The way I see the mess in Kashmir, there are various interested parties. Each comes with its particular motivations. As an Indian who wants to understand what's going on in that state, I cannot avoid trying to understand these parties, these motivations. So for a 53rd birthday, here's an attempt to explain how that goes.
First, there's the ruling establishment in Pakistan, a clique that seems to exist and prosper regardless of who is actually in office in that country. For decades now, this ruling establishment has made out that Kashmir is the centrepiece of Pakistan's very existence, that that country's soul and identity is inextricably linked to Kashmir. A mere dilution of that concept, let alone a solution to the tragedy of Kashmir, spells catastrophe to this establishment. For such dilution will also expose the shameful way it has betrayed Pakistan and kept it a poor, struggling country.
Second, there's the Indian state. Regardless of who is actually in office, two things never change: a consensus about Kashmir and the steady effort to persuade the rest of the country of its truth. These are the elements in this consensus: that Kashmir is irreversibly, undeniably, forever, and by the way also legally, Indian. That even so, we must keep hundreds of thousands of our best soldiers and policemen stationed there at an enormous cost in money, material and lives. That Indian nationhood is so fragile that a mere dilution of this view of Kashmir will dismember India.
Third, there are the assorted terrorists or militants or freedom fighters, depending on who's referring to them. I'm aware that they form a whole spectrum of loyalty and opinion, besides quarreling frequently and viciously with each other. I'm also aware that for those reasons, they probably cannot be lumped together. But in at least one thing they seem to agree, and that is their basic motivation: a general disaffection with India.
Fourth, there are the Kashmiri Pandits, driven cruelly from their homes. As a broad and general aim, they would like to return to a homeland of their own in Kashmir. But while they understandably find Pakistan distasteful, they are increasingly disillusioned with an India that seems indifferent to their situation. They are coming to understand a sad reality: whichever the political party, it sees the Pandits only as a pawn in its own wriggles towards capturing power. As a cause to score points with, not people to care about.
Fifth, there are the Kashmiris in the Valley. As far as I can tell, they are largely sick of three things: one, the endless years of conflict, two, India and three, Pakistan. The years have told them very clearly that neither country will actually let them decide freely what their future will be; that the land they live on, rather than the people they are, is the bone that India and Pakistan wrestle over. And today, the stakes are grown too high for either country to let go. They have understood as well that the militants are largely mercenaries and thugs; hopes of an end to the suffering certainly do not lie in that direction, if ever they did. They would like just to be left alone, but that seems less likely every day.
Sixth, there are those in India who believe the only solution in Kashmir is to -- and I quote from one such who once wrote to me -- "wipe Pakistan off the face of the earth!" These are also the people who say -- and I quote from another such who once screamed at me -- "Kashmir will remain part of India regardless of what the Kashmiris want!" To me, these guys seem wrapped in a consuming hatred of Pakistan. Hatred produces obduracy, and I cannot see that that is a viable basis for solutions. I know these Indians have their mirror-images across the border. I am confident that acting in concert and unchecked, they will ensure we all end up as nuclear French fries.
Finally, there are some others in India: those who are appalled by the escalating carnage in Kashmir, the frustrations and hatreds it has spurred in the rest of the country, the horrifying prospect of war. They keep urging the need for radical new thinking for the tangle in Kashmir, some major departure from the path we have followed there for half a century. They also urge that Kashmiris -- Pandits too -- have the chance to speak for themselves, and that it is time the rest of us listened. Again, I am confident these Indians have their counterparts across the border.
The indifferent and ignorant apart, I think everyone who is interested in Kashmir falls in one or another of the seven categories above. Send me a note if you're an eighth or ninth or tenth.
When I read about outrages in Kashmir such as the recent massacre of Amarnath pilgrims, or murderous bomb blasts in Srinagar, I despair that there ever will be an end to it all. Opinions on every side are so deeply entrenched, everyone is so convinced of the God-given truth of his own take on the situation -- as am I, too -- that there is no longer any dialogue. No exchange. No hope for peace. Sometimes I think even the desire for peace is ebbing fast. And that, as I sit here in Bombay, is a frightening thought indeed.
Still, you have to hold on to some optimism and hope. So for this 53rd Independence Day, I'd like to suggest a few thoughts.
1. Enough blood shed in Kashmir. Just enough.
2. Entrenched opinions have never got us anywhere. So let's begin by examining our own. To me, that means I must understand that if I think my views are reasonable, that lady out there has her own views and they sound reasonable to her. But since neither she nor I are about to vanish, we have to find a way to exchange our views, find common ground.
3. Pakistan's leaders often say something like this: "There can be no bettering of ties until India recognises that the core issue is Kashmir." India replies: "Kashmir is not the core issue." India's leaders often say something like this: "There can be no dialogue until Pakistan stops sponsoring cross-border terrorism." Pakistan replies: "We don't sponsor terrorism, we support freedom-fighters."
That is, each side has found itself a perfectly good reason to evade dialogue, and yet blame the other for that evasion. I'm not talking here about right and wrong on somebody's barometer. I'm talking about stubborn evasion.
You will find similar intransigence across other fences between those seven categories I listed above. Thus blame is everywhere, while introspection is not to be found. And any common ground is a very long trek away.
As long as we don't find common ground, the blood will flow. That takes us back to #1. And as we trudge back there, as we lose pilgrims and photographers and soldiers and policemen and just ordinary men and women and children every day, I wonder with Bob Dylan:
How many deaths will it take till we know,
That too many people have died?
Published in Rediff.com