A communal scheme

Published : Nov 19, 2004 00:00 IST

A Gujjar family in Aliabad Serai in south Kashmir. The Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir has consisted of well-defined regions that are secular in character and are based on culture and geography. - PRAVEEN SWAMI

A Gujjar family in Aliabad Serai in south Kashmir. The Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir has consisted of well-defined regions that are secular in character and are based on culture and geography. - PRAVEEN SWAMI

The Musharraf plan targets the harmonious mosaic of diversities in Jammu and Kashmir and threatens to blow it apart, which even violence in the State in the last 15 years could not do.

"I HAVE never spoken like this before to anyone. I will request you to decide on these lines," Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said, describing his proposals for Jammu and Kashmir as "food for thought". The President became the first head of state of Pakistan to acknowledge a lesser discussed reality of the complex Kashmir tangle - that Jammu and Kashmir is a linguistically, ethnically, geographically and religiously diverse State, and no solution can escape this indisputable fact.

In an enthusiastic backing of the formula, a senior Pakistani journalist, Imtiaz Alam, wrote in the Pakistan daily The News: "Mindful of Indian constraints and responding to the ground realities of a diverse former Jammu and Kashmir state and varied aspirations of roughly ethno-geographically contiguous regions, the president has come out with a non-communal approach... ."

The Pakistan President has for the first time underscored an important fact - that there is little in common between Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and the Kashmir Valley, as both have different ethnic and linguistic bases. Hence it was not a surprise when Pakistan's trusted ally in the Kashmir Valley, Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, did not show much enthusiasm about the proposal. Musharraf's proposal goes against Geelani's long-held view that Jammu and Kashmir should have the right to self-determination and it being a Muslim-majority State would opt for a Muslim-Pakistan.

But Musharraf's disagreement with the hardliners in the Valley ends here and his desire to unleash tendencies of communal disharmony within the State becomes quite apparent. The President has left little doubt that religion would be the final basis for identifying the five regions on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC). Besides the Kashmir Valley, the new regions envisaged by the General are carved out of the Jammu and Ladakh regions purely on religious lines. This exactly coincides with the proposals to reorganise the State on a religious basis, which influences political tendencies accordingly. Thus the Musharraf plan targets the harmonious mosaic of diversities and threatens to blow it apart, which even violence in the State in the last 15 years could not do.

Incidentally, the hint to the origin of the Musharraf formula comes from the reaction of the leadership of the radical pro-Pakistan Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen. In a statement, the militant organisation said: "Musharraf is trying to force an American solution thus making an ideological surrender with regard to the Kashmir issue and hence betraying the people of Kashmir."

The international connection behind Musharraf's new formula seems quite obvious when the events are studied threadbare. On December 1, 1998, the New York-based Kashmir Study Group headed by businessman Farooq Kathwari, who is originally from the Kashmir Valley, proposed in a report "that a portion of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir be reconstituted as a sovereign entity (but without an international personality) enjoying access to and from both India and Pakistan". In essence, the proposal seeks to maximise within certain constraints presented by terrain and transport the cultural homogeneity of the new state in terms of the Kashmiri language.

In sum total, the group, which has several members of the House of Representatives and academics as its members, was making a case for condominium (a territory in which two sovereign powers have equal rights) status for the Kashmir Valley between India and Pakistan. Almost six years later, President Musharraf talks about condominium as one of the solutions, thus giving up for once Pakistan's rigid and adamant demand for a plebiscite in a united Jammu and Kashmir.

The similarity is stretched even to the identification of seven regions in the second part of the Kathwari report, which came later (Frontline, October 22, 1999). It contained seven versions with a detailed sketch of various options arrived at with the help of U.S.-based academics specialising in political geography. In all the seven versions given by the group, the communal fault-lines were clearly visible. In six versions, the report suggested the break-up of the Jammu and Ladakh regions. The main criteria for division seemed to be religion, with little regard to the bonds of language, culture and economy, and with the aim of creating a purely independent Muslim state.

For instance, in version A of the report, the mountainous district of Poonch and three northern tehsils of the adjacent district of Rajouri were proposed to be separated from the rest of the Jammu province merely because it had Muslim settlements of the Gujjar tribe and the Pahari community and then merged with the proposed independent Kashmir state. The explanation given was: "This predominantly Muslim tract has had close ties with Kashmir valley over many centuries and would likely to opt for inclusion in a Kashmiri state if given the choice."

The absurdity of this argument is proved by the fact that Pahari is a linguistic identity and it also has under its umbrella Hindus and Sikhs. Moreover, Pahari is just a dialect slightly different from the language spoken in the rest of the province. Similarly, Gujjar Muslims in the State are a nomadic tribe and are ethnically and culturally closer to Hindu Gujjars in the rest of country than to their co-religionists in the Kashmir Valley. They are spread over other parts of the Jammu province in large numbers. The call for the merger of these non-Kashmiri speaking tracts with the homogenous Kashmiri-speaking valley was itself a contradiction.

The same logic is extended to the Ladakh region, which in a different version of the report was divided into Muslim-dominated Kargil and Buddhist-dominated Leh. Balti-speaking Shia Muslims living in Kargil were proposed to be merged with Kashmiri-speaking Muslims. Thus, the Kathwari report blatantly contradicted the original premise of creating a culturally homogenous state. In reality, there is nothing in common between these parts of the Jammu and Ladakh regions and the Kashmir Valley except Islam.

The KSG report was dismissed in India as the creation of regions on the basis of religion strikes at the very roots of secularism that India practises. But, interestingly, the mainstream political currents in Jammu and Kashmir have from time to time unintentionally set off communal fissures in the way envisaged by the protagonists of the KSG report.

Soon after the visit of Farooq Kathwari to Jammu in early 1999, where he had a prolonged meeting with then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, the National Conference government came out with a similar set of proposals. The N.C. proposed the creation of the Pir Panjal region comprising the Muslim-majority Rajouri-Poonch and the Chenab valley region comprising Muslim-majority Doda district and the Muslim parts of Udhampur district, thus dividing Jammu province on religious lines. Similar proposals were made for bifurcating the Ladakh region into the Muslim-majority Kargil region and the Buddhist-majority Leh.

On account of the nationwide condemnation that greeted the proposals, they were never implemented, but the damage had been done - political parties came to know the short-term benefits of divisive politics. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh's (RSS) Kurukshetra resolution of mid-2002, when it called for the trifurcation of the State into Jammu province, the Kashmir Valley and the Ladakh region, was part of this scheme; it furthered the communal gulf within the Jammu region and widened the regional gulf vis-a-vis the Kashmir Valley.

The Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir has consisted of well-defined regions, namely Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, which are secular in character and are based on culture and geography. Pro-Pakistan groups in Kashmir and Hindu communal forces in Jammu have been consistently trying to undermine the regional identities and replace them with religious identities. Both get indirect support from some American think tanks, which have not realised the strength of the cultural diversity of the State. The State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mohammad Yosuf Tarigami, says: "It is no wonder that the U.S. State Department has hailed the latest formula of President Musharraf, which replaces regional identities by religious identities. This would not only be dangerous for the secular basis of the State but also pose a serious threat to the very basis of the Indian nation, which is based on secular values."

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