Peace offerings

The Challenge in Kashmir - The Crisis in Kashmir
March 20, 1998

Kashmir, the former princely state disputed between India and Pakistan since 1947, has been at the back of the world's consciousness for so many years that the scale and violence of the conflict hardly registers outside South Asia. Yet since the uprising began in Indian Kashmir in the late 1980s at least 20,000 people have been killed. The Indian government now seems to have the upper hand over the insurgents and, following state elections in September 1996, is trying to find an internal political settlement. Should that be achieved, the next step might be a quiet diplomatic deal with Pakistan, whereby the line of control dividing the state, which has its origins in the ceasefire line of 1948, becomes the de jure international border. Such a solution would undoubtedly gain widespread political support in India, but it is still a distant dream. Pakistan would have to abandon its long-held belief that Kashmir "naturally" belongs to it, while the constitutional relationship between the centre and the states in India would have to undergo some fundamental changes.

The books by Sumit Ganguly and Sumantra Bose are important responses to the crisis and are aimed at all those who, in the most general sense, have an interest in a just and peaceful long-term solution. Both are brief, to the point and based on fieldwork in India (and in Bose's case in Kashmir itself). There are other similarities. Both are by US-based scholars of Indian origin and both see the events of 1947, the subject of recent debate between Alastair Lamb and Prem Shankar Jha, as being less relevant to the present situation than the trajectory of Indian democracy and centre-state relations in the past two or three decades. Both emphasise what they see as the excessive centralisation of power in New Delhi and the consequent alienation of a Kashmiri population viewed by its rulers as inherently unreliable. They would probably agree about many aspects of a solution based on an affirmation of a Kashmiri identity that transcends religious community and rediscovers the spirit of a syncretic past. Yet here the similarity ends.

Ganguly's book is a cool, controlled survey of Kashmir's recent political history, expressed in the vocabulary of political mobilisation theory, followed by a review of feasible solutions given the relative strengths of the main actors.

Bose's by contrast is a passionate condemnation of the actions of the Indian political elite since 1947, and a plea for the Kashmiris to be given the right to self-determination, with the question of whether that might lead to a renegotiated relationship with the rest of India or even to some form of independence left open. The structure of the book is somewhat awkward, with an extended postscript written after the 1996 elections that goes over some of the same ground as the main text, yet the reader's attention is always held.

In their interpretations of the political history of the Kashmir conflict, both Bose and Ganguly emphasise above all a failure of imagination and self-confidence on the part of the Indian political class after the initial confusion of 1947-48. From the early 1950s Muslim Kashmiris were too often seen as crypto-Pakistanis who had to be controlled by electoral manipulation and other means. Yet in 1965, when Pakistan attempted a coup de main within Kashmir, the local population gave it no support. In explaining how the sullen acquiescence of the 1950s and 1960s gave way to the violent conflict of the 1990s, both authors stress the centralising and authoritarian approach of successive governments in Delhi, most notably that of Mrs Gandhi, although Kashmir's own leaders, especially Sheikh Abdullah, do not escape criticism for similar failings. Ganguly, in addition, comments on the increasing pace of social mobilisation of the population through, for example, education, and the failure to match this with opportunities for political participation. Pakistan's involvement in fuelling the uprising is noted, but is seen as secondary to the internal origins of the crisis.

To say the crisis has essentially been generated within India carries at least the possible implication that a solution can be found within the framework of the Indian state. It could certainly be argued that Kashmiriyat, the conceptualisation of the region's identity that incorporates its Islamic, especially sufi, traditions but is not defined by them, is best accommodated within a truly federal India. Ganguly adds to this the point that the Indian state's commitment to retaining its portion of Kashmir is so strong that it would not countenance any solution that forced it to abandon its claim to sovereignty. His preferred framework for a solution is in two interlocking halves - a deal with Pakistan where limited concessions on the line of control are made in return for a cessation of support to the militant groups on the one hand, and a dialogue with all shades of Kashmiri opinion, including the separatist groups represented by the Hurriyat Conference, on the other. Bose by contrast argues more generally that a solution can come only with the restoration to the Kashmiri people of full democratic rights and the right to self-determination. That said, he recognises the theoretical problem of defining the relationship between democracy and self-determination and the practical manifestations of that problem, for example the issue of the non-Muslim groups within the boundaries of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir.

David Taylor is senior lecturer in politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

The Challenge in Kashmir: Democracy, Self-Determination and a Just Peace

Author - Sumantra Bose
ISBN - 0 8039 9350 1
Publisher - Sage
Price - £20.00
Pages - 211

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