Event ReportsPublished on Oct 25, 2010
The integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India is the ultimate solution to the Kashmir problem, said Dr. Subha Chandran at an interaction on 'Jammu & Kashmir: Internal Threats and External Interests' at the ORF Chennai Chapter.
No consistency in Centre's Kashmir policy
The Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation organised an interactive session on the topic ‘Jammu & Kashmir: Internal Threats and External Interests’ on October 25, 2010. Dr. Suba Chandran, Deputy Director at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi, initiated the discussion.

The problem in Kashmir is perhaps the only problem of national magnitude other than over-population that has remained unsolved since India got her independence in 1947, Dr Chandran said, dividing his speech into three parts. In the first, he gave a researcher’s perspective on how the conflict was evolving; in the second he emphasized the transformation that has come about in the situation within the region and; finally he spoke of the developments outside the country which was affecting the interests of the players involved in the conflict which has ramifications on the problem.

In the first part, Dr Chandran argued that unlike earlier, the Kashmir Valley today comprised a new generation of monolithic population. These people have hardly any knowledge or understanding of the rest of India. They have not travelled outside the Valley and the only people from the rest of India that they might encounter would either be the Amarnath pilgrims who visit the Valley for a day or two each year, or the Army and para-military personnel. Hence, there is no debate on what the rest of India considers is important in the Kashmir context. Instead, there are only monologues of the separatist groups, especially with regard to relations with the Indian State and the concept of ‘azadi’, or freedom. There is no counter-argument of any kind.

A pattern was now emerging in the occurrence of violence. Over the past five or six years, violence has been seen to be cyclic and seasonal, preceded by an incident of international importance. Dr Chandran said that the latest round of violence could have been timed for the Commonwealth Games, held recently in New Delhi. A fresh round could occur ahead of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming India visit. There was a high chance that such instances of violence were being orchestrated by external elements rather than having a momentum of their own.

The new generation of monolithic youth has taken over the mantle of continuing the conflict at the cost of veterans. For instance, after the successful Assembly elections of 2008 in the State, and Pakistan too seemingly backing off the conflict, senior leaders of the separatist movement were reluctant to face the Kashmiri public. Then it was the youth who pressurized them into reviving the movement, Dr Chandran said and focussed on the State Government’s failure to appreciate the psychology of the local population. The main Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been able to capitalise on the insensitivity of the ruling National Conference (NC) Government of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, he said.

Talking about the transformation that has come about in the conflict situation in the second part of his talk, Dr Chandran said that a decade ago, ‘Kashmiriyat’ was the identity that a Kashmiri would relate to. However, today, it is the Muslim identity that has gained greater significance in the minds of the people. The form of Islam that existed in Kashmir used to be the most liberal one in the entire sub-continent. But today, Sufism is being replaced by Wahabi Islam with roots in Saudi Arabia.

Within the State, Jammu still retained its colourful multi-ethnic identity. However, the region believed that the Centre favoured Kashmir Valley more than Jammu and that the Kashmiris got what they wanted by ‘throwing a tantrum’. Similarly, the Ladakhis felt that they were being subdued by the dominant and corrupt Kashmir and Jammu regions. Hence, they have demanded Union Territory status for Ladakh, with direct administration by the Centre.

Moving on to part three, Dr. Chandran said that if and when the US planned to withdraw from Afghanistan and if the Taliban returned to power (which was most likely), the Afghan mujahideens would put forward the ‘invincibility argument’ to wean away the Kashmiris. They would propagate that they were successful in pushing out the British, the Soviets and now the Americans from Afghanistan. With the withdrawal of the US, they would also look for new ground for continuing to train their guns at. Pakistan too may divert them towards India as it had done in the Nineties after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

The separatist movements of the Uighurs of Xinjiang and the Tibetans too may have an impact on the conflict. These areas have not being fully assimilated with the rest of China because of which Beijing faced a serious threat from the Afghan Taliban and also the Taliban elements in Pakistan. There is remarkable change in the Chinese approach to the Kashmir problem, Dr Chandran said adding, the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal had created an impact in the Chinese minds and, Pakistan, with whom China had distanced itself after the Kargil conflict, came back into the Chinese radar, since.

Talking about the Centre’s shortcomings, with regard to the Kashmir problem, Dr. Chandran mentioned three main points. First, he said, New Delhi lacked consistency in dealing with the situation. A number of interlocutors had been engaged to interact with various groups in Kashmir, and in 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself talked to them. In spite of all this, no concrete solution was devised to address their genuine grievances of the people. Secondly, there was no consensus among the various political parties with regard to the Kashmir issue. Thirdly, he said, the Government needed to display greater confidence in addressing the issue.

The Kashmiris sometimes have put forward minor demands which, if accepted, would not have been disadvantageous to the nation. Demands such as acceptance of the Kashmir problem as an international conflict and de-militarisation and withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from certain major cities of the State could be considered by the Government without hampering the security in the State. Dr Chandran mentioned that a territorial conflict in a State, whose various parts were under the control of India, Pakistan and China, was indeed an international conflict.

Finally, Dr. Chandran said that integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India was the ultimate solution to the problem. In order to change the perspective of the current, inward-looking society in Kashmir, he suggested a few solutions such as encouraging the youth there to join the Indian Civil Services, encouraging coaching centres for entrance examinations to various institutions in the rest of the country, opening more universities in Jammu and Kashmir, improving the education system in the State, creating opportunities for interaction between the youth in the Valley with their counterparts in the rest of the country through ‘cricket diplomacy’, etc.

The discussion concluded with the different perspectives, over defining peace that people in different regions within the Jammu and Kashmir believed in, and the only way to achieve this peace was through improved communication network in the State and subsequent integration with the rest of India.

(The report is  prepared by Anita Elizabeth Mathew, II M.A. (International Studies), Stella Maris College, Chennai)

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