Kashmir – When History & Geography conflict!

While in school, I liked History as a subject. “King Ashoka planted trees and built lakes! Akbar founded and practiced his own religion – Din Illahi! And so on.  All these were interesting! But those days, my common refrain was, “What is the utility of us studying all these and remembering the years, the place and all that now? How is this going to help me in my life in the future?” While that was History, Geography was perennially boring. Remembering the names of countries, rivers, forests, mountains, cities, their latitudes and longitudes was all a torture. Little did I realise then, that the legacy of history has a long shadow on geography. Hence it becomes mandatory as students to get the perspectives right on History and Geography.  World over, eventually Geo-political conflicts are all about history!  Kashmir is no different.

Right since Independence, Kashmir has been a complex problem. Any proposal/s for solving this always come with insistence of it being a complex problem due to mistakes made by India in the past as per commentators. For many decades, the feeling in our country has been to maintain a status quo on Kashmir. In the wake of the last week’s dastardly attack in Pulwama on our security forces, it is clear that status quo is not the answer.

There are always different schools of thought around solutions ranging from military solution to political solution to diplomatic solution to combination of some of these or all. And frankly most of these have been tried in the past by different Governments of different parties when they got an opportunity to govern India. From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv to Narasimha Rao to Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh to now Narendra Modi, it is not for want of trying, this issue is not resolved. All have attempted in the past to crack the Kashmir code with sometimes the same or slightly different approaches. In my view, by and large all approaches have followed a contour that of keeping it within the constitution, respecting the sense of history and carrying that baggage. And the result of these efforts is there to see.

72 years since Independence means, 3 generations have rolled over, assuming a generation is defined by 25 years. This generation and the coming ones have no love lost for history or for historical narratives over Kashmir. They are concerned about the present and what the future entails. Hence to move forward on a long-lasting solution for Kashmir, the approach must entail shedding any historical baggage and looking into the future. What does this mean?

  • Jammu and Kashmir must be treated just like any other state of India. No special status whatsoever.
  • Scrap Article 370.
  • No Autonomous powers
  • Any law passed in the Parliament of India by default must be applicable to Jammu & Kashmir as well.
  • No Special constitution for Jammu & Kashmir
  • Allow business to be set up by non-Kashmiris in J&K just like in other parts of India.
  • Scrap Article 35A

And so on.

While I understand that it is not as simplistic as it sounds, we need to move in this direction and take firm steps.

Of course all this can work only under peaceful circumstances. There will be a huge uproar in the valley.  In the near term, the Government has to engage in multiple fronts in an effort to bring peace. That includes

Diplomacy – This Government has done a great job in working with relevant countries to isolate Pakistan. Continue the efforts to get more and more countries on board to tighten the noose.

Political – Within the country, take the main opposition parties on board on an agreed broad strategy. Get all parties to talk in the same wavelength not just in the aftermath of a Pulwama type attack but all the time. This will give a signal of India being one on this issue.  In the same token, do not rush to take credit as a party but give credit to all the parties in case of any successes.

Military – The 2016 Surgical strike was a great step. But it has not deterred Pakistan from carrying out the proxy war and stopping the activities of outfits like Jaish. One surgical strike in 2 years seemingly is not enough. We need to raise the cost for Pakistan by carrying our strikes in unpredictable frequency.

In the context of military intervention, we always encounter two refrains. One – that it can escalate into a fully blown war. Two – that a war between two nuclear capable countries is not at all desirable.  My point is, we have always been concerned of any military invention escalating into a fully blown war though Pakistan doesn’t seem to be concerned of the same while provoking us. For a change, why not make them feel concerned about a military escalation. Today, Pakistan is a failed and beleaguered state. Its economy is extremely frail. A fully blown war would only expose its vulnerability further. Except for China, which could come to its support militarily, Pakistan’s isolation is complete. Even for China, an economy which is stuttering today, ignoring India’s interests and siding with Pakistan will be a short term stupidity. So, eventually just like during the Kargil war, there will be more pressure mounted on Pakistan to mend its ways and take visible steps to stop cross border terrorism and take actions on outfits the same.

Economy – Raising the costs for Pakistan economically must be a continuous effort. Getting friendly countries to stop financial aid, labelling Pakistan a terrorist state, getting international sanctions imposed are all options on the table.

While these are ongoing efforts and I am sure Government must be engaged in all of this, the way to long lasting solution is to keep history aside and move forward. We hear that Narendra Modi has a penchant for leaving a lasting legacy. Solving the Kashmir problem could be his gateway to that. And for that History must give way to Geography, Economics and probably Chemistry! It’s time.

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“Katti-Batti” on the treadmill!

In the innocuous lexicon of innocent children in Hindi, Katti means “We are not friends” and Batti means the opposite. I see my eight year old daughter declaring Katti and soon Batti within a few minutes to her friends and they to her, many times over in an hour and this happens every other day. As I watch the Indo-Pak relations over the years I wonder if the two neighbours have taken a leaf from children and invented a new type of diplomacy called “Katti-Batti” diplomacy and gained mastery over it.

Indo Pak,wwwpakistantodaycom

For so many years or rather decades, the happenings between India and Pakistan have fallen into a pattern. Some ceasefire violation or terrorist activity from across the border happens in India. India announces cancellation of talks or any peace initiatives. In effect declare Katti! Then in a few months the top leaders from the 2 nations meet in the sidelines of a multi-lateral summit, talk for a few minutes, pose smilingly for a photo –op, release a joint declaration of resumption of a dialogue process – in short declare Batti!

Then the cycle repeats. As it has been for decades. The result is we never seem to have a normalized relationship with Pakistan even after so many years, changes in the theatre and the lead actors in the 2 countries notwithstanding.  I am no foreign affairs expert and diplomacy isn’t everybody’s cup of chai including mine. But a cursory read of the history of relations between the two countries is enough to conclude that at the end of the day “Playing safe” rides upper most in the minds of all the stake holders involved in the discussions. As a natural progression maintaining “Status quo” emerges the safe option for both sides. This results in the Indo-Pak relations being on an eternal “tread mill” as one of the saner voices from PakistanHussain Haqqani (Ex Pakistan Ambassador to the US) puts it aptly!!!

And the other interesting aspect in the dialogue process what I have noticed is that what is discussed among the top leaders is secondary and what is more pertinent is what is dished out as the “Joint declaration”. Whether it is Shimla, Lahore, Ufa or the infamous Agra Summit more time seems to have been spent on drafting the declaration than on the talks themselves!!! And a summit is declared a success if a mutually acceptable declaration is conjured up at the end and a failure if it’s not. The Indian side is happy if the word “terrorism” appears and Pakistan side if the word “Kashmir” is part of the joint declaration. All the other aspects of the joint declaration like Trade relations, people to people contact,.. are subjects of routine.

With the kind of history attached to the Indo-Pak relations, I do feel that the politicians, diplomats and other stake holders are stuck in a time warp and hence a veritable solution is difficult to emerge. Unless the baggage of the past are left behind. And one of the most important baggage they carry for any out of box solution is if that will be acceptable to the people back home.  Has the time come to question some of the stated positions and look for alternatives?

  • Like having an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan. So no Katti even if there is a provocation. Instead of saying “No more talks”, why not “We Talk more” and “Talk louder” if there is one? An uninterrupted dialogue gives an opportunity to review progress made in the previous talk. On the other hand, an interrupted dialogue gives only an opportunity for an excuse for not making progress in the guise of starting afresh.
  • Like we change our stance on 3rd party mediation. All along, we have maintained that Kashmir is an internal issue and there is no place for 3rd party mediation. When we are unable to find an acceptable solution among our own people regarding Kashmir and Pakistan for 50 odd years, will not a 3rd party help in getting a different perspective and solution which can be sold to the domestic constituency as well?
  • Like we go to the public and ask what they actually want through a referendum. In India we keep saying that through the elections which are part of a democratic process we take people’s opinion and hence no referendum is required. At the same time, we see that there is a public boycott in many parts of Kashmir (though the participation is increasing with every election). Why not call the bluff of the separatists by conducting a pointed referendum in both sides of Kashmir and go by the outcome. Times are changing and as we saw in the case of Scotland the cry for an Independent Scotland eventually met with a “No” in the referendum.
  • Like we ignore Pakistan and focus on our domestic economy and improving relations with other neighbours. No Katti and No Batti. Imagine what would have happened if at Ufa, our PM just said a “Hi” to Nawaz Sharif and moved on. Ignoring Pakistan while making our economy growing will be the ultimate signal to Pakistan that India has moved on and has got more important things in the plate. Ofcourse we have to be prepared to safeguard ourselves from more ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks. I thought that after breaking the ice with Pakistan by inviting Nawaz Sharif for the oath taking, our PM Modi was following this “Ignore Pakistan” route. While at the same time improving relations with all other neighbouring nations. So in that sense our move in Ufa which signaled our return to Katti-Batti diplomacy was a surprise to me.

I’m not saying that these are “the” only formulations. There could be many more. The essence of my submission is that the time has come for a change in approach from all sides. The sooner the better.

Managing relationships between neighbouring countries which have been to war a few times ofcourse is not a simple subject. (Even Bollywood thinks so – #Bajrangi Bhaijaan)Ergo, cracking a solution to the long and vexed problems may not be as simplistic as we think. But then following a staid pattern of “On-off” engagement only means we will only continue to add to the “declarations” we have among our two countries. Ruling parties may change, the leaders may change but ironically our countries may not outgrow the Katti-Batti syndrome. I am certain though my daughter in a couple of years will.

Postscript: In the meanwhile our Bhai Salman Khan has helped a Pakistani girl to return to her homeland Pakistan against all odds in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and declared Bhatti. Now awaiting Sunny Deol Paaji to announce a loud Katti and resurrect his sagging career!!

Indo Pak 2 Neelabhtoons ibnlive

Toon Courtesy: ibnlive.com, Pic Courtesy:pakistantoday.com