South Asian agenda for Jammu & Kashmir

The communal fanatics will not give up unless they are reduced to nonentities in a secular configuration of South Asia’s unity in diversity, as in the European Union.

December 29, 2009 02:51 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:45 pm IST

BURNING ISSUE: Youths protest over the arrest of their leader in Srinagar in this Nov. 1, 2008 photo.  On the one hand the government has to keep vigil to ward off terrorism and on the other hand it faces internal challenges in the form of protests in Jammu and Kashmir. File photo: Nissar Ahmad

BURNING ISSUE: Youths protest over the arrest of their leader in Srinagar in this Nov. 1, 2008 photo. On the one hand the government has to keep vigil to ward off terrorism and on the other hand it faces internal challenges in the form of protests in Jammu and Kashmir. File photo: Nissar Ahmad

The separatists’ bullet that killed the moderate Hurriyat leader, Fazl Haque Qureshi, also wounded Home Minister Chidambaram’s “quiet diplomacy” for settling the Kashmir problem by making the Line of Control between India and Pakistan “just lines on a map,” as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Srinagar on March 24, 2006. The doubts about the government’s credibility aired by the Qureshi assassins was disproved by the withdrawal of two Army divisions (about 30,000 troops) from Jammu and Kashmir over the last year and there are plans to pull back more troops if the law and order situation continues to improve, according to a statement made by Defence Minister A.K. Antony on December 18, 2009 ( The Hindu, December 19, 2009).

A.G. Noorani’s article, “Agenda for Kashmir” ( Frontline, December 18, 2009), lays out the four main points on which an India-Pakistan consensus seems to exist. They are self-governance or self-rule for both the Indian and Pakistani parts of the State — “real empowerment of the people,” as the Prime Minister stated on February 25, 2006; making the LoC an open border for trade and commerce; a joint management mechanism for both parts; and demilitarisation. Mr. Noorani has proposed a draft for a new Article 370 of the Constitution that is in step with the fifth Working Group’s recommendations to let the people of Jammu & Kashmir decide on Article 370.

The “Agenda for Kashmir” is on the same wave length as my article published in The Times of India (March 6, 1999) — about which I was unaware until journalist N. Ram, whom I met for the first time in Khajuraho, informed me as we were going to attend the millennium celebration of the ancient Hindu temples, inaugurated by President K. R. Narayanan. Evidently the current Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu was in accord with what I had written, for he had heavily underlined most of the text, as I discovered from a copy of the newspaper slipped under the door of my hotel room. “Should common sense prevail,” I wrote in that piece, “the first step is obviously to solve the problem of Kashmir, which is difficult but not impossible if leaders on both sides realise the enormous human and material resources they would be saving for the economic benefit of their people by formally stabilising the present ‘line of control’ in Kashmir agreed upon in 1972.” I further pointed out that now that both India and Pakistan had openly become nuclear weapon powers, neither country could further its own interests in Kashmir by force of arms.

President Narayanan too was in agreement when France Marquet, a SAF trustee, and I called on him and his wife Usha the next morning. “There is no problem as far as India is concerned,” he remarked, pausing and adding: “It is the government of Pakistan that does not accept this solution.”

Indeed, soon after, General Pervez Musharraf’s Army and its ISI appendage surreptitiously plotted to infiltrate Pakistani insurgents in Kargil, repeating the folly of the 1948 Kabaili invasion of Kashmir. Greatly worried that India and Pakistan might start a nuclear war, I drafted an appeal signed by my 28 colleagues, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors, and had it placed as a half-page advertisement in The International Herald Tribune. We appealed to the governments of the two countries “to heed the advice of the international community, and resolve their differences diplomatically in a spirit of the sub-continent’s traditional common culture of non-violence and tolerance.”

In the same issue of The Herald Tribune (June 12, 2002), Selig S. Harrison wrote a cutting edge article entitled, “Why India Dare Not Give Up Kashmir”: “While the world’s attention is riveted on Kashmir as the flashpoint of a possible India-Pakistan war, 120,000 Indian Muslims remain in Gujarat refugee camps — afraid to return to their villages, where they fear a resurgence of the Hindu mob attacks that left 1,200 dead in March. This festering challenge to India’s stability as a secular democracy explains what the Kashmir crisis is all about. The governing factor in the current confrontation between New Delhi and Islamabad is the danger of an uncontrollable chain reaction of Hindu reprisals against Muslims throughout India if the Muslims of Kashmir opt for independence or for accession to Pakistan.”

The veteran American journalist went on to say: “New Delhi is prepared to risk war not for the sake of retaining Kashmir as such but to ensure against the destabilising impact of a change in the status quo in India as a whole. The political heirs of Gandhi and Nehru in India believe that Kashmir, as the only Indian state with a Muslim majority ‘must remain in the Indian Union as proof that Hindus and Muslims can live together in a secular state’.”

That was the reason why Maulana Abul Kalam Azad never accepted the “disastrous Partition of India.” During his visit to Italy in the early 1950s, India’s Education Minister told me in superb Urdu that “one division leads to another in a chain reaction until the country is shredded into pieces.” These prophetic words anticipated the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in the 1970s. The present political clamour in India for creating more and more States, for whatever reasons, may turn out to be as dangerous.

The ‘Chenab Formula’ to partition Kashmir along the river Chenab was conceived by political leaders in India as well as Pakistan to promote a communal agenda. “Most of the districts in Jammu and on the left bank of the Chenab are Hindu majority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while in most of the districts on the western side of the Chenab, the Muslims are predominant,” wrote Sartaj Aziz in his book Between Dreams and Reality (page 228). “In short, the River Chenab will form the separation line between the Pakistan and Indian held areas … Since India was no longer willing to go back to the concept of Hindu versus Muslim majority, the Chenab formula basically converted a communal formula into a geographic formula since most of the Hindu majority is east of Chenab and Muslim majority districts are west of Chenab.”

In Europe, too, a similar scenario of inter-state feuds had resulted in the devastating Second World War. In the early 1950s, I witnessed the unimaginable havoc it had caused as I arrived in Italy on a scholarship. At the time, six European leaders had the vision to sign the Treaty of Rome (on March 25, 1957), establishing the European Economic Community (EEC). They affirmed in its preamble that signatory states were “determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” They specifically affirmed its political and economic integration, creating a customs union, colloquially known as the “Common Market.”

I was elated when, in 1985, the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established and its charter contained several EEC ideas. I felt that a similar South Asian economic and political union and a common currency like the euro, which the EU officially adopted in 1999, would encourage India and Pakistan to cooperate like Germany and France who overcame their enmity after centuries of devastating wars. This notion appeared to provide the healing balm for the trauma of Partition I had personally suffered.

Since then, the euro has become the second largest reserve currency in the world after the U.S. dollar. As of October 2009, with more than €790 billion in circulation, the Eurozone is the second largest economy in the world. In principle, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agrees with the need for a common currency. He wrote the introduction to my book, The Sasia Story — ‘sasia’ (South-Asia) is the name I have coined in the hope that it would, like the euro, become the anchor of South Asia’s economic and political stability. At a recent meeting with Dr. Singh, I conveyed the view of President Mohamed Nasheed, whom I met earlier in Malé, that a common currency would accelerate trade and commerce worldwide and that he was in accord with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s common currency proposal at the 2007 SAARC Summit in New Delhi.

Even if the “quiet diplomacy” in Kashmir succeeds in adopting a revised Article 370 and making the Line of Control between India and Pakistan “just lines on a map,” the prospects of jihadi suicide bombers changing their one-track mindset is bleak. This might even facilitate infiltration of Islamist militants across the 700-kilometre border between the two parts of Kashmir. On the other side of the U.N. ceasefire line imposed when the first Kashmir war ended in 1949, the anti-Muslim stand and policies of right-wing Hindutva represent a big problem.

Therefore, as in Europe where the Basque in Spain, the Italian Catalan, and the Irish IRA terrorists have been reduced to nonentities under the secular umbrella of the European Union, South Asia’s communal fanatics can be isolated in a larger configuration of a union or confederation of SAARC countries. The first step in this direction would be the introduction of a common currency that, like the euro, would accelerate trade and commerce and, more importantly, unleash the centripetal force to help consolidate economic, political, and cultural cooperation among South Asian countries. It is time India stopped dragging its feet even as ASEAN, African, Latin American, and Gulf countries are going ahead to introduce common currencies in their regions.

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