Fifty years ago, the Canadian scholar, Michael Brecher, published a book called The Struggle for Kashmir. In the introduction, he quoted the following statements: “Kashmir is one of the great problems that may cause the downfall of India and Pakistan” (Henry Grady, American ambassador to India, January 1948). “So long as the dispute over Kashmir continues it is a serious drain on the military, economic and, above all, on the spiritual strength of these two great countries” (General A.G.L. McNaughton, United Nations mediator, February 1950). “So vital seems its possession for economic and political security to Pakistan that her whole foreign and defence policy has largely revolved around the Kashmir dispute… Far more than the Punjab massacres, which, though horrible, were short-lived, it is the Kashmir dispute which has poisoned every aspect of Indo-Pakistan relations” (Richard Symonds, British social worker and author, 1950). “Kashmir is the one situation you could never localize if it should flare up. It would influence the whole Muslim world. [It is] potentially the most dangerous in the world…” (Ralph Bunche, senior UN official, February 1953).
These warnings were uttered dec- ades before the rise of Islamic terrorism, before the advance of Hinduism, and before the two warring parties became nuclear states. They have been prophetic indeed. The foreign as well as defence policies of Pakistan are yet dominated by the dispute over Kashmir. The dispute continues to be a strain on the economic and spiritual strength of both India and Pakistan. And willy-nilly, it has drawn in the “whole Muslim world”, not least through the hundreds of foreign jihadis who have entered the valley to aid — some would say distort — the struggle for azadi.
The battle for Kashmir was, and is, not merely or even mostly a battle for territory. Its deeper significance was pointed to by an early mediator in the conflict, the Czech diplomat and scholar, Josef Korbel. As he found, the battle for Kashmir was nothing less than an “uncompromising and perhaps uncompromisable struggle of two ways of life, two concepts of political organization, two scales of values, two spiritual attitudes”.
On one side is the idea of India; on the other side, the idea of Pakistan. In the spring of 1948, the British journalist, Kingsley Martin, visited both countries to see how Kashmir looked from each. Indians, he found, were utterly convinced of the legality of the accession to it of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. And they were bitter in their condemnation of Pakistan, which, in their view, had orchestrated the “tribal” invasion of the Valley in October 1947. To the Indians, whom Martin met, the religion of the Kashmiris was wholly irrelevant. For, as they saw it, India was a secular country. The fact that Sheikh Abdullah was the popular head of an emergency administration was “outstanding proof that India was not ‘Hindustan’ and that there are Muslims who have voluntarily chosen to come to an India which, as [prime minister] Jawaharlal Nehru emphasized, should be a democracy in which minorities can live safely and freely”.
But when Martin crossed the border he found “how completely different the situation looks from the Pakistan angle”. Most people he met had friends or relatives who had died at the hands of Hindus and Sikhs in the Partition riots of 1946 and 1947. In Karachi and Lahore, the people were “completely sympathetic” to the raiders from the Frontier who, in their eyes, were fighting “a holy war against the oppressors of Islam”. Martin’s conclusions were endorsed by the veteran Australian war correspondent, Alan Moorehead. On a visit to Pakistan in 1948, he too found that the Kashmir conflict was looked upon “as a holy Moslem war…Some of them, I have seen, talk wildly of going on to Delhi. Everywhere recruiting is going on and there is much excitement at the success of the Moslems”.
Both sides had invested men and money in the struggle for Kashmir. More crucially, they had invested their respective ideologies of nationhood. I have quoted foreign observers from the Forties and the Fifties; let me now invoke some representative subcontinental voices. In October 1949, the then widely read Bombay weekly, The Current, carried a fascinating debate on the future of Kashmir. The protagonists were both young journalists — both Muslim, but one Indian, the other Pakistani. Both were asked to answer the question: which way would the Kashmiris vote if the UN did succeed in holding a plebiscite'
Speaking on India’s behalf was the gifted novelist and script-writer, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. One-fourth of Kashmir’s population, he said, were squarely behind Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference — these were the politically conscious, “progressive” elements. Another one-fourth were just as resolutely opposed to the Sheikh — these consisted of those “fully indoctrinated by the Pakistan ideology”. But half the voters were undecided — they could go either way. These were attracted to the person of Abdullah, but also “susceptible to the cry of Islam in Danger”.
When the day of reckoning came, Abbas thought that the memories of the raiders’ brutalities and the appeal of the progressive ideology of secularism would tilt the balance in favour of India, such that the state as a whole would vote for accession to it. However, if India “wanted to make absolutely sure of a comfortable and convincing majority”, then the Maharaja and his dynasty had to be removed, and the Sheikh allowed to fully implement his socialist economic programme.
The next week, Abbas was answered by a Karachi-based journalist, Wares Ishaq. He believed that the pull of religion would ensure a Pakistani victory in any plebiscite in Kashmir. Islam, he argued, was not just a religion, but a culture and a way of life. There was only one circumstance in which the Kashmiris would disregard the call of the faith — if India actually lived up to its claim of being a secular state. However, after the death of Mahatma Gandhi, the position of minorities was fraught with danger. In particular, wrote Ishaq, the lifting of the ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the encouragement to the RSS members to join the Congress, “has finally convinced Muslims all over India, and specially in Kashmir, that their position in India will always be that of a downtrodden minority”. Thus, when the crunch came, the bulk of the Kashmiris would vote to join an Islamic state and “the Islamic comity of nations”.
These arguments were not put to the test, since the plebiscite proposed by the UN was never held. Yet, recalling this debate today, one is struck by how contemporary it sounds. The idea of Pakistan is unchanged, but the originary idea of India is under grave threat. One would be hard put now to find an Indian leader committed, as Nehru undoubtedly was, to “the progressive ideology of secularism”. More and more Muslims are coming round to the view that their “position in India will always be that of a downtrodden minority”.
Unless this changes, and changes soon, our claims to Kashmir will be open to question, and not just by our adversaries. In the aftermath of 9/11, the government of India had a first-class opportunity to woo the West on our side. The Americans and Europeans should have been reminded of our democratic and secular Constitution, and of the fact that we have a large and (outside Kashmir) peaceable Muslim minority, not to speak of substantial communities of Sikhs, Christians and Jains. Instead, we had the Gujarat riots in early 2002, and, since, the rapid rise to national prominence of the likes of Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia. These are men determined to convert India into a “Hindu Pakistan”. If they succeed, they will first destroy our case for Kashmir, en route to destroying India itself.