In Pakistan, Kashmir becomes a new rallying cry

July 24, 2013

To understand the second-order effects in Pakistan of violence in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, look no further than the Twitter feed of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafez Saeed.

After last week’s killing of four protesters by Indian security forces in the Jammu-region town of Gool, he tweeted that “there can be no friendship, trade whatsoever” with India until the Kashmir issue is resolved. Addressing Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – who says he wants better relations with India – he demanded that his PML-N government take a clear stance, and insisted that “strong decisions on Kashmir will strengthen and unify Pakistan”.

The comments of a man suspected of involvement in the 2008 attack on Mumbai – an allegation he denies – would be greeted in India with irritation, at best. In Kashmir itself, many ordinary people would regard with dread the prospect of a revival of the Kashmir jihad in which tens of thousands died at the hands of both Indian security forces and Pakistan-backed militants.

But in Pakistan, his condemnation of Indian security forces would resonate. The idea that fellow Muslims in Kashmir must be liberated has become so mainstream that few stop to ask whether Pakistan’s own motivations are really that different from those of India – controlling the region rather than supporting its independence or autonomy.

After the protesters were killed, Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement expressing deep concern. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan tweeted that “Am shocked at the silence of PMLN Govt on this latest violence against Kashmiris.”

The outrage comes within a context – a time when Pakistan is trying to decide how to tackle Islamist militants, once nurtured by the army to counter India in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and now increasingly turning their guns on people at home.

It also coincides with a willingness in Pakistan to believe allegations made this month that an Indian police official had suggested the Mumbai attack was a false flag operation conducted by India against itself – a line that played into a penchant for conspiracy theories and a tendency to blame violence in Pakistan on “outside forces”.

The problem, both with these conspiracy theories and the more generalised sympathy for the goals of militant groups – be it the liberation of Kashmir or the quest for influence in Afghanistan – is that it makes it all the harder for Pakistan to come up with a coherent anti-terrorism policy.

The point here is not to say who is right or wrong about Kashmir – both inside and outside the disputed region you can find multiple versions of nearly every detail of its past and present. The point is that the dispute, which in recent years had been put on the backburner, is once again becoming increasingly corrosive inside Pakistan itself.

That should be a cause for worry for everyone, for Pakistanis; for the people of Jammu and Kashmir; for Indians facing a radicalising Pakistan on its border; and for western countries hoping that Pakistan will tackle militancy as part of efforts to stabilise Afghanistan before the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops at the end of 2014.

SKEWED HISTORIES

The Kashmir dispute is unlikely to be resolved soon. With Indian elections due next year it would be nearly impossible for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take risks on Pakistan policy without opening up his ruling Congress party to attack from the right-wing opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But that does not mean the region’s future should not be debated – including with those who live there – to prevent the hardening of a narrative which sees Pakistan as the outraged victim only able to defend itself (and Kashmir) through the use of non-state actors and India as the alleged brutal face of occupation.

That may in turn require a debate on its history.

In a carefully researched book published last year, “The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir”, writer Christopher Snedden studied the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir to show why Indians and Pakistanis have such very different views of the region’s history.

He argues that the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir – now divided between the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (Ladakh, the Kashmir Valley and Jammu) and Pakistan-controlled territories (Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir) – was never deliverable as a single entity even in 1947.

Significantly, he demonstrates how going beyond the propaganda, Indians and Pakistanis actually experienced history quite differently.

According to the Indian version, the Kashmir dispute was triggered when Pashtun tribesman from Pakistan invaded the Kashmir Valley in October 1947, forcing the hand of the Hindu maharajah who pledged the entirety of his kingdom to India in return for support from Indian troops.

Since the Indian version relates to the Valley, the focus was on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, then its most popular politician. Snedden notes that Abdullah was deeply suspicious of the principles underlying the creation of Pakistan, seeing it as “an emotional Muslim reaction to Hindu communalism”. “Abdullah and his colleagues, many of whom were Muslims, also perceived (correctly) that Pakistan would be dominated by feudal elements, as well as being a society in which Kashmiris and their reform agenda would have little power,” he writes.

The Pakistani version is very different. Far from the Kashmir Valley, the people of Gilgit rebelled against the maharajah and declared for Pakistan.

The people of Poonch, in the Jammu region, rebelled against the maharajah and also took up arms in response to the killing of Muslims during the revenge slaughter that accompanied Partition. Notably, in contrast to the Indian version, Snedden documents how the Poonch rebellion began before the Pashtun invasion of the Kashmir Valley. Moreover, it was fuelled by Partition violence sweeping across Punjab, whereas the more remote Kashmir Valley was largely spared the communal bloodletting at the time.

Significantly, many of those people who rebelled in the Jammu region would later end up either in Azad Jammu and Kashmir or in Pakistani Punjab – where the “Kashmir cause” continues to resonate.

Thus we have two different versions – one in India that focuses on the Kashmir Valley; one in Pakistan whose view is informed largely by events in Jammu. There are many other variations depending on whose experience you chose to highlight; the important point is that the Indian and Pakistani versions spring from a different geography.

It is unlikely the history will ever be agreed. But the differences in the versions can be narrowed.

PEACE ROADMAP

A few years before he was forced out of office in 2008, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf had agreed with Indian Prime Minister Singh a draft roadmap for peace in Kashmir. The plan would have effectively disaggregated the old kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, formalising the division that has existed since 1947.

While there would be no exchange of territory, both countries would seek to make borders irrelevant and find ways of cooperating across the region through an unspecified “joint mechanism”.

Whether the roadmap would have worked or not has never been put to the test. It was never discussed in public, neither with the people of India and Pakistan, nor with the peoples of the different regions which once belonged to the former kingdom.

The Mumbai attack put paid to any real hopes of reviving the plan in the short-term, and the Indian and Pakistani governments subsequently focused instead on slow, steady moves to build  relations incrementally, including through trying to increase trade ties.

But with the “quiet” phase -  whereby the Kashmir dispute was set to one side in favour of tackling less intractable issues – now apparently drawing to a close, it might be time to dust off the roadmap and give it a public airing.  An agreement may not be in sight in the near future, but at least it offers an alternative narrative to those who see no diplomatic solution to the Kashmir dispute, not now, not ever.

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