Given its propensity to repeatedly indulge in mawkish, placatory and self-defeating policies, the Indian establishment could very well compile a dissertation on how not to resolve a conflict; a primer that guarantees failure. One such facet of India’s baffling Kashmir policy was in full display during Pakistan Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani’s recent diplomatic jaunt to New Delhi; the foreign secretary (expelled from India in 2003 for funding separatist activities) openly confabulated with members of the Hurriyat Conference in a tete-a-tete that clearly had conspiratorial overtones.
True, democracy comes with the proviso of free speech but to allow secessionists to overtly collude with an inimical neighbour intent on undermining the country’s sovereignty is to carry the tenets of a democracy a bit too far. The Kashmir imbroglio continues to smolder stubbornly, thanks to India’s own missteps: a nutter consternation of thought compounded by a confounding urge to co-opt disruptive players reeking with negativism into the peace equation.
Despite its recent paeans to Indo-Pak bonhomie and its continuing lip service to resolving the Kashmir crisis, Pakistan continues to be the cog in the wheel. Pakistan keeps the cauldron of fabricated rebellion boiling in the Valley. The earlier we acknowledge this, the better for our nation.
The Hurriyat is the other obstructionist. Notwithstanding an occasional show of political correctness, it remains a partisan entity committed to creating a fundamentalist Islamic state. Hardliner Syed Geelani’s rant against the return of Kashmiri Pundits, dubbing it as a ploy to sneak in RSS and Sangh workers, was a nuanced expression of its warped ideology. Anyway, the Hurriyat’s importance has been overrated; in the 2008 Assembly elections, ignoring a boycott call given by the Hurriyat, 60.5 per cent of Kashmiris turned up at polling booths testifying to its limited influence.
India’s path to a lasting solution to the Kashmir controversy lies in marginalising the Hurriyat and deleting Pakistan from the conference table, thereby neutralising their corrosive influence and clearing the way for Kashmiris to give vent to their aspirations through the legitimate channel of a democracy to which they have always had access: the ballot box.
One cannot hope to resolve a problem by overlooking the 600-pound gorilla in the room: it is imperative that we revisit Article 370. Conceptually, it is the single most important factor that hinders a settlement; an impenetrable artificially erected barrier that perpetuates alienation of Kashmir from India. Article 370 was never envisioned as statute to be cemented into permanency. It was a transient decree propounded to tackle the immediate logistic hurdles stemming from a rushed incorporation of Kashmir into India. A perusal of the Constitution finds that Article 370 is listed under the section captioned, ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’ and is subtitled: ‘Temporary provisions with respect to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.’
We need to confront Article 370 in an objective fashion devoid of the Hindutva rhetoric championed by the BJP. Article 370 is a golden cage that keeps Kashmiris trapped in a stifling environment stymieing their growth, deters other Indians from investing in the state perpetuating its economic penury, and hinders the understanding of India and other Indians by a dearth of free interaction; all under the false illusion of preserving a narrow parochial identity.
Article 370 is an anathema in a freely mobile, interdependent and resurgent India where states routinely complement each other to move ahead. Abrogation of Article 370 will go a long way in bringing Kashmir into the mainstream and allowing its fiscally disadvantaged young population to partake of India’s economic progress, steering them away from violent rebellion.
Whether the present government or any future government has the verve to endorse this option and whether the Kashmiris have the foresight to accept such a proposition are key questions that will determine the finality of the Kashmir conundrum.
Gumaste is a US-based commentator and academic