Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Putting Faith in a Single Agenda Civil Society

Sajjad would like to revisit options, but a civil society that sees its world through a political prism alone is not the one that can ever deliver justice to all, especially minorities

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Civil society must strengthen the institutions of peace and justice

Kashmir is one of the world's longest unresolved international conflicts between in which India and Pakistan are engaged. Both the countries are engaged in horse-trading for control over the disputed territory of Kashmir. In other words, since 1947 Kashmir is a dispute which has bedeviled relations between Pakistan and India. It has led to three wars, in 1947, 1965, and 1971. Both the countries were almost on the brink of fourth war in Kargil in 1999. Even as both countries at regular intervals initiated dialogue and peace process, but it floundered without making any meaningful development vis-avis Kashmir imbroglio and the relations between the two countries continue to remain strain.

For Pakistani Kashmir is the ‘unfinished business of Partition’; it is the missing ‘K’ in the word Pakistan. Pakistan insists that in accordance with the United Nations resolutions a plebiscite needs to be held to ascertain the ‘will of the people of Kashmir.’ For India, Kashmir ‘lawfully acceded’ to India when the Maharaja of Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to India in 1947. In reply to Pakistan’s demands for the plebiscite India maintains that the fact that elections have been held in Kashmir since 1952 is proof that the ‘will of the people of the state’ has been ascertained and there is no need for a UN plebiscite.

Six decades have witnessed the problem being discussed and most of the times without any concrete solutions being put forward. Historically speaking, unique nature of Kashmir has always been recognised by India and, in 1949, incorporated it into the Indian Constitution. The special Article 370 granted most governing powers to the people of J&K, except for defense, foreign affairs, currency and communications. The State received its own constitution and flag and the state Assembly was to decide which Indian laws, if any, would be permitted to apply to the state. Notably, these concessions were quite remarkable for a constitution that was otherwise centralized. However, the strength of the Kashmir constitution did not last long. From 1953 onwards Article 370 was systematically whittled down, which is known to everybody and does not need elaboration.

Meanwhile, since 2002 there have been increasing attempts by India and Pakistan to try to resolve the Kashmir issue. The reasons are not hard to find. Indian claims to regional power or global power status are useless if it remains embroiled in a conflict that once led Clinton to refer to South Asia as “the most dangerous place on the earth.” Pakistan too faces a lot of domestic and international pressure. The Taliban factor under the current circumstances has challenged the internal security of Pakistan and on October 9, at least 50 people were killed and 120 others injured when a suspected Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car in a busy Peshawar market, the deadliest attack in six months that pushed Pakistan to vow that army would march into militants’ den to flush them out.

One of the major obstacles in the way of lasting solution is the lack of meaningful Kashmiri representation in Indo-Pak negotiations. Even as the Government of India has held several meetings with several separatist cadres, it is opposed trilateral dialogue. But most of the political commentators and analysts have been advocating tripartite talks as a means of negotiating solution to the Kashmir problem, which means talks between Government of India, Government of Pakistan and people of Kashmir. Needless to mention that demand for tripartite talks is a long pending demand of separatist cadres.

We cannot ignore the hard fact that the impasse over Kashmir cannot end over night. All possible options need to be revisited and all the parties involved in the dispute need to rethink their strategy, which should revolve around the peace and prosperity of the people of the state. Above all, it is the human suffering which has to end in this geographically remote location and peoples’ dignity has to be restored. Tragically, lack of realistic approach on the parties is only delaying a way forward to the solution of the problem.

Unofficial dialogues between influential actors in civil society are to be focused and will be useful for breaking down false negative stereotypes. Besides, other people-to-people contacts will help to counter the chauvinist propaganda and mindset in India as well as Pakistan. Basically it is the chauvinistic attitude what has led to the Kashmir problem so stubborn and the power elites so inflexible and unyielding. Unless a the problem is tackled with a broad mind, the peace constituencies will remain too weak to pressure their respective governments to reach a reasonable and fair compromise.

Here India has to understand that it cannot pretend that there is no dispute in Kashmir and has to offer both dialogue and build close cultural, economic and social ties with Pakistan. Today India also needs to reassure the Pakistani leadership that India will not take advantage of present Taliban factor by causing any problems on Pakistan’s eastern frontier. Here it is noteworthy that international analysts on Indo-Pak relations too have, in lieu of strong India and Afghanistan ties from the 1950s, vehemently said that India needs to calm any Pakistani fears that this Indo-Afghan cooperation has an anti-Pakistan flavor.

On short-term basis, the need of the hour, if at all parties are sincere, is to see an end to the vexed problem, maximum autonomy in accordance with the original intentions of Article 370 should be restored. The LoC should become irrelevant for the people of the state. Both India and Pakistan should immediately accept all international human rights and humanitarian law, including the International Criminal Court, and amend their own laws accordingly, which even India has not done. The international community can help through indirect mediation.

For quite some time now mainstream political leadership in the state too has been talking about resolution of Kashmir issue. The separatist cadres’ ultimate goal too is resolution of the imbroglio. But we haven’t seen any interaction between these two warring factions (mainstream and separatist cadres) on the issue. Can’t they join hands if both are pursuing resolution of the problem? If there is consensus between the mainstream and separatist cadres on the modalities seeking resolution of the issue, then let them form a conglomerate, board the bus and seek what has not been sought during the past six decades – end to Kashmir imbroglio.

At the moment these ideas may seem a wish list. But nothing is impossible. It is a matter of will. Here the civil society too has a vital role to play - vigorously strengthen the forces of peace and justice.

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