Kashmir holds the key to a bright future for South Asia
Writing in The Economic Times in 2016, Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, said: “A de facto plebiscite already seems to have taken place there. Kashmiris appear to have voted with untiring throats, with eyes destroyed or deformed by pellets, and with bodies willing to fall to the ground for what the heart desires. And the vote seems to be for ‘azadi’ (freedom).”
The situation in Kashmir has been complicated on three counts. Firstly, Indian obduracy and an absolute refusal to talk to Pakistan on any issue, particularly the unresolved question of Jammu and Kashmir, which has the legitimacy of a UN resolution seeking a solution through a plebiscite. In fact, it is the only dispute in the world in which the two parties involved, Pakistan and India, initially agreed on the manner of its resolution, namely resolving it through a UN-administered referendum.
Secondly, under the Narendra Modi government, with an aggressive and strident Bharatiya Janata Party in power, the issue of Kashmir has been entangled in the convoluted politics of Hindutva, where Muslim-bashing is synonymous with not just Pakistan-bashing but also a hard line on Kashmir. The situation is so stark that even enlightened Indians have expressed deep concern on the divisions being fostered along religious lines within India.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece, Nayantara Sahgal, wrote in The Guardian last August: “The menace of partition is again upon Indians, this time through the intention to impose Hindu nationhood. To foist a Hindu identity is senseless beyond belief. Lynch mobs kill Muslims, reminiscent of the lynching of blacks in America’s Deep South. On this anniversary of the partition of India, another partition stares us in the face.”
Finally, the US has also complicated the issue by enlisting India as a strategic military partner in the region with a view to building an anti-China coalition; injecting India into Afghanistan and endorsing the Indian narrative on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Given this context, the gains that were made in 2003 — when Pakistan and India agreed to abide by a cease-fire across the Line of Control (LoC) — as well as intra-Kashmiri trade, and travel through the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service, are being nullified with each passing day.
A ray of hope for the region, including the people of Jammu and Kashmir, is the launch of CPEC as part of the Belt and Road Initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Pakistan’s role in CPEC has had a tremendous resonance on the thinking within Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has backed Kashmir to be part of CPEC, proposing the reopening of the ancient Silk Route from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir to Central Asia. The landmark January 2017 Yashwant Sinha report on human rights in Kashmir adds that most of the Kashmiri people want to be part of CPEC. These Kashmiri proposals that look towards CPEC have a historic basis, as Kashmir was the key to connectivity amongst cultures and countries in the past.
Unless India discards its hegemonic aspirations, the one-fifth of humanity that resides in the region will remain mired in conflict, contention and confrontation.
Pakistan and India also need to have a strategic stake in each other’s future through economic cooperation, through CPEC, and with Kashmir as a key component given its geographical location, which would help in providing an environment conducive to peace in South Asia. After all, if India can be part of the US-supported Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakis
The main problem in South Asia is that, 70 years after independence, India should realize that size doesn’t necessarily equal strength — just look at the examples of Cuba and the US, and Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Unless India discards its hegemonic aspirations, such as the blockade of Nepal, incursion into Myanmar and failed attempts to isolate Pakistan, the one-fifth of humanity that resides in South Asia will remain mired in conflict, contention and confrontation.
According to my personal point of view, India at 70 is a major disappointment, as the “world’s largest democracy” has been transformed into an intolerant, exclusivist state driven by bigotry and religious extremism — a total negation of Gandhian principles and Nehruvian ideals.
In the realm of foreign policy, India is going against the tide of history, particularly the resurgence of the continent in the 21st century — the “Asian Century.” While the new regionalism, driven by economy and energy and in which Pakistan is the hub, is based on corridors, cooperation and connectivity, India has been promoting confrontation.
The way forward is what Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah stated 70 years ago: That the model for Pakistan-India relations is the “relationship between Canada and the United States… Two neighbors living in peace” based on sovereign equality, reciprocity and non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
The normalization of Pakistan-India relations depends on the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Otherwise, it will be like staging Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
Mushahid Hussain Syed is a Pakistani politician who serves as a member of the Senate and the Chairman of Senate’s Committee on Defence. He previously served as a member of the Federal Cabinet.
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