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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Of nationalists and loyalists


...as we try and forge ahead in this conflict-ridden region with limited civil space and access to our resources, further handicapped by India and Pakistan's insistence on a top-down approach: will the current generation succumb to 'might is right' (even though it evidently doesn't have any answers) or will they be able to conjure up creative solutions to assert 'people's right' and break the impasse that an under-reported dichotomy of nationalists and loyalists has delivered thus far?

In an effort to crystalise views and thoughts that widely differ within and across regions of the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu and kashmir, it could be useful - though not immune from controversy - to apply a binary distinction to the citizens residing in this disputed territory viz. nationalists and loyalists.

A recent two-day conference in Muzaffarabad magnanimously entitled, "International Conference on Kashmir in Emerging Global Perspectives" was an opportunity to assess whether the primary stakeholders in the (Kashmir) issue, namely the citizens of the territory as well as the secondary stakeholders, namely the governments and citizens of India and Pakistan; were gradually moving towards what could be generally termed as a concrete resolution. After all, most opinion and commentary irrespective of it's origin, is unanimous in stating that the resolution of Kashmir holds the key to socio-economic development, peace and security in the region.

Perhaps the foremost indicator of whether real progress in the resolution discourse is emerging is to ascertain whether or not a traditional 'top-down' approach adopted by India and Pakistan (thereby acting as primary rather than secondary stakeholders) has given way to a 'bottom-up' approach whereby the primary stakeholders have the necessary democratic space and access to resources to devise that sustainable yet elusive solution. Judging from the proceedings at AJK University and other events emerging this week i.e the detention of Gautam Navlakha at Srinagar Airport and India's distaste for The Economist's mapping of the region, the answer is contended to be an emphatic 'NO'.

A continuation of a top-down approach that simultaneously marginalises nationalists and rewards loyalists is a tactic that may make enduring rational sense to the conflicting economic and security concerns of India and Pakistan. However, it is an approach  consistently yet unfruitfully repeated since the 1930's a la Muslim Conference/Muslim League and National Conference/Congress, albeit now with a larger variety of agents. Whether it can endure in an age of open information and the high moral ground of peaceful resistance is a test that is yet in it's infancy.

Despite the grand scale and expense of the conference in Muzaffarabad and it's blessings from the powers-that-be in India and Pakistan, notable for their absence were representatives from Gilgit Baltistan who don't necessarily see themselves as a part of kashmir but certainly consider themselves to be a part of the Kashmir Issue. The essence of free academic thought should have ensured their involvement. A sole representative from Ladakh and the absence of representatives from Doda, Kishtwar and Rajouri amongst others, added to the academic injustice. The exclusion of nationalists in AJK including some who were dissuaded from attending and presenting papers to the conference, further points to a 'controlled environment'.

Nevertheless, despite the persistent 'top-down' approach to conflict resolution and the lack of comprehensive representation of all affected areas, the exercise was by no means futile. Much as the CBM's between India and Pakistan have induced limited travel and trade across the LOC, it would be wholly wrong to outrightly condemn them for their restrictive structure, as at least some citizens have benefitted who hitherto had no recourse. Likewise, though many aspects of this Kashmir Conference were limiting, it was considerably more than what had taken place for most of these past sixty-four years. Essentially, measures conducted so far by India and Pakistan have to be judged in a relative sense. Being absolute would undoubtedly frustrate us in the manner of previous generations.

The idea of cross-LOC interaction including journalists, academics and members of civil society from Delhi (as well as Kashmiris from the diaspora) in an academic environment in Muzaffarabad, may have been unthinkable some years ago. It could even be termed as a precursor to the possibility of Kashmir providing the venue for free, open political space for Indians and Pakistanis. A space restricted in India and Pakistan by their conflicting national interests. For those who've recommended Kashmir to be a bridge between India and Pakistan, one cannot think of a more effective means of realising that aspiration. Indeed, witnessing the exuberance of cross-LOC interaction from close quarters at this forum led one to imagine that anything was possible.     

Aside from these rare conferences and one must appreciate the selectivity involved in such exercises, there is scant opportunity for interaction between the primary stakeholders of the Kashmir issue. Just as stone-pelting has been considered to be a reactionary tactic to the lack of democratic/civil space for the Valleyites, ocassional verbal abuse of Pakistani State machinery on this side of the LOC is a reaction to the exclusion of meaningful political expression. A protest outside AJK University a day before the two-day conference was an example of that.

Meanwhile, in spite of the diverse viewpoints and multiple narratives that emerged from the conference, including those views that were allegedly sponsored; there was a definite strand in almost all conversations that a lack of independent thought existed. There was also an indication by some that the prevailing socio-economic structure (either side of the LOC) stifled people's natural as well as national instincts. The inability of India and Pakistan over the years to engage with independent minded people throughout the territory further restricts the scope needed to find a sustainable solution. It was clear that bilateralism buttressed by loyalists wasn't going to take us in that direction.

In the closing ceremony of the conference, one was desperate to analyse what sort of follow-up would ensue. Would there be an acceptance of greater and unfettered intra-Kashmir dialogue? Would there be a new understanding and empathy for the people that have suffered due to India and Pakistan's stated economic and security concerns? Or will intransigence persist? Hearing the AJK President Zulqarnain reminiscing about his childhood visiting Jammu and Srinagar and his lamentation over not having the opportunity to re-visit since 1947, seemed to prise out the emotional bond that binds people of the erstwhile State and hovers way above the slogan of 'kashmir banega Pakistan' (Kashmir will become Pakistan). His intention to further the plea of introducing a smart (identity) card for citizens throughout the State to enable them hassle-free cross-LOC movement with a similar document for vehicles, seemed genuine and full of promise. He re-iterated that he would put this heart-felt suggestion to the Government of Pakistan and hoped that his counterparts on the other side of the LOC would make a similar suggestion to the government of India. His impassioned plea could not have been expressed better by a nationalist, one thought.

Finally, as we try and forge ahead in this conflict-ridden region with limited civil space and access to our resources, further handicapped by India and Pakistan's insistence on a top-down approach: will the current generation succumb to 'might is right' (even though it evidently doesn't have any answers) or will they be able to conjure up creative solutions to assert 'people's right' and break the impasse that an under-reported dichotomy of nationalists and loyalists has delivered thus far?

...


The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 1st of June 2011

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