The Kashmir "experts" all over the world (which include almost all Indians and Pakistanis, if not the entire population of the world) have been quite in a frenzy since the KSG proposals came to light some two years back
The Kashmir Study Group (KSG) had come up with a set of "solutions", which are largely based on the idea of "independence", or joint suzerainty by India and Pakistan over the state, or at least Kashmir valley plus Rajouri and Poonch.
This set of "solutions" center around the idea of "self-determination" and makes several assumptions that need to be examined more closely. Some Kashmiri Muslim leaders such as Amanullah Khan also support some form of such a framework.
Another approach discussed often is the freezing of the Line of Control (LOC) as the international border. This solution, along with the ones based on the KSG proposals, have been discussed threadbare in many fora over the previous decade and have been the focus of behind-the-scenes "Track II" diplomacy.
However, there is another potential solution that has gained ground in the state, but not in the experts' minds. This is based on "quadrification" - or the division of the state into four discrete regions -Jammu, Ladakh, and carving of a Panun Kashmir territory within Kashmir valley.
It is surprising that despite the characterization of the state as the "most dangerous region on earth" and a "nuclear flashpoint", no one has compared these solutions side-by-side to examine the prognosis, pitfalls and potential benefits of each. Before we get down to comparing these solutions, let us look at the background of the "dispute".
To study the background it is important to look at Jammu and Kashmir state in the bigger picture both historically and at the unfolding scene in its current neighborhood. In the forty years between 1949 and 1989, a strong dichotomy existed between the way India and Pakistan handled their portions of the state.
In Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Punjabi and other migrants steadily overwhelmed the Kashmiris, until the latter formed a minority. Today the number of Kashmiri-speaking people in that region has dwindled to very small numbers. And any disillusion with Pakistani rule lives on mostly in the Northern Areas, still somewhat distinct in character from the rest of Pakistan.
On the Indian side, an exactly opposite approach was followed, in keeping with the soft, secular character of the country. Article 370 was instituted to ensure that no Indian could own property or live in the state indefinitely.
The Kashmir valley Muslim population was coddled to the point where it established hegemony over valley minorities as well as peoples of Jammu and Ladakh. Kashmiri Pandits, the main hurdle for Islamic fundamentalists in the valley, were steadily squeezed out through economic, political and cultural pressure.
Meanwhile a steady export of fundamentalist propaganda and instigation to violence from across the LOC flooded the valley.
The result was the catastrophe of 1989 and afterwards, which resulted from this forced segregation of the state from the rest of India. Instead of imbibing secular, democratic and forward looking ideals of India, the state, in particular the valley, became a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and intolerance long before the Taliban came out of its Pakistani madrassas and established its medieval rule over Afghanistan.
As a result, more than 350,000 Pandits, victims of torture, selective killings and ethnic cleansing, ended up in refugee camps, and refuse to go back to live under the constant threat of Lashkar, Hizbul and Jaish terrorists.
While much of the rest of India enjoyed economic boom and opportunity in the 1990s, Jammu and Kashmir slid further into the morass of fundamentalism and violence.
The question is then what are the solutions to this problem. Is "self-determination" the answer? Are "Kashmiris" better off in Pakistan, India, or in an independent state? Would an LOC-based solution, most often cited within India, be the optimal solution?
One can make the error, as many "experts" have, in assuming that "self-determination" is the shortest and most painless route to peace. And it may also not be too difficult to assume that maintaining the status quo, as in freezing the LOC, would confer lasting peace.
Or one can dig below the surface of the violence-infested valley to look into the depths of the problem. Below we present a comparative analysis of the different frameworks.
It can result in one of three possibilities, integration with India or Pakistan, or independence. Its benefits are clear - but only for largest section of the population. The problem with this seemingly obvious solution is that it confounds the issues of different sections of the population and forces a one-size-fits-all answer down everyone's throats.
Do Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, Jammuites and Ladakhis want independence or Pakistan? No.
What kind of rights will they have in such a situation? For an answer one can not avoid looking at the fate of minorities in Muslim majority states of South Asia - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Will residents of POK want to live as secular Indian subjects? This is also a likely no.
In fact a recent poll by a Belgian group confirms these suspicions - that the residents of the state are deeply divided over what they want to do, with those opting for India or independence outnumbering those opting for Pakistan.
In addition, ceding of the state, or portions of the state, to Pakistan, or independence, would certainly be the equivalent of handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban. Groups like the Lashkar and Harkat will undoubtedly establish secure bases for expansion into the rest of India and beyond, contrary to assumptions by Kashmiri Muslim leaders such as Amanullah Khan who claim to visualize a "non-communal" independent Kashmir.
There already is one Afghanistan that is holding the whole world hostage, why support the creation of a second one? And what about the economy? Afghanistan and Pakistan are reeling under the weight of their fundamentalist, medieval approaches, so why would an Islamic majority Kashmir be any different?
An offshoot of this framework suggests "open" or "soft" borders along the LOC. This has become a panacea among "experts" wishing to "solve" the Kashmir issue without understanding its background.
But this article points out earlier that deterioration of the situation has resulted from the combination of segregation of the state from India due to Article 370, and import of fundamentalism from POK. "Soft" borders would thus only exacerbate the situation.
In their utmost wisdom, members of the KSG have signed off on a novel solution - joint suzerainty over portions of the state by India and Pakistan. No consideration is given to the stark differences between the two countries, or even to the historic success rate of such a framework.
How would secular, democratic India share control of part of the state with a fundamentalist Pakistan ruled directly or indirectly by its military?
Besides, the only example of such an arrangement is the remote nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific. The British and French established a joint "Condominium" rule over the isles in the early 1900s. The arrangement was such a failure that it is known derisively as the "Pandemonium" in history texts. Can India and Pakistan pull off a "Condominium" in the backdrop of the 12-year old Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism?
Again the answer is a resounding No.
This solution is most often discussed within India. What is interesting at this point is that all these solutions start to the east of the LOC. But more about that later.
The LOC-based framework essentially freezes the status quo. It is certainly advantageous relative to the KSG proposals, as far as India is concerned, but how would it be different from the last 12 years?
While sections of the local population remain antagonistic to India, support for the insurgency will continue and the temptation by Pakistan to fish in muddy waters will not abate. Abrogation of Article 370 will be a positive step, however, the valley Muslims have built such a strong hegemony across the state and can easily prevent true integration of the state with India.
And unless the state is fully integrated with India, the tendencies towards fundamentalism and Talibanization will not recede. Thus this is only a partial, half-hearted solution, one in keeping with India's weak-kneed personality.
Quadrification: Panun Kashmir
A framework that is based on separation of the state into four regions attempts to resolve some of the issues left untouched by the earlier "solutions".
A solution based on quadrification would create a separate territory, Panun Kashmir, where the long-exiled Kashmiri Pandits would be able to return in safety.
This would be a place free from Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. It would be a place where Kashmiri Hindus and other minorities can freely practice their political, cultural, social and religious rights as charted in United Nations' "Universal Declaration of Human Rights", and as in the rest of India.
The Indian government could declare the area as a Union Territory, with strong investment in technology and centers of educational excellence. While Kashmiri Pandits would be accorded priority in the territory as refugees returning from inhumane "migrant" camps, other Indians willing to invest and work in high-technology fields would also be welcome.
If India shows the resolve and commitment to stand by Kashmir and help it move forward into the 21st century, the inevitable outcome will be the rapid weakening of fundamentalist forces.
In a similar backdrop, Croatian Serbs, loyal only to Milosevic-style Serb nationalism, vacated the Krajina region and migrated to Yugoslavia once they were convinced that Croatia would not tolerate balkanization of the young country.
Jammu and Ladakh will thus be able to escape hegemony by Kashmiri Muslims, who would dominate the remaining part of the valley. This may be the most difficult decision for the Indian government, one in which it has to go beyond vote-bank politics, but in the long term would be the most effective solution.
The knee-jerk response of opponents of this solution is that it undermines secularism. But it is precisely the status quo that has undermined secularism in the state over the last half-century.
Creation of Panun Kashmir will allow it to integrate culturally and economically with secular India in a rapid manner. The same will be true of Ladakh and Jammu.
The question then is what happens to the rest of the valley. Article 370 will be abrogated from this portion also, while steps will be undertaken to ensure that this region will preserve Kashmiri Muslim culture. This will facilitate both the preservation of Kashmiri Muslim tradition and a gradual economic integration with India.
It is the authors' belief that for the sake of its long-term strategic security, India should not just be interested in what happens to the east of the LOC, but what happens to the entire state.
PM Vajpayee took the right step in declaring that the July summit would be about POK (and we hope in particular about Northern Areas, including Gilgit and Baltistan, which abut Afghanistan, China, and Central Asia, and thus are too important geostrategically to cede to Pakistan), although whether he remains true to his word or not is open to question.
India should demand that Pakistan end its illegal annexation of the area, and hand back the region to India or grant it independence. The so-called "Azad Kashmir" can be ceded to Pakistan but on one condition - that all terrorist bases inside Pakistan are verifiably disbanded, and its support to the Taliban ended permanently.
The international community can play its part by using a carrot-and-stick approach towards Pakistan with respect to monetary aid. An Iraq-style arrangement, where economic aid is contingent on verification of denuclearization, end of militancy and disbanding of extremist groups should be instituted.
In addition, international observers should be allowed on both sides of the current LOC in the state to ensure that all electoral complaints are addressed.
We have examined several frameworks suggested for Jammu and Kashmir, in the backdrop of its unique and violent history. We feel that only one framework, which is based on quadrification of the state, provides a solution that will uphold the rights of all communities of Jammu and Kashmir.
Such a solution should be implemented in combination with convincing Pakistan to permanently end its support of Taliban and international terrorism.
The fruits of this strategy will include not only long-term peace in Jammu and Kashmir, but also the weaning of Pakistan and Afghanistan from their love affair with dangerous fundamentalist forces.
South Asia should aim to be known for its economic and cultural achievements, not for being labeled as the terrorism hub of the world.
(The writers are Coordinators, Kashmir News Network (www.ikashmir.org, www.kashmirherald.com)
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