Kashmir debate

Print edition : May 03, 2013

A protest by members of the Jammu and Kashmir National Students Federation on the Azad Kashmir University campus in Muzaffarabad in November 2004. Photo: Shujaat Bukhari

An in-depth study of the real Kashmir problem, with the focus on “Azad Kashmir”, backed by facts and figures.

THE Australian politico-strategic analyst, author and academician Christopher Snedden’s latest book Kashmir: The Unwritten History is not an ordinary addition to a long list of books on the protracted conflict in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The book is by any means a different one for it not only gives a twist to the cause of the division of Kashmir in 1947 but also throws up a solution on the basis of what the author sees as “realities” on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).

Although mainly focussing on Pakistan-Administered Kashmir (PAK), or “Azad Kashmir” since it is officially called as such there, the book opens up a wider debate on the causes of the division and also talks at length about how the dispute can be resolved. Snedden argues that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been marginalised in the process of resolution of the conflict and that India and Pakistan have failed to break the ice as it seems that both the dominions have subtly reconciled to the fact of retaining their “portions” of the State. Calling the residents of the State J&K-ites, he envisages a primary role for them to decide the future of the State. “Let the People Decide” is the peg of his proposal to resolve the dispute, although he adds a caveat that the biggest challenge will be forcing India and Pakistan to agree on the process.

The book is well researched and gives a comprehensive overview, substantiated with figures and facts, of “Azad Kashmir”, its polity, economics, governance, administrative structure and electoral processes. This is perhaps the first book that devotes half of its pages to appendices, highlighting statistics and other relevant material dating back to 1947.

The most significant issue that Snedden has tried to bring to the fore is the debate around how and why Maharaja Hari Singh was forced to accept Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947. The general impression, which is mainly the outcome of the Indian discourse, which bails out New Delhi from any “allegation” of “forcibly occupying” the state, has been that it was the October 22, 1947, raid by the Pukhtoon tribal people from Pakistan that forced the Maharaja to seek India’s help and “temporarily” accede to India. The theories that have revolved around this are many, and one that was dominant in history books was that the Maharaja was not “keen to accede to India” and would have opted for an “independent and sovereign Jammu and Kashmir”.

The raid and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s (he was the tallest leader of Kashmir then) liking for India made the Maharaja shoot off a request for military help from India. Historians have hardly contested this theory as it has always been projected by New Delhi as the reason, thus legitimising the accession. But Snedden, taking full advantage of the events that shaped a little before and after 1947, tries to emphasise that there were at least three important factors that instigated the division of the state that ultimately were responsible for the present status of Jammu and Kashmir.

According to many analysts, this bails out Pakistan as well, as it is held responsible for pushing the tribal people to annex Kashmir. The three major actions, which the author highlights, include the Muslim uprising in Poonch in western Jammu, serious inter-religious violence throughout the Jammu region, and the creation of the “Azad Kashmir” government on October 24, 1947, which he believes was the final blow to the unity of the state.

Snedden also blames the disunity among Muslims for this division, as they constituted 77 per cent of the princely domain. But, according to him, the Maharaja was quite unpopular with his Muslim “subjects”, and his armed forces had lost control of large parts of the state. Had they (Muslims) been united, it would have been difficult for the Maharaja to take such a decision.

Snedden also suggests that the people of the state were desperate to decide their fate. He cites two further actions to strengthen this argument. “In late October-November, Kashmiris formed a people’s militia to defend themselves against the invading Pukhtoons who intended, after looting, raping and pillaging Kashmiris, to capture J&K for Pakistan and in early November pro-Pakistan Gilgitis rebelled and sought to join Pakistan.” These actions were enough to indicate their participation in 1947 in the attempts to determine the region’s international status, he says.

The author further tries to assert that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are the stakeholders in the unresolved Kashmir dispute. All these actions, the author maintains, suggest the need for taking the people on board to resolve the dispute.

An important aspect of the book is the detailed and in-depth study of “Azad Kashmir”. The author shows how “Azad Kashmir” has virtually become an “integral” part of Pakistan and is completely dependent on Islamabad. But for the pending resolution of the dispute on which Islamabad has tried to harp on, it is short of being a de jure part of the country.

Going by the present status and the actions carried out by Islamabad since 1947, the author says that “Azad Kashmir” has been totally subjugated and could as well be called “Pakistan Integrated Kashmir”. The author has done an exhaustive post-mortem of the evolving political system, governance, elections and role of Islamabad in the day-to-day affairs of “Azad Kashmir”. He concludes that the region has not been fully empowered despite the electoral processes that have taken place regularly, as “Azad Kashmiris” really do not determine the longevity of their Prime Ministers. This, in other words, means that it is Islamabad that holds the key. It is worth mentioning that the general impression that has been too wide is that it is the Army corps headquarters in the Murree tourist resort on the way to “Azad Kashmir” which is ruling Muzaffarabad.

The book emphasises a greater role for the people of Jammu and Kashmir (on both sides) and calls them the “third party” in the dispute since India and Pakistan have failed to resolve it. “Surprisingly, there are still no large, vocal pressure groups in India and Pakistan—no compelling constituencies—encouraging and pressuring their leaders to resolve the Kashmir dispute. This may be because Indians and Pakistanis have not properly understood the indirect cost to them of the dispute,” he notes. Equally, he says, “the two nations’ citizens have not fully understood what the long-suffering and politically peripheral people of J&K have endured since 1947.” He argues that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are at the centre of the dispute in every way and they need to be taken on board and not marginalised.

According to the author, the Simla Agreement of 1972 has changed the nature of the dispute as it was taken up by India and Pakistan as a bilateral issue, among many others. Snedden opines that the task of resolving the dispute must be taken up through an extended process of dialogue. He suggests that the people of Jammu and Kashmir, under the slogan “Let the People Decide”, must convene by whatever means they see fit, a body that “I have called the Council to Resolve International Status of J&K”.

He then outlines the steps the leadership on both sides of the LoC have to take, and suggests that India and Pakistan provide non-partisan support. He is confident that his proposal is worth considering and that it will not only benefit India, Pakistan and the J&K-ites but also resolve the status of “Azad Kashmir”, which is what the book is all about.

While the author is strong in his argument as well as in narrating the events that led to the division of the state, it is difficult to misjudge the 1947 tribal raid, for had it not happened the state may have been pushed to a “better solution”. The book, in that sense, should not be seen as a final analysis of the events that shaped the present status of the State. Nevertheless, it is a good read.