Unravelling J&K
by Sandhya Jain on 05 Jan 2010 15 Comments

New Delhi must end the doublespeak on Jammu & Kashmir and inform the Indian people if there is a covert understanding, under American aegis, to unravel the northern state bit by bit and surreptitiously cede it to Pakistan. A leading national daily on Saturday reported a ‘strong’ Indian reaction to Syed Mehdi Shah, newly elected ‘first chief minister’ of Gilgit-Baltistan, calling it the “fifth province” of Pakistan.


An embarrassed external affairs ministry rushed to declare: “the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession to India in 1947. Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan has no legal basis, and is completely unacceptable.”


Doubts about New Delhi’s true intentions, however, arise because of the persistent mishandling of the State’s integration with India. First, Jawaharlal Nehru was manipulated by Louis Mountbatten into taking the Pakistan invasion to the United Nations and preventing the Indian Army from recovering the captured territories. The UN called for plebiscite and then sent Sir Owen Dixon to ‘suggest’ de facto partition of the State, with India keeping Hindu areas of Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh, while Pakistan kept the captured Northern Areas and Occupied Kashmir, and further received Muslim-dominant Doda, Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu! The proposed plebiscite was confined to Kashmir Valley, and north of Chenab declared the ‘new’ international border. As there was no way that Nehru could sell this proposal to his own cabinet, it died a natural death.


Yet Nehru, like the Bourbons, forgot nothing and learnt nothing. For reasons that defy cogent analysis, the Maharaja’s Accession was not treated as final, at par with the accession by other princes. The Hindu king of a critical state was treated like a pariah, and a dangerous concept of ‘Muslim precedence’ granted to this Muslim-majority region, laying the foundations for the erosion of India’s civilisational ethos in the critical Himalayan frontier, and subsequently across the land. Special status was granted to Sheikh Abdullah and his Muslim Conference, who drove the nascent Republic crazy with their shifting stands on every negotiated issue. Article 370 is the enduring legacy of that poor exercise in statesmanship. 


After the UN fiasco, New Delhi stoically maintained that the entire State of J&K was an inalienable part of India. But it was Indira Gandhi who substantially eroded Article 370 by extending several critical Central laws to Kashmir via an accord with Sheikh Abdullah in 1975. Logically, we should have moved inexorably in the direction of its ultimate demise, but separatists and militants were nurtured by vested interests and the rest is history.


What still needs explanation is the BJP’s decision to downplay the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley in winter 1989, and later, the decision of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to call Gen. Pervez Musharraf for a summit at Agra in 2001, to discuss the Kashmir issue. Since then, a variety of ill-conceived unofficial and official dialogues, including ‘quiet talks’ with separatists in quest of a ‘unique solution’, have further compromised the Indian position on Kashmir, with myriad state politicians flexing their muscles and demanding autonomy, pre-1953 status, self-rule, even independence.


In these circumstances, it comes as no surprise that Gilgit-Baltistan’s first CM, Mehdi Shah, should claim that the recent November elections in the region meant it was a separate province (of Pakistan) and had “no connection to Kashmir”. These elections were held on the basis of the Pakistan cabinet’s Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009, which aimed to formally integrate the Northern Areas into the Islamic Republic. The Northern Areas are strategically vital owing to their proximity to Afghanistan and China. Pakistan occupied and isolated them in 1947, treating Gilgit, Baltistan, Hunza and Nagar as a separate administrative unit.


Now, Mehdi Shah’s statement suggests that Islamabad is moving to formalize the status quo and turn Gilgit-Baltistan into a province of Pakistan. New Delhi must realize this means Islamabad will no longer support the fiction of ‘self-determination’ for the people of J&K; all ‘diplomacy’ will involve de facto or de jure surrender of Indian territory.


It will be interesting to see how Kashmiri leaders react to this development. Yasin Malik of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front had called the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009 “an arrow that has been shot into the hearts of Kashmiris.” He lamented that Pakistan had reneged its promise to consult all stakeholders before taking any decision. Even the Jamaat-e-Islami which favours Kashmir merging with Pakistan, and Syed Salahuddin of the United Jehad Council had opposed piece-meal solution of the Kashmir issue.


It is pertinent that only Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman, All Parties Hurriyat Conference, with whom Home Minister P Chidambaram is engaged in ‘quiet talks,’ supported Pakistan’s political-administrative package for Gilgit-Baltistan, saying it met long-standing local aspirations. Mirwaiz was in recent months allowed by the Centre to visit Washington, London, and the Organisation of Islamic Conference, and appears to be in the loop on the emerging Western-Pakistan synergy to dismember India from the north, formally augment Pakistan for the Afghanistan war, while furthering western strategic objectives in the region.


By succumbing to American pressure to treat J&K as an extra-national concern, by selecting an arbitrary set of ‘stake-holders’, the UPA has seriously compromised the national interest, national sovereignty, and national security. Interestingly, though both Mr. Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh headed coalition regimes, the lead-partner in both coalitions, the BJP and the Congress respectively, was responsible for dilution of the national position on Kashmir. Both must now be called to give an account of their conduct.


It is pertinent that Indian intelligence and diplomatic sources would have known about the November elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, but Indian public opinion was kept carefully in the dark. Why, in six decades, has Indian intelligence failed to build ‘human resources’ in a region badly treated by Pakistan; to sponsor a party that could have come to power?


Were it not for Mehdi Shah’s political taunt, New Delhi would have continued to preside over moves to balkanize India via Jammu & Kashmir. Islamabad’s next step will be to grant official Pakistani citizenship to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Is South Block ready for that?


The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com 

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