With the Americans making themselves comfortable in the neighbourhood, with world leaders buzzing around whispering advice on how to make peace with Pakistan, and with President Musharraf earning brownie points for attempting to do an Ataturk in Pakistan, the pressure is now on us to make the next move. The challenge is to make sure that this is a move forward, and not backward. We need to move our arguments on Kashmir forward even before our army is moved back to peacetime locations. We need to explain why we want Kashmir, why Pakistan is wrong on the issue, and why Kashmir would be better off with us.
So, why do we want Kashmir to remain with India Forget for a moment the legalistic view that Kashmir is ours since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession. The only reason and this is the language our politicians and media must talk is that India is determined to build a State that is neutral between communities, religion, caste or ethnic identities. This view may be some way from ground reality, but it is the ideal the world is moving towards, and it is also the ideological basis for the creation of the Indian State.
If anybody has a case on Kashmir, it is India. India-baiters (in the US and elsewhere) can question this claim, but we need to emphasise a simple point: the fact that our secularism is still flawed is less important than the fact that the State is committed to it. A civil war and a century-and-a-half after the abandonment of slavery, African-Americans are less equal than their white brethren in America. But that is not to say that America as a country is committed to discriminating against them forever. And thats what counts: a commitment to steady improvement.
On the other hand, Pakistan was created on the basis of a sectarian ideology. Even Pervez Ataturk Musharraf didnt abandon the Islam banner while singling out the jehadis for harsh mention. He wants to turn Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state, not something secular. The ISI-backed jehadi elements that ran riot in Kashmir went about systematically cleansing Kashmir of all non-Muslim elements and the Pandits are homeless in their own state. Which brings one to a more fundamental reality: the core issue between India and Pakistan is not Kashmir, but the ideology of Pakistan as an Islamic, sectarian state, where other people have to live as second class citizens. This is why talks in Simla and Lahore have not blunted the one-sided enmity of the Pakistani establishment towards India.
This is also why talk about turning the Line of Control into an international border makes no sense a dispute over territory can be resolved any way, but not something as fundamental as this. The cold war lasted as long as the US and the former USSR were locked in ideological combat over the ideal relationship between the State and the individual. The near-war between India and Pakistan falls in the same category. Once this ideological issue is resolved, Kashmir will no longer be a core issue for anyone.
Finally, why should the Kashmiris stay with us Why should they not get azadi The answer to this question is more complicated, but there are several reasons. First, India is not a colonial power in Jammu & Kashmir. If it were so, it would have sent the rest of Indias population to Kashmir as China is doing in Tibet and Israel in Palestine to reduce the locals to a minority. The fact is, India has been extremely sensitive to the Kashmiris sense of identity. While the presence of half a million men in uniform may seem to suggest otherwise, the fact is that they are there only to fight terrorists. When that fight ends, they can go wherever else they are wanted. And Kashmiris will get the same azadi that all Indians get the right to vote, the right to elect their governments, and the right to life and liberty.
Second, if azadi must mean something, it has to go beyond map-making, which the world is tiring of anyway. Azadi must now be reinterpreted in terms of greater devolution of power to all states in the Indian Union and Kashmiris will benefit from that as well. If the European Union can bring countries together in economic union, if states in the US enjoy enough power to feel a sense of freedom, what is it about Kashmir that is different