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The Kashmir conundrum
Kashmir. Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace, by Sumantra Bose

Reviewed by Chanakya Sen

Conflict in Kashmir is a conundrum that begs serious in-depth analysis taking into account every stream of opinion and identity. Sumantra Bose's ambitious new venture, Kashmir. Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace calls for according "equal legitimacy" to the multiple strands of allegiances over Kashmir and to accommodate them all in a skillful compromise. Bose's preoccupation is with "reframing the Kashmir question as a challenge for democratic politics" and building a polity that makes up the democratic deficit.

The cultural, social and religious multiplicity of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has engendered prismatic and fragmented political orientations. "J&K as a whole resembles the Russian matryoshka doll - layers of complexity which render easy solutions such as plebiscite or partition impracticable and call for a more sophisticated approach." (p 12) The "self" in "self-determination" is differentiated into umpteen political aspirations, all of which need to be co-opted into an inclusive framework for peace. Bose proposes a multinational settlement which recognizes the diverse national and quasi-national identities prevailing within J&K, while respecting the core territorial concerns of the Indian and Pakistani states.

For Sheikh Abdullah, Kashmir valley's most popular politician who aligned with India due to exigency in 1947, "Kashmir and India were fraternal but ultimately separate entities." (p 23) His brand of "regional patriotism" based on the Muslim heritage of Kashmir did not quite match his National Conference's avowed secular nature, a contradiction Bose fails to extrapolate. The author does admit that Abdullah contributed to the entrenchment and perpetuation of anti-democratic politics in J&K. His intolerance of J&K's plural character led to police crackdowns against minority communities from Jammu and Ladakh. His 1951 constituent assembly elections "made a mockery of any pretence of a democratic process". (p 55)

While Abdullah was no democrat, Bose attributes the root cause of the current conflict to the New Delhi-sponsored systematic subversion of democratic rights and institutions in J&K. The heavily manipulated 1987 assembly election in J&K was "no aberration, it was entirely consistent with Kashmir's political fate in India's democracy over the preceding 40 years". (p 50) At this point, Bose does not halt to consider if dubious elections in J&K were any different from the violent and coercive elections in other states of India, say Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, over the preceding 40 years. His contention that democracy, by and large, was respected with "imperfections" in other parts of India lacks empirical substantiation.

Bose maintains that khudmukhtaari (self-rule/autonomy) lies at the heart of India's checkered relationship with J&K. Sheikh Abdullah retained a "subliminal attachment to the idea of a sovereign Kashmir", though anti-autonomy and pro-integration voices were raised in Jammu and Ladakh. In 1953, Abdullah shifted to a confrontational pro-independence strategy and was dismissed and incarcerated for 22 years in Indian prisons. His replacement, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, eroded J&K's autonomy and allegedly buried Article 370 of the Indian constitution that granted special status to the state. Bose writes off Article 370 as "dead in letter and in spirit" since 1954, but it has never been dead as far as the crucial prohibition of non-Kashmiris owning property or setting up businesses in J&K. It is this caveat that prevented internal colonization and demographic reengineering in J&K on the lines of Pakistani Kashmir or Chinese Tibet.

The 1965 dissolution of the National Conference and its merger into India's ruling Congress party is depicted as "the end of the road for Article 370", again a misjudgement because the article has no bearing on the dalliances of political parties in J&K. Bose also castigates the appointment of non-Kashmiris in administrative service of J&K without cognizance of the basic fact that, to occlude favoritism and vested interests, India's professional civil servants are rarely allotted home state postings.

Bose further errs by writing that in the 1965 war over Kashmir, Pakistan's ambitious operation failed as the "fullest cooperation of local Muslims was not forthcoming on the expected huge scale". (p 84) Such a sentence misleads, because far from cooperating, J&K locals assisted the Indian army in apprehending infiltrators. The duality of mindsets in the Kashmir Valley, where on one hand the majority wanted to be separate from India and on the other hand prevented Pakistan's forcible takeover, remained intact until 1988.

During the end of the Afghan jihad in the late 1980s, the Kashmir conflict entered a new phase characterized by mass estrangement of J&K's population from India. In 1990, governmental authority collapsed in the Valley as insurrection took hold. An "occupier-occupied relationship" emerged between the Indian state and the Valley's people. Young Kashmiri men crossed into Pakistan, gained weapons and combat training and returned to Indian Kashmir to organize a spate of targeted killings of known or suspected "Indian agents".

The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which dominated the early phase of violent insurgency, drew inspiration from "the valley's specific Islamic traditions" though averring that its attitude towards non-Muslims was non-sectarian. Bose accepts on face-value JKLF's defense that three-fourths of its victims were Muslims and only one-fourth were Kashmiri Pandits, the Valley's Hindu minority. Considering that Pandits comprised barely 4 percent of the populace in the Valley, their assassination rate was disproportionately high. Bose also fallaciously calls the mass exodus of Pandits in 1990 due to terrorist threats "propaganda". He supports this perfunctory argument by attesting that Muslim neighbors protected the handful of Pandits who stayed in the Valley. Survivors' families have now documented how far many more Pandits were actually handed over to assailants by neighbors. Bose never seemed to have heard of the rallying cry in 1990 - Kashmir me rehna hain to Allah-o-Akbar Kehna Hai (If you want to live in Kashmir, worship Allah).

If the JKLF was indeed "secular", then how is one to explain the playing of the azaadi (freedom) card into the hands of the Pakistani state's surrogates like Hizb-ul-Mujahideen by 1994? If the early "intifada" phase was indeed secular, how could zealot Pakistan-centered Islamist outfits like Harkat-ul-Ansar take over the entire momentum of fighting in J&K so suddenly? Bose, who has conducted field visits to J&K, states that pro-Pakistan views constitute a minority opinion in the state, but fails to explore why thousands of Kashmiri youth joined ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence) brainchild organizations alongside "foreign/guest militants".

Since the late 1990s, Pakistan-based terrorist groups have launched more than 55 deadly fedayeen attacks (suicide missions) in J&K and other parts of India. Bose is sanguine to the reality that suicidal warfare is "not exclusively a cross-border phenomenon", but involved Kashmiri-speaking local Muslims. In Muslim-majority Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu also, "the rhetoric of jihad has had some effect" on local youth. (p 157) In guerrilla ranks that were killed after 1990, the overall local-to-foreigner ratio stands at 70-30, a statistic that should have led Bose to examine the sinuous ascent of religious fundamentalism in J&K.

Vetting existing solutions, Bose rejects a plebiscite as an obsolete idea that is infeasible because India is against it and Pakistan has no genuine commitment to it. Independent statehood for Kashmir based on a plebiscite is a "rigid monolithic conception" likely to herald a countdown to all-out civil war owing to its winner-takes-all dispensation. Bosnia's 1992 sovereignty plebiscite unleashed bloody partition and ethnic cleansing Europe hasn't witnessed in half a century. The Good Friday agreement's plebiscitary clauses in Northern Ireland are also rife with inflammatory possibilities, jeopardizing the losers' future.

Converting the Line of Control (LoC) into a de jure international border is dismissed by Bose as "astonishingly naive" as "no Pakistani regime or leader can or will accept it". (p 179) Summary treatment of this scheme reveals Bose's misreading of history. In 1972, premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto did accept the selfsame legalization of the LoC in a secret protocol to the Simla Agreement with his counterpart, Indira Gandhi.

The Hindu nationalist solution of trifurcating J&K on religious majority basis by carving out Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh as separate administrative entities within India is rightly described as "incendiary and counter-productive". If such a plan were to be implemented, the logic of the 1947 partition of the sub-continent would be replicated with attendant mass displacements and violence.

Bose's own model for peace calls for a process that accepts all competing identities and rejects none - "a strategic compromise between opposed perspectives". (p 208) Rival political preferences (pro-independence, pro-India and pro-Pakistan) must coexist in mutual recognition and tolerance, ie "consociation" similar to the Northern Ireland agreements.

At the Track 1 level, Bose recommends an institutionalized permanent inter-governmental India-Pakistan council on Kashmir. Cross-border terrorism and the changed geopolitical climate after September 11, 2001 render chances of achieving this rather slim. Bose, who has authored a separate book on Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict, could have adduced the comparative example of vast improvement in India-Sri Lanka relations once India disentangled itself in 1991 from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. India-Pakistan relations can improve dramatically if the jihad tap is plugged in Islamabad.

At the Track 2 level, Bose seeks a representative and accountable political framework in J&K to ensure minimum quality of governance. He supports "maximum devolution of decision-making powers from the center" to approximate the pre-1953 division of powers between autonomous J&K and federal India. However, no realistic safeguard is provided for India to prevent "maximum autonomy" from degenerating into Sheikh Abdullah-style majoritarian autocracy-cum-secessionism that would today be openly Islamist unlike in the pre-1953 era. A corollary change Bose tables is narrowing inter-regional and intra-regional differences among Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu. Simultaneously, Bose calls for an inclusive and representative order in Pakistani Kashmir where severe restrictions on freedoms "need to be minimized". (p 255) This is another woolly headed proposition, as Islamabad faces no armed revolt abetted by a neighboring country in "Azad" (Free) J&K to concede any liberties.

Still on Track 2, Bose wants "an acknowledgement by the government of India that large-scale abuses have occurred, and that these are regretted". (p 258) Typically, he sidesteps a corollary apology from jihadi terrorists who have acted brutally on civilians of all hues in J&K in the name of azaadi.

Track 3 in Bose's design requires transformation of the LoC "from an iron curtain to a linen curtain", ie cross-border economic and cultural linkages between Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir. In the current scenario of relentless infiltration by holy warriors into Indian Kashmir from the other side, this suggestion too fails to convince. If "soft borders" are not preceded by genuine decommissioning and laying down of arms by jihad outfits based in "Azad" J&K, they would augur more violence and infiltration of illegal human and materiel cargo.

To sum it up, Bose has invested rational intellect and humanist thought into this venture, but at numerous junctures headed off on unilinear paths motivated by sheer subjectivity. Total lack of reflection on radical Islam and its effects on Kashmir especially disappoint the reader. The book is still worth reading as a 'liberal' shot at mapping out the Kashmir maze.

Kashmir. Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace by Sumantra Bose, Sage Publications India, 2003, Delhi. ISBN: 81-7829-328-5, price: US$6, 307 pages.

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May 22, 2004

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