By Stanley Wolpert, Berkeley Year 2010 University of California Press PP. 126, Price Rs 1,695.
While the main focus of the book is the Kashmir issue, the author also brings to fore the contemporary domestic political scenario of the two countries. Wolpert persuasively argues that no issue other than the conflict over Kashmir ‘has proved more deadly, costly or intractable’ in the entire South Asia.
Wolpert jumps into the deep sea of the subcontinent’s history to trace the Kashmir conflict. Since 1148, when it was first mentioned in a historical text, Kashmir had remained a peaceful valley. Ashoka Maurya ruled the Indian subcontinent (269-232 B.C.E.) and founded the capital, Srinagar. Since that time, the valley had remained a symbol of peace,
harmony and tranquillity.
In the 8th century, Hinduism entered the vale via its most powerful Hindu monarch, Lalitaditya. The 11th century witnessed the advent of Islam through the conquest of Mahmud of Ghazni. The natives of the valley had the liberty to practise their religion as there was no religious discrimination under any of its many rulers.
The Afghan invaders brought pain and misery to the people and they were compelled to appeal to the Sikh Maharaja of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, to come to Srinagar to save them. He proved little better than his precursors and thus began the sorry saga of an inept and divisive leadership that continues to plague the Kashmiri people to this day.
The year 1947 was a milestone in the world’s history as two new states – Pakistan and India – emerged on the world map. The beautiful and peaceful valley turned into a ‘valley of blood’ when Lord Mountbatten left the destiny of 4 million Kashmiris to the personal choice of Maharaja Hari Singh. The Maharaja wanted to keep Jammu and Kashmir independent but this was not acceptable to both socialist Nehru’s India and Mr Jinnah’s Pakistan’. October 1947 witnessed the Jallianwala incident of Kashmir when the Hindu landlords opened fire on Muslim peasants who had refused to pay land taxes. This incident became the immediate cause for India and Pakistan to send their troops into the valley.
On 14 March 1950, the Security Council passed a resolution for a plebiscite in Kashmir and Sir Owen Dixen was appointed as plebiscite mediator. He proposed a possible solution to resolve the Kashmir conflict by dividing it into the Muslim majority Vale of Kashmir and its Hindu-Buddhist majorities in Jammu and Ladakh. Later on, the Security Council sent more administers for a UN plebiscite but India’s leadership turned a deaf ear to such proposals and the ultimate results were that both sides deployed more troops and heavy artillery close to the ceasefire line and often exchanged heavy fire across the UN ceasefire line.
Wolpert has criticised the leadership of both India and Pakistan for their short-sighted policies and parochial nationalistic approach.
On 7 July 2009, President Asif Zardari admitted that prior to the incident of 9/11 Pakistan was involved in training militants to use as proxies against India in Kashmir. India, on the other hand, has been involved in human rights violations and suppression of demands by Kashmiris for independence.
The author throws considerable light on domestic political upheavals of both countries since partition. He looks at a wide array of efforts on both sides for establishing peace and cooperation between the two countries. He argues that while Pakistan has witnessed three dictatorial regimes which have weakened its democratic institutions, India has seen the rise of Hindu nationalist parties and leaders such as Narindra Modi who have sought to widen the Hindu-Muslim divide and capitalize upon it.
‘Potential Solutions to the Kashmir Conflict’ is perhaps the most important part of the book where Wolpert analyses the ‘various entrenched sensitivities’ associated with the issue on both sides. He says that ‘the most realistic solution to the Kashmir conflict’ is the acceptance of the Line of Control as the ‘northern-most international border of India and Pakistan’. He argues that Pakistan has lost the moral ground to push for self-determination to Kashmir’s Muslim majority by failing to ‘sustain a freely-elected polity capable of protecting its own people’.
On the Indian side, the ‘most troubling potential obstacle’ to this ‘realistic’ solution would be the election of another BJP-led central government. Though Wolpert is emphatic about letting the Kashmiri people ‘choose their own leaders in free and fair elections’, he fails to point out that Kashmiris lack a unified stance on their proposed national destination. What is more important than India and Pakistan accepting a ‘realistic’ solution is the need for consensus among the Kashmiris about their future national and territorial status.