Everyone talks about the need for a Kashmir solution. Nobody puts cards on the table to declare what is wanted. The mealy mouthed approach of the Indian and Pakistan governments is understandable even if inexcusable. The governments protect their respective negotiating stands - the whole of J&K belongs to India, or the whole of J&K belongs to Pakistan! It is the Kashmir separatists who disappoint.
If they do not represent one government or the other, if their personal affluence is not related to foreign funding that makes them puppets on a string, why don’t they say what they want? Instead they keep parroting clichés about human rights violations, about the need for a solution, about their participation in any Indo-Pak dialogue process, and so on. Honest revolutionaries and radicals never fear stating what they want. The separatists of Kashmir do not appear to be honest.
This scribe has never hesitated stating what he wants in terms most explicit. And now a credible opinion poll in J&K carried out by Chatham House of London vindicates his view. According to the poll, the first of its kind conducted on both sides of Kashmir’s Line of Control (LOC), only 2 percent on the Indian side favour joining Pakistan. Fifty-seven percent on the Indian side and 56 percent on the Pakistani side oppose independence. However in the Valley 75 percent to 95 percent seek independence. Both joint sovereignty and the status quo were ruled out by the respondents. Fifty-eight percent favoured making the Line of Control as a permanent soft border. Only 20 percent on the Indian side and 37 percent on the Pakistani side believed that violence is helpful.
What do these results suggest? First, that the UN plebiscite resolution which limited choice to entire J&K going to India or Pakistan has become irrelevant considering present ground realities. Secondly, the majority on both sides of the divide does not want independence, but the overwhelming majority in the Valley wants independence. Thirdly, both sides want to convert the Line of Control into the international border provided people on both sides can freely intermingle. Fourthly the status quo as well as joint control of J&K by India and Pakistan is disfavoured. So what remains?
The results indicate precisely those suggested by this scribe’s formula. The formula was: give the right to opt for India, Pakistan or independence to the five distinct sectors of undivided J&K – Valley, Jammu, Ladakh, POK and Northern Areas around Gilgit; make the precondition that whatever the result all sectors of J&K would be part of a South Asian Union comprising India and Pakistan having joint defence, common market and eventually no visas once terrorism is eliminated. Going by the Chatham House poll the likely result of this referendum would be that Jammu and Ladakh would remain with India, POK and the Northern Areas with Pakistan, and the Valley would become independent. Because neither India nor Pakistan would countenance a third power making an independent Valley its base in South Asia, the precondition of making the Valley part of a South Asian Union becomes imperative.
One thought the separatists would take up this proposal. One thought that the Indian government would accept this proposal in principle and urge the separatists to persuade Pakistan to accept it. One thought that Pakistan would see the wisdom of this proposal that would satisfy all sides. An independent Valley would even the score of losing East Pakistan that continues to haunt many Pakistanis. A South Asian Union would reclaim the cultural nationalism of the subcontinent represented by undivided Hindustan which would delight many Indians. A South Asian Union would facilitate trade and friendly relations with China provided Beijing would focus on developing democratic values. China could become the world’s leading power much more rapidly through economic development rather than through subversive activities to promote hegemonic ambitions in a mere region. For all sides this formula is a win-win deal.
But someone must bell the cat.
Who else but the separatists are best suited to do that? One must compliment the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party for clearly stating that they want autonomy and soft borders with Pakistan. Well, let the people decide what they want. Given good administration for one year and clear articulation about the implications of independence versus remaining in India it is entirely possible that people in the Valley too might opt for India provided genuine self-rule is given. As for the rest of India, it should be noted that within the European Union citizens of one country have more rights in another than what rest of Indians presently have in J&K. So independence for the Valley in the arrangement of a South Asian Union would not in any way disadvantage citizens of India or Pakistan.
What is required is for all segments in Kashmir to unite in a common cause and take the initiative to move forward this proposal. Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti should team up with the Hurriyat leaders and take the lead. Omar should recall that his grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, was at Pandit Nehru’s behest in Pakistan on the mission of making Kashmir a bridge for an Indo-Pak confederation. Pandit Nehru’s death aborted the effort. Should not the leaders of Kashmir pick up the baton and resume that mission? On Friday terrorists killed 80 in Pakistan, 73 in India. The situation demands urgent action. And time is running out.