by Dr. Maharaj Kaul (b. Srinagar, Kashmir)
Since the beginning of Pakistan’s low intensity proxy war in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in 1989, terrorist violence has a taken a toll of over 20,000 innocent lives. More than 300,000 Hindu and Sikh minorities from Kashmir Valley, and from the border areas have been displaced. Terror and intimidation have wrecked the peace for civillian life in the state and cross border terrorism continues to take a daily toll of innocent lives. Recently, Pakistan used the Kargil invasion to sneak in a large number of armed merecenaries into the state, who ratcheted up the violence one more notch, gravely hampering people’s participation in the recent Lok Sabha elections..
The turmoil caused in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) by this terrorist violence has given Pakistan and many of the secessionist groups in the state an excuse to demand a plebiscite in Jammu & Kashmir as envisaged in the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolutions of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949. It is never mentioned by the present advocates of a plebiscite that it was Pakistan which stonewalled the implementation of a plebiscite under UNCIP resolutions and that the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan superseded all other agreements between the two countries including the UNCIP resolutions.
Yet the issue of a plebiscite, given much currency by Pakistan and by the imperialist powers, continues to haunt many well-meaning Indians who feel that India stands on morally weak ground by insisting on the Simla Agreement and rejecting a referendum. The demand for a plebiscite in J&K is highly misunderstood. There is a myth that the demand for a plebiscite reflects the aspirations of all (or a sizable majority) of the state’s population, and is the only way for the people of J&K to articulate their right to self-determination. Although seemingly well-intentioned, those who see a plebiscite as a cure-all for the problems of the people of the state are in fact, ignorant of the historic and contemporary complexities surrounding this issue.
Jammu and Kashmir: A Multi-Ethnic State
Contrary to most reports in the media, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is not a state where only Kashmiri Muslims live. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state with 64% Muslims, 33% Hindus, and 3% Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and others. There are three distinct geographical regions – Ladakh (with 58% of the area, and 3% of the population), Jammu (26% area, 45% population) and Kashmir (16% area, 52% population: of which over 90 % of the region’s minorities, i.e. 3% of the state’s total population have been driven out). The primary languages of Ladakh are Ladakhi and Balti, of Jammu: Dogri, and of Kashmir: Kashmiri. In addition, Gujari, Pahari, Punjabi, Shina and various dialects and mixed languages are also spoken by different ethnic groups within the state.
Fifteen per cent of the state’s Muslims live in the provinces of Jammu and Ladakh . They are non-Kashmiris, and by and large, they stand behind J&K’s association with India. (There are a few small exceptions in some towns of Doda district). Of the state’s 49% who reside in the Kashmir province, about 13% are Shia Muslims. Shia Muslims do not wish to have anything to do with Sunni-dominated Pakistan, knowing full well the fate that awaits them there. (Just recently, an Oct 4, Hindustan Times report cited Pakistan’s Shoora Wahdat-i-Islami who condemned what it called the genocide of Shias in Pakistan.) This is especially true of the Shias of Kargil who know of the poverty and degradation experienced by their ethnic siblings in Baltistan, a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir referred to as the “Northern Areas”. 14% of the people in Kashmir province are the pastoral nomadic Gujar and Bakarwal people. They are strong supporters of association with India and have demonstrated this by organizing Militancy Mukhalif Morcha (Anti-Militancy Front) to assist the security forces in surveillance of terrorist activity. As far as non-Muslim groups are concerned there is no reason for them to even think about living outside multi-religious and secular India. [Ref. 1]
The support for secession in Jammu & Kashmir is thus largely limited to the non-pastoral Sunni Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley who constitute 22% of the state’s population, (or about 1.9 million people). This segment of the population dominates the politics of the state. The reason that many believe separatism to be a widespread sentiment in J&K is because this dominant section has succeeded in completely drowning out all other voices in the state, and has the ability to cripple the normal functioning of the society in Kashmir province; either by inaction or insufficient action against Pakistani infiltration and terror or, worst still, by sabotage. It is this section of the state’s population that receives all the attention, understandably so from Pakistan and the imperialist nations, but also from the Indian press.
Since the concept of self-determination must be applied to each of Jammu & Kashmir’s unique population groups, there can be no equation of self-determination with secession. If, however, the undivided state (including the Pakistan occupied regions of Kashmir which Pakistan refers to s “Azad” Kashmir & “Northern Areas”) were to have a referendum under truly neutral supervision, and the people were given three options – join India, join Pakistan or be independent — the results might be shocking to votaries of secession. The majority could very well go with India, because the separatists will split the vote between pro-Pakistan and pro-independence groups. Sayyed Ali Gilani, Jammu & Kashmir’s Jamaat-e-Islami leader, opposes the option of independence precisely because he is afraid that this vote may split in India’s favor. [Ref. 2]
On the other hand, if the people of the state are given only two choices – join India or join Pakistan – the majority vote could still go in India’s favor. Of the 12.8 million people in the undivided state (1999 estimates, see also Note below), J&K’s population is 8.5 million, “Azad” Kashmir’s is 2.8 million and “Northern Areas” is 1.5 million. If 1.9 million from J&K and all of “Azad” Kashmir and “Northern Areas” vote for Pakistan, it still gives India a vote of 6.6 million and leaves Pakistan with 6.2 million! Even if provision were made in this analysis for erosion of support for India as a result of the current turmoil, and some sprinkling of support for Pakistan from other Muslim groups in the state, the results of the referendum would be too close to call. In reality, the vote for Pakistan could be much less for the following two reasons:-
1) Since 1948, the Sunni population of the Valley (22% of the state’s population), has dominated the legislative, political and administrative structures in the state of J&K. Kashmir province receives more weightage in the Assembly elections than does Jammu province. Based on the size of it’s population Kashmir province should send 44 members to the Legislative Assembly but sends 46. Jammu province, on the other hand, should elect 39 but is allowed only 37! The government ministries and administrative bodies have also been dominated by Kashmiri speaking Valley Sunnis.
This grouping has also expropriated a disproportionate amount of resources for their own development needs. The bogey of a plebiscite and accession (in the garb of self-determination) has been raised by this group, primarily to extract concessions from the Central Governemnt in India. These have come in the form of grants, subsidies and other forms of economic aid. This has enabled this group to maintain its political dominance and has seriously distorted the democratic process in the state.
However, if the Central Government in India were to call this bluff, the whole complexion of separatist politics in J&K may change, and if a plebiscite were actually to be conducted, support for Pakistan may drop way below this 1.9 million population base in J&K. The effectiveness of the demand for plebiscite and its propaganda value lies precisely in its rejection by India. Were the tactical utility of such a demand to be lost, wiser elements amongst the separatists may abandon Pakistan and vote for India.
2. It is also likely that a significant percentage of the people of the “Northern Areas” could vote for India. The population in this region is very hostile to Pakistan because of the total neglect of this area. Literacy in the “Northern Areas” is 7% compared to J&K’s 59%. Since 1947, there has been little improvement in the infrastructure – schools, hospitals, paved roads, electric power and piped drinking water – are practically non-existent! The inhabitants have no constitutional rights and are still ruled by the frontier laws inherited from the British times. There have also been reports of serf-like treatment of the poor peasants by some of the region’s former monarchs. Since the population of the eastern part of “Northern Areas” is Balti speaking Shia Muslim they could very well decide to join their siblings in Kargil area and vote for India. (It should be noted that the people of Kargil and Ladakh are the most enthusiastic participants in Indian elections, and voter turnout at 70-80% has routinely exceeded the national average).
Considering all this, one might ask: Why doesn’t India accept a plebiscite? The fact is, it did, when, it naively it took its complaint of Pakistan’s aggression in J&K state to the UN, where an Anglo-American imperialist alliance turned India’s complaint into a dispute between Pakistan and India, thereby equating the aggressor with the aggrieved! India waited a long time for Pakistan to fulfill the pre-conditions of plebiscite as laid down in UNCIP resolutions. Instead of complying with the resolutions, Pakistan invaded Kashmir for a second time in 1965!
Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947: An act of Self-Determination
“Regardless of what Pakistan did or didn’t do, the people of Kashmir did have a plebiscite of sorts in 1947. This was demonstrated when Kashmiris from varied backgrounds defiantly resisted the invasion of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed raiders in October of that year. The raiders sacked Muzaffarabad, and razed the towns of Baramulla and Rajouri, slaughtering thousands of civilians, all in a matter of days.”
Realizing that the Valley was going to be swallowed by these Pakistani marauders, the most popular political party, the National Conference took over the de facto administration, and organized a 10,000 men and women Kashmiri militia to stall the invasion and protect critical installations. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah appealed to Mahatma Gandhi to send Indian troops to
defend Kashmir. In the meanwhile, all civilian vehicles were requisitioned by the National Conference to be made available to the Indian army who had to be flown in by air. When the first Indian military convoy reached Srinagar by road in November 1947, the whole convoy route in Srinagar was lined with cheering crowds waving the Indian tricolor. The tricolor flew over almost all of Srinagar’s homes. That was an expression of Kashmiri self-determination.
When Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, Maulana Sayeed Masoodi, the leaders of Kashmir’s freedom struggle from the autocratic rule of Maharaja spoke of Pakistan as a feudal state and about imperialism’s interest in Kashmir, when they publicly expressed their contempt for the two-nation theory, when they paid glowing tributes to Indian jawans (troops) for defending Kashmir, they echoed the sentiments of the majority of Kashmiris. That too was an expression of Kashmiri self-determination.
Equating today’s terrorism with a “freedom struggle” is an insult to those leaders and their sacrifices. Today, Sheikh Abdullah’s grave is protected by national security forces for fear that terrorists will remove the dead leader’s body and desecrate it as threatened by them. Eight years ago, one of the first victims of terrorist bullets was the octogenarian Maulana Syed Masoodi, veteran freedom fighter of Kashmir. What is happening in Kashmir today is a low intensity war by Pakistan against India spearheaded by the ideology of two-nation theory and Islamic fundamentalism. “Azadi” is a smokescreen under whose cover the “freedom fighters” actually religious zealots, with support from a theocratic Pakistan, wage war against secular India.
The fact is, that in essence, Kashmir had a plebiscite in 1947, and it’s people voted for India. If India refuses to talk about a second plebiscite today, it has many valid concerns. Can a plebiscite be conducted in an atmosphere of violence and terror? In the last two months, newspapers in Srinagar, partial to secession, have been publishing death threats aimed at those who encourage, support or participate in Indian parliamentary elections. Unless there is an atmosphere of a free and fair debate in an environment of confidence and trust – no truly representative plebiscite is possible. Moreover, free and fair campaigning and fearless participation has to be guaranteed on both sides of the border. Pakistan with it’s history of muzzling the press, of military coups and arbitrary dismissals of elected governements is in simply no position to guarantee such fairness. Neither is the UN, with it’s highly partisan role in world affairs. Consider how the UN has been used as a pawn in every major imperialist undertaking, from Korea to Iraq andYugoslavia.
The 1948-9 UNCIP resolutions pertaining to a plebiscite put explicit obligations on Pakistan which Pakistan has since failed to meet. Any acceptance of a new plebiscite would once again reward the very forces that have obstructed the first plebiscite.
Secession in the Age of Imperialism
As mentioned earlier, the right to self-determination cannot be equated to the right to secession in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society. Nevertheless, there are other compelling reasons to examine the idea of secession in era where imperialism is a powerful and potent force in the world.
First, Kashmir did exercise it’s right to self-determination in 1947, but since it was not in a format approved by the imperialist nations, there is a tendency to dismiss its validity. That encourages people like 33 year old Yasin Malik of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Kashmir to ask for a second referendum because he was born 19 years after the first one took place, which he therefore conveniently trashes. If one were to accept Yasin Malik’s contention that the 1947 accession of Kashmir to Indian was invalid, then the whole concept of self-determination would be trivialized. The right of self-determination would then be reduced to a voting exercise conducted in an atmosphere of terror, repeated every 25-years or so, to meet the demands of a new generation, at whose whim the boundaries of a country could be redefined! It is not difficult to imagine the chaos in the world if such a recipe were to be applied worldwide.
Secession in a Multi-ethnic, Multi-religious and Multi-lingual State
Second, what happens to minority sentiments under a plebiscite? If 51% of the population of J&K decide to vote for a theocratic Pakistan or independant theocratic Kashmir, is it fair to the other 49% to be forced to join that state, in spite of feeling greatly threatened by that state? J&K’s Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Gujar and Bakarwal, and Shia people genuinely fear that they will be decimated in a Pakistani state – or a Taliban style independant state. Women fear they will lose the freedoms they have, and be forced to march backwards under a Taliban-style barbaric patriarchy. If a “majority” cannot live in a multi-religious secular India, is it fair to ask a sizable minority to live under a theocracy?
If the majority vote went for independence or accession to Pakistan, what guarantee is there that the minority interests would be safeguarded? Although a few groups like the JKLF speak of secularism, their leadership and membership is almost exclusively made up of Sunni Muslims. No Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs comprise their membership. Besides, the JKLF has had close ties to Pakistan’s ISI – a close collaborator of the Taliban. This exposes the JKLF as opportunists of the first rank who mask their retrograde ideology in meaningless statements about secularism and freedom. One should not be duped by JKLF’s slogan of “Azadi.” One needs to be reminded that in the early 1990s, the slogan: “Azadi Ka Matlab Kya? La Illah A Illal Allah” equated “Azadi” directly to Islamic rule! It should also be noted that advocates of “Azadi” have often attempted to rally their supporters behind pan-Islamic slogans that linked a future “Azad” Kashmir to such highly intolerant Islamic states as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Regardless of what individual separatist leaders may say, there is a deep and unshakeable connection between the votaries of “Azadi” and Islamic fundamentalism.
Furthermore, the principle of self-determination must apply to all communities. If the Muslim majority in Kashmir province has a right to secede from India and form a separate state, the same right of secession must be extended to the Hindu minority to secede from that new state. If the Shias feel oppressed by the Sunnis, the same right must be extended to them too. The travesty of the demand by secessionists is that they want the freedom to secede, exclusively for themselves. They want freedom to deny others their freedom!
As a partial solution, some may suggest a region-wise plebiscite, but a look at the map of the undivided state will show how impractical that would be. The Kashmir valley seperates the remote regions of Kargil and Ladakh to Jammu and the rest of India. The life-line for the mountains of Kargil and Ladakh winds through the Kashmir valley. To allow the Kashmir valley to secede would destroy the lives of the people of Ladakh and Kargil. And what is worse, it could leave the Kashmir region itself divided into a patchwork of geographically disconnected principalities. By losing their seasonal mobility which could threaten their livelihood, the nomadic Gujar and Bakarwal people would be particularly affected by any such partition of Kashmir.
Are Kashmiris Oppressed?
Thirdly, it should be noted that the demand for self-determination leading to secession has usually been advanced by an opressed people. Are the Kashmiri people oppressed? In 1947, J&K was at the bottom of the economic ladder in India. In 1960-61 it ranked 11th among 16 states of India in per capita income; in 1971-72, 14th among 24 states. But with generous Central assistance it had improved its position by 1981-82 to number 7, surpassing industrial West Bengal, A.P., Karnataka and Tamil Nadu! [Ref: 3].
Most of the income increase had taken place in large urban areas such as around Srinagar where the Index of Social Development (which includes literacy, health care, access to other social services, etc.) is the highest of the 14 districts in the state.[Ref. 4] Yet, separatist sentiment is the strongest in this region!
Kashmir vis-a-vis Pakistan
What is even more striking is how Indian Kashmir is better off than Pakistan. Kashmir’s literacy at 59% is much higher than Pakistan’s 44%. In general, India’s social indices are many notches ahead of Pakistan’s. Even if Kashmir’s indicators were no better than the Indian average, it would be much better off with India than with Pakistan. Per capita calorie intake in India is now higher and infant mortality is lower. India has made greater strides in developing it’s infrastructure – whether it be railways, telecommunications or mass-media. Indians are now more likely to have access to a telephone, color TV or cable TV connection. They are also less indebted to the international finance community. Per capita hard currency debt in Pakistan is more than double India’s. India, being a secular state has given far more importance to scientific education and research. For example, in Pakistan, 4500 out of 5000 Ph.D.s awarded after independence, were in Islamic studies – i.e. less than 500 were in the sciences. In India, 40,000 out of 75,000 Ph.D.s awarded were in the sciences, and only a fraction of the other 35,000 were in religious studies. This means that although India’s population is about 6 times that of Pakistan’s, it has produced more than 80 times as many Ph.D.s in the sciences as has Pakistan.
All things considered, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have far more opportunities in India than they would, if they seceded and joined with Pakistan.
US goals and tactics
Fourthly, and most importantly: How does one factor in the role of imperialism? In spite of the seemingly “neutral” US role in the recent Kargil conflict, the U.S. is unlikely to give up Pakistan as its choice weapon against a large and “unmanageable” India unless, of course, the latter is balkanized into “manageable” segments. In addition, the U.S. has a special interest in J&K region. It is strategically placed in Asia from where events in the many neighboring states can be monitored, and when necessary, an intervention conveniently initiated, and carried out. For this reason the US prefers an independent state of J&K over which it can exercise easy control. If political conditions do not allow independence, the US would like to keep India and Pakistan in a continuing state of simmering hostilities over the “Kashmir-problem”. Pakistani rulers who danced to the tune of their British colonial masters prior to 1947, and since, to their imperialist masters have been more than happy to oblige. After all, India-baiting is the glue that Pakistan’s elite have used to keep Pakistan together.
Recent events indicate a possible “warming up” of relations between India and the U.S. It is important that India remain on guard and that it not be lulled into believing in the benevolence of imperialism. The US may adopt different tactics from time to time, but these should not be confused with being friendly towards India. It should be kept in mind that the US did not ask Pakistan to withdraw from Kargil untill it had become clear that India had reversed Pakistan’s military advantage. Reports had begun to surface of Pakistani soldiers being desperate to retreat, and Pakistani officers ordering them to hold on to their posts, or risk being shot at if they retreated. Pakistan desperately needed a cease-fire at that point. Prior to that, India was kept under constant pressure not to cross the LOC – and to negotiate with Pakistan. Soon after Kargil, the US adopted a diplomatically hostile position towards India re. the downing of Pakistan’s advanced spy plane after it had repeatedly encroached Indian territory and ignored prior warnings to desist.
It is also important to keep in mind US bullying of India on trade and economic matters. India has made several concessions in WTO but the US has not reciprocated in kind. Various economic and technological sanctions against India remain. None of this points to the US emerging as any genuine friend of the Indian nation.
In this unipolar world, fragmentation of third world countries (that are not not allied with imperialism) only helps imperialism, more so now that the counterveiling force of the Soviet Union is absent. Fragmented nations are far more likely to be more deeply indebted to foreign banks, to accept foreign military bases, vote with the US and it’s allies in the UN, and so on. They are also more likely to then suppress minorities within their borders, leading to new tensions and separatist tendencies.
Unlike Pakistan, a large secular and democratic country like India offers more opportunities for different communities to express dissent and gain influence. This is not to say that democracy in India is perfect, or free from all the problems that unequal distribution of wealth entails. However, considering that none of the separatists have a progressive (or more democratic) economic platform for J&K’s people, the relative benefits of aligning with India assume significance.
Consider how India’s current President hails from a historically oppressed community. Consider how Mayavati – a campaigner for the political aspirations of India’s most downtrodden castes became the first woman to become the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state. Consider how Mulayam Singh Yadav – a leader of India’s oppressed peasant castes became Defence Minister in 1996.
Consider also, India’s foreign policy. For most of its history, India has conducted a principled anti-imperialist foreign policy. Recently, it opposed the criminal bombing of Yugoslavia and it opposes the deathly sanctions on Iraq. Earlier, it had condemned the bombing of Sudan, and unlike Pakistan, it did not become a proxy for US imperialism in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Pakistan, on the other hand, played a vicious role in destroying the democratic revolution in Afghanistan, and participated in the Gulf War and in the Balkans. So it is not surprising that in the case of Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan should play a similiar role. As imperialism’s proxy in South Asia – Pakistan – has been injecting the poison of the two-nation theory ever since it was created. Those in Kashmir who are afflicted by this poison are in a minority and have been holding the majority of the state’s peoples hostage. One could argue that if they feel so suffocated and oppressed by the democracy and secularism that India offers, they could simply cross the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir and enjoy the sort of theocracy and intolerance they wish to impose on an unwilling population in India. But instead, they malign secular India at every opportunity, even though it is their own acts of violence and terror that have caused 20,000 civillian deaths and created 300,000 displaced people in the State.
In conclusion, it must be reiterated that the plebiscite and secession demand comes from a politically dominant and a vocal minority of Kashmiris and needs to be exposed for what it is. The overwhelming majority of the people of Jammu & Kashmir – 70- 80% – want to be part of a secular and democratic India and they are the ones who need our unqualified support to help defeat separatism and Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir.
Note: The combined population of “Azad” Kashmir and “Northern Areas” was about 25% of the total in 1947, it is 33% now, despite the fact that J&K ‘s population has itself grown at a high rate of 29% every decade since 1961. This unusually high increase in “Azad” Kashmir’s and “Northern Areas” population is attributed to Pakistan’s attempts to change the demographics of areas under its occupation, especially in “Northern Areas”, with the settlement of Punjabis and NWFP Pathans in these areas. This settlement policy was actively pursued after the Shia revolt of 1988 was brutally crushed by the now Pakistan military Chief, General Parvez Musharraf.
On the other hand, it should be noted that non-residents of J&K are prevented under the J&K and Indian constitution from buying property in J&K. This has prevented the Indian government from any attempts at changing the state’s demographics.