Introduction

The ongoing violent clashes in Kashmir abide as a reminder of the artificial construction of the entire South Asian sub-continent. Surely, the sovereignty over the Jammu and Kashmir region continues to be a source of tensions among India, Pakistan and the local population. The choices on how to solve this issue prevails as an ‘unexplored’ pallet of options.

In this contribution, I will outline the different narratives on the Kashmir conflict via the concept of Kashmiriyat. In the first place, I will define the term Kashmiriyat and explain in which ways this is helpful in understanding the socio-political side of the conflict. Then, once I illustrate the different perspectives of all the actors involved, I will assess if there is a possibility for a dispute resolution.

Map of Kashmir Region; Source: The Economist, 2017

Defining Kashmiriyat

Defining the term can represent quite a challenge since there is no exact definition. In fact, the number of definitions evolved alongside the time frame, as well as the political orientation of the actor utilizing the term. However, it can be generally understood as ‘the ethos of being Kashmiri’.[1]

Indeed, for the vast majority of people, Kashmiriyat is the standard definition of shared religious harmony between Hindus, Muslims (which compose the religious majorities in the region) and Buddhists. Kashmir was always portrayed as the best example of a place where such religious groups were able to coexist in a peaceful way. Certainly, the region’s essence is a mix of religious costumes, beliefs, manners and rituals.[2] Yet, Kashmiriyat has been politically abused by relevant parties utilizing it to fulfil their own political agenda.

Different narratives and different perspectives

While there are many narratives dealing with this issue, one feels forced to choose one among them to portray the conflict with a specific frame. Overall, there are three broad claims on who should this territory belong to. This includes on the one hand, the Indian and Pakistani perspective which posits that Kashmir belongs to their respective countries; and on the other hand, the Kashmiri people’s perspective seeks for self-determination.

I consider that Kashmiris have the right for claiming self-determination since the region has had their own culture and history independently of the arrival of foreign rulers coming from different areas of the world. Besides, after partition, the province of Kashmir was supposed to become a country of its own. Article 370 of the Indian constitution entitles Kashmir to become sovereign once tensions on the ceasefire line would be controlled.[3]

The Kashmiri perspective emphasizes the fact that they have been under foreign rule since the arrival of the Mughals in the 16th century.[4] Their self-rule wish is a logical outcome drawn upon the historical past of being dominated by foreign rival powers. In fact, Kashmiris use a very Primordialist perspective (meaning that ethnic identity flows from real or perceived blood ties and extended kinship networks) on the issue.[5] Certainly, they are presenting Kashmiriyat as a ‘genetic predisposition’ to favor their own kin for group survival. The Primordialist argument is used as a symbol that emphasizes common history and belonging and it also downplays the religious cleavage. Therefore, the term Kashmiriyat is seen as a form of syncretism or fusion. [6]

The Pakistani perspective suggests that Kashmir belongs to their territory based on the two-nation theory (India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims). Surely, it is not possible to deny the fact that Kashmir has a Muslim majority.[7] Nonetheless, although most Kashmiris are Muslims, their practices differ in many ways form the ones of Pakistan and this could trigger further tensions in the future if the territory was annexed.[8] Recently, the government of Pakistan has stressed that they are willing to support the Kashmir people so they can finally achieve self-determination.[9] Such declarations have been quite controversial and they have light up a new source of tension in the relations between India and Pakistan.

The Indian perspective considers including Kashmir as part of its territory because it gives a lot of validity to the concept of Kashmiriyat. This notion is a clear example of the principles of the founding of the Indian nation: intra religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence in an ethno-religious diverse region.[10] Furthermore, permitting the independence of Kashmir would also mean losing aesthetic and cultural values of the Indian nation due to the historical links the region has to Indian heritage. Since the 1960’s, Kashmir has been also home for the cinema industry which reinforced the idea of the province as a sacred and mystical mountainy land.[11]

Besides, India’s main concern is that if it lets Kashmir go, other regions having similar characteristics (such as the northeastern provinces, Tamil Nadu or even Punjab) would also wish the same and there would be a threat of the fragmentation of the country.[12] This would endanger Indian national security and the government simply does not want to risk such crisis.[13] However, the Indian government strongly highlights its wish to solve the Kashmir issue, especially because they are eager to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council (SC). One of the pre-conditions for finally being granted access to the SC would be to find a viable solution to the Kashmir dispute. This makes the independence of Kashmir an option, albeit not the preferred one.[14]

Towards conflict resolution?

Why does a peaceful and coherent solution has not been reached by all parties involved?  There are many hypotheses that have been raised on the matter. For example, some scholars think that the lack of intervention from the international community is a way for pleasing India who is becoming an emerging power.[15] Others consider that the issue does not raise enough interest for major powers and multilateral organizations that act as peace keepers.[16]

It is noteworthy to point out that there has not been any active participation from the international community after the creation of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in 1949 that has remained in South Asian soil, yet, just as an observer.[17] I embrace Gowhar Geelani (another Kashmiri) argument that Kashmiri people are unable to do ‘good marketing’ on their cause.[18] Hence, it seems that the Kashmir struggle has become a ghost within the international peace keeping repertoire.

Another problem resides within the loyalties of the people in the region.  Kashmiri people are largely divided when it comes to the independence decision.[19] For instance, the Valley is the area which has always defended the idea of azadi (independence). One of the key figures in negotiations in this area is the ‘All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) which promotes the Kashmiri struggle and claims the right to self-determination in accordance with the UN resolutions of 1948.[20] Other militant groups such as the ‘Hizb’ or the ‘United Jihad Council’ (UJC) located in the Valley, are of the believe that it would be better for the Kashmiri people to be pro-accession to Pakistan. Even if these groups are considering being part of Pakistan, the Pakistani government still supports the idea of an independent Kashmiri state.[21]

Pro Indian parties such as the National Conference (NC) (located in Srinagar), stresses the need for a greater autonomy from the Indian state by recurring to article 370 of the Indian Constitution.[22] In Jammu, there is also a demand for having complete autonomy by asking for Punnu Kashmir (a Hindu Kashmir).[23] Pandits demand to go back to their homes which they were forced to leave in the 90’s. In the Ladakh region, divided between the Buddhist dominated Leh and the Muslim dominated Kargil, have advanced some proposals on how to coexist despite their religious differences.[24]

Despite the fact that many international organization have drawn documents with recommendations to improve the situation and reach consensus, little has been implemented. Old proposals written in the late 90’s and early 00’s keep coming repeatedly suggesting the demilitarization of the region, as well as providing freedom of speech, freedom of movement and justice for all victims of human rights violations.[25] Many abuse cases are now highlighted and shared with the public through social media even if there is a continuous risk of threats and censorship. Human rights violations have only fuelled Kashmiri drive for independence.[26]

So far, I believe that the proposal advanced by several scholars and Kashmiris to create a confederation or a condominium status for Kashmir in relation with India and Pakistan seems to be the best option for ending such struggle. The most important set of intellectuals arguing in favor of a confederation implementation is the US based group called the Kashmir study group (KSG) lead by Farooq Kathwari.[27] The KSG was formed by 25 members who developed a set of three different studies offering solutions over this issue. These documents were entitled as A Way Forward in Kashmir. These ideas had to be reformulated since the first proposal seemed quite unrealistic at the time. In 2005, a second version of such draft was presented and called Kashmir a Way Forward.[28]

In this piece, the intellectuals suggested that the territory of the former princely state of Kashmir had to be reconstituted into self-governing entities enjoying free access to one another and to and from both India and Pakistan. The document recommends the creation of five autonomous entities: Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and northern areas. Each entity would have its own constitutions as well as citizenship, flag and legislature. In addition to the autonomous states, there must be a creation of an All-Kashmir executive body which represents each one of the different areas as well as India and Pakistan. Such institution would coordinate issues such as regional trade, tourism, environment and water resources. No army should reside in the territory and the parent states (India and Pakistan) should be in charge of defending the territories if required.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can state that at this moment it is very difficult to determine whether there will be a resolution to this long-lasting conflict. Indeed, I cannot deny the fact that negotiations seem to be stagnated due to divergent opinions among all the actors involved on how to deal with the issue to finally reach a solution. However, it is of utmost importance to highlight that now more than ever, India and Pakistan should cooperate as a way to prevent religious and terrorist groups using self-determination claims as a way to implement their more radical agendas instead of verbally attacking each other as they have done in the United Nations General Assembly.[29]

Without doubt, there should be more involvement of the international community. Certainly, Kashmir’s territorial and sovereignty discord has become a forgotten dispute. It seems that this phantom war endures to be just a lost memory in the eyes of the UN and other peace keeping international organizations. The issue continues to be present at the UN Summary statement, but it rarely comes into the discussion table. Also, Kashmir is little mentioned in literature and it tends to be a subject which is a strong target of censorship in South Asia.  Moreover, considering that there is a large division among Kashmiris and since they are unable to do ‘good marketing’ of their struggle, a final resolution seems unlikely to be drafted in the short term.

With the latest security crisis in Kashmir, more attention should be paid to the issue. In the eye of a generation which is growing up with an exponential rise of terrorist attacks and violent conflicts, it is my wish that the new leaders opt for a peaceful resolution while pursuing their cause.

[1] Neil Aggarwal, “Kashmiriyat as Empty Signifier”, in Interventions (USA), vol. 10, n°2, 2008, p. 227.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Shaheen Akhtat, “Intra Kashmir Dialogue: Need for Consensus”, in Strategic Studies (USA), vol. 32, 2012, p. 2.

[4] Neil Aggarwal, “Kashmiriyat as Empty Signifier”, op. cit., p. 227.

[5] Jugdep S. Chima, “Introduction”, in Jugdep S. Chima et. al. (coords.), Ethnic Subnationalist Insurgencies in South Asia, Identities, interests and challenges to state authority, London, Routledge, 2015, p. 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Abdul Majid and Hussain Mahbood, “Kashmir: A Conflict between India and Pakistan”, in A Research Journal of South Asia Studies, vol. 31, nº1, 2016, p. 150.

[8]  Ibid., p. 149.

[9] Aman M. Hingorani, Unravelling the Kashmir Knot, New Delhi, Sage, 2016, p. 256.

[10] Abhijit Dutta, “A Different Imagination: Authenticity and Inauthenticity of Narrating Kashmir op. cit., p. 173.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Abdul Majid and Hussain Mahbood, “Kashmir: A Conflict between India and Pakistan”, op. cit., p. 151.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Shah Rukh Hashmi, “India’s Obsession: The Security Council and Kashmir”, in The Diplomatic Insight, 2016.

[15] Gowhar Geelani, “Kashmir: The Forgotten Conflict”, Race and Class (Washington), vol. 56, nº2, 2014, p. 30.

[16]  Ibid.

[17] United Nations peacekeeping, Missions, available in http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions (consulted January 5th 2018).

[18] Gowhar Geelani, “Kashmir: The Forgotten Conflict”, op. cit., p. 34.

[19] Shaheen Akhtat, “Intra Kashmir Dialogue: Need for Consensus”, op. cit., p. 1.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid p. 2.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Shubh Mathur, “Memory and hope: New Perspectives on the Kashmir conflict- and introduction”, in Race and Class (Washington), vol. 56, nº2, 2014, p. 10.

[26] Ibid., p. 5.

[27] Noor Ahmad Baba, “Resolving Kashmir: imperatives and solutions”, in Race and Class (Washington), vol. 56, n°2, 2014, p. 75.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Hindustan Times, Pakistan is Terroristan’: 5 things India said in reply to neighbour’s remarks at UNGA, available in http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pakistan-is-terroristan-5-things-india-said-in-reply-to-neighbour-s-remarks-at-unga/story-nko9DPWDWnFI1lzOg9gsBO.html, (consulted  January 28th  2018).

 

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