Saturday, March 2, 2013

“NEXT STEPS TO PEACE IN KASHMIR?” - SHEIKH F AHMAD AND AYANGTI LONGKUMER


Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Introduction

                     For Albert Camus, the late French philosopher; life is dull, monotonous and meaningless. Man tries to adjust himself with the situation, but the entire effort appears to be absurd when he realizes that this is not truth but mere construction. Henceforth, there are three ways of dealing with the absurd- suicide, hope or living with it. He rules out suicide. Since there can be no absurd outside human mind, there can be absurd outside the human mind, there can be absurd outside this world also. Absurd therefore, is a reality, and cannot be wished away by dying. Life, therefore, has to be preserved; Camus also rejects hope, which is nothing but a philosophical suicide. The absurd being the only truth, the essence of the human situation, the only proper alternative is to live with it. If ever Albert Camus’ philosophy holds true then the only way to deal with war, battle and conflicts is to accept as it is. However, the people of Kashmir have not considered what it is to be called peace as an absurd notion, and has not considered hope as a philosophical suicide. They are not ready to accept what is being given and seen, they are not ready to accept the present scenario as what it will be in future too, they are ready for change, in fact they are in constant quest for peace.
 
               This essay is an attempt to highlight the (un)peaceful state of Kashmir, through the lens of past and current events, and various steps which might result in bringing about peace in the valley. However, much can be debated, accepted or rejected but this attempt cannot be judged as a vague measure for in the words itself lies the aspiration and dreams of Kashmiri youth, who longs to see his valley shine in the glory of peace and the blessing of the forefathers.

Kaleidoscope of events: Where is the Peace?

For more than six decades, we ‘Kashmiris’ have been confused about our identity. To support the former line, we can jot the example of cricket match, where often we try to compensate the confusion by supporting cricket teams of neighboring countries, or by seeking solace from our own failures through celebrating victories of others albeit without any real connections. This has led Kashmiri identity [if at all there is one] into a state of flux and mutation. The politics of Kashmir (both the main stream and separatism) is no different; it is built on reactions, press statements, few very limited demos, 'all hot air with no substance'.
 
During 1990s: From 1990 onwards, a myriad of groups, organizations, people and religious and militant leaders and 'intellectuals' have claimed to represent Kashmir in various shapes, forms and denominations with competing and often confusing claims. The sum up of the last two decades of efforts on the Kashmir front can be best described as naught. As the dead are buried on an almost daily basis, molestation and rape has become a norm, youth of valley had eschewed politics in favor of their lives. At the same time the haze and fog around the 'Kashmir Issue' gets thicker by the day and our leaders issuing statements of zero substance add further confusion. Under such circumstances, any talk of solution to the Kashmir problem is tad too ambitious.
 
During the last decades, the Kashmiri leaders missed umpteen opportunities including several during the last two decades. Sadly, it doesn't seem that there would be many such opportunities in near future and hence one is left with this grim prognosis that the solution to the Kashmir problem may never be found and while waiting for a ‘respectable’ solution, Kashmir may ultimately be forgotten by all.
 
After 2000:  In the current geo-political order, the Kashmir issue has been forgotten by the world community. After India and Pakistan embarked on a 'peace process', Kashmir was no longer considered a 'nuclear flash point'. The international focus that was there in the initial phase of the militant struggle has long waned. Hard to believe but true!
 
The rude shock came when in May 2009 Javier Solana, one of the top most European politicians and the Secretary-General/High Representative (SG/HR) for common foreign and security policy of the European Union, brushed aside Kashmir saying that it was a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan. This was the first attempt in the withdrawal of any international support for the Kashmiris. After Pakistan was forced by the US to retreat from its traditional support for the 'right to self-determination' of Kashmiris, most of the world powers and institutions have been supporting the idea that the Kashmir issue should be solved bilaterally between India and Pakistan.
 
Nevertheless, another recent statement on Kashmir issue came from the US President Barak Obama when he very carefully read his ‘Kashmir Policy’ in a news conference at New Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2010. President Obama in response to a question about what role the United States could play in resolving the Kashmir dispute said “With respect to Kashmir, obviously this is a long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan; as I said yesterday, I believe that both Pakistan and India have an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries. The United States cannot impose a solution to these problems but I have indicated to Prime Minister Singh that we are happy to play any role that the parties think is appropriate in reducing these tensions. That’s in the interests of the region; it is in the interests of the two countries involved and it is in the interests of the United States of America. “So my hope is that conversations will be taking place between the two countries; they may not start on that particular flashpoint; there may be confidence building measures that need to take place, but I am absolutely convinced that it is both in India’s and Pakistan’s interest to reduce tensions and that will enable them I think to focus on the range of both challenges and opportunities that each country faces" (Reuters, Nov.9, 2010)
 
After decades of inaction by the United Nations due to its complicated bureaucratic structure, some Kashmiris based in the West have been harping upon the European Union and claiming that EU was interested in solving the Kashmir problem. Millions of US dollars were spent on Kashmir conferences around the world including in the EU to substantiate the claim. However, hundreds of press releases notwithstanding, this claim was destroyed by the clear statement of Javier Solana that EU considers Kashmir a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. This he stated some years back in Pakistan indicating that such thinking may also reflect the Pakistani government's attitude.
 
However the recent Kashmir statement by the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, where he urged both India and Pakistan to resolve the problem peacefully and respect wills of the people of Kashmir has kindled some hope among the separatist camps back home. Ban who was in Delhi on a three-day official visit albeit expressed satisfaction over the improving ties between India and Pakistan but how to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. He probably failed to answer. “I realize there are many outstanding issues but I encourage leaders of both the countries to persist with these efforts… I hope this issue (Kashmir) is addressed peacefully without violence and respecting wills of the people there (Kashmir)” Ban told reporters (Hindustan Times, April 28, 2012).
 
The bilateral character of Kashmir is not a new phenomenon or position. Both India and Pakistan have always maintained their 'trusteeship' of the respective portions of Jammu and Kashmir with the Pakistani government claiming to represent the aspirations of Kashmiris on the Indian side as well. However, during most of the last two decades, Pakistan slightly shifted its position by maintaining that Kashmiris should be allowed to decide their future. The statement by Pakistan President Zardari that the Kashmir issue should be set aside for future generations to resolve and the focus should be laid on other aspects for improving relations with India reflects the changing stand of Pakistan on Kashmir. More shocking was Zardari’s next sentence that “The relations between India and Pakistan should not be held hostage to the Kashmir issue".
 
 
 However, Pakistan has now once again reverted to its earlier position claiming ownership of the Kashmiri public under the rubric of the 'peace process'. The Pakistani rulers are on record to have openly opposed any move that would see any change to its cartography that may lead to an independent Kashmir. Therefore, there is parity between the Indian and Pakistani positions on Kashmir that only needs to be formalized and accepted by both the countries.
 
There is a general anger in Kashmir about this and many Kashmiri political activists have expressed their anger amid the usual rantings about Kashmiris being the sole 'masters of their destiny', a statement that is  more rhetorical and is contested by many. Whether Kashmiri leaders realize this or not, any support for the Kashmir case is dwindling by the day and we are left with almost no bargaining power to deal with either India or Pakistan. Under such circumstances, it is fair to say that if the Kashmir imbroglio is left unattended it will die a natural but painful death over next few decades.
 
Kashmiri 'leaders' - both the ones who have accumulated huge wealth and those who are really concerned about Kashmir - need to think about a possible strategy that will enable them to work with both India and Pakistan to find some sort of respectable exit from the morass that Kashmir has become. The continuous bloodshed and uncertainty has been contained by both the powers within the confines of the Line of Control and may not pose any danger to the two countries, but it is certainly dangerous to the Kashmiri population on the Indian side leaving the Kashmiri population vulnerable and open to further dangers. Hence, it is necessary for some sort of accommodation with both the powers for the necessary survival of Kashmir and its spirit.


 Steps to bring about peace in Kashmir: a brief examination

The best step to resolve Kashmir imbroglio and to bring peace is to show more flexibility and maturity in our leadership. Sagacity, political maturity and a change from the hackneyed and trivia politics is needed from all the three parties, Pakistan, India and Kashmir. Robustness in decision-making, flexibity in our approach, and inclusive character of the moment has to be maintained. The rights, demands and the aspirations of all the communities irrespective of region and religion have to be respected.
 
Second, “inclusive politics” or what I call “concave leadership” is needed, which will converge and accommodate the unheard voices and will represent the ‘unrepresented’. Kashmir politics is not about the urban “elites” or those who do business in the name of ‘dead bodies and mass rapes’. Instead we have to solve the basic day-to-day problems of every single native. We should be able to listen to the grievances of those millions of the people who live away from the eyes of these so called ‘representatives’ and ‘administrators’. They too belong to this land. They too are the real stake holders. The politics of ‘opportunism and ‘adventurism’ has to be stopped. Those who talk politics and show ‘radical’ stance at the same time send their children to Harvard, Barkley or Oxford for higher education on government sponsored fellowships. This mean politics and opportunism will not resolve the problem of Kashmir instead will aggravate it further. That is why crowd sourcing is important; the people of Jammu and Kashmir will only decide their future. Any readymade solution cooked at the ‘Khan Market’ New Delhi or from the Military Head quarters of Islamabad will not accepted. Every individual of Jammu and Kashmir has to give his or her mandate to any future solution.
 
Ensemble of academic scholars who tried to theorize Kashmir conflict argue that the main reason for political discontent and resort to violence in Kashmir has to do with the “repeated infringement of the social contract by the central government of India, acting often in tandem with the state government. This has been accompanied by the insistent erosion of the democratic space that permits articulation of political discontent.” (see Chandhoke 2005)

Repealing the draconian law like AFSPA is the need of the hour, as fake encounters and other military operations in the name of protection of the state has been rampant. It has been criticized that laws like AFSPA has been continuously violating human rights. The act has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as a "tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination".  It kills the democratic fabric of the country; hence measure should be taken to repeal such an Act. Measures to tackle unemployment can also be cited as a step to bring about peace in the valley. It has not been a rosy picture in the arena of employment statistics in Kashmir, youths after completing their educations find themselves without a job; so they negate from the peace system and engages in conflict activities. Studies have shown that there is a strong, automatic causal connection between unemployment, underemployment, or low productivity employment to violence and war. The Government of India should come up with sustainable plans and policies that protect the lives and improve the prospects of those very large numbers of people vulnerable to un and under employment and poor working conditions, to poor health and death, to poor quality of education and to extreme poverty; for these that specific variables, such as unemployment, typically have rather complex implications for violent outcomes; and that labour market and economic policy, if they are to be a part of efforts to reduce violence, cannot be reduced to policies designed simply to maximize the number of work opportunities for these might be various factors interlinking with it, however; it should be a bilateral between the people of the Valley and the Government at large.

The role of women in peace making progress cannot be ignored for there are many women, who may not stand as individuals but have contributed to the collaborative efforts in bringing peace and treating the wounds that has been inflicted for decades. Way back in 2000, Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace organized a roundtable, a group of women and men representing different ages and communities participated; where they spoke out the way they think about the reoccurring violence in the region, it was a very helpful initiative. Such measure where women get a participatory role inspires others to reach to new vistas of excellence in striving for national and international peace and harmony. Such struggles inspire the younger woman who can multiply their energies and talent in such a way that numbers become meaningless, and the value of their contribution becomes greater. After all, strong initiatives come from parallel directions and should not be initiated within a particular group.

Conclusion
 
                  It is not an easy task to extensively explore the possibility of peace in Kashmir. The optimistic steps lay down in this essay lies on the ground of economic progress and socio-political stability, however, strategic solutions can also be helpful in bringing about peace in the region. But, whatever the policies to bring out peace will be it should be inclusive and should not be exclusive, it should involve people, for they are the soul determiner of their destiny and the kind of democratic set up they want to bring on. And that economic development alone cannot bring about peace; therefore it should not be treated as a separate section; for it is in tuned with the socio conditions of the people; and hence development should be a whole round process. What should also be considered is; who are the people participating in the peace process of the region, whether it is the urban educated elites or the people in the villages; for there might be differences in the way they approach the whole framework of peace and resolutions. The best way is the united way, where in all the people comes under one umbrella and speaks up as one on the issue, however; that is more like an idealist thought; for it is difficult for everyone to suppress all their understanding as agree to what other thinks is the best way. It might sound like a Spartacus’ script but there is also a strong need of a charismatic leader, the personality of whose will be radiating one that he/she will be looked up as a guardian of their cherished goal for peace; and whose knowledge will be the blending force of all sections of the society. Lastly, much have been said but much abides, the road to peace is cumbersome, and no one knows what lies at the end of it; but we have started with the journey with the believe that no matter what it may be, and come what may be; we will strive, we will fight in the wings of the ancient pride and glorious civilisation that Kashmir stood for, and no matter how long it will take, we will try our best to make it happen now. May the minds of the Kashimiris be filled with the flawless divinity of the omniscient!
                   


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