bhutto-Swaran Singh negotiations under big-power (mostly British) pressure to open borders and treaty-bound Kashmiri autonomy in the Musharraf-Vajpayee/Manmohan Singh era, Pakistan had moderated its expectations.

But it was confident of getting “something” in the end. Something to claim that it had concluded that unfinished business of Partition.

Instead, on August 5, the Modi government finished that “business”. Every Indian prime minister had moved the clock in the same direction. Article 370 and Kashmiri special status and autonomy had whittled down over these decades, as if serendipitously.

Narendra Modi has sealed that. Of course, it brings him great benefit in domestic politics. But he never claimed he wasn’t a politician.

This business finished, where do we go next?

For the first time since 1947, Pakistan has to strategise when it doesn’t have the initiative. India has shut the door on negotiations on the status of Kashmir, or at least the part of Jammu and Kashmir with India.

Pakistan can of course try to take it by force again. A full-fledged war will have its own consequences. Resumption of terrorism will be countered under the definition of a new normal.

Here’s the oldest reality on Kashmir: It was never an international or even bilateral issue. The only thing bilateral was our mutual hypocrisy.

For Pakistan, it was the fraudulent pretence of “Azad Kashmir”, as if “azadi” or any third option was available besides India or Pakistan.

For India, it was the insincere subterfuge of a moral, political and constitutional commitment to Kashmiri autonomy and special status. None of our 13 prime ministers believed this. Not even Jawaharlal Nehru.

All this is now buried.

The new reality is, therefore, essentially the old one: There will be no territorial exchange at all between the two countries even if they fight a thousand-year war as Bhutto had threatened (only 72 have gone yet). Not even if they drop all their nukes on each other. Kashmir’s territorial status was never going to change. Now even cosmetic, optical face-savers to Pakistan are out.

There is a nuttier (but self-destructively powerful) section among the Pakistani establishment which still has scriptural belief of ‘Ghazva-e-Hind” whereby Islamic forces led by them will “break up and subjugate India”. That is exactly the fantasy echoed by the idiotic few (and we don’t yet know who) who shouted “Bharat tere tukde honge...” the other day. India isn’t about to break up, and Kashmir will stay where it is.

Pakistan is out of the equation now. Where do we go next?

First, accept that whether or not you like Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, there is zero popular support for, or prospect of, what happened on August 5 being reversed. Zero. On the status of Kashmir, there is the widest political and popular unanimity in India.

This accepted, junk all guilt and self-flagellation. Since you swear by your Constitution, read it from Article 1 on, not 370. Article 1 lists the states and territories of India and has Jammu & Kashmir firmly at number 15. You can’t swear by your Constitution, but only by a solitary temporary Article 370, and fight with its Article 1.

What follows,is less cluttered. Speak, campaign, fight for the restoration of all civil and human rights, restoration of communication, commerce, movement, assembly, peaceful protests, and political activity in Jammu and Kashmir. It’s a good fight.

Fight for the Kashmiris’ constitutional rights now as equal, fellow Indian citizens. There is no reason why they should not have the same rights as Indians in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal or Gujarat. It should have always been the case, except those lingering uncertainties about the “dispute” with Pakistan, the unfinished business of Partition.

After the loss of more than 42,000 lives in 30 years, a new history has begun in Kashmir. We can make it much better than the past.

The views expressed are personal 

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