The unfolding dynamics of shifting realities present the opportunity for the indigenous Kashmiri narrative to emerge and given the chance, delineate the contours of an ‘enticing opportunity’ capable of bridging the divide between Srinagar and New Delhi on the one hand and New Delhi and Islamabad on the other

Of the many ironies besetting the Kashmir conflict, the most nocuous has been the lack of reception and incorporation of the indigenous Kashmiri narrative to the wider discourse on the issue. Subjected to a cordon sanitaire by India and Pakistan, the absence of the native articulation has reconfigured the dynamics of the conflict, casting it into a labyrinth.

Premised on the edifice of derivative narratives, undermining the original genesis of the conflict, the subsequent frameworks were bound to fail, and thus the Sisyphean toil of the past 67 years. Any issue developed without the leverage of its core parameters is never destined to resolve. The unfolding dynamics of shifting realities however present the opportunity for the indigenous Kashmiri narrative to emerge and given the chance, delineate the contours of an “enticing opportunity” capable of bridging the divide between Srinagar and New Delhi on the one hand and New Delhi and Islamabad on the other.

The conjured history of the conflict, commencing from 1947, was never really owned in Kashmir. The rights movement coming of age in 1931 remained the pivot of ideological reference in Kashmir rather than the subcontinent’s partition of 1947. The latter in fact exacerbated the issue by altering its orientation from a rights movement of a people to a territorial dispute between two states. Once presented in the United Nations, myopic individuals within Pakistan ensured the limiting of the purview of the conflict to accession to either India or Pakistan, stymieing the option of independence provided for by the procedures of Partition, even if symbolically. The successive erosion of autonomy enshrined in the “Instrument of Accession,” symbolising the preservation of Kashmiri rights and identity by India, further complicated matters. Yet, notwithstanding the plethora of imposed ideas and narratives, the underlying impetus in Kashmir remained anchored to the nationalistic thrust of the 1931 movement. Enhanced literacy rates, media exposure, growing awareness and a shift from cult-based politics to an issue driven mindset, set in motion a process of substantiating the abstract of the indigenous Kashmiri narrative on a popular level. The insurgency of the 1990’s, the subsequent character it took and its failure to deliver, further developed a native Kashmiri take on a broader level. The emergence of young writers and an array of journalists along with a slowly invigorating civil society pooled in to disseminate the Kashmiri side of the saga, slowly crystallising the indigenous Kashmiri narrative within the wider public consciousness.

Space for soft separatism

The timing of the evolving indigenous narrative cannot be overestimated. Not only does it come after a period of incessant turmoil but during a period of relative calm, stimulating earnest introspection. The preoccupation of one of the main players of the dispute in its own battles of survival also allows comparable liberty to synthesise the indigenous perspectives objectively and realistically beyond the duress of (one genre of) the gun. The creation of the space for “Soft Separatism” both reinforces the narrative while also being attributive of fathering it and theoretically provides an avenue to reconcile Kashmir’s aspirations with the prevailing geopolitical realities.

This opens up a huge opportunity for New Delhi. But for India to identify and seize the “ripeness,” it will have to move beyond its straitjacketed responses and allow innovation and magnanimity to take lead. It will have to view the issue not just through the lens of its national security but also the genuine political aspirations of the Kashmiri people — a stipulation underwriting the “Instrument of Accession.” At the end of the day, any sustainable resolution will have to emerge from within Kashmir, providing it the ownership and credibility to endure. More so given the constraints of hyped polemics in the mainstream political arena, it will be very difficult for any political figure/party in India to be seen “capitulating” to the demands of Kashmir as will any alien imposition be unacceptable in Kashmir. In the given scenario, the best bet is to allow space for the indigenous Kashmiri narrative to evolve, mature and sophisticate into a realistic and achievable idiom. This will allow India the comfort to deal with a Kashmiri rights-oriented frame fine-tuned to the dictates of reason and realism beyond the irredentist claims of Pakistan, the other party to the entangled arc. It is a comfortable doable if New Delhi displays the political will to do so. Not only will this align the Srinagar-New Delhi relationship toward a more receptive and fructuous curve but it will also provide the political and diplomatic cushioning for India and Pakistan to scale down their respective stances and direct their efforts towards a more meaningful and substantive engagement.

Pro-Kashmiri leadership

An essential corollary to the process is the emergence of a pro-Kashmiri leadership sensitive and receptive to the intricacies of the indigenous narrative. Working in a two-way process, both reinforcing the narrative while also being a product of it, the leadership will be the central medium employing and developing the narrative. Restoring accountability with the people of Kashmir, the indigenous narrative will help stave off unwarranted alien influences, especially the ideological sort, providing primacy to Kashmiri ethos and interests. An independently evolved and reflective rubric defining the Kashmiri interest will be both self-confident and flexible to appropriate the currents of its ideological moorings to the demands of geopolitics. The key however, is the independence for both the leadership and its pedestal narrative to evolve.

The glimmerings of such leadership can already be felt in Kashmir with the nuanced postures of the prevailing leadership. While electoral gimmicks on the part of mainstream leadership can be the causa immediata of the native anchoring, nonetheless, it’s a fresh departure from the previous desperation to be seen as aloof from the prevailing Kashmiri discourse. The concept of pro-Kashmiri leadership may reflect different hues and character but the underlining premise is accountability and allegiance to the indigenous Kashmiri narrative.

The acceptance of electoral politics and compartmentalisation rather than substitution of the ideological moorings encapsulated in the slogan “Azaadi” can be seen as one manifestation of this concept. Without disturbing the larger ideological framework of the conflict, this genre of politics fills in both the administrative lacunae especially in the absence of social security networks provided by resistance movements in most conflicts and conspicuous by their absence in Kashmir, while also throwing up young, fresh and committed faces. The latter mobilises the much needed alternative to the prevailing political structures, prolonging the tried, tested and non-deliverable faces surrogating the interests of either regional stakeholder.

Notoriously garbed in the jargon of “Soft Separatism,” the concept however is not a phenomenon unique to the present phase of political dynamics in Kashmir. Its precedents can be traced to 1934 when Moulvi Abdullah Vakil, a founding member of the Muslim Conference became part of the Praja Sabha, the then legislative council of Kashmir, to counter the elitist monopoly of the Muslim members and introduce a populist Kashmiri appeal to the council’s working. Maulana Masoodi, a revered scholar closely associated with the leadership of the Plebiscite Front, contested elections in the post-1953 phase to mellow the overt influence of New Delhi in the corridors of power. Jamaat-i-Islami too contested the election in 1972, securing five seats ostensibly as a sine qua non to dilute the influence of the nationalistic plebiscite front while also providing New Delhi the cover of credible elections in the face of rising diplomatic concern over distorted electoral practice in Kashmir. Like today, all these elections took place against the backdrop of a parallel ongoing resistance movement.

Theoretically providing a unique opportunity for the maturation of the indigenous narrative and leadership, the concept however premises on the credibility of the individuals representing it. At the core lies the need for ownership and identification of its representatives by the people of Kashmir and their willingness to assign their trust and conviction with them. Is that happening? No. What we find instead is a promotion of a recycled leadership with huge political baggage, popularly perceived as Trojan horses and far removed from Kashmiri sensibilities — at the larger cost of undermining more credible and conceptually deliverable entrants. Old wine in a new bottle, all it provides is transitory, tactical gain for New Delhi while thwarting the opportunity the concept furnishes, and closing the doors on the long-term interests of any party to the dispute.

Will another ripe opportunity be allowed to lapse at the altar of myopic calculations or a more visionary valour carry the day, only time will tell.

(Asma Khan Lone, daughter of JKLF leader Amanullah Khan, is a political researcher with roots in both the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir. E-mail: asma_sgl@hotmail.com)

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