By Izeth Hussain –
Shortly after I left the Foreign Ministry in 1989 I had an invitation to speak on the Kashmir problem by the head of a leading Muslim institution, a retired Supreme Court judge. It was to be part of a series of lectures on various topics of national interest. I declined to speak on Kashmir – choosing instead the Palestine problem – on the ground that making the Kashmir problem an issue in Sri Lanka could complicate our relations with India. That might be resented by the Sinhalese on the ground that we Muslims were giving too much priority to our Islamic identity and Islamic commonality with Pakistan over the national interest. That retired Judge showed a ready understanding of my argument. I believe that that reaction was not atypical of our Muslims who for the most part have played down the Kashmir problem in Sri Lanka. I myself have not written even one single article on Kashmir, though my output of articles has been prolific since 1989.
The Kashmir problem today is very different from what it was in 1989. International interest in it has been provoked by the rebel upsurge there since July, and there was more recently some amount even of international alarm over the possibility of war between the two nuclear weapons powers, India and Pakistan. Locally there have been excellent articles by Rajeeva Jayaweera and Lathif Farook, and an excellent updated version of scholarly material from one of G.H.Peiris’ books. It is time for me to speak out on Kashmir. In this article I want to point to its relevance for the Sri Lankan nation, and also to the question of shaping a new world order.
I won’t go into details about the genesis and evolution of the Kashmir problem as the interested reader can easily access the appropriate material through the internet. I want to emphasize two points above all. One is that India has put itself completely, blatantly, outrageously in the wrong on Kashmir. The other is that it is time for the international community to address the implications of that fact. It would be irresponsible, indeed criminally irresponsible, to fail to do so because there is obviously a prospect of an Indo-Pakistan nuclear war breaking out. Two facts must be born in mind. One is that the world came perilously close to nuclear war over the Cuban missile crisis in 1961 – how perilously close is something that has been established only in recent times. The other is that Pakistan has made it clear enough that it would try to destroy India by using the bomb rather than face humiliation once again.
It must be acknowledged in favor of India that its behavior over Kashmir has been legally and technically impeccable. When irregulars from Pakistan invaded Kashmir in 1947 the Maharajah asked for Indian military intervention to repel them. Mountbatten, in the capacity of the Indian head of state, replied that that would be possible only if the Maharajah first acceded to India, which the latter proceeded to do. There followed in 1948 the UN Resolution calling for a plebiscite, to which India agreed. The Resolution was not mandatory, but advisory or recommendatory. Therefore India cannot be faulted for refusing on various grounds to hold the plebiscite. Prime Minister Nehru kept on promising over many years that the plebiscite would be held on the principle that the people of Kashmir should determine their own destiny, but that had no binding force particularly after Kashmir was Constitutionally incorporated into the Indian union.
A plausible case can therefore be made out to show that India’s position on Kashmir has been legally impeccable. But morally it has been blatantly and outrageously in the wrong. It was an accepted principle at the time of Partition that a state with a predominantly Muslim population would accede to Pakistan if it was territorially contiguous. That applied so clearly and unambiguously to Kashmir that the fact that it had a Hindu Maharaja should not have mattered in the least. It has never been clear to anyone why India was so adamant in refusing to hold a plebiscite. Krishna Menon was famous for his epic speeches at the Security Council which convinced no one. A popular theory was that Nehru’s Kashmiri Brahmin ancestry made it difficult for him to give up Kashmir. But it was Nehru himself who was most vociferous about the sacred right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own destiny. I suspect that the truth was that in refusing to hold the plebiscite India was challenging the very principle on which Pakistan was established: the successful integration of the Kashmiri Muslims into the Indian union would destroy the very rationale of Pakistan. Behind that was India’s arrogance of power towards a weaker neighbor.
An interesting question is whether Britain deliberately created Kashmir as a gigantic bone of contention so that India and Pakistan would not come together again. There were two notions that were widely current about the sub-continent until the ‘seventies. One was that India, which never was a unity historically and was a British political creation, would disintegrate after some time. The question used to be asked well into the ‘sixties, I recall particularly by Westerners, “After Nehru what?”, meaning that without a leader of his stature to hold India together it would disintegrate. The other notion was that Pakistan which was so obviously an artificial creation – with two wings widely separated by a thousand miles of alien territory – would disintegrate and rejoin India. Behind such notions there seemed to be Western fears about the emergence of an Asian great power.
The notion that the Kashmir problem was a British creation hinges partly around the role of Gurdaspur. I served in Pakistan in 1957/1958 during which time the established orthodoxy there was that Mountbatten was pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan and had therefore got the Kashmir Maharaja to accede to India, thereby starting the Kashmir problem. The Radcliff Commission was uncertain about what to do with Gurdaspur which had a slight Muslim majority but also an exceptionally important Sikh presence. By a process that is not clear to me Gurdaspur was integrated with India at the time of Partition, thereby providing India with its only territorial link with Kashmir. That was a crucial step in the evolution of the Kashmir problem, because in the words of Wikipedia Gurdaspur “offered the only viable route to Kashmir for the Indian army to take control of Kashmir after Partition”. That was taken by some Pakistanis as crucial evidence pointing to the Kashmir problem as a British creation.
What of the future? It may be that the upheaval that has been going on in Kashmir since July is a passing phenomenon. I doubt it. More probably there are factors of a structural order behind that upheaval. Factors such as the advance of mass education lead to rising expectations towards a better life, which could be the reason for the growth of identity politics and the problems caused by restive minorities all over the globe. If that structural explanation is correct, we can expect the upheaval to continue, probably in waves. But why not look for a way out? That will require a radical change of outlook on the part of India: it should stop trying to explain away the upheaval in terms of foreign-inspired terrorism. To me, the best way out would be a separate state for the Muslim majority area of Kashmir. That would certainly be better than India and Pakistan going on quarreling over Kashmir and risking nuclear war. (I will have to address separately the questions of the relevance of the Kashmir problem to the Sri Lankan nation and to the problem of shaping a new world order).