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September 22, 2008

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There are numerous villains in the Kashmir scenario, some going right back to 1947 - 48. The villainy comprises incompetence, political expediency and malice. But that is water under the bridge.

Kashmir is a mess and getting messier. I am not sure how I feel about this any more. Except for a vague sadness, fast turning into impatience and alarm, I now feel that India does not gain a whole lot and loses much by keeping control of the Kashmir valley. (On the other hand, a few Bangladeshi and Pakistanis I know, resolutely contribute to "Kashmir Funds" in their mosques.)

The valley is now Hindu-free anyway as a result of the Pakistan fueled insurgency of the 1990s. The region is a de-facto "Muslim state" which aligns itself with an increasingly Talibanized Pakistan. I am not sure it is a good idea for India to hold on to it militarily only for territorial supremacy. I say, let it go. As one of the articles says, India needs "azadi" from Kashmir as much as the other way around.

The next step of course is the more crucial one to consider. If the Kashmir valley is ceded to the Taliban and the assorted Mujaheddin groups (yes, that is who will take control, as in the NWFP and the Swat valley in Pakistan), will the Indian government be blamed again by the same human rights groups and Pakistan in case it makes a determined effort to protect Jammu, a majority Hindu region and Leh/Ladakh which is Buddhist, from the same forces which might want to make further mischief? Jammu has some areas which are majority Muslim as do Delhi, Hyderabad, Aurangabad and many other major Indian cities. Will the cry of autonomy then be transferred to those areas within India? And how will that be tackled? There are grievances of majority domination and harassment even there. With fascist states like Gujarat waiting
to throw fuel into fire, how is India going to make sure that further sectarian conflagrations don't flare up?

As far as I am concerned, India can let go of any and all territories who want to break away and be independent. It saddens me that despite a democratic federation, such centrifugal political forces are at play. But I don't feel that India should hold on these parts with brute military force if it cannot placate and convince them using political / economic means. The irony of course is that those regions are not really going to be "azad." There are eager predators waiting on both wings of India waiting to gobble them up. But that should not be India's concern.

Kashmir is only a symptom of a troubling mindset. The larger question here is whether we are looking at a world where the inability of diverse people to live with each other will result in numerous fractured nations based on narrow religious and ethnic identities. If so, will it be acceptable for Europe and N. America to refuse accommodation to non-Christians - the very same folks who can not or will not live with others in their own homelands? Will we be alright with the will of the "majority" then? Or will that be violation of the civil rights of minorities? Are liberals like me and human rights advocates ready to serve the same sauce to the gander and goose? Or do we pick and choose - our choices clouded by our perception of the powerful and the powerless?

Now tell us what would you do?

Sorry, several grammatical typos in the above comment. But I guess I made myself clear.

When I first saw Kashmir, I could hardly believe such a beautiful place existed in the world. Since I was a small child I had planned to someday live on a houseboat on Dal Lake. To think it has been a war-zone almost my entire adult life..... Yes, Namit, what would you like to see done?

And Ruchira, why is Gujurat a fascist state? (if that is a stupid question, I apologize in advance)...

Sorry for the delay, which I attribute to deadlines at work, business travel, and nursing a fever, often all at once.

I think it is fair to say that there are no solutions in Kashmir that are not messy. But here is a course of action that makes sense to me:

1. Acknowledge that if a people demonstrably want independence, the Indian state has no right withholding it. The current occupation will only radicalize the local Muslim youths. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” (Kennedy)

2. Substantially pull back Indian troops from the Valley and prosecute Indian army personnel for their crimes in Kashmir. This is desirable not only as an end in itself but will likely help reconciliation. Take prompt measures to secure trade links and economic autonomy for the Valley.

3. If the demand for secession doesn't reduce in a year or two, hold a plebiscite across the entire state to assess which contiguous districts wish to secede. Campaigning should focus on bringing out the pros and cons of seceding. I suspect only Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu will choose secession (not Ladakh or rest of Jammu - which then remain in India). A prerequisite and challenge for India will be to get Pakistan's good-faith support for a variant of this.

4. Unless 3) throws up new solutions or showstoppers, work out a roadmap that begins with substantial political autonomy for the Kashmir Valley, while resolving the details of the partition (borders, security, minority issues, population transfers, constitution, institutions, etc.) towards eventual independence (with the option of dual citizenship?). Of course, this should be done very carefully, avoiding all that was done wrong before the '47 partition.

5. On their independence day, send a birthday card to the leader of the new Kashmir: "Congratulations! Welcome to a neighborhood where all three of your neighbors have nukes, have a history of hostility to each other, and covet your beautiful land!"

How do the pros and cons of this general approach (Ok, excluding #5) stack up against other approaches?

Peony, here is a post I did on Gujarat (read the comments in particular).

Peony has an interesting post where she reminisces about her visit to Kashmir many years ago. Reacting to my comment above, she wonders: "do governments often give up states? Or parts of states? When colonial powers call it quits and pull out or governments collapse-- those are the times we see countries divided or broken up. But what about countries on the rise, like India? It doesn't seem likely they would give up territory-- no matter what the human and economic cost."

A valid observation that. One place in recent memory where this has happened is East Timor. India probably won't give up Kashmir, at least not without a steep escalation in the moral and economic costs of holding on, accompanied by escalating FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about Kashmiri independence. Pankaj Mishra, who has written perceptively about Kashmir for many years, asks in this new article:

A commonplace secular-nationalist argument is that Kashmiri Muslims, if given the slightest concessions by India, would go radically Islamist or embrace Pakistan, emboldening separatists in the Northeast. But it has never been clear that radical Islam has a sustainable appeal in Kashmir. The Kashmiri feeling for Pakistan, too, is highly capricious, almost entirely fuelled by hatred of the Indian military occupation.

For years the overtly Islamic and violent aspect of the insurgency in the Valley kept many secular Indian liberals from visibly sympathising with the plight of Kashmiri Muslims: if only the Kashmiris, I often heard, had organised a Gandhian-style political campaign.

In recent weeks the Kashmiris have repeatedly staged massive non-violent protests, provoking such establishment figures as Vir Sanghvi and Swaminathan A. Aiyar into an exasperated reckoning of Kashmir’s cost to India. But Arundhati Roy’s frank analysis of the collapse of Indian legitimacy in the Valley is still rare enough to profoundly unsettle many liberal assumptions.

The commonest secularist response consists of fierce denial and bluster. Kanti Bajpai avers that since the Indian state has not committed genocide in Kashmir, the Kashmiri demand for freedom is groundless [to be fair, this is one of many points Bajpai makes - Namit]—surely by this legalistic logic Gandhi and Nehru had no right to ask the British to quit India? G. Parthasarathy at least has the hawkish virtue of clarity when he implores India to follow Russia’s example in Chechnya and strike Kashmir with an ‘iron fist’.

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Books by Namit Arora

  • “Namit Arora does for Silicon Valley what Tom Wolfe did for Wall Street in The Bonfire of the Vanities: with keen eye and sharp wit, he captures the culture and mores of the place. But Arora is funnier. And sweeter.” —S. Abbas Raza, Editor, 3QD.

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

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Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

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