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July 20, 2016
Can Peace Ever Overtake the Violence in Kashmir?
by Arshad Khan
The choreography of violence is being staged yet again in Kashmir. This time the
spark lighting the accumulated tinder has been the killing of a popular militant leader.
And the elected leaders cowering inside their guarded residences bear silent
testimony to the cogency of the state’s democracy.
Crowd control is not the usual remit of the military. Yet long periods of occupation
with a restive, angry population requires an iron fist. Even in Israel rubber bullets are
preferred. Not in Kashmir, where live fire is their response against rock throwing
young men. This time the official casualty count is 36 killed and 1500 wounded — a
little too lopsided a ratio and no doubt the killed column will keep increasing as media
attention tires. Estimates of civilian deaths since the troubles began range from
40,000 to 100,000.
Why is life so cheap? With avenues to a normal life closed for the most part, young
men have not much to live for, while the trigger happy security forces often suffering
casualties among their own comrades have little love for the Muslim Kashmiris. Small
wonder then that India refuses to hold a plebiscite allowing Kashmiris to decide their
own fate, a plebiscite mandated by the UN more than six decades ago.
And so the stalemate with Pakistan, where up to recently the nuclear weapons (as in
India) were never on a hair trigger. That has changed. In response to India’s new
‘cold start’ doctrine — meaning the Indian army groups at the Pakistan border always
attack ready without the two or three day (or more) marshaling of forces — Pakistan
has placed small tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of local commanders … while
India maintains use of any nuclear weapons will bring a strategic response, namely
nuclear ballistic missiles.
Is the world ready for a nuclear winter?
Clearly not. Yet the crux of the problem, Kashmir, appears insoluble, at least in the
foreseeable future. The closest anyone ever came was Pervez Musharraf. Soft
borders without altering maps to anger constituents was the central idea.
Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh, his counterpart, hesitated. And then Musharraf, left
too long with his own advisers, got cold feet.
So what are the options now? The status quo, but that is the problem. In a plebiscite
the Kashmiris tired of a repressive security apparatus are likely to vote against
remaining tied to India. That, India is unwilling to accept. It is also the real reason
India has reneged on its 60-plus year promise to hold a vote. One can of course add
a third option, namely, a politically independent Kashmir. The bitter pill of lost political
control will have to be sugar-coated with the Musharraf-Singh soft borders but without
the two countries’ joint control of Kashmir’s resources.
Over time, as in the case of Europe, trade and its economic benefits will diminish the
draw of the nation-state. As it is, global trade agreements are already eating away at
the legislative powers of individual states. Look at NAFTA and the proposed TPP. In
longer memory, current disputes will appear trivial and the sub-continent might even
have a shot at catching up in per capita GDP with independence contemporaries like
Malaysia and Indonesia. Even Sri Lanka despite a long civil war is way ahead.