Sunday, August 24, 2008
Prognosis of Kashmir as the Valley Erupts Yet Again
It seems that the only time serious issues get any attention in New Delhi or Islamabad is when there is a major crisis. But, as soon as the crisis subsides, the issues are ignored or completely dropped. That's what seems to have happened during the last 4 years in South Asia when a golden opportunity to settle Kashmir presented itself. With armed Muslim groups in Kashmir dormant since the post-2004 thaw and President Musharraf of Pakistan eager to make concessions, the world has seen an era of relative peace in Kashmir which has now shattered again. The Musharraf formula envisions soft or porous borders in Kashmir with freedom of movement for the Kashmiris; exceptional autonomy or "self-governance" within each region of Kashmir; phased demilitarization of all regions; and finally, a "joint supervisory mechanism," with representatives from India, Pakistan and all parts of Kashmir, to oversee the plan’s implementation. It is clearly a missed opportunity in South Asia.
Land has been at the center of disputes and violence since times immemorial. So it is not surprising that the latest flareup in Kashmir is about land. About 100 acres of land was appropriated by the Indian government on a mountain route leading to a Hindu shrine and given to a Hindu religious trust. This decision was seen by Muslims as an attempt to change the valley demographics and triggered massive protests in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. The decision was later rescinded, leading to counter protests in Hindu-majority Jammu.
The latest media reports indicate that there have been dozens of civilian deaths. The massive unrest continues in spite of thousands of troops deployed in Srinagar and indefinite curfew imposed. Local media say 15 journalists were among those beaten by Indian police as they tried to cover the protest, despite having curfew passes. More violence is expected as protest leaders say this Monday's rally will go ahead despite the curfew. "They are scared of our peaceful but massive demonstrations for freedom," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, one of Kashmir's main separatist leaders, told AFP news agency.
In his December 2006 peace offensive, President Musharraf said that Pakistan could be willing to give up its claim to Kashmir if India agreed to a self-government plan for the disputed Himalayan region, according the Guardian newspaper . With Musharraf no longer in charge, and Pakistani leadership in disarray, it is not realistic to expect Islamabad to play any significant role in dousing the flames and start serious talks on Kashmir. With the Indian parliamentary elections due soon, it is not clear whether Delhi would now be ready or serious about positive movement on Kashmir, even if the leadership in Islamabad were able to engage again. Unfortunately, it seems that Kashmir will return to the bad old days for a while, at least until the leadership situation in both Delhi and Islamabad gets clarified.
Here is a comprehensive video on the origins and the positions of various parties involved in the Kashmir dispute presented by Pakistani Peace Activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy:
Musharraf's Kashmir offer
Kashmir Unrest reports by BBC
Lost Opportunities by Sumantra Bose
Pakistan MPs on Kashmir Violence