Sunday, 29 March 2009

Kashmir and India in Western Eyes

The following post is a letter I wrote to the BBC commenting on a news report I saw about Kashmir just before the state elections in J&K in November 2008.

While watching BBC World News I saw a report about a protest by separatist leader Yaseen Malik's supporters in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The report mentioned that there were protests because of Malik's arrest. There was no mention of the reason of arrest. That is an important fact missed.
It was not mentioned what kind of protests occurred, peaceful or rioting, how many people were protesting in what parts of J&K. My concern is not about things that were missed but things that were added.

There was also a seemingly factual comment mentioned at the end of the report stating that many people in J&K wish independence from a "Hindu" India or a merger with "Muslim" Pakistan.

While the fact about a "Muslim" Pakistan is certainly true. But the concept "Hindu India" is not quite true. "Hindu" is a name given by outsiders for the religion of a majority Indians and accepted by them. "India" is a name given by outsiders for the country and accepted by the people of the country. But "Hindu India" is a factual error and suggests that "Hinduism" is a national religion of India. I would say mentioning it adds a certain slant to the reporting, that should have been avoided.

I would like to see BBC reporting about the facts that India is a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-linguistic country, which is the truth. Would adding that description also add a slant to the reporting?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Kashmir - An Ideological Dispute

Kashmir is not so much a territorial dispute as it is a remnant of the ideological differences about partition of India on religious lines. Pakistan’s justification of claim over Kashmir is that it has a majority Muslim population, and hence after partition of India it should have merged with Pakistan based on the two nation theory that was radically preached by Jinnah. India’s claim on Jammu and Kashmir comes from looking at the state and its people from a different prism.

As per 2001 census the population of Jammu and Kashmir is approximately 10 million, which is about half of Bombay and it suburbs or the National Capital Region of India and amounts to 0.98% of the population of India. Kashmir is multicultural, multi linguistic and diverse in all aspects of human civilization. Religion is only one of those aspects. Population of Jammu and Kashmir has a diverse ethnicity , language and culture. There are three major regions in the present Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir; Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Jammu extends the culture of neighbouring Punjab and has a majority Hindu population. Ladakh is the largest of three and has a majority Buddhist population with cultural links with neighbouring Tibet. The vale of Kashmir is overwhelmingly (95%) Muslim and is the most populous region of three. The Sufi Islam practiced in the vale is tolerant of the differences that exist in the region and this tolerance had allowed a minority of Kashmiri Hindus to live in peace with their Muslim neighbours for nearly a thousand years. That was so, until they were evicted from the vale by Islamic militants during the beginning of insurgency in 1989. People of Kashmir valley have a shared heritage and culture which is in a sense different from the other regions of the state. [3]

The difference in ideology that made Pakistan separate from India is also the reason for it to seek Jammu and Kashmir as its own. The ideology of unity and diversity that governs India also makes it consider that Jammu and Kashmir has a common destiny with the rest of India. The majority of the population being Muslim does not make Jammu and Kashmir in anyway unsuitable for sharing its destiny with the rest of India rather it makes it an essential ingredient of the multicultural pot purée that is India. Jammu and Kashmir symbolises the ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity of India.

Apart from a cultural claim that India has over Jammu and Kashmir, it also has a legal claim over it because of the instrument of accession signed by the erstwhile ruler of Jammu and Kashmir in favour of joining the Indian union. The circumstance under which the instrument was signed is quite well known. Pakistan with the interest of owing territory in former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir imposed an economic blockade on it. It sent tribal invaders along with regular army personnel, armed with Pakistani army weapons to Jammu and Kashmir. [1] Following the invasion, Maharaja Hari Singh sent a distress call to Delhi for assistance in flushing out the invaders. When Delhi set the condition of Maharaja signing the accession treaty, the Maharaja obliged. In October 1947 Indian Army was airlifted to Srinagar to protect the capital and flush out the invaders. The point to which the invader could be pushed before a UN brokered ceasefire was brought into effect, became a ceasefire line between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir.

After the cease fire in 1949 Pakistan has made several attempts to alter the ceasefire line with force. In 1965 expecting a weakened India after its 1962 war with China, General Ayub Khan the military dictator of Pakistan made a failed attempt to claim territory in Jammu and Kashmir by force. First sending covert infiltrators into the state and later involving the regular Pakistani military. [4] In the war in 1971 which was fought over Bangladesh, Pakistan opened a front in western India. Following the surrender of Pakistani Army in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir became the current Line of Control between India and Pakistan in that state.

In the 1980’s America under Reagan administration followed a policy of covertly supporting Pakistani and Afghan religious militants to bleed Soviet army in Afghanistan. Pakistan under the leadership of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq more than obliged with the American plan to pursue its own interests in Afghanistan. [6] Since the successful US covert operation in Afghanistan Pakistan became an active military ally of US and received military assistance in the form of modern weapons and training for its military personnel. General Zia introduced hard line Sharia Islamic law in Pakistan and religious fundamentalism has been on a rise in Pakistan ever since his reign. The Reagan administration also failed to prevent Pakistan from acquiring technology for developing a nuclear bomb. [6]

Emboldened by the success of its operations in Afghanistan and acquisition of a nuclear weapon, the Pakistani army naturally saw the effectiveness of using the same forces to make India bleed in Kashmir. Ever since the creation of Bangladesh which Pakistani army considers a humiliation at the hands of Indians, it has sought revenge. The armed insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir began in 1989 with the support of Pakistani army and helped by the sheer mismanagement of public discontent by Indian administrators. It began as a rebellion by Kashmiri youth trained in the Pakistan in the use of arms of the same variety that was supplied to Afghan militants by US. With time it transformed into a terror campaign fed by men preached in religious fundamentalism from Pakistan and Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years Pakistan has fuelled the terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir with impunity. Calling Jammu and Kashmir a disputed territory has become a justification of armed aggression by Pakistan, whether overt or covert. The Kargil misadventure in 1999 is a case in point. After 50 years of its first armed aggression in Jammu and Kashmir and creation of a cease fire line, Pakistani army tried to alter the Line of Control one more time by means of capturing strategic mountain heights in the Kargil and Drass sectors of Jammu and Kashmir, starting what is known as the Kargil war. The Indian army because of a glaring intelligence failure and failure in vigilance of this region had to flush out Pakistani invaders at the cost of nearly 600 lives of its men. [5]

Reaching a situation of stalemate in Jammu and Kashmir the terrorists and their handlers have spread their activities to other parts of the country including recruiting cadre from disgruntled youth and criminals from the rest of India also. The pattern remains the same. The terrorist elements are brought to Pakistan and trained in terror training camps operating there, and sent back to India to carry out violent acts under instruction from handlers in Pakistan; always maintaining a level of ambiguity to deflect any direct claim of involvement of the Pakistan government of the day. Some of the biggest attacks that were carried about by these elements were the Kandahar plane hijacking in 2000, the Akshar Dham temple attack, the Parliament attack in 2002, bomb blasts in various Indian cities like Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay and Ahmedabad, including high profile attacks in Bombay like the suburban train explosions in 2006 and the attacks in several iconic building in South Bombay by armed terrorists in November 2008. The mastermind of 1992 serial bomb blasts in Bombay is also believed to be hiding in Pakistan, although Pakistan continues to deny this.

The increase in terror attacks against civilian population by the Islamic terrorists has lead to the leading nations of the world pressing on Pakistan to curb the activities of these groups. The US which holds a particular leverage over Pakistan has pressed upon it to act. Indian threat of retaliation is a reason for US persuasion of Pakistan but it is clear from the public statements from officials and ministers from both US and UK that they would sooner or later fall in the trap of linking the Kashmir “dispute” with the terror acts being conducted from Pakistan. Pakistan would continue the sabre rattling and justify the aggression in Kashmir by the claim it makes on the territory.

The role that western nations and China have played in Pakistan is based to their own self preserving interests. Both the west and China have helped Pakistan make a considerable military strength to be able to challenge India. The interest of China is quite clear. It wants to keep India engaged with Pakistan considering that it has hostile claim on parts of India too. China also illegally occupies parts of Jammu and Kashmir . Enemy’s enemy makes a friend. West on the other has used Pakistan for its military goals in Afghanistan in particular and South Asia in general. Perhaps the remnants of their hostility towards Russia with India’s continued engagement with that country and also India’s independence in world affairs makes them continue to use Pakistan and Kashmir is a tool for controlling the Indian elephant. The west sees India’s independent views on issues of international concern as a problem. China has opposed expansion of permanent members in the UN Security Council which directly affects India’s say in matters of international concern. The relative weakness of Indian military and economy allows west and China to continue their policies without much resistance from India.

India’s problems in Kashmir are costing it dear in terms of its own security, both internal and external. India as yet does not have fully mature and efficient security establishment in place. The Indian Police is plagued by inefficiency and corruption. This is a fact which, any ordinary Indian citizen would have experienced in any part of the country. The trouble in North Eastern part of the country and the Maoist insurgency in tribal regions of the country are serious security concerns. A hostile and militarily strong Pakistan has done enough harm to India’s security. The impunity with which it continues to sponsor Islamic terror needs to be stopped. The Pakistani military does not need submarines, missiles, advanced tanks and fighter jets to fight the terrorists it is purported to be fighting in its tribal regions. It is imperative on India to press upon the leading nations of the world to check the military growth of Pakistan. But before Indian administrators will be effective in that, they need to demonstrate an ability to rescue its own Police from the present state of affairs. It is a matter purely in control of the elected representatives of the country. India needs to get its own house in order before it can persuade others to respect its security. Perhaps one might even suggest that internal security and justice to its citizens is a bigger priority for India than external threats. If the internal strife cannot be exploited by other hostile nations then India will be in a better position to negotiate with them.

Coming back to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the previous assertion of internal security and justice is applicable here as well. Religious harmony is of utmost importance for India to live up to its ideology. Corruption and heavy handedness on part of the security forces is of a bigger concern in Jammu and Kashmir than anywhere else in the country. [2] This is so because of the sheer number of security forces present in the state and the security laws in force there. Allegation of illegal detentions and civilian death whether deliberate or accidental do not help the army’s cause in Kashmir. [2] A combination of getting our own house in order and pressing upon the world to demilitarize Pakistan is needed for the security in Jammu and Kashmir. Given that the support of Pakistan to terrorist organizations acting against India is out in the open for quite some time now, it is essential for India to press upon other nations not to strengthen the military of Pakistan with arms sales and training. Recent statements made by the government of India in this regard are a welcome step. This needs to be reiterated in international forums and during bilateral discussions with China, United States and other European countries.

Turing the LOC into a permanent border to end the claims and counter claims on the region by India and Pakistan is a valid proposition. If the partition of India was acceptable solution for preventing a civil war, then an acceptance of the Line of Control as International border for perpetual peace is an argument worth making. What is needed is acceptance of this reality by Indians including Kashmiris and the Pakistanis, just as the people of the subcontinent have accepted the partition of India in 1947. It is in the hands of present and future administrator of India to prove that the ideology on which the Nation was build will last the test of time and a better integration of the people of Kashmir in national mainstream will take place. To quote Nehru “Let us lay the foundations well and the rest will inevitably follow.”

[1] Nehru: The Years of Power by Vincent Sheean, Random House, 1960
[2] "Everyone Lives in Fear" - Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir by Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Right Watch Report, September 2006
[3] The mosaic of Jammu and Kashmir by Balraj Puri, Frontline Magazine Volume 18 - Issue 09, Apr. 28 - May 11, 2001
[4] Kashmir - Research Paper 04/28 by Paul Bowers, House of Commons Library, 30 March 2004 (
[5] Dispatches from Kargil by Shrinjoy Choudhary
[6] Failed States – The Abuse of Power and The Assault on Democracy by Noam Chomsky, Penguin Books, 2006

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Silent Protest

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese rule. In March 1959 the people of Tibet finally revolted against the Chinese army following events which were termed as ‘Rape of Tibet’ by the Hindustan Times. The Chinese had invaded Tibet in 1950 to establish political and military control of the region. In 1959 it undertook to conquer the entire Tibetan territory. At that point of time Beijing then known as Peking had a feudal suzerainty over Tibet, but Tibet depended on India for most of its communication and trade links with the rest of the world. India never had any claim in Tibet apart from a historical right to trade with the region. Communist China annexed Tibet with military might and the rest of the world watched. There were protests by India but with no avail [1]. In 1959 following the failed uprising the Dalai Lama made a dramatic escape to India dressed in Chinese army uniform. The young spiritual leader of Tibet was given asylum in India and he formed a Tibetan government in exile. Ever since the failed revolt of 1959 Tibetans have been silently protesting against the occupation. 50 years have gone by and much has changed in the world. For almost 30 years now the Dalai Lama has changed his demand of full independence of Tibet to that of a ‘meaningful autonomy’. Essentially Tibetans want nothing but freedom to preserve their culture, environment and religion in Tibet.

Tibet has a highly developed culture. Buddhism spread to the rest of East Asia from Tibet and it has been a high learning center of Buddhism in the world. The people of the country are economically and politically poor because of the harsh climate, but spiritually it has always been rich. Communist china has subverted that freedom. There isn’t much political freedom in the regions which can be termed as heartland of China, expectation of such a freedom in Tibet is an illusion, under the current political system there. India’s position on the topic of Tibet is termed ‘overly cautious’ by the Dalai Lama.
Over the years the Dalai Lama has transformed from the Spiritual leader of Tibet to high moral leader of the world. His words should not be taken lightly by any government in New Delhi. The overly optimistic view that government of India had about its ability to keep friendly relations with China in the 50’s resulted in a surprise attack by China in 1962. The principles of Panchsheel were broken by China with this war. None of the principles have been followed by China ever since. The principles were:
(1) Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty;
(2) nonaggression; (3) noninterference in each other's internal affairs; (4) equality and mutual advantage; (5) peaceful coexistence and economic cooperation.

The overly cautious attitude that we have about not meddling in China’s affairs has enabled it to continue to subvert the people of Tibet and at the same time continue to hurt India in other matters of its security. China has maintained its claim on parts of India, continues to occupy parts of Kashmir, and continues to support Pakistan militarily.
There were recent revelations by an ex CIA officer about suspicion of China being responsible for the transfer of Nuclear know how to Pakistan, including that of China conducting the first nuclear bomb test on behalf of Pakistan within China.

While we compromise on the Tibetan cause in a hope to keep friendly relations with China, the Chinese have lost no opportunity in acting in ways counterproductive to India’s interests in the world. The recent Chinese protest against expansion of UNSC is a slap in the face. One can’t help but compare with how India went to all lengths to get the world to recognize China and award it a permanent membership in UNSC in the  1950s.

India need not ignite or fan the fire of protest in Tibet. But what India can do is allow the Tibetans forced to live in exile in India to be more vocal of their demand without being too worried about the Chinese response. By silencing their protests we are helping Beijing subvert the people of Tibet. We should facilitate a resolution of the Tibet issue. We should be taking up the cause of Tibetans in bilateral discussions with China and in international forums more openly. Their protests need not be silent any more. Their demands should be allowed to be more vocal. We believe in a multicultural, multi religious, multi ethnic democracy at home. We have created a system in our nation to give equal right to all citizens in India. We have an interest in the political freedom of people in all the neighbouring countries. That is directly related to our future security. A regime that subverts the freedom of its people is a threat to its neighbours too. A transformation in Tibet can bring a transformation in China as a whole that would be beneficial for the rest of Asia as well.


Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A Choice to Make

The general elections in India are just round the corner. Soon we will be electing member of parliaments from 543 constituencies in India. In the previous election a fate of more than 5000 aspirants was decided by nearly 380 million of voters. There are close to 300 million who did not vote. Election commission has over the years reformed the parliamentary elections keeping pace with changing times. Introduction of electronic voting machines, enforcement of moral code of conduct, introduction of voter ID cards are the most visible form of these reforms. Nation as a whole is more aware of the importance of voting because of the various public information campaigns launched by Private Businesses, NGOs and also Election Commission.

One reads about the court litigation ongoing about the right of negative voting for citizens in newspapers. I read a few years ago about section 49-O of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 [1] of India. Like many young middle income professionals of today I have never voted. How can I be so assertive about the term many? That is matter of personal experience. Friends and colleagues of mine including me have an apathy of current politics. Not that we do not believe in the democratic system and the benefits of a liberal society. But there is hardly any drive to attract us to vote for a cause. Anyone who is aware of the happening in the country from media cannot help but believe that the elected representatives of the country are not the best citizens the country has to offer. When the choice is between two equally incompetent people in the eyes of the voter, then there isn’t much that attracts him to go and cast a vote. In these circumstances the idea of going to a poling station and registering a no vote, which is in effect a rejection of all the candidates standing for elections in that constituency, sounds like a welcome proposition. One might argue how constructive such a negative vote. I wouldn’t term it destructive but it is disruptive for sure. If enough voters register a no vote then it will be a wakeup call to the political parties to realize that the candidates they have fielded are being viewed as incompetent by a large number of people in the constituency.

Ticket distribution time is a time of fanfare for national and regional parties. Politicians old and new, lobby for the tickets. The upper echelons of the party decide the fate of the aspirants vying to obtaining a party ticket to contest from a constituency. The ability to win one might assume is of course the single biggest determining factor on who gets the tickets. The means used for registering a win would be the smallest determining factor. This can be assumed. I need not present facts. The end result is what we see in the parliament with the 100+ MPs with criminal record and the disruptions in the parliament, the corruption charges, the media sting operations, the nepotism in politics, the undermining of government institutions like the Police, pubic universities and government administrative departments shows that individual verifiable facts about incompetence of candidates are not needed. The end result cannot but be because of the low quality of the candidates in the first place.

People who are either famous or notorious are seen as winning candidates by parties because they can attract voters. Well they surely attract voters with shallow interests or the ones with fear on their minds. But it dissuades a lot of thinking voters who are disillusioned by the choices they have at offer. Perhaps a choice of a disruptive negative vote is what can revive the democracy by bringing a larger number of voters to the ballot box.

The parliamentary democracy that India has favours a voting system where people should be more concerned about the quality of the candidate contesting election in their constituency rather than the candidate proposed by the party as it prime ministerial candidate. If we choose the right person from our constituency then the choice of the PM in the centre will also be correct. Political parties should no longer be allowed to erode the quality of the parliament as a whole by encouraging all kinds of candidates with criminal records and corruption charges to stand in elections. Just because they can win by using all means, and provide a valuable seat to enable them to form a government, should not be allowed to be the determining factor for choice of a candidate. Such a government cannot do much good to the country no matter how competent the central cabinet might be and no matter how well intentioned their national manifesto might be. This is because on the ground level foundation is been corroded by incompetent MPs who can switch party loyalty for self preserving interests at the flip of a silver coin.

If the political parties can be shown that the public at large holds this view about the competence of the candidates by a very visible negative vote at the ballot box then I am sure they will be forced to introspect on the choice of candidates. It will also encourage well minded people to stand as independent candidates. One need not be too intelligent, nor an excellent orator, nor an experienced politician to do justice to the office of a member of parliament. But a person with proven public disservice needs to be disqualified, if not by the party and the court then by the people.