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Why should US have a role in J&K?

By Arvind Lavakare
September 15, 2004 11:17 IST
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Wajahat Habibullah is an IAS officer of 1968 vintage and from the Jammu & Kashmir state cadre. Having served in his state in various capacities, including divisional commissioner in the nineties, he is said to be an expert on J&K who, moreover, currently holds the very high position of secretary in the Government of India.

A disturbing shadow must now be cast on those credentials after reading his recently released report of 19 pages (of A4 size) which, during a sabbatical with scholarship, he wrote for United States Institute of Peace and which bears the pedantic title 'The Political Economy of the Kashmir Conflict: Opportunities for Economic Peacebuilding and for US Policy.'

That report ( is absurd in its concept of 'Kashmir,' ignoring as it does the hybrid politico-geographical contours which, for decades now, have splintered the original political map of the erstwhile princely state of J&K. The report is superficial about its depiction of the eco-political situation in what is labelled as 'Kashmir,' and is somewhat hilarious in its recommendations for a US role as a facilitator in resolving the long-simmering dispute between India and Pakistan.

It is bizarre for any political analysis of the problems and solutions of the J&K impasse to focus entirely on that part of the state which is under the domain of the Government of India while totally ignoring discussion on the fate of those other portions of the former princely state that have long been under the control of Pakistan and China. Considering that the Indian part of J&K measures 106,567 sq kms, while that held by Pakistan is 78,114 sq kms and the two separate areas under China total 37,555 sq kms, any commentary on the 'Kashmir' conflict on the basis of the territory held by India alone is ridiculous. That, shockingly, is what Habibullah the 'expert' has done for USIP.

To illustrate, the report doesn't even mention that it was Pakistan that gifted territory to China from what it had occupied through blatant aggression. It talks of 'human rights abuses committed by the Indian security forces,' of the 'Kashmiris alienated from the state,' of the 'Kashmiris mired in poverty,' and of 'restoring to the Kashmiris the dignity compromised by India's rule over their land.' But it completely overlooks Pakistan's suppression of the so-called 'Azad Kashmir' (area: 4,000 sq miles) and its subjugation of the Gilgit and Baltistan region (area: 28,000 sq miles). The least that the man could have done before putting pen to paper is to have read the two interviews of Balawaristan leader, Nawaz Khan Naji, by rediff's senior editor, Ramanand Sengupta in March this year. ( and

With Pakistan always being America's favourite child vis-à-vis India and Uncle Sam being in some awe of China, the speculation is not illogical.

Take another incomprehensible imaging in Habibullah's report. While stating that India's argument for the legitimacy of its claim to J&K was the accession deed signed by the state's monarch, the author states that 'Pakistan has always questioned the legality of that compact' and that 'Pakistan has argued that districts with Muslim majorities should have been assigned to the new state of Pakistan.' He goes on to say, 'For India, this argument militates against the concept on which Indian nationhood is founded, namely India as a multiethnic, secular nation-state.' The reality is that whatever be Pakistan's delusion on this score, India's claim to the whole of J&K as it once was has always been on the basis of an accession contract signed as per the British parliament's mandate and valid as per the monarchical system of governance.

Then there are Habibullah's statements on the Kashmiris' sense of 'separateness,' of 'alienation,' of their demand for freedom. The reality concealed by Habibullah is that the political representatives of India's J&K are the ones who have always wanted 'separateness.' Right from the time four nominees of the state were appointed to India's Constituent Assembly after accession, and J&K got the separate state constitution it had demanded, every J&K state government in power has exploited Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to deepen that 'separateness' from the rest of India in ways dealt with briefly in this writer's last column.( No effort whatsoever has been made by the rulers of the Kashmir valley to become emotionally bonded with the rest of India; calls for abrogation of Article 370 by people in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the state as well as by some outside the state have been met with a threat of revolt.

Again, contrary to what is alleged in the Habibullah report, the Indian government has never stood in the way of increasing industrial and business opportunities in its part of J&K. Rather, as any expert on J&K would know, the state itself is largely responsible for this by denying the right to purchase immovable property to 'outsiders' who are not recognised by it as its 'permanent residents.'

ALSO READ: I did not ask for US mediation: Habibullah

The most serious damage that Habibullah inflicts on India's fair name is by his accusation that, like Pakistan, India too did not adhere to the UN resolutions of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949 advocating demilitarisation and a plebiscite thereafter to determine whether J&K should go India or Pakistan.

Now these two resolutions emphatically spell out the sequence of steps culminating in the plebiscite under UN auspices. All these steps were subjected to the first and foremost condition that Pakistan withdraws all its troops from J&K territory. Since Pakistan never fulfilled that condition, India just could never move on to other prerequisites of a plebiscite. Again, any expert on J&K should have known that. Instead of rushing to indict India, his India, in the matter, Habibullah should have looked up the US state department's secret archives on the subject -- surely available to him as one who had got a scholarship with USIP. He would then have found that Dean Rusk, US assistant secretary of state, had in fact upheld the legality of Kashmir's accession to India to a visiting British delegation in 1948. George Marshall, the then secretary of state, was also unwilling to challenge the legal validity of that accession or recognise Pakistan's presence in any part of the state before the plebiscite. Its only because of the scheming British who conjured a Soviet threat, stressed Islam's incompatibility with Communism and Kashmir's indispensability in Pakistan's defence that ultimately made the US disregard the Maharaja of J&K's accession to India and accept Pakistan's occupation of Kashmir's northern territories. (Narendra Singh Sarila in his edit page article in The Times of India, Mumbai, August 14, 2000).

Habibullah's report laments that Kashmir's 'economy is growing more and more slowly' and that 'the state's infrastructure is crumbling.' Since he is, as always, referring here only to the J&K state of India, the reality must be pointed out that, in 2003, the reputed India Today magazine gave J&K the ninth overall rank among the then 17 big states of India, the classification being based on eight factors of macro-economic performance. Another reality is that, according to a report by G Venkatramani in The Hindu of October 8, 2004, India's J&K has only 3.48 percent of its population falling below the poverty line and its consumption of foodgrains is higher than the norm of 420 g per capita per day set by the Indian Council of Medical Research. What's more, the research foundation of the internationally renowned economist, M S Swaminathan, has drawn up a 15-point action plan that will achieve a poverty-free J&K by 2007. Clearly, the government of India's massive financial assistance for over a decade and the presence of a large number of security forces with families have helped create a large market and a generally benign economic ambience in the state -- without any foreign aid of significance.

However, one of USIP's intentions in engaging a reputed Kashmir hand like Habibullah for preparing a report at a time when Indo-Pak relations are in the midst of a thaw may well have been to create slots for a US role in J&K's affairs, economic and otherwise. And the man has delivered the goods, albeit quite comically at places.

Thus, while calling for a direct role for the US in encouraging the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to provide low-interest loans in key areas of investment such as power generation, timber and food processing, the Habibullah report also states that 'the United States could engage the world's leading financial experts to help design multilateral investment programs.' The comic part is the recommendation that the Government of India's 'Ministry of Disinvestment could, in consultation with the World Bank, draw up a plan for channelling investment through private enterprise.' Dear, dear, if a senior civil servant of ours didn't know that our Communists had sent the disinvestment ministry packing even as he was writing his report, and that, in any case, 'disinvestment' meant only selling off government enterprises, god help USIP.

Similarly, Habibullah says US help to Pakistan in modernising its armed forces will enable Pakistan to achieve parity with India in the area of non-conventional warfare, encourage it to spend more on education and health care, rid Pakistan of the incubus of religion-based terrorism, restore a robust democracy in 'Kashmir,' undercut the rationale for unrest in 'Kashmir', and, thereby, presumably, facilitate a peaceful resolution of the 'Kashmir' conflict. As a formula for ultimate Indo-Pak peace, this one will take a lot of beating.

ALSO READ: I did not ask for US mediation: Habibullah

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Arvind Lavakare