As the tension that riled Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani killing still lingers on, a controversy has been foisted upon the people, into the very firmament of the contested territory. This time around, it is in the form and shape of identity cards given to the West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) to resettle in Kashmir. The issue of these refugees harks back to the time of partition when a certain section of people from across the Indo-Pak divide were in a limbo over their status, domicile and citizenship. Even though an agreement between India and Pakistan was reached to resolve this issue, there remained a residual rump of people whose status was unclear. Those in India were domiciled mostly around areas of Jammu. Now the Government of India (GoI) has decided to issue these people certificates that would allow them to permanently settle in the in what is internationally called the disputed territory of Kashmir.
On the face of it, the issue of resettlement appears to be an innocuous one. Who would argue and quibble against resettlement of peoples who cannot call any land their home? But here lies the rub. The resettlement issue is not an innocent one. It is solidly political.
The GoI, with the BJP in power, under the garb of resettlement is attempting a not so subtle altering of the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s status – its demographics, complexion and nature, and more importantly open the gates or create precedence for a larger process of demographic influx. The WPRs resettlement then appears like a Trojan Horse wherein the ostensible reason- resettlement of the rump of refugees – is at odds with the actual political reason for their settlement.
The fact of the matter is that there is conflict over Kashmir. The state has historically attempted to contain this conflict and manage it, but this has only led to an impasse. Now the state appears cooking up a layer of management aimed to address the internal dimension of the conflict which in the state’s apparent schema would undercut the outer dimension. This approach besides being flawed is morally and ethically wrong. The politicisation of the refugee issue also means that the state (read GoI) is re-ideologising the conflict over Kashmir. Re-ideologisation can only breed and foster further conflict, within and without. The prosaic reality, which bears repetition is that there is a political and territorial dispute over Kashmir; this very condition warrants a sober conflict resolution approach than a politico-military approach of which the refugee resettlement plan appears to be a component. If carried out, the resettlement issue carries the potential to snowball into a larger contestation. But that would be a mere corollary.
The real and lasting consequence would be recrudescence of conflict in Kashmir, which would correspond to Santayana’s dictum that, “ those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.