By a coincidence, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was in India during the annual kite-flying festival and he did indeed do some of his own on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. He proffered unsolicited advice that in order to deal with terrorism India must 'solve' the Kashmir problem. It is easy to dismiss this as utterances of a new entrant to foreign office. But that would be a huge mistake. In all possibility, Miliband was testing waters to see the reactions in India on behalf of the incoming Barack Obama administration in the United States.
Obama is on record as having said that he will accord priority to solving the Kashmir issue and there were plenty of 'leaks' to the effect that former US President Bill Clinton may be appointed special envoy for Kashmir. The American logic is unassailable, from their point of view. With the war in Afghanistan going badly for NATO and it allies and further danger of the whole of Pakistan's northwest falling to the Taliban, America needs Pakistani support more than ever. As a quid pro quo Pakistan is demanding that in order to make the anti-Taliban fight a success, it needs to show some gains -- obviously at the cost of India. As far as Pakistan is concerned; a 'solution' to the Kashmir problem at the minimum means that India must surrender the Kashmir valley and Doda-Kistwar area to Pakistan. This is the so-called 'Chenab solution' that has been bandied about for the last 60 years.
It is interesting that every time India is subjected to a terror strike, international pressure mounts on us to solve the Kashmir problem. The world is oblivious to the fact that today in the light of peaceful polls (with over 60 percent voting) in Kashmir, the greatest support to and agitation for 'Kashmir', is being conducted in Lahore and other parts of Pakistan, while Kashmir is largely peaceful.
But it is futile to blame the world for our follies, specially that pernicious breed called 'pseudo-liberals'. We began on the wrong foot when we meekly accepted the typical Western formulation of equating 'Muslim Pakistan' and 'Hindu India'. Even 60 years after the event we fail to hammer the point that India is a 'secular' State with more Muslims citizens than Pakistan. We also failed to tell the world that while Pakistan where Hindus and Sikhs accounted for close to 12-14 percent of the population in 1947, today it is less than 2 percent. While in India the population of Muslims has grown from 12 percent in 1947 to close to 18 percent now.
Even in the case of Kashmir, the Pandit community that numbered close to 200,000 has been hounded out. India has failed to bring this immense tragedy to the world's notice for the fear of backlash against Indian Muslims. Fair enough, but how does that square up with the media support to Kashmir separatism? Let us make no mistake, the Kashmiris in the valley have masked their demand for secession as movement for 'freedom'. We have also been guilty of ignoring the rest of the state and focussing excessively on the urban areas of the valley. It is the Indian media that has lionised petty valley politicians with a support base of less than a few thousand, into leaders who loftily claim the intent to do good to the whole subcontinent.
In my frequent visits to Kashmir, I have often posed a question to Kashmiris. What is his definition of 'aazadi'? Does it mean freedom of religion, speech, movement or economic activity? And which of these freedoms were not available to him in India? There was really no coherent answer. The constant theme was that 'Kashmir was separate from both India and Pakistan'. Having been studying the Kashmir issue for over two decades now, I pointed out that Kashmir was linked to India ethnically, historically and economically. Kashmir was always a part of the Indian subcontinent, never separate. The growth of the separatist sentiment is the legacy of last 60 years when the indulgent media legitimised the issue of the creation of a 'unique' Kashmiri identity.
How do we deal with this likely storm to be unleashed by the new regime in the US? There ought to be a two-pronged approach -- one, we must show readiness to deal with disgruntled elements in Kashmir strictly within the bounds of our Constitution. Secession is out and that must be told clearly. Two, as for Pakistan, it is time that we tell that country that it has no locus standi as far as Kashmir is concerned. Till such time as we do not take a clear-cut stand on the issue, we keep alive the hope of Lahore-based jihadis and invite terror attacks.
Barack Hussein Obama, who claims the Abraham Lincoln legacy, needs to be reminded that above all Lincoln fought a bloody civil war to keep the union together. Why does he wish to deny that to India?
Colonel Athale is the Chhattrapati Shivaji Fellow at the United Services Institute, New Delhi, working on a project on internal security. He is also coordinator of the Pune-based think tank Inpad.