By Rouf Dar
Conflict and occupation can never be used interchangeably to point out to particular political problems. Conflict involves parties who have some stakes in the issue at hand. Occupation, on the other hand, gives us an idea that a country is being subjugated despite stiff opposition.
The apathy of Kashmir has been exacerbated by the prominent popularisation of this “conflict” narrative. Kashmir is presented as an issue where stakes of Pakistan and India are at loggerheads with each other, while the people of the Valley are conveniently erased from the scene. So, the basic premise is manipulated to allow a case of conflict to be build upon what is visibly a blunt occupation.
Talks, negotiation, dialogues, conversations, comprise an important cog in any conflict resolution process. There have been countless wars and battles fought for invasion of territories by colonial powers, which incur resultant resistance, subtle, and violent, from those held under bondage. This however, does not negate the validity of talks while enforcing an everlasting solution to the conflicts.
In contemporary colonisation projects, occupations are termed as conflicts. Countries are ashamed and scared of the word occupation. They don’t want to sound like European imperialists of the 20th century and be written off as their predecessors when they are more pervasive and oppressive than the latter. Their talks and dialogues are always aimed at passing more time, deferring a final solution while squeezing resources and ruining their colonies.
The façade of delegations sent by India to Kashmir periodically are also a part of the same “let’s buy time” project. Every next delegation should build on their preceding delegation and further chances of peaceful resolution. This never happens. Every new delegation starts from a scratch — to take stock of ground situation in Kashmir. As if more than six decades are insufficient for anyone to have a nuanced overview of what is happening in the valley.
As newspapers carried news of a similar “All party” drama landing in the valley in 2016, a small box in one corner of the newspaper hit my senses. The Governor of the military state had greeted people on the Teacher’s Day blatantly ignoring the fact that his men had beaten to death a newly appointed Assistant Professor of English, Shabir Ahmed, in Pulwama.
Following the death of Shabir and many others, and still many more of those who have been injured, India wanted to have a dialogue with the people of Kashmir to quiten the voices that have been irritating them for a long time. It is imperative to ask, why does India ateempts at engaging wth Kashmiris only after an uprising? A simple reply would be that India equates the enforced silence with peace and propagates the same narrative all over the world.
Thus after more than two months of bloodshed in 2016, the usual need to “pacify” the situation arose. India again needed to talk to Kashmiris to bring about “peace”. Named as “crisis managers” by a leading newspaper, however, the delegation’s attempt to neutralise people courtesy certain ruses failed yet again, for a blinded and paralysed people would never talk to their perpetrators. How could one expect people to sit on the same table with their murderers, that too expecting the problem to perpetuate further?
Why did a similar delegation not arrive in the first few days of the agitation itself? One is forced to think that they want to push us enough, to the limits and test whether we break on our own or not. With our steely resolve and the shaming of India on international platforms, an emergency was sounded in New Delhi and in came a bunch of bargainers. But what do they bargain without acknowledging Kashmir as a political issue? If they don’t recognize the problem, how can we expect a prospective outcome?
The only good India can do, therefore, before attempting to create a channel for meaningful dialogue, is to accept Kashmir as an occupation, a dispute, and acknowledge our existence as a people standing up for freedom. A conversation will necessarily need to have two equal powers on the table that are not capable of outstripping each other due to unfavourable conditions. But in the Kashmir case the favourable conditions remain unmet, and thus tilt the terms of dialogue towards the Indian side and hence do more harm than good.
The heights of political gimmicky over Kashmir can be viewed from the fact that even after six decades of subjugation, Indian state hasn’t arrived at a point where it accepts in clear-cut terms that, yes, Kashmir is a political dispute. Had it been so, the talks and proposed solutions would have been of a different paradigm altogether. If they don’t take it as such, their attempts shall equate with temporary Band-Aids that will stop the blood only to bleed more.
At the outset, before talks, they can free thousands of political prisoners, both recent and old, who are languishing in jails under different draconian acts. They can call back their mercenaries. They can open up the investigation of monstrous war crimes in the valley to a foreign neutral investigating agency like the Amnesty International. These should not, and cannot, be our proposals or talking points. These are the assumptions that must exist before a dialogue. We cannot sit at the table to discuss PSA or AFSPA or militarization. This will push the real political resolution of a political issue further.
The manifestoes of proxy governments in Kashmir have boldly crafted words pertaining to the meaningful dialogue to our political problem. The manifesto never changes. The policy too does not, because the dialogue never took off in a serious diplomatic manner. So, after every election, the incumbent party wishes to start a thread of talks between Pakistan, India and Kashmir. But the start has never been attained. And with this eyes-shut vision of the Indian state, any expectation is doubtful.
In practice, India will never agree to any preconditions for a dialogue. The irony that Indian state and its proxies create is laughable. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti dispatched a letter to all the resistance leaders to accept the offer of unconditional talks with the delegation in order to normalise the situation. The postman had to deliver the letters to jails and houses cordoned by cops where the leaders sat alienated from the people, and the world. Where on earth do we witness such conditions being set before a conversation is to be held?
The delegation also included India’s barrister-cum-legislator, dubbed as the Muslim Jinnah, Asadudin Owaisi. Perhaps India is trying to use Muslim faces to woo the Kashmiri Muslim leadership and population not knowing that had this been an issue of religious affiliation, Kashmiris would not have hoisted flags of Azad Kashmir in many regions in 2016. Also, had that been the case, the entire valley would be supporting a merger with Pakistan in totality. But we know that the majority yearns for complete independence.
Amid the proposed talks and sympathising efforts with Kashmiris from all corners, the Indian state, mandated by the Indian public, had assented to the dispensation of 60 million more pellets into the valley — an amount that is sufficient to maim the whole population. Hundreds of injured youth in hospitals planted written placards besides them, which bore messages of “We Want Freedom”, “Go India Go Back” and “Fight Till Plebiscite”. The message cannot be more clear than what the patients in the hospitals represented.
Television screens played footage of the delegation landing in Srinagar and then showed some members including Communist Party leader Sitaram Yechury moving towards Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s residence in Hyderpora, Srinagar. One could spot writing on the walls that the television channels showed, perhaps unknowingly, with Yechury behind a wall which had “Go India Go Back” written on it. That should have sufficed as an answer but, buying time and conscience is their inherent forte.
Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir asked for building of institutions which would engage in meaningful dialogue with Kashmiris. To use his own words, he argued for a “dialogue ki dukaan” to be opened somewhere in Kashmir. Who would run that dukaan? The dukaan has been running for decades now and is hit by political market forces more often than not. The terms of such trade are more favourable in present context. It fizzles out once the count of dead stops, which happens intermittently.
Dr. Jan Shelby, a University of Sussex academic, propounds that “conflict is perpetuated by actors who benefit economically from it,” which brings the political economic perspective of peace processes into question. Both India and Pakistan are committed to maintaining cordial relations with each other only for their respective business interests to thrive. Dr. Shelby thus argues that most of the times political economic issues are “causes of abiding friction” or snowball into “sources of political unrest” at times.
Economy being the centrality of peace talks subsides human and political rights of Kashmiris as a people yearning for freedom. India has economically tightened the noose around Kashmir and made it a typical “rentier society”, where every commercial item has to be imported from India. The erosion of meager autonomy provided by the Instrument of Accession, and the transformation of agrarian economy has resulted in paramount economic dependence upon India.
The question of Kashmir has never been one of economic underdevelopment but of a colonial subjugation. This builds the real premise. What follows are tentacles of an occupation manifesting itself in different ways. Rather than addressing the root problem, India is remedying derivative effects. Money, employment, education cannot work as they have never mattered. Educated, affluent, employed youth out on streets bust this myth too.
To think that economic redressal will alter political situation towards positive direction tantamounts to denying the people rightfully of what is theirs. Why can India not think of the converse? That resolving Kashmir once for all will uplift the economic standards of local populace. Right now, squeezing hydroelectricity, razing down forests, grabbing land, constructing supermarkets are not tackling the economic issues either. They are political integration tactics disguised under economic policies.
India has turned Kashmir into a living, open-air prison where free entry is denied except for the tourists, sugarcoating journalists and “crisis managers”. The saga of sending time-buying delegations to Kashmir is a ruse and has to be understood that way. Nothing should bar us from staying away from them. Our struggle will be to resist the temptations to yield to their terms in search of a temporary fix.
The final solution to Kashmir problem has to be our freedom to choose our own future. Anything short of that is unjust and unfair. Complete independence of Kashmir has benefits for India, Kashmir, Pakistan and the whole South Asia. Even Game theory suggests that!
Rouf Dar was a student of Political Science at the University of Kashmir, where he completed his MA degree.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.