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Time to divide J&K into Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
June 25, 2018 10:13 IST
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'It is time to not merely assert that Kashmir is an internal problem, but begin to act on it,' argues Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: Demonstrators hurl stones at the police during a protest in Kashmir. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

Recent events in Jammu and Kashmir, like the Ramzan ceasefire, murders of a journalist and a soldier, and finally the collapse of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Peoples Democratic Party government, have all given rise to a lively debate in the media.

Unfortunately, it is a typical case of the blind leading the lame as most of the participants are highly partisan or parachuted experts and some perennial know-it-alls.

As a result, while a lot of noise is generated, there is very little light thrown on the 70-year-old Kashmir itch.

But before we come to an analysis of likely solutions, a first step is to debunk several myths surrounding the issue and establish certain facts. Some of these myths have been propounded so long that most have begun to believe them to be the gospel truth.


The first myth is that there is a J&K problem.

Wrong, there is a violent movement only in the Kashmir valley while Jammu and Ladakh are peaceful.

Point to note is that even in the Jammu division there is a sizeable Muslim population (nearly 40 per cent).

Most of the rural areas of Jammu division has a Muslim majority or mixed populations.

In Ladakh division, Kargil district is again Muslim majority.

Thus, the J&K issue should be rightly called a Kashmir valley problem.

The Hurriyat Conference leadership that claims to speak for the whole of the state has zero presence and influence outside the valley.

Kashmir valley is the only area that saw an 'ethnic cleansing' in the 1990s.

Nowhere else in India has there ever been an instance of a religious minority being driven away. The so-called secularists and liberals have maintained a deafening silence on this gross human rights violation.

Historically, trouble in the Kashmir valley has been influenced by events in the outside world.

The start of the cycle of violence in 1989 was triggered by events in the erstwhile Soviet Union once the Soviet empire broke up and a large number of small (mainly Muslim) States emerged.

The Kashmir valley revolt in the 1990s was driven by a demand for 'independence' and not merger with Pakistan.

Again, at that time as well, Jammu and Ladakh remained indifferent.

But the movement for independence was soon taken over by pro-Pakistan elements and slogans like 'Kashmir banega Pakistan' began to be raised in the Kashmir valley.

In another twist, the demand for merger with Pakistan has been superseded by the desire for an Islamic State with Sharia rule.

The Kashmir valley insurgency has thus seen shifting goal posts.

There is another myth propagated by Pakistan, of perpetual alienation in Kashmir.

Again, it is historically untrue.

In 1947, the Indian Army was welcomed with rose petals.

In 1965, the valley refused to help Pakistani infiltrators.

In 1979, when in the wake of the hanging of then Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, there were anti-Pakistan riots in the valley, under the tutelage of Sheikh Abdullah, a congregation at the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar thanked Allah for Kashmir's merger with India and not Pakistan in 1947.

The agitation in the Kashmir valley has now passed into the hands of Islamic extremists who demand Nizam e Mustfa or rule according to the Sharia.

Much water has flowed down the Jhelum in all these years and J&K has seen its poverty decline to barely 6 per cent of the total population, the least in the country.

An economic rationale for insurgency no longer exists, yet in the popular narrative it is still regarded as the main driver of violence.

The current spate of economic packages and goodies being given by the central government is like treating a cancer patient with TB drugs! No wonder, it does not seem to work.

Many analysts are coming to the conclusion that the Kashmir problem is purely political in nature and needs a political solution.

If one looks at the wider national canvas, one realises that one measure that has held a diverse India together is the accommodation of local or regional nationalism.

A classic example is Tamil Nadu.

Indian states enjoy sufficient autonomy to further the cultural and social urges of their population.

Linguistic-based re-organisation of the erstwhile princely states has played a major role in this. But J&K is one of the few exceptions to this rule.

It is the only state where three major linguistic groups -- Kashmiri, Dogri and Ladaakhi -- are tied together in an unholy alliance.

Reorganisation of the state of J&K faces a major hurdle due to its internationalisation on January 1, 1948 when India took its complaint against Pakistani aggression to the United Nations.

It is time to correct the mistake made by Jawaharlal Nehru and withdraw our complaint from the UN forum.

This will serve a twin purpose -- shut out Pakistan from any discussion on Kashmir, and also serve as a stark reminder to the Kashmiri separatists that J&K is part of India and will remain so forever.

This single act will send a more powerful message than any assertion by the prime minister of India.

It is time to not merely assert that Kashmir is an internal problem, but begin to act on it. The first step in that direction is to withdraw our complaint to the UN and tell Pakistan that Kashmir is an internal problem of India, like Baluchistan is for Pakistan.

Once this is done, J&K state needs to be trifurcated into Jammu, the Kashmir valley and Ladakh.

After that, it should be possible to negotiate the quantum of autonomy for the Kashmir valley within the Indian Union.

J&K survives and thrives economically on the huge doles handed out by the Centre.

Essentially, the Indian tax-payer is bankrolling the state.

The separatists and general population should be made aware that any dilution of the Indian link comes at an economic price.

Pending this measure, India should concentrate on the economic development of the peaceful parts of the state and not the violent valley.

People must realise the economic costs of violence. The present stance of rewarding bad behaviour with economic lollipops needs to end.

The average Indian must realise that there is no quick-fix solution to the troubles in the valley -- the Northern Ireland problem, for instance, continued for centuries.

It is also a fallacy that a 'hardline' approach against Islamists does not work. The example of how Russia dealt with its troubles in Chechnya are before us.

However, the first step is to withdraw our case from the UN.

And not just keep saying it, but begin to deal with Kashmir as an internal problem in which neither the UN nor Pakistan has any role.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian who has studied insurgencies in Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Mizoram, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Naxalism in Chhattisgarh.

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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)