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Jammu & Kashmir: Complexities of Conflict

by Prof. S.L. Pandit

In the midst of the conflict and controversies now plaguing the current constantly fluctuating scenario in Jammu and Kashmir, most people not adequately aware of the history of our times may be surprised to be told that this princely domain of the erstwhile British Indian empire was uniquely difficult to get smoothly and peacefully adjusted within the scheme of Partition, hastily conceived and implemented in the summer of 1947. It was a desperate remedy for a desperate situation. For, since the eruption of the unprecedented communal carnage, called the Great Calcutta Killing, unleashed by the United Bengal's Muslim League government in August 1946, a violent communal divide spread to the countryside in what was then East Bengal, leading to repercussions in the neighbouring Hindu majority state of Bihar. In fact, we have not even now come to the end of the chain reactions all over the subcontinent unleashed by this carnage.

Sectarian Strife

As a result, an unprecedented sectarian civil strife had engulfed large areas of North India to such an extent by the early summer of 1947 that both the Congress Party and the British Government had to concede the formation of the truncated Muslim- dominated state of Pakistan covering the north- western and eastern Muslim majority regions of the Indian subcontintent and divided by a thousand miles of what became the residuary and continuing state of India. The whole plan, vastly irrational by the logic of history and economics and the principles of centuries-old inter-communal human relationships, was brought into being by an unprecedentedly hastily planned and promulgated Act of the British Parliament. Obviously, because of the inter- communal fires raging over large areas of the country, this drastic political surgery had to be resorted to in order to prevent a genenl breakdown of administration over the whole of North India. Human history is not the result of merely of what Marx called "the class struggle", but also of forces of violence engendered by irrational mass emotions of fear and hate.

Now in this context of the human and political situation that had come to a crisis by the summer of 1947, it might be helpful to consider how the state of Jammu and Kashmir had to face the future. Among such autocratic principalities, big and minor and tiny, all told numbering over 560, Jammu and Kashmir was a unique domain in many respects. In area it was the largest and in population second only to Hyderabad. Its frontiers in the east and the north touched Tibet, Sinkiang (China) and its most northern outpost of Gilgit, where it was once claimed that the three empires (the Czarist, the Chinese and the British) met, it was within the hailing distance of Soviet Russia. The hereditary ruler since 1846 was a Hindu of the Dogra Rajput clan based in Jammu, while Muslims comprised nearly 70 per cent of its total population. As if this demographic diversity was not enough, the Jammu Division was a marginally Hindu majority area whereas the northern frontier province was dominated by the Buddhists of Ladakh. Funher, neither ethnically nor linguistically could the state be called a harmonious entity. Most of the Muslims of the Valley as also those having a marginal majority in the Doda district of the Jammu Division speak Kashmiri while the inhabitants of the Dogra belt of the Jammu region have close affinities with their brethren in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh. Moreover, the inhabitants of the landlocked Poonch district and the Mirpur district adjoining the frontiers of what is now Pakistani Punjab were mainly Muslims of the Punjabi-speaking stock.

Peculiar Situation

In the midst of this peculiar situation, demographic and geographical, where did the state of Jammu and Kashmir stand once the British paramount power was withdrawn from the subcontinent? Obviously, this state could have smoothly and easily fitted into the picture of a united federation of the whole of India. The anomaly of a Muslim majority area being governed by a Hindu ruler could have been adjusted easily on the basis of establishing an equally feasible democratic order as between this state and Hyderabad, a Hindu majority principality governed by a Muslim Nizam. It is a fact that in 1946, when the British authorities were seriously committed to a speedy liquidation of their empire, all parties, including most of the ruling chiefs and barring only the Muslim League, were wholeheartedly for the establishment of a sovereign independent federation of India.

Unfortunately, the slogan of a separate sovereign Muslim state was forcefully raised by the Muslim League in 1940 which had unleashed an emotional upsurge among the Muslim middle class. So the subcontinent was divided in 1947, unleashing an unprecedentedly immense mass exodus of religious minorities across the border in the west and accompanied by unmentionable brutalities.

According to the Indian Independence Act of 1947, passed by the British Parliament in record haste, the provincial powers, in what were then called "the British Indian" provinces, were to devolve upon the truncated or intact provincial legislatures elected in early 1946, while at the Centre the authority was to be wielded by the two sections of the Constituent Assembly as indirectly elected in late 1946 and then split into two sections as demanded by the Muslim League.

Princely Domain

As for the several hundred autocratic and hereditary princely domains, the Act, while abrogating all previous treaties entered into between the rulers and the British power, left it to the will of each individual ruler to accede to India or the newly created dominion of Pakistan, or to remain independent. And, because of the deep cleavage of policies between the Congress and the Muslim League, no consensus could be arrived at between them as to how the integration of these discarded children of the British imperial policies should take place in the new set-up. While the Congress Party all along had laid stress on the will of the people of these princedoms, the leaders of the Muslim League, right till the end of July 1947, proclaimed that the personal choice of the individual rulers should prevail in this regard.

Given this peculiar legal and political situation, what was Maharaja Hari Singh to do in that tragic summer of 1947? It was obvious that his personal inclination was to accede to India, especially as the boundary line drawn by Radcliff across Punjab provided him with a viable, though precarious, link with the territory of the Indian Dominion. But he knew that a vast section of the Punjabi-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the western districts - Poonch and Mirpur - of the Jammu Division would like to join Pakistan. As for the Kashmiri-speaking Muslims of the Valley and the adjoining areas of what is now the Doda district, obviously they were mostly adherents of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference led by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, a pany that had refused to fall in line, like the Red Shirts of the Nonh-West Frontier Province led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, with the Muslim League ideology of dividing the subcontinent on the basis of religion. But, unfonunately, this most important political organisation of the state had been suppressed by the Dogra ruler and its leaders imprisoned following the Quit Kashmir movement sponsored by Sheikh Abdullah in 1946.

Maharaja's Indecision

Consequently, the Maharaja did not accede either to India or to Pakistan by the deadline of August 15, 1947. Obviously, he was toying with the idea of remaining independent. In any case, the Maharaja refused to make any decisive move even when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel sent word to him in July 1947 that India would not take it amiss in case he decided to accede to Pakistan. Apart from his personal inclinations, it was also clear that his own armed Dogra units were not prepared to have any truck with Pakistan. As against this, the Muslim fighting clans of Poonch, with about 50,000 of them being linked by 1947 as fighting personnel or pensioners of the undivided armed forces of British India, could not easily be separated from what emerged as the defence forces of Pakistan after the 1947 Partition.

In any case, soon after the British withdrawal in August 1947, apart from the forcible occupation of the Gilgit base by the Gilgit Scouts, a force locally raised and officered by the Britishers, and some internal pro-Pakistan agitation in Poonch, most of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir continued to remain for some time an island of peace in spite of the fires of sectarian strife then raging in the contiguous Punjab province since March 1947. In fact, till almost early October, thousands of terror- stricken refugees, both Muslim and non-Muslim, found it possible to move through Jammu in search of areas of security beyond the dividing line drawn between West and East Punjab in August 1947.

Undeclared War

Ultimately, this state of uncertainty for Jammu and Kashmir was ended by the unleashing of the tribal invasion of the valley of Kashmir, as planned and sponsored by Pakistan, by October 20, 1947. The armed regiments of the Maharaja's forces - scattered in small units all over the state's extensive borders with Pakistan - were easily overpowered along the Jhelum Valley motor road linking Srinagar with Rawalpindi. Within a few days, these invaders had overrun most of the northern area of the Valley and were within the striking distance of Srinagar in the last week of October. So Maharaja Hari Singh, who had been just marking time since August 15, had to seek military assistance from India and to accede to the Indian Dominion. In the beginning, Pakistan, as in the case of the current turmoil in the state, denied any responsibility for this development, though some months later it could not conceal from the visiting UN Kashmir Commission the fact that by May 1948 its regular army units were operating in several sectors of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is pertinent to recall that, in the midst of this undeclared state of war between India and Pakistan, the Valley remained a haven of communal peace; its people freely giving succour and shelter both to the non-Muslim refugees fleeing from the tribal atrocities unleashed in the Valley and the Muslim refugees forced to seek security from the attacks of the non-Mushm militant armed gangs in the Jammu region. The credit for this unique phenomenon must be given by all historians to the then leadership of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and to the centuries-old traditions of religious tolerance that had characterised the ethos and culture of all Kashmiris. Anyway, this phase of an undeclared war between India and Pakistan came to a close on January 1,1949, according to a ceasefire agreement through the intervention of the UN Security Council. This left the whole of the Valley and large chunks of territory in Jammu and the frontier regions in Indian hands, comprising about two-thirds of the total area of the state and aboul three-fourths of its population. As a corollary to this ceasefire, it was also proposed to arrange a plebiscite in the state to settle its final alignment as between India and Pakistan, after certain follow-up obligations were fulfilled by both India and Pakistan, the most important of these being that Pakistan should wholly vacate the territory of the state. The debate then passed on to the Security Council at Lake Success, where the delegates of India and Pakistan eloquently held forth from year to year their respective positions over these follow- up provisions for arriving at a final agreement.

Futile Debate

This futile debate dragged on for nearly 16 years till the unleashing of a short war between India and Pakistan in 1965 when the latter tried to break through the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir in August 1965 and incidentally ignored the international frontier. This led to an armed stalemate and later to a reversion to the ceasefire line of January 1949 under the Tashkent Agreement of January 10, 1966, brought about between India and Pakistan through the good offices of the then Soviet Union. Even so, the stalemate over Kashmir continued till Pakistan sustained a decisive defeat over the Bangladesh war in 1971 which it started in October 1971 to internationalise the issue. This paved the way for the Simla Agreement of 1972 between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, according to which the modified ceasefire line was renamed as the Line of Control and both parties agreed not to disturb it till a mutually agreed settlement over the Kashmir issue was arrived at.

Since 1989, the Pakistan authorities initiated a new strategy to cause instability in Jammu and Kashmir by infiltrating into the Valley a large number of Kashmiri youth trained in the use of sophisticated weaponry for indulging in sabotage, killings, abduction and assassination of innocent persons and in the disruption of vital communications. It must have taken several years to plan and implement this strategy.

Pakistan's Main Objective

To make confusion worse confounded, a number of militant outfits with diverse political objectives are ruling the roost in the chaos now prevailing in the Valley and parts of the Doda district across the mountain barrier of Pir Panchal. It is obvious that the main political objective of the present authorities in Pakistan is to grab the Valley by force or fraud. But the so-called Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front based in Pakistan-held territory desires to establish an independent non-sectarian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This must be very embarrassing to Pakistan, especially as the Front appears to have gathered some substantial following in the so-called "Azad Kashmir" now under the occupation of Pakistan. Moreover, some extremely conservative militant groups now operating in Kashmir desire to establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime, the type of which does not operate at present either in Pakistan or in most other Muslim countries spread out from Indonesia to Morocco. And all such diverse slogans are being raised in the name of self- determination !

Let us consider for a moment how this principle of self-determination can be applied to the creation of the apparently attractive concept of an Independent Jammu and Kashmir. Those who raise this slogan seem to target that Jammu and Kashmir state (from 1846 to 1947) was not a unitary state but a conglomeration of a number of diverse sectarian, ethnic and linguistic units held together by the firm authority of an absolute ruler. As for the ceasefire line of 1949, Judge Owen Dixon - an observer deputed by the UN Security Council during the fifties to probe and report on the Kashmir tangle - observed: "The division that has taken place by this line cannot be undone" and he further added that the whole question boiled down to the "allotment" of the Valley either through a limited plebiscite or by a mutual agreement between India and Pakistan.

Moreover, those who are dreaming of gaining the whole state for Pakistan should realise that neither the Buddhist Ladakh nor the Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu will ever agree to fall into such a trap. Then there is the central and major population section of the Kashmiri-speaking people. Unfortunately, they are spread out in sizeable numbers, apart from the Valley, beyond the Pir Panchal Range in the Doda district of Jammu. Suppose, for arguments sake, they are allowed to join politically their ethnic and linguistic brethren in the Valley, this can cut them off physically both from the Valley and their main economic lifeline through Jammu. In short, how in the name of rationality and feasibility, can the principle of self-determination be applied to Jammu and Kashmir with its diverse racial and politically divided groups with any hope of success? Lastly, what about more than 300,000 people, mostly Hindus and Sikhs with a sizeable section of peace- loving Muslims, who have been driven out of the Valley under an unprecedented panic generated by the activities of armed militants since early 1990? Where and how are these luckless so-called migrants to be rehabilitated? And what about the huge losses inflicted on the Valley by reckless arson of both government-owned and private movable and immovable property? In the context of this bloody and confused scenario, it appears just moonshine to talk of self-determination. Self-determination for whom, for what purpose and where?

Occupied Areas SPLIT

As a footnote to clear the confusion spread by ignorant media agencies, who are these agitators who desire to cross the Line of Control from the Pakistan- occupied territory of the state? How many people know that the Pakistan-occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir have been split by Pakistan into two separately administered units ? First, there are the northern areas, comprising Gilgit and Baltistan, which have been unilaterally, illegally and unconstitutionally merged with Pakistan. Then there is the territory which they call "Azad Kashmir", comprising thc Punjabi-speaking districts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and part of Poonch. Within this area, there may now be residing a few thousand Kashmiris who migrated in 1947-48 from these parts in search of their dream of an Islamic earthly paradise of Pakistan. And yet the world publicity media are glibly speaking of "Kashmiris" trying to cross into the Valley across the Line of Control!

Insurrectionary Movements

It would seem that peace and prosperity are still a long way off from the strife-torn areas of Jammu and Kashmir. True, free India has had to deal with violent insurrectionary movements also in the north- east. Apparently, these appear to have been largely brought under control after many years of military and political moves. Even the long-drawn and most bloody violent course of mi;itancy in Punjab appears to have turned the corner. Possibly, the masses of Punjab are now realising the futility of pursuing what a well-known Sikh intellectual called the "suicidal dream of Khalistan". Most unfortunately, there is as yet no definite indication of our reaching a similar turning point in the situation now prevailing in the "unhappy valley". Nothing short of a political miracle can possibly change qualitatively the present situation there. For example, one can hope for a possibility of the emergence of a bold and sane leadership among Kashmiri Muslims, a sort of leadership that can denounce the cult of the gun and agree to talk to Delhi on the basis of guaranteeing feasible internal autonomy and establishing to the full extent the fundamental democratic rights provided for in the Constitution. For, ultimately, the situation in the Valley cannot be resolved merely as a law and order problem. Similarly, pouring into the state enormous funds, which may in the prevailing conditions pass into questionable hands, cannot win over the alienated masses of the common people.

Some close and objective observers of the current scene in the state have made note of some indications of recently emerging two hopeful features in the valley of Kashmir. For one, very few genuine and educated Kashmiri youth are now eager or enthusiastic about joining the ranks of the terrorists or to cross the Line of Control to receive training in the use of highly sophisticated military hardware. The militant outfits now operating in the Valley comprise largely foreign mercenaries. Moreover, the masses of the totally unarmed Kashmiri common folk appear to be fed up with continuing wide- ranging violence, the utter breakdown of the rule of law since early 1990 and the excesses committed by many militants on the unprotected peaceful people. True, the ground level trends in these directions have received a setback following the utterly inept mishandling of the obviously and potentially explosive situation at the Chrar shrine. Possibly, with the likely settling down in the aftermath of this mishap, the common people at large may again pine for the so-far elusive state of peace and stability.

Possible Miracle

Before I close this review of current history as affecting Kashmir, I may be excused for dreaming of another possible miracle of history. Obviously, the present uncertain conditions of turmoil in the state can drag on for years without either Pakistan or India achieving a complete and decisive success in their respective objectives. May it not be possible for the two countries and their peoples, with centuries-old traditions of a shared culture and traditions of peaceful coexistence, to come together on the basis of the existing Line of Control with guarantees of easy travel and trade between Kashmir and what Pakistan calls "Azad Kashmir"? All this could possibly be accomplished within the framework of a common Indo-Pak defence agreement. The alternative, short of a mutually ruinous open war between India and Pakistan, may lead to a prolonged, indecisive struggle at a comparatively low cost to Pakistan but at a heavy cost to India, a situation that can in the long run benefit the common people of neither country and seriously impede their progress towards a happier style of living. Such a denouement to a long-drawn phase of mutual distrust will need statesmanship and vision of a high order hy the rulers on both sides. I wonder whether it is just wishful thinking to hope for such a miracle to take place. Most unfortunately, the story of mankind on this earth is littered with calculated generation of mass-scale hate and fear and ignorance that have provided roots to most of our never-ending and often futile violence between groups and groups divided by race, religion, language and by what they call political ideology.

 

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