Kashmir – the millstone around our neck

by Razi Azmi

Farooq Ahmad Dar being used as a human shield by an Indian army officer. PHOTO/Video screengrab/The Wire

I believe that this plan, by and large, has been on the table for some time but has not been taken up seriously. For neither country wants to be seen to be backing down from its long-held position for fear of a public backlash, ready to be exploited by opportunistic forces in both countries.

Incessant shelling along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir has led to the death of scores of Indian and Pakistani soldiers in the last few months, in addition to the casualties and suffering among civilians on both sides. Like an active volcano spewing smoke constantly, Kashmir is showing all signs of an imminent eruption, and threatening to explode at any time with devastating consequences for all around.

Divided de facto between India and Pakistan, but claimed by both, Kashmir has become a matter of nationalistic ego and a source of jingoism for New Delhi and, to a slightly lesser extent, for Islamabad. In this poisoned atmosphere, the issue itself has become confused with a solution seemingly impossible.

Indians are made to believe by their government that “Jammu and Kashmir” is an integral part of India, with all Indian maps showing the entire historical state of Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India. Most Indians are left with the impression that their country is in actual control of most or all of Kashmir. But rhetoric and bluster aside, India is in actual control of just over half (about 60 percent) of the historical state of “Jammu and Kashmir”.

Owing to the decades of propaganda in their own country about Indian occupation of Kashmir, Pakistanis are also left with the false impression that India occupies all of Kashmir, which rightly belongs to Pakistan.

As a percentage of its gross domestic product, Pakistan is one of the highest military spenders in the world, largely as a consequence of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s economy can ill-afford such a high level of military expenditure.

Hostility with India also prevents Pakistan from having beneficial trade and economic relations with its much larger neighbor. It also prevents us from exploiting the full potential of trade relations with Afghanistan and Iran and, by extension, with Central Asia as well.

Let us imagine the good that could come out of an Indo-Pakistan rapprochement over Kashmir, one that is also acceptable to the people of Kashmir. For the Kashmiris it would mean peace and for India there would be no insurgency, militancy or cross-border terrorism.

Kashmir is a festering sore on India’s body politic, a bleeding wound, a drain on the country’s resources and the source of a serious moral crisis. For both India and Pakistan, a solution would result in a massive boost to trade and tourism, and a huge reduction in military expenditures, etc.

Is a solution possible? It certainly is, with only minor concessions by both countries. To understand that, let us first describe the historical and geographical entity that is “Jammu and Kashmir”.

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