One believed that only some kind of self-determination vote offered to the people of Kashmir would exorcise from their minds the ghost of plebiscite. This scribe had consistently advocated self-determination for all five segments of undivided Kashmir which might have allowed them to choose India, Pakistan or independence. This self-determination vote was considered feasible on the pre-commitment that subsequently India, Pakistan and Kashmir (whatever its status) would create an arrangement on the lines of the European Union having joint defence and common market. President Musharraf hinted at a somewhat similar plan dividing Kashmir into seven segments. But events seem to have overtaken these formulations. A devastating earthquake occurred. Nature and events conspired to create both challenge and opportunity in Kashmir.
The earthquake virtually demolished the Line of Control (LOC) dividing India from Pakistan. Bunkers on both sides of the LOC were destroyed killing soldiers of both armies. The quake jolted people to a new reality. Reliable and objective correspondents who extensively traveled quake hit areas and moved among people have brought back a version not adequately covered in the media. The mindset of the average Kashmiri has fundamentally changed. For over a decade people were fed with Jihadi tales of an imminent collapse of the Indian administration in Kashmir in the manner of East Europe. In expectation of that Kashmiris overlooked the subversion of their Sufi tradition by the Wahabi fundamentalism propagated by their self-appointed saviors. Terrorism extending over a decade ruined tourism and the substantial ancillary employment it created. People went through untold hardship while terrorists and security forces battled. Gradually realization was beginning to dawn on the people. In a flash the quake and its aftermath brought that realization to fruition. Kashmiris want to reclaim their Sufi tradition. According to veteran Kashmir-based journalist Zafar Miraj a vast majority of approximately 3000 Kashmiri youth who went to POK to join militancy are disenchanted and fed up. They want to return home. Some are seeking negotiations with the Indian government and are prepared if necessary to serve prison sentences.
As Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) opened its doors to media and relief organizations, people in Srinagar got access to the reality of Muzzafarabad. They saw a dump inhabited by people living in misery. In contrast Srinagar has an international airport. Thanks in good measure to Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, its markets are bustling. New buildings are coming up. Even the polluted Dal Lake finally was cleaned. Young people are still frustrated by scant employment opportunities but increasingly they gravitate to other Indian cities for jobs and training. In short, India is seen as a success story. The role of the Indian army during quake relief was an eye-opener for the people. Kashmiris do want more self-rule. But they want neither Pakistan nor independence. They are beginning to see a future with India.
Clearly the time is propitious for a Kashmir solution. But before being swept away by euphoria a brief recapitulation of events would be in order. When the British departed they gave princely states the right to cede either to India or Pakistan. Kashmir was uniquely positioned having borders with both countries. Maharaja Hari Singh therefore contemplated independence. His dream was shattered when Pakistani raiders seized Muzaffarabad on October 24, 1947. Two days later the Maharaja acceded to India. His accession was accepted. Meanwhile on November 4th Major Brown arbitrarily declared Gilgit part of Pakistan. This was clear indication that Britain at the outset had decided to partition Kashmir. On January 1, 1948 India took the case to the UN. On August 13 the UN passed its famous resolution for plebiscite in Kashmir. Conditions to implement that were never met. On January 1, 1949 India ordered ceasefire.
For over half a century Pakistan harped on plebiscite and the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination. During all this time the Indian government defensively stonewalled the issue. Recently after President Musharraf mentioned the UN resolution while addressing the General Assembly this year our PM and MEA expressed dismay. One is totally mystified by the Indian stand. It is India that should have demanded plebiscite. According to the UN resolution all Pakistani troops were to withdraw from Kashmir. The ceding of a part of Kashmir to China by Pakistan in 1963 violated the UN resolution. It would have to be undone before plebiscite. Only Indian troops were to be stationed in all of Kashmir. After they restored normalcy and peace, the plebiscite was to be held for people to decide whether to join India or Pakistan. If with all this the Indian government feared plebiscite, God help the Indian people!
Pakistan is approaching its moment of truth. The truth is that Pakistan is an artificial state bequeathed by imperialist colonialism. The British Cabinet Mission plan was a much better proposition than the Partition. It was foolishly rejected by the Indian leaders. In search for a rationale to exist Pakistan followed policies that are rapidly converting it to a failed state. That is no reason for Indians to gloat. The survival and progress of Pakistan are vital for India's national interest. Only, Pakistan must be made to see that its survival is directly linked to a stable and united South Asia.
President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh both cryptically remarked that the Kashmir solution lies in making borders irrelevant. There have also been veiled references to joint control over Kashmir with its present border unchanged but made soft to allow free movement of people and trade. This vision is gaining popularity. Symptomatically, former POK premier Sardar Qayoom Khan even favors Dr Karan Singh to become Maharaja of a unified Kashmir! But all this overlooks a crucial aspect.
How can India and Pakistan jointly oversee administration in Kashmir without cooperation between both governments at the national level? Which brings one back to the need for creating a South Asian arrangement entailing joint defence and common market. If leaders of both governments start the dialogue at that end everything else, including settlement of the Kashmir dispute, will fall in place. Think: Membership of the European Union by both Britain and Ireland is rendering the Northern Ireland dispute increasingly irrelevant.
Considerable reform is required by both India and Pakistan to stabilize their respective systems and exploit global opportunities. Not least being the need to decentralize their systems and give states and even local bodies more autonomy and sense of pride. That is what federal democracy is all about. That alone would defuse tensions in Baluchistan, NWFP and India's northeast. But for a start a sense of security in both nations must prevail. That is why the Kashmir problem must be addressed by focusing on the future of South Asia rather than on the future of the LOC.
New Delhi must keep the larger picture in mind. The prospect of that being done appears bleak. The appointment of Ghulam Nabi Azad as chief minister at this crucial time betrays obsession with narrow partisan gain. The Valley could easily slip back to its old mood of disenchantment. Just four days before Azad takes over as CM serial bomb blasts in a major terrorist attack killed scores of shoppers in Delhi markets. Was this the work of anti-peace-talk terrorists? If so, why now, and why in Delhi? Do they see the induction of a Congress CM in Kashmir as an opportunity to revive their flagging fortunes? Is this attack a message to Kashmiris: "See? India could not tolerate a Kashmir-based government! Delhi must directly rule Kashmir. So forget autonomy. Fight for separation. Now onward our attacks will be focused on India, not Kashmir!" If this conjecture is correct, will terrorist attacks escalate across India?
The future seems murky. The government did face the challenge resulting from the earthquake. Unfortunately, it did not seize the opportunity.