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A cracked record

November 08, 2014


I DON’T suppose young people know what a cracked record sounds like, but if they want to find out, they only have to listen to the governments of India and Pakistan.

Like a needle stuck in a groove, the words we hear are repeated time after time: befitting reply, befitting reply…

One would think that with its enormous wealth, the English language would offer the babus and politicians of New Delhi and Islamabad some alternatives for these mind-numbingly familiar words.

In fact, the recent exchange of accusations, counter-accusations and artillery shells smacks of déjà vu all over again. This endless cycle is now so tedious that we yearn for some originality. But I speak for those who live at a distance from the latest bout of violence along the Line of Control in Kashmir. For those on the border who suffer through the madness, it is hell revisited.

Every time either side decides to unleash a salvo to keep things on the boil, we hear the familiar accusations from both establishments. This time, though, the more bellicose sounds emanated from New Delhi, with the defence minister, Arun Jaitley, crowing that Indian forces had sent Pakistan running to the United Nations to protest.

At times like these, I long for an adult to step in, smack heads, and make the two immature states sit down and sort things out. How long will India and Pakistan allow Kashmir to dictate the agenda on a whole range of issues? How long will nearly 1.5 billion people in South Asia be kept hostage to the Kashmir dispute?

For how long will Kashmir dictate the agenda?

There was a flicker of hope when Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee seemed close to an understanding in 1999, but then Musharraf launched his tragicomedy in Kargil, and the peace initiative collapsed. Then, 10 years ago, Musharraf played the peacemaker by offering to solve the Kashmir issue away from the UN resolution that had been rejected by India 50 years ago. This time, it was Indian obduracy and short-sightedness that torpedoed any possibility of an agreement.

After each bout of violence that brings the Kashmir issue back to the front pages, pundits and talking heads hold forth on UN Security Council Resolution 47, passed in 1948, calling for a referendum in Kashmir. What they don’t mention is that the resolution directed that Pakistan withdraw all tribal fighters and nationals, while India was to thin out its troops to a minimum needed to maintain law and order.

To this day, Pakistan has not obeyed this directive, probably fearing that India would immediately take over the vacated area. When Pakistan entered into a military pact with the United States in 1954, Nehru declared that the geopolitical situation had been transformed with the induction of a superpower into South Asia, and therefore the UN resolution was now irrelevant.

The Shimla Accord of 1972, through which Bhutto won the release of some 90,000 Pakistani troops who had surrendered to the Indian army in East Pakistan, also appears to have superseded the earlier UN resolution as it calls for the resolution of all conflicts on a bilateral basis. So by appealing for UN intervention in his recent address to the General Assembly, Nawaz Sharif was waving a red flag before a bull.

Although all this is in the public domain, two generations of Pakistanis have been taught partial truths, and conditioned to believe that we are in the right, while India is flouting international law. Our pundits and TV chat-show hosts are either unaware of these basic facts, or choose to ignore them.

The other thing we conveniently forget is that the only choice offered to Kashmiris in a UN-mandated referendum is to join either India or Pakistan. Independence is not an option. But ask the young Kashmiris who have been protesting and dying what they want, and the answer will be ‘azadi’, or freedom, not union with Pakistan.

Since the late 1980s when large-scale protests first erupted, tens of thousands have been killed by Indian security forces. Indian human rights activists have documented terrible atrocities that have included rape and torture. People do not undergo such suffering just to exchange one oppressor for another.

Quite apart from the legality of the matter and what the Kashmiris want, the reality is that Pakistan has no support whatsoever from any quarter. Given Indian hard and soft power, there is no way Pakistan can tilt the balance in its favour. There is not a state in the world that publicly supports Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir.

The Kashmiris are a brave people who deserve independence. But it is a fight they have to win themselves, and not one for Pakistan to involve itself in. We need to see that our rulers are not supporting the Kashmiri cause out of a sense of justice, but because they want the territory.

So could we please lift the needle past the crack and get on with the rest of the record?

Published in Dawn, November 8th , 2014