A road map for self-government in Jammu & Kashmir
Among the “frozen conflicts” disseminated worldwide, the dispute over Jammu & Kashmir is one of the most overheated. As a byproduct of the decolonization of the former British Empire in Asia, the native population of Kashmir, a wide region located within the Western Himalaya, has found itself caught between the new-born Pakistan and India. The war in 1947-48 ended up in a partition of the Kashmiri territory on which the current status quo is still based: in brief, Islamabad is in control of the northernmost area named Pakistan Administered Kashmir, while New Delhi is of the remaining portion coinciding with Jammu & Kashmir. The two sides are separated by the so called Line Of Control that corresponds to the ceasefire line. Notwithstanding that more than fifty years have elapsed, the enmity between India and Pakistan remains as strong as it was at the very beginning and it is a source of dreadful acts of violence. Pakistan claims jurisdiction over Jammu & Kashmir and deems it an integral part of its territory. But also India does consider Jammu & Kashmir to be an integral part of its territory and shows no intention to withdraw. On the other hand, the population of Jammu & Kashmir is profoundly divided about the status of the region. There are those who advocate independence, those who support the unification with Pakistan, and those who request the right of self-government for Jammu & Kashmir. It must be also taken into account that other remarkable issues are intertwined with this dispute, such as the possession of nuclear arsenals by India and Pakistan as well as the stabilization of Afghanistan and the role of China and the US. In this domain, those with on the ground experience help deepen awareness around the Jammu & Kashmir question. To this end, l’Occidentale has interviewed Javaid Mustafa Mir, a major representative of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Minister in the Government of Jammu & Kashmir, and currently a deputy within the regional Assembly.
What are the main obstacles on the road to a peaceful settlement between India and Pakistan over Jammu & Kashmir?
The point is that the two countries do not come across each other in a way that they could truly interact with each other. At the negotiating table they bring only their own interests, regarding only their countries. They come with strong mutual reservations and as long as this the case it will not be possible to come to any agreement. As a consequence, India and Pakistan are not providing concrete contributions to peace and stability at a regional but also at a domestic level, given that they are dealing with internal conflicts as well. In both countries, such conflicts have become extremely violent and are setting the authorities against the population. That further undermines social cohesion, life conditions, and ultimately the chance of achieving a peaceful settlement.
Is Jammu & Kashmir represented in the peace process?
We are officially represented by India, but India, as I already said, is only interested in advancing its own interests. We are consulted on the matter, but India just pretends to take notice of our positions without ever supporting them.
Would you give us some more detail on your political party?
The PDP was founded in 1999 and its political program involves democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights. We are currently the main opposition party in the regional Assembly, while from 2006 to 2009 we were in Government. PDP is a secular and at the same time multireligious party, encompassing Muslims and Hindus. Among the Muslims, there are both Sunnis, like me, and Shias.
What are the powers of the local Government?
In practice, it has no real powers. It is all in the hands of New Delhi.
What is the official position of your party as far as the Jammu &Kashmir’s future status is concerned?
We speak of self-rule within the Indian constitutional framework. To this end, the party has just finalized a road map that will be presented officially very soon.
What about the position of the other parties in the Assembly on the future status of Jammu & Kashmir?
All the parties in the regional Assembly share basically the same view: self-government within the Indian constitutional framework. Differences emerge around the way to achieve this goal. The result is that each party has its own road map reflecting its own ideology.
India does not seem to be disposed to concede self-government to Jammu & Kashmir. Why?
There are two main reasons for this. From an economic point of view, Jammu & Kashmir is an asset for India. The region is endowed with noticeable natural resources. We have snow, mountains, and lakes, and thus a great potential for investments and development, especially in the field of tourism. Moreover, our water reserves are indispensable to fulfill the energy need of the whole country and the central government does not want to lose its grip on them. In sum, New Delhi wants to keep on ruling on our economy. On the other hand, there is the delicate issue of the territorial integrity of the Indian state. Jammu & Kashmir is not the only region to pursue self-government. Several other regions are strongly advocating for more autonomy or independence from New Delhi. Therefore, the government fears that, once allowed Jammu & Kashmir to meet its aspirations, it will be more difficult to contain other requests. At that point, the stability and even the survival of India as a federal state would be put at serious risk.
What are the arguments in support of self-government for Jammu & Kashmir which might reassure India about its fears?
We understand such worries. Jammu & Kashmir is the crown of India, we are on top. New Delhi thinks that losing Jammu & Kashmir would mean losing its head. This is why self-government within the Indian constitutional framework is the most reasonable solution. It will be respectful both of India’s territorial integrity and of the rights of Jammu & Kashmir’s people, who are entitled to control their own resources and develop their civil society. In essence, we just want to stand on our legs. Furthermore, self-government for Jammu & Kashmir would be the ideal compromise solution in the framework of the conflict between India and Pakistan. In a regional perspective, it would certainly help defuse tensions, establish cooperation, and open a new chapter in the history of South West Asia, Afghanistan included. All this makes the Jammu and Kashmir’s quest for self-government a unique case within the Indian federation.