No purpose will be served by the 180-page report submitted by the team of interlocutors appointed by the government to study the Kashmir problem and offer suggestions to resolve it. The government sat over the report for almost a year and released it only very recently. The government’s prevarication is understandable. The report says nothing that was not known earlier. The three member team went to great pains interviewing different segments of opinion to repeat their well known views. Predictably, the suggestions offered by the report are banal and incapable of defusing the crisis.
The report has in brief suggested that autonomy be restored to the state by respecting Article 370 which gave J&K a special status. To achieve this, the report has recommended that all laws relating to the state enacted by Parliament after 1953 be reappraised and modified or annulled as deemed necessary. Further, the report takes pains to clarify that although it recommends autonomy and a special status of the state to be restored it does not suggest that the state revert exactly to the pre-1953 status first demanded by Sheikh Abdullah. The report states: “This does not mean that pure and simple return to the pre-1953 situation.’ In popular perception the pre-1953 situation is considered as the appropriate reference point.
But people forget. Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah himself had abandoned the pre-1953 status as the desirable goal. In 1964 Pandit Nehru sent the Sheikh to Pakistan to negotiate terms for an Indo-Pakistan confederation. While the Sheikh was in Pakistan, Nehru died and the effort was aborted. It might also be recalled that the Kashmir leader Mir Qasim had advised Nehru to seek a federation and not a confederation. That suggests that Qasim did not want a trilateral arrangement between India, Pakistan and Kashmir as the Sheikh might have wanted. He wanted a bilateral arrangement between India and Pakistan with Kashmir divided along the ceasefire line.
In all fairness to the team of interlocutors their brief condemned the report to ending up as a futile exercise. The entire approach of the team was in the context of centre-state relations with the proviso that J&K deserved a special status. Thereby the heart of the problem was never even attempted to be addressed.
The Kashmir dispute is not between India and the people of Kashmir. It is between India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. The crisis is not about Kashmir, which is a symptom of the real problem. The crisis is about the Partition of the subcontinent and its enduring consequences. Unless this truth is squarely recognized the Kashmir dispute can never be peacefully resolved.
To defuse the Kashmir dispute a holistic approach is required that takes into account entire Indo-Pakistan relations. The Partition not only divided peoples irrationally. The subsequent growth of popular awareness and identity politics compels a restructuring of the existing provinces in both India and Pakistan. In Pakistan the recruitment ground of terrorists is in southern Saraiki speaking Punjab. It is an extremely impoverished region that provides a happy hunting ground for terrorist outfits seeking new members. To resolve the twin problems of terrorism and the Kashmir dispute I had suggested an approach that addressed both problems.
On May 28, 2011, I wrote in these columns:
“The Punjabi Taliban is at the forefront of terrorist attacks… Extreme poverty has led parents to sell sons and daughters in Southern Punjab to terrorism and prostitution. A muted demand for a Saraikistan province has been simmering for many decades…What the Pakistan government needs to do is, first, without softening the war against terrorism, to arrange soft borders and free movement of Pashtuns across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border after negotiating with President Karzai. Secondly, to immediately announce the formation in principle of the Saraikistan province and pledge an economic package for its people. Thirdly, it must pledge more autonomy and a fair share of revenue for Baluchistan. And finally, after initiating these changes it can approach India for a similar arrangement of soft borders and free movement across the Line of Control in Kashmir. These measures would shrink recruitment of terrorists. These would help Pakistan get back on the rails. Failing this, Pakistan will continue to drift towards balkanization.”
Pakistan is taking small first steps along the lines suggested. There is a half hearted effort for dialogue between Islamabad and President Karzai of Afghanistan to bring the Taliban into negotiations. Recently Pakistan has also decided to create a new Saraikistan province and promised it aid for economic development. It is New Delhi that seems incapable of initiating any meaningful step to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Appointing interlocutors to study conditions in the Kashmir Valley is not the answer. New Delhi must address the fundamental imperatives required for eliminating the trust deficit with Pakistan to undo the consequences of the Partition. Nothing less will resolve the longstanding and crippling Kashmir crisis.