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A second Eden

April 20, 2017


GOD created a second Eden: Kashmir. Satan has made it his playground.

In autumn this year, Pakistanis and Indians will commemorate 70 years of independence. Jamuvals and Kashmiris have no cause to join in either celebration. The two constitutions they are being coerced to adopt were written decades ago in ink. Their epilogues remain unfinished. These continuous chronicles are refreshed daily by the crimson blood of a hapless nation that yearns to become a state.

Kashmiris do not need to be suckled on dried UN resolutions nor weaned on the soft bap of hypocrisy. What they deserve after decades of suffering is compassion, understanding. What they demand is the right of independent self-determination.

The very length of the dispute should shame India and Pakistan.

This was denied to Hyderabad in September 1948, to Goa in December 1961, to East Pakistan after the elections of1970, accorded to Hong Kong in 1997, and yet to be resolved in Gibraltar — that British carbuncle on the corpus of Spain. Spaniards have not forgotten that Calais for 200 years remained an ugly English pimple on the fair face of France, until ultimately squeezed out in 1558.

Since 1947, three generations have been born and died on both sides of the Line of Control. It could have been for them that Milton wrote in his epic poem Paradise Lost: “We know no time when we were not as now.”

Countless books and articles have been written about the Jammu & Kashmir morass, as many as there are martyrs buried and the living blinded. Open any one of these publications at random. They contain a recurring truth, one Milton articulated: “Who overcomes/By force, hath overcome but half his foe.”

Twenty-two years ago, Tavleen Singh published her brave account Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors. “Today, [she was writing in 1995] there are more than 500,000 troops and paramilitary men deployed in Kashmir to control its population of round 3.25 million, mainly Muslims […] The state that was once considered the most beautiful in India is now a vast military camp.”

Today, the combined population of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh is well over 12m and over 700,000 is the number of Indian troops deployed to ensure their voluntary accession of J&K to the Indian Union.

This Gordian knot has deceptively simple strands. “The government of India maintains that the state of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. The government of Pakistan remains committed to calling for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people,” Victoria Schofield (a contemporary of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto) wrote in her book Kashmir in the Crossfire (1995), adding: “At present neither India nor Pakistan appears to be in a position to alter its established rhetoric.”

Will there ever be even an intermission during this dangerous minuet of scorpions with nuclear tipped tails? Will the brittle minds in New Delhi and Islamabad ever be massaged into malleability by the unguents of expediency?

The very length of this dispute should shame the two governments into a mature, sober reconsideration of their positions. Will they ever talk without fearing its outcome?  Can ever, to quote Milton again, “true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced deep”’?

The last census conducted in India-held Jammu & Kashmir took place in 2011. It revealed that out of a total population of 12.5m, Kashmir had 6.8m, Jammu 5.4m, and Ladakh only 275,000. Kashmir’s Muslim majority stood at 97 per cent, Jammu’s Hindu majority at 62pc. Ladakh — larger in area than both Jammu and Kashmir combined — has a minuscule, pacifist population of Buddhists. On this side, the population of Azad Kashmir nears 5m, almost all of them Muslims. Should by some inordinate stretch of imagination a plebiscite take place, will voting follow religious affiliations?

The state elections in Uttar Pradesh recently have shown that coreligionists in India may pray together but they do not necessarily vote together. In UP, BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate, and yet it won so comfortably that it could seat comfortably a worldly-wise yogi as chief minister.

Will J&K’s ‘Paradise Lost’ ever be redeemed, become ‘Paradise Regained’?  Might that happen by 2047, when India and Pakistan shall celebrate their centenaries? Or will that be a wake for a century of missed opportunities?

Logically, all stakeholders have an interest in a swift, preferably bloodless resolution. They have come too close too often not to believe that a solution is possible. Yet, they are intimidated not by light but by shadows. “Who is the third who walks always beside you?” T.S. Eliot asks in The Waste Land. “When I count, there are only you and I together/But when I look ahead up the white road/ There is always another one walking beside you/Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded.” Like the serpent in Eden.

The writer is an art historian.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2017