Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Kashmir as District 9

It need hardly be said that Kashmir is a complex and highly nuanced problem with no simple solution and indeed, no simple characterisation either. For an analogy, take your typical science-fiction movie pitting humans against aliens. In a movie like Independence Day, the aliens are incorrigibly evil and the humans are heroic freedom fighters. In E.T., the alien is cute and harmless and human officialdom is sinister and needs to be thwarted.

Kashmir though, is a lot like the movie District 9, in which neither side is good or evil.

Gritty realism where everyone is deeply flawed

Everyone in District 9, human or alien, is just wretched, pathetic and hopeless. That's the movie I'm reminded of whenever I think about Kashmir. The Indian government, the Indian army, the Pakistani government, the Pakistani army, pan-Islamic "militants", Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pundits, - all wretched, pathetic, and hopeless. I'm sorry if I either offended or left out anyone. This is what I honestly feel as a non-Kashmiri Indian who only gets to read the dribs and drabs of information coming out of that region.

Not a feel-good movie, not a feel-good reality

So here are just a bunch of random thoughts, in no particular order, that will have to do in lieu of a comprehensive analysis or a policy prescription.

1. Agreement on the status of Kashmir is virtually impossible because the terms of the debate are incompatible. Pakistan thinks it has an open-and-shut case because of the Two-Nation Theory that was used to justify its own creation. Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in a single country, so the Muslim-majority parts of India should by rights form Pakistan, the argument goes. Kashmir is majority Muslim, hence it naturally belongs with Pakistan. India rejects the Two-Nation Theory altogether because India is a secular state. Kashmir must stay with India, because being Muslim is not a reason not to be Indian. After all, we have 150 million Muslims who are Indians. No agreement is possible because Hindus and Muslims can either live together in peace (India's argument) or they cannot (Pakistan's argument). Both cannot simultaneously be true. There is thus no principle on the basis of which the Kashmir issue can be settled.

2. Pakistan ruined its case by acting rather than by talking. The invasion by Pashtuns backed by the Pakistani army in 1947 was a pre-emptive grab, which India's countermove prevented from fully succeeding. Pakistan managed to grab about a third of the state but damaged its own case by being an aggressor. The 1965 war and the Kargil war were simply Pakistan being its natural, obsessive, impulsive self. They will destroy themselves but never stop trying to get Kashmir by any means possible. I don't know whether to admire the Pakistanis for their tenacity, fear them for their fanaticism or pity them for their shortsighted self-destruction.

3. But this is District 9, remember? There are no good guys. India rigged the Kashmir elections in 1987. That was simply awful and unacceptable. India shot itself in the foot big time. That blunder continues to reverberate to this day.

4. Pakistan's support for terror in Kashmir is unacceptable. The rest of the world turned a blind eye in the past, treating Kashmir as a strictly bilateral dispute. But now the West has also received a taste of Islamic terror and is no longer neutral or sympathetic to the cause of Kashmiri freedom. Among the region's big powers, Russia has its Chechens and China its Uighurs in Central Asia. Kashmir would be another Central Asian Muslim nation. It's true that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter, but more and more nations now see him as terrorist rather than freedom-fighter. The cause of Kashmiri freedom likely has no backers at all, except in the OIC.

5. India is inexplicably and embarrassingly paranoid about Kashmir and refuses to discuss the issue openly as a democracy should be doing. The latest incident of banning the screening of a documentary and forcing a seminar to be cancelled (officially, "postponed") is shameful. Why is a democracy afraid of free speech? Blocking free discussion on Kashmir embarrasses Indians and convinces everybody that India has something to hide or that India is in the wrong on Kashmir.

6. I'm afraid I'm not a cheerleader for men in uniform. Men in uniform with guns and no accountability are dangerous. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is a licence to commit atrocities. Yes, a soldier may risk his life defending his country against enemy soldiers and terrorists. The same soldier can also torture someone on suspicion or rape a woman when given a chance. Both extremes of behaviour are perfectly possible. Rather than treat our soldiers as unimpeachably noble martyrs against whom no criticism will be tolerated, we need to balance their deployment with layers of control systems, transparency and accountability. A free press does not handicap the soldier. It keeps him honest and out of mischief. India has ruined both Kashmir and the Indian army through decades of giving the army a free hand beyond the pale of media scrutiny. On top of it all, Indians who don't unquestioningly support the army are considered unpatriotic.

7. A very large number of Kashmiris killed have been at the hands of "militants" (terrorists). It's not just the Indian army that's doing the killing in Kashmir, much as the propaganda may proclaim otherwise.

8. "The right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people" sounds grand. But just who are the Kashmiri people? There are Muslims in the Kashmir valley, Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh, not all of whom would want the same thing. Does the majority vote of these groups decide the matter, or should we split the vote by region and decide the fate of each region separately?

9. Oh, and what about Pakistan-occupied Kashmir? Shouldn't we put that to a vote as well? How about the part of Kashmir that Pakistan gifted to China?

10. If self-determination is such a sacred thing, can we talk about Tibet or Baluchistan while we're about it?

11. What about the Kashmiri Pundits (Hindus) who were driven out of the state by "militancy" (terrorism)? Don't their votes count? If the Muslim majority in Kashmir votes to split from India, should the Pundits lose their land because of it? Kashmiri Muslims were quite happy to stay silent while the Pundits were ethnically cleansed from Kashmir. Many of them are now occupying the property of the Pundits who had to flee. They're unlikely to support a return of the Pundits. On the Pundit issue, both the "militants" (terrorists) and ordinary Kashmiri Muslims have a lot to answer for.

12. There are huge double-standards in the Muslim world when it comes to outrage about the treatment of Muslims as opposed to non-Muslims. The Pundit issue illustrates this perfectly. The world is supposed to feel outrage at India's treatment of Kashmiris because they are Muslims and India is seen as a Kaffir nation. No comparable outrage accompanies the killing by Muslims of other Muslims or of non-Muslims - Islam's double-standards on display. No sir, humanity is greater than the Ummah. "Universal" brotherhood based only on the Ummah is parochial and hardly universal.

13. Pakistan and Kashmir - their interests probably diverge more than either side will let on. From whatever accounts I have read, most Kashmiris want independence rather than merger with Pakistan. I don't believe Pakistan will respect that. A country that has bankrupted itself fighting a much larger one in its obsession to "get back" what it views as its rightful territory will not bother to play nice with Kashmiri nationalism once India is out of the picture.

14. India's position has weakened because prolonged army rule has made India unpopular in Kashmir. The unpopularity may be irreversible.

15. Pakistan's position has weakened because the country's economy has stalled and terrorism has now come under heavy international scrutiny. The US is no longer an ally willing to turn a blind eye.

16. The independence-minded Kashmiri Muslim's position has weakened because there is no sympathy for Muslim discontent in any non-Muslim country anymore. Islam's stock is at its lowest.

In short, Kashmir is still a stalemate, but it's in a spiral. Nobody can win. Just add frustration and resignation to the hatred already there. Kashmir is District 9 - wretched, pathetic and hopeless.
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