By Wajahat Qazi
In 1954, Josef Korbell, wrote what amounts to a path breaking, insight laden book. Titled, “Danger in Kashmir”, Korbel , with great perspicacity dwelt upon the conflict in and over Kashmir. Perhaps the most prescient and important insight of the book was that Kashmir and the conflict thereof was pregnant with danger- within and without. After a gap of almost sixty seven years, during which Kashmir witnessed conflict ( of the militarized variety beginning 1989) and periods of intense insurgency and then the waning of this militarization of the conflict, where does Kashmir stand now? Do Korbell’s insights still hold? Or have these waxed and waned with times? What is the real and existing condition of Kashmir –within and without?
It would not constitute genius to posit that Korbell’s insight(s) still hold- albeit in different permutations and combinations and contexts. Korbell visited, assessed and analyzed Kashmir and the conflict thereof amidst the initial staged of the Cold War. This period also witnessed intense decolonization wherein various Imperiums were winding down their empires and colonies. India and Pakistan, in this milieu were recently decolonized; they had gone to and come out of a war with each other. The overall politico-strategic environment was fluid as countries sought to align themselves on either side of the Cold War confrontation. A key difference from the contemporary era was that neither India nor Pakistan had yet gone nuclear but there was both incipient as well as overt conflict between the two. In the main, this conflict pertained to Kashmir. It was, to repeat , in this milieu and ambiance that Korbell wrote his book.
Fast forward around seven decades. Rationality would lend itself to the assessment that conflict in and over Kashmir would have whittled away or , in the least, become less intense as it was then. But the prosaic reality is that the conflict, even after undergoing many phases, twists and turns , in some senses retains its character(the one delineated by Korbell) , and in other senses, has perhaps become more intense. The reasons are structural, strategic , and politic- emotional. While Kashmir does not occupy the pedestal that it once had in the strategic imagination and calculus of the strategic community, it has become more intense in the imaginary of Kashmiris and perhaps also in the political imaginary of contemporary India and Pakistan.
Consider Kashmir first. The conditions that obtain in Kashmir are fluid. A new Generation is assuming place and space in Kashmir and the structuring context for this generation is the conflict. This generation, to iterate a cliché, is more educated , more aware and linked to the world than its preceding generational cohort. Given these factors, this generation’s understanding of the conflict has a sharper edge. Validation for/ of the conflict is provided by the state’s approach towards the conflict. A cursory validation of this assessment can be accorded by a perusal of social media wherein young Kashmiris pour out their hearts and heads, so to speak. The character of this outpouring is in the nature of political and politicized emotion – all pertains to the conflict in Kashmir.
This is complemented by political developments in India and Pakistan. India, after the watershed, elections of 2014, has and is in the process of developing a nationalism that is exclusive. Termed as Hindutva, this nationalism brooks no space for minorities and its larger or basic premise is nationalist chauvinism. In the schema of Hindutva, Kashmir occupies a distinctive place: it is the crucible of territorial nationalism and thus assumes a centrality in the Hindutva imagination. HIndutva also views Pakistan as its indelible “ Other”. Given all this, an antagonistic relationship with Pakistan inheres in the ideology and politics of Hindutva.
In terms of Pakistan, the country is in the throes of transition. While Pakistan is not reviewing the nature of its nationalism, but the country is in consolidation phase- security wise and politically. Kashmir, regardless, of the transition and consolidation, remains central to Pakistan. Kashmir and the bilateral political dynamic between India and Pakistan thus assumes a zero sum character. That is, each side views the others gain as its loss and vice versa. Political emotion in both countries and in Kashmir assumes an intense character and dynamic.
Overlaying this charged politico- emotional dynamic within and without, is the general and particular drift of international relations, global and regional security and regional politics. International relations is in great flux contemporarily. This has been made salient by the assumption of Donald Trump to the highest office in the United States. Trump wants to make “ America Great” again. Decoded , this means a somewhat isolationist United States which will be loathe to discharge its post War “ duty” of stabilizing the international system. Global security implications inhere in this schema: countries which traditionally looked to the United States for security and stability will increasingly have to fend for themselves. Security dilemmas will probably become more intense and anarchy, in the sense of international relations theory and practice might come to prevail. Un-shackled from the admonishments and influence of the United States, states generally speaking will enter into a more conflictual mode. This will have implications on global and regional politics and security.
The conflict dyad between India and Pakistan, could very well assume a more sharper edge. The nature of the ensuing conflict will depend, among other things, on capabilities and capacities of the two countries , the balance of power between them and perhaps above all the nature and direction of “political emotion: within the both India and Pakistan. In terms of capabilities, capacities and strategic doctrines governing these- especially nuclear doctrines- both countries seem to be undergoing a review. In India, the review has assumed the avatar and mantra of “ Cold Start” whose working assumption is to chop or slice Pakistan into pieces in the event of an offensive against India. Pakistan’s response has been to develop small tactical nuclear weapons. These developments potentially and perhaps even actually throw a spanner into the traditional deterrence doctrines of India and Pakistan. The result is, that both countries are, in some senses , on the edge. Kashmir is central to all these.
What will or may determine the “edge turning into an abyss” is the nature , drift and direction of the nationalisms of India and Pakistan. The development and drift of nationalism in India and Pakistan has , a game theoretic edge to it. That is, both feed off each other albeit in an adversarial idiom. If, for instance, nationalism in India becomes more belligerent, Pakistani nationalism will morph into a bellicose one too. With Kashmir central to the territorial nationalism of India and Pakistan, a major conflagration here could trigger reactions in both countries which could, in a worst case scenario, spiral into nuclear war. While this scenario is not imminent but it falls in the realm of probability. The need of the hour is pre-emption of this putative scenario. A good and prudent starting point towards this would lie in revisiting Korbell and his analytical insights over Kashmir and then develop paradigms for sustainable peace- within and without.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]