By Sajad Ahmad Dar
Beauty and conflict have been two most important things that come to one’s mind when a discussion on Kashmir comes up. Both of these things have contributed immensely in creating a strong urge among its people for a distinctive identity. However, in recent times, Kashmir has been in news not for its celebrated beauty but for the conflict that has taken the centre stage in almost all the discussions on the Valley. The subjugation of this fabled land under the umbrella of various regimes is generally traced to its annexation by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1586 after he indulged in one of his political stunts and enslaved Sultan Yusuf Shah. However, the greatest tragedy that human history in this part of the world witnessed was in 1846 when the Valley, including its people, was literally sold by the British Imperialists to Maharaja Gulab Singh for a paltry sum of 75 lakh rupees.
In another part of the world, unconnected with Kashmir, a development was taking place about the same time, which has since remained unsolved, like the Kashmir dispute: the question of Palestine, in the context of modern world politics, surfaced for the first time. This happened when the question of control over the two holy shrines of Jerusalem and Nazareth brought into conflict three powerful countries of Europe, viz., Russia vs. France and England. The Crimean War of 1854-56 was the immediate consequence of this conflict. The year 1894 witnessed a political scandal popularly known as Drefyus Affair in which a Jew was declared as the culprit. As the subsequent events revealed, the real culprit was someone else and projecting the Jew as the culprit was only a propaganda to make an issue of their ‘safety’ and settle them at one place. Thus, the seeds of political Zionism were sown. This mission, as we all know, was accomplished on 14 May 1948 when the State of Israel was created.
In certain respects, the issues of Kashmir and Palestine may be discussed on a same level. Despite their uniqueness, there is so much similar in the development of these two disputes that it seems fitting to study them in a common context. The emergence of their current disputed status almost coincided. In both of these cases, the Western imperialist countries played a crucial role.
The World War-II period witnessed further escalation of the world’s two most “controversial” problems. On 26/27 October 1947, Kashmir’s Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to the Indian Union, much to the chagrin of a considerable section of Kashmiris. The conditional accession provided for a plebiscite to be held when normalcy returns to the Valley but that has remained the most elusive dream so far. The actions of Indian security forces, backed by the AFSPA since 1990, have ensured that it never returns at all.
The problem of Palestine advanced more or less in a similar fashion. Contrary to their promises with Palestinians prior to World War I and II, Britain and the US went ahead with the creation of Israel despite it not being mentioned in the Balfour Declaration. The Declaration, whose centenary will be observed in November 2017, talked of a “National home” for Jews, and not a “nation-state”.
As if betrayals from outside elements were not enough, both Kashmir and Palestine have suffered from treacheries from within. Sheikh Abdullah, presumably to satiate his hunger for power, entered into the infamous Accord of 1975 with Indira Gandhi. The signing of Accord completely subverted the image of Abdullah among Kashmiris. Previously revered almost as a saint, his day of death (8 September 1989) was marked by a shutdown and observed as Day of Deliverance (Youm-i-najaat). Palestine faced a similar betrayal in 1993 (the Oslo Accord) when Yasir Arafat recognised Israel as a Jewish State, retracting completely from what he stood for.
The post-Accord period was characterised by a phase of protests, coupled with the emergence of insurgency, which became the part of daily lives of Kashmiris. During the same time, Kashmir produced its two great martyrs—Majid Wani and Maqbool Bhat. Insurgency and counter-insurgency measures, which included massacres, extra-judicial murders, disappearances, and rapes plagued the Valley for almost two decades. By the mid-2000s, the routine of protests witnessed a pause but got a new lease of life from 2008 onwards. The agitations launched in the past 10 years have been unique in one respect. They have explicitly challenged the dominant discourse that Kashmiris have given their consent in favour of India. Afzal Guru’s and Burhan Wani’s martyrdom gave a further fillip to this movement. Now, the countryside has been at the centre of the agitations.
While Kashmir has been going through this new phase of turmoil, the Gaza crisis in 2014 became a focal point of world politics. The war, intended to market the “iron dome technology”, lasted for six weeks, killed 2200 Palestinians, and marked one of the most horrible humanitarian crisis of our times. Israeli forces tied several Palestinians to jeeps and used them as shields against the stone pelters and protesters. We saw a replication of this tactic few days back in Kashmir. Just like Israel, which did not spare students from its atrocities, India too barged into a college few days back and severely beat up the students. The videos of these incidents triggered a world-wide outrage.
Finally, one may draw a fitting analogy between Netanyahu and Modi. Both of them seem to be responding to the respective political problems with deeply flawed strategies, including use of brute force. One significant paradox is that while Israel has never considered Palestinians as their own, India consistently harps on the tune of the ‘integral part’ rhetoric.
Ironically, India has only been seeking workarounds for this problem without addressing the root cause of this seemingly intractable issue. The misguided strategy—if it can be called a strategy at all—of providing short-term relief packages is not going to work. The economic packages that India announces now and then cannot undo the boiling resentment among Kashmiris in any manner. The negligible turnout in recent elections has clearly demonstrated the position of India in Kashmir. The people of India cannot turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to this issue any longer. India needs to reframe its Kashmir policy in consonance not only with the wishes of the people of Kashmir but also with the promises that have been made with them. It would be an imperative thing to do for a lasting era of peace in the region.
—The author is a Research Scholar at Aligarh Muslim University. He can be reached at: Sajadakbar70@gmail.com