Kashmir: Produced by 1947, sustained by Indo-Pakistan thereafter

Kashmir: Produced by 1947, sustained by Indo-Pakistan thereafter

Afsan Chowdhury,

As Pakistan celebrated August 1947 and India celebrates and mourn both, Kashmir bled in a war called by many names since 1947. To India, Kashmir is split into two with Pakistan occupying one half and to Pakistan the story is the other way around. Kashmiris are also split into several groups, with some taking either of the sides and some wanting the third path, independent Kashmir. Whatever be the politics, the fact remains, Kashmir has remained 1947’s bitterest and most violent legacy.

It makes no sense now to recall what happened in 1947 that led to the present plight of Kashmir but that the area remains a point of violence for both India and Pakistan where the venom of 1947 can be replayed endlessly with substantial dividends.

The fight is never about Kashmir but the national Indo-Pak ego and its role in mobilizing hatred towards each other to serve a variety of internal objectives.  Hatred has high domestic political value and keeps countries united.  And if the enemy is external, it can become a safe socio-political safety valve without undue repercussions.

The battle for ‘Kashmir’ defines Pakistan’s national psyche almost as much as the concept of ‘Pakistan’ itself does. Pakistan was never a united state and its relationship with the branches and provinces have always been ‘colonial’, a fact Pakistan learned bitterly in 1971.

When complaints rose after the 1965 Indo-Pak war that East Pakistan could have been occupied had India wanted so, Pakistan said, that the security of East Pakistan lay in the West, meaning the priority was always in defending Kashmir.

Pakistan state’s ‘guarantor’ is the army and that army fights for Kashmir, has done so several times with India. Which is why in 1971, it was impossible for the Pak army to let an ‘East Pakistani’ like Sheikh Mujib take power in whose party manifesto there was no strident reference to the liberation of Kashmir.

Sheikh Mujib of East Pakistan could not be trusted to sustain the high level of enmity with India built around Kashmir which sustains the Pak army. It was a question of the Pak army’s survival and they had no option but to crackdown to save the army.  Kashmir provides that excuse sustaining the army’s role as the ‘guarantor’.

For India, Kashmir doesn’t directly support the life of the army as there are many other enemies including China. But it serves as an essential ingredient to create the ‘hostility’ that is useful to maintain a high level of internal domestic agreement on the ‘National enemy no 1’.  It also helps that the elite of both countries roughly share many cultural traits.

To that end India has successfully produced the Terrorist and Kashmir in one package which has been successful in keeping public opinion on its side. As a result, any action on terrorism becomes a defense of its position on Kashmir, hence justified.  Hence, the external enemy serves a social mobilization purpose. Without Kashmir, India would be more vulnerable internally in dealing with the centrifugal forces of the margins.

Assam: The forgotten partition

But interestingly, nobody speaks of the other partition beyond that of Punjab and Bengal which is the Assam partition of 1947.  It was done along religious identity line as well and the Muslim majority district of Sylhet which through a referendum became a part of Pakistan/ East Pakistan.

The key to the forgetting of Assam by everyone particularly India may lie in the fact that it was bordered with East Pakistan with which India had no open hostility and vice versa. However, politics in Assam is centred along the thorny issue of Bangladesh migrants settling there, a socio-economic practice going back to the 18th century.  Hindu revivalist parties have steadily gained ground there.

But it’s convenient to forget Assam as a partition issue by all since blood doesn’t boil in respective capitals due to lack of border conflicts and international media has therefore no interest in it.  It’s not the Partition per se that is the issue but the post-partition conflict and bloodletting.

The problem is not the Partition as a continued legacy of hate but the inadequate evolution of the post-1947 states as modern constructs. The governance mindset appears to be as under developed as the colonial model from which they sprang.

Kashmir’s problem was its geography lying in the middle between India and Pakistan with a largely Muslim population ruled by a Hindu king.  Whatever be the dynamics of politics and demography, both fought wars over it, and have failed to find a solution in 70 years.  If the people of Kashmir continue to suffer, it’s not because the British left back a colonial legacy but because the states which inherited the history and fight over it have failed to graduate into fully modern states.