‘Change is the only constant,’ is today’s mantra. To survive, you must change. Change your habits, change your attitude, change your ideas, change your ambitions. ‘Move with the times,’ or, ‘while in Rome, do as Romans do,’ the other mantras, that are basically meant to make life easy.
A section has risen in Kashmir that wishes to align the desires of a majority of Kashmiri people, with the present ‘geopolitical situation.’ The arguments put forward are simple and thought-provoking: post-World War I, and after decolonisation, the world will not entertain a whole-sale transfer of sovereignty, or the secession of major parts of countries (notable exceptions being Eritrea, South Sudan, Kosova, and now, possibly, Crimea; and wait for September to probably add Scotland to this list). The world has moved strongly towards democracy, as seen in Eastern Europe, Africa, and South America recently (notable exceptions: Syria, which has made the Afghan civil war look like a picnic, Egypt, which is heading towards a Syria-like conflict, and Nigeria, which is headed for a South Sudan-style split); be a part of big growth (as seen in Tibet and Xinjiang in China, where ‘fast economic growth and resettlement’ have driven minorities to the fringes in their own lands)
As regards Kashmir, geopolitically, there is a major fall in the international profile of one of the stakeholders of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time as Pakistan’s fall, democracy and ‘big economic growth’ have ‘bought-and-sold’ peace in Indian Kashmir over the last 25 years, and ‘big-spending’ by the Indian state has made every Kashmiri dependent in one way or the other on financial support from India. How long this unsustainable means of livelihood will continue is anybody’s guess, but a dare-say is doing the rounds these days, that says: ‘The day India stops its dole-outs, Kashmir will secede, hence the need to keep it going.’ Pakistan’s early successes in J&K in terms of capturing a third of the state in 1947-48, and holding on to the territory without much local resistance, and Pakistan’s ability to successfully raise the Kashmir issue at almost every international forum over the last 65 years, was tempered over the last decade as the country found itself embroiled in local strife in every province and major city. On the other hand, India’s phenomenal growth has propelled it to ‘world-power’ status. But along with India’s military rise, has been the rise of India’s ‘soft-power,’ wherein all things Indian are portrayed as ‘democratic, peace-loving, secular, and inclusive,’ a concept that is being sold to Kashmiris, and one that is being challenged with the recent rise of nationalist, jingoistic politics.
Recent events in the vicinity have amply demonstrated the evanescent and constantly changing nature of geopolitical power. Syria, once the second largest army in the Middle East, a constant challenge to Israel, is now in tatters, and has become a playground for international players. Turkey, once rising and re-assertive, especially after years of strong economic growth and neo-Ottomanism, is seeing itself being challenged from within. Egypt has gone a full cycle, from military rule to democracy to military rule by proxy. China is beginning to feel the pinch of slowing economic growth and the challenges of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, in an era of majoritarianism. India, at war in 180 districts, forming the ‘Red Corridor’ has stifled opposition through means of money and muscle, while Pakistan finds itself constantly struggling back from the brink.
Hence, the point: in a state of fast-paced geopolitical changes, is it right to align oneself with the wind, knowing that the wind can change direction very fast? In the Kashmiri context, is it right to sacrifice an internationally validated promise – to refer the matter of Kashmir’s status to the Kashmiri people – at the altar of ‘big economic growth?’ Is it right to accept perfunctory attempts at bringing to justice the murderers and rapists of innocent people, so that people can be assured of roti, kapda and makaan? Whereas, the Partition of British India remains an uncontested historical fact, it also remains an incomplete exercise until the promises of 1947, made in the Instrument of Accession, are fulfilled. Time can pass, but historical facts remain.
Scotland, after three centuries of incredible, inclusive, growth, that made it part of the world’s largest economy, and the world’s strongest military for hundreds of years, now wants to opt out of the United Kingdom. Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kurdistan, all lie buried in history, and buried by ‘big economic growth,’ but recent past has shown that history has a curious way of rearing its ugly head at strange times.
Is it right to wait for such a ‘strange time’ in Kashmir?