Tragically, the Congress party is perhaps the only party with the credentials to resolve the Kashmir issue. It could have done so in the decade it was in office, and when India was in a position of strength.
Now, India seems to be headed for a period of political instability along with an economic downturn. New Delhi’s clout is weakening, says Amberish K Diwanji.
In less than a week, India will observe the 66th anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, signing the Instrument of Accession (October 26, 1948), thereby making J&K a part of India.
But after 66 years, it would appear that the vexed issue, which has plagued not just India-Pakistan relations but also hurt India’s economic and political progress, remains unresolved.
Thus, there is a feeling of déjà vu after reading about how Nawaz Sharif has sought American help to resolve the Kashmir question. Given India’s clout and improving Indo-US ties, it is quite likely that Washington will ignore Sharif’s request, but ignoring problems do not solve them.
In the 1990s, when terrorism was rife in the state, New Delhi said that till terrorism is crushed, there can be no talks on the future of Kashmir, because it will give the impression of being forced to the table under the fear of the gun.
That is a valid point. Negotiations when one party is under fear or forced to the table lead to settlements that never last (remember the Versailles Treaty). It will also embolden other separatists to take up the gun to force New Delhi to the negotiating table.
But terrorism in Kashmir has been virtually non-existent for the last decade or so, despite terror strikes every now and then, including some in recent times.
The truth is that India is one of the few countries in the world that can proudly claim to have effectively ended separatist desires across the nation, be it in Nagaland, Punjab (the Khalistan movement), and in Kashmir.
After peace returned to the valley, India had a great opportunity to find an acceptable solution to the Kashmir imbroglio, and where New Delhi would be speaking from a position of strength. Sadly, the golden years were wasted.
The attitude was since peace had returned, why rake up contentious issues? But there is a paradox here: if negotiations can’t be held during times of turbulence, and no one wants to spoil peaceful years with difficult questions, then when does one seek a solution? Is there something between peace and war?
It would appear that India is unwilling to resolve the problem, because it will involve political choices that the government is unwilling to take. It is almost self-evident that the only solution is to convert the Line of Control into a border between the two nations.
But a reason India is chary of pushing this solution is the big fear that there is absolute no guarantee making the LoC into the border will actually stop the Kashmiris from wanting to join Pakistan.
It would hurt India’s image if after India and Pakistan actually negotiate a solution, Kashmiris continue to clamour for freedom, thus proving how hollow was India’s claim that Kashmiris are happy to be a part of India.
To make the LoC a meaningful border, New Delhi will have to ensure the Valley’s deeper integration with India. This touches the holy cow, Article 370. Keeping Article 370 as it is, means no solution with Pakistan has any chance of succeeding; but scrapping Article 370 is, for the Congress, akin to committing hara-kiri.
Within Article 370, the most complicated question is the right of non-Kashmiris buying property in J&K and settling down in the state (to be fair, such provisions exist in some other small states too). It is a question that needs to be handled delicately. But it is also clear: ignoring Article 370, or insisting that no change can take place, is effectively stating that the status quo must remain. That will only let the problem fester.
Incidentally, a reason industrialists stay away from investing in Kashmir is because they cannot buy land for projects. No one wants to set up a multi-crore project on leased land since a lease can easily be revoked.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah understood this concern, and spoke about offering 99-year leases to industrialists, but with few takers so far. Article 370 doesn’t need to be scrapped (as some radical parties are demanding) but it sure needs modifications, which will give New Delhi the confidence to deal with Islamabad to find a lasting solution to this 66-year-old problem.
Tragically, the Congress party is perhaps the only party with the credentials to resolve the Kashmir question. It could have done so in the decade it was in office, and when India was in a position of strength.
Now, India seems to be headed for a period of political instability along with an economic downturn. New Delhi’s clout is weakening. No wonder Sharif woke up and asked the US to step in.
Image: An Indian soldier during an exercise near the Pakistan border. Photo: Fayaz Kabli/ Reuters.