INDIA’S foreign minister Sushma Swaraj may sound belligerent in her speech at the United Nation. But she indicates India’s exasperation over Pakistan’s interference in Kashmir or elsewhere. After the killing of 14 jawans at Uri, one widely supported demand is: retaliation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised counter action at the time and the place that the armed forces chose. What would be India’s next step not yet known but the retaliation part is very much true. It is a sad option and to exercise it without action requires patience which is getting exhausted. War is not considered an option. Yet what is the way out?
Pakistan had admitted that some non state actors could have indulged in straightening things at Uri. But now after the whole world has expressed horror over the Uri incident. Islamabad says that India had stage managed Uri and Islamabad had no hand in it. But how does it explain that its soil was used by the forces who attacked Uri. Pakistan has raised the Kashmir issue to divert attention from everything else. It expects New Delhi to participate in the talks which it would initiate. Probably its eyes were on the SAARC summit at Islamabad. India’s formal ‘no’ to participate has ended the meeting because both Nepal and Bangladesh have expressed their inability to attend Summit at Islamabad. Obviously it had to be cancelled when India said no.
The question is where we go from here. War is no option but talks also have not fructified. Sushma’s speech is another warning to Pakistan that India was tired of Pakistan’s doings and may be driven to take some action. All eyes are on New Delhi because it has to decide what steps should be taken because it is becoming increasingly clear that talks are no solution. India has considered the revision of Indus Water Treaty which was signed in 1960 by Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan military chief Mohammad Ayub Khan. Sartaj Aziz who represents Pakistan’s foreign affairs has said that anything done to revise the treaty without Pakistan’s participation would be ‘an act of war’. This has complicated the matters still further.
In view of this deadlock, no progress has been made. This should be told to the people on both sides. They have been urging their respective governments to sort out the matter through dialogue. Pakistan says again and again that some settlement over Kashmir is necessary for any peace in the subcontinent. We come back to square one. By all means the party’s concerned should sit across the table to find a solution. But India and Pakistan cannot do by themselves. The Kashmiris want to have their say. Recently, when I went to Srinagar at the invitation of students, I found that the youth wanted a country of their own sovereign and independent. They do not realize that India did not favour another Islamic state on its border when it is exasperated by the one, Pakistan, it has.
But the mood of the youth is that of anger and they would not compromise their demand for azaadi. They do not realize that azaadi is an ideal, not a feasible proposition. When the British left India in August 1947, they gave the princely states an option to stay independent if they did not want to join either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the then Jammu and Kashmir ruler, declared that he would stay independent. The land-locked state had to have the support of both India and Pakistan for access to outside world. He did not want to depend on one.
With the Muslims in a majority in J and K, Pakistan expected its accession. When it did not take place, Pakistan sent its irregulars, backed by the regular troops. The Maharaja sought the help of India which insisted on the accession before sending its troops. He had to sign the Instrument of Accession Act. The two parts of the states are against azaadi. Jammu, the Hindu majority part, would like to join India. The Buddhist majority Ladakh, the other part, want to be a union territory of India. Therefore the demand for azaadi is essentially that of the valley which has nearly 98 percent of Muslims.
When India is in the midst of endeavour for polarization and when the ruling political party is playing a Hindu card, it is difficult to imagine that the Congress or any other political party, including the Communists, would support the azaadi demand. Even otherwise, all political parties are opposed to the demand for independence, although some may go to farthest in giving powers to the state.
After 70 years of partition, the wounds inflicted because of the division have not healed yet. How does anyone expect the people in India to reconcile to another partition, however genuine and strong are the sentiments of the Kashmiris? If partition is again on the basis of religion, the secular state may not survive as it is. True, the 25 crore Muslims in India are equal citizens and they cannot be treated as hostages. But the valley’s secession may have such repercussions which are dreadful to imagine. The constitution, guaranteeing equality to all Indian citizens, may be of no avail.
India and Pakistan have fought two regular wars on Kashmir, apart from a mini misadventure in Kargil. The valley continues to remains part of the Jammu and Kashmir state. Several thousand Kashmiris have died for the cause of azaadi. For India, they were insurgents. They were crushed by the security forces which too lost thousands. Even now some militants from across the border attack some places but are rebuffed. For example, on the day of Zubin Mehta’s concert, a post of Central Reserve Police Force in the southern Kashmir was targeted with rockets. There was a hartal at Srinagar. But this exercise has been gone over by many a time before. Sushma’s warning may also go unanswered. But hers is yet only a warning because the next step can lead to war between the two countries. There seems to be some rethinking at Islamabad because they have said through their envoy Abdul Basit that the Uri was “stage managed” and Pakistan had no hand in it.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.