The recent statements of Abdul Ghafoor Noorani, the noted constitutional lawyer during the release of his latest book about the Kashmir dispute seem to have stirred a hornet’s nest here. In these columns it was mentioned that the events of 1947 were full of conspiracies, intrigues, and manipulations and had also players far from our borders. One cannot solve the present problems by re-writing the history as per our liking. History needs to be recapitulated only to the extent of learning from the past mistakes and not to rake up the roles of various players which are bound to cast shadow on the possible future resolutions. The number of writings about the happenings of 1947 can easily fill up a whole library. There were dozens of well-known as well as obscure characters who played their part not only in partitioning the sub-continent but in creating disputes still plaguing us. As Alistair Lamb has rightly put it, Kashmir is a disputed legacy of the partition for both the countries but at the same time it is a tragedy for its inhabitants.
Following Noorani Sahab’s statement, a number of articles have appeared refuting his contention that Jinnah had been a stumbling block to plebiscite in Kashmir. According to him, if Jinnah had agreed to partition in three states of Hydrabad, Junagarh, and Kashmir, there would be no dispute and everything may have been honky dory! Well, the events of 1947 were not so simple. One need not recapitulate what has been written in dozens of books and what is available through some of the de-classified secret documents of those days. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not the only player in the game. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, VPS Menon, Maharaja Hari Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, Meharchand Mahajan, Lady Mountbatten, Radcliffe, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Mirwaiz Yousaf Shah, GM Sadiq, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Liyaqat Ali Khan, General Akbar Khan, Sardar Ibrahim, and a large number of other personalities played their roles in the birth of the tragedy of Kashmir. Mahatma Gandhi too played a role because of his soft corner for Kashmir as he had seen here the only ray of light in the burning sub-continent. Apart from this George Marshal and Ernest Bevin also played their part. All of these people are now dead.
The tragedy of Kashmir was compounded by three major wars of 1947, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil episode when the sub-continent came close to a nuclear flashpoint defused by the American intervention. The last 65 years have seen many upheavals in Kashmir in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes. Thousands have disappeared even without a trace. Human life and dignity have lost all meaning for the suffering Kashmiris. In fact, the obsession of the two neighbouring countries to possess the territory of so called “Paradise on Earth” has played havoc with the lives of the common people in the sub-continent due to diversion of precious resources to strengthening of the war machines. In spite of 65 years of so called freedom and independence, hundreds of millions of people in both the countries are without basic living facilities and are still living below the poverty line.
Kashmir of 2013 is not the Kashmir of 1947. Much water has flown down the River Jhelum. If one has to think of a solution, it has to be based on the present ground situation. In 1947, Kashmiris were confused. They were aspiring for freedom but at the same time were feeling attracted to Pakistan. They were not very keen to join India. Now, most want to be totally independent. Pakistan has lost the charm for them. India has alienated them to the extreme. However, the situation is not similar in all the regions. Two and a half districts of Jammu and the Leh district of Ladakh (hoping the Chinese do not gobble them up!) may prefer merger with India. Kargil may like to join Baltistan. On the other side both Gilgit-Baltistan and the Pakistan Administered Kashmir may settle for more autonomy within Pakistan. That leaves the valley and its peripheral Kashmiri speaking areas. It could become a free zone both economically and politically.
This could happen only if there is an all-round consensus and Kashmiri Pandits come back to complete the disturbed social and cultural milieu of the Kashmir of good old days. This may seem a utopian dream but it could be something to discuss and work on. In the alternative, all the units of the erstwhile state may decide to stay as an integrated unit with regional autonomy and completely free and easy access to both the neighbouring countries as well as to China and Central Asia. There are many possibilities but these can be debated only in a conducive atmosphere which needs to be created by all concerned. As a columnist friend recently observed, “Let History be History” and we should now start debating the future instead of getting emotionally stuck in the past!