Let us stop being “moderate” and be “radical”

Bottom line, we the peoples of the State of J&K have a political role to play. To justify an inactive role or abdicate an active role in our own future is criminal.
Let us stop being “moderate” and be “radical”
Representational Pic

A dissenter being called a 'moderate' must be viewed with suspicion. Whereas the person so described thinks it portrays him as 'reasonable', those in the opposite camp who deploy it tend to use the word as a synonym for 'reasonable', someone who thinks like 'us'. But moderate and reasonable are not synonyms. To think they are identical complicates (which is to say muddles) the simplicity (which does not exclude the complexity) of the truth of what needs to be done when a people are under coercive domination. The 'moderate' versus 'radical' binary is a divisive affliction that those who have resisted subjugation in the State of J&K on both sides of the Line of Control have suffered since the beginning.

The experience of the Founder Chairman of the JKLF, the late Amanullah Khan, is a case in point. He was regarded as the anti-thesis of moderate in that he refused to isolate the dispute politically or truncate it territorially. A non-ethnic Kashmiri, he symbolized and defined the conflicted political dispute as one which must be addressed as a politico-territorial-legal challenge. Yet, Pakistan was vehement in its isolation of him from the discourse, a posture that the former Director of the ISI, Asad Durrani, acknowledges was a mistake in The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace,  recent book (2018, Harper Collins) which is an extensive dialogue between him and fellow-spook A.S. Dulat of the R&AW of India. One wonders how long it will take for India to acknowledge its error in isolating Yasin Malik, who carried the JKLF flag on this side of the LoC. The other resistance parties in both LoC East and LoC West were less categorical in adopting an all-State stance to begin with. However, in recent years the Chairman of the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, S. Ali Shah Geelani, has defined the dispute as involving the erstwhile state in its entirety. On June 8th, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also explicitly included Gilgit-Baltistan as party to the dispute during his Friday oration. In this, the JRL shows the way for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) conglomerate in an accurate definition of the dispute.

Politics makes for strange, but sometimes also apt, convergences on the truth of a dispute. The BJP government at the center also endorses the "erstwhile-state-in-its-entirety" approach by declaring that the dispute cannot be solved until it fulfills its acquisitive desire for LoC West. Indeed, this position is not new; the aspiration is enshrined in the Indian parliament's stipulation of 1994. Pakistan also formally makes a similar claim over the territory of the state in its entirety, although less shrilly and less frequently. The other power that has increasingly involved itself in J&K is the Peoples Republic of China, which claims swaths of the Changthang region in eastern Ladakh, well beyond Aksai Chin. That said, it must be acknowledged that the intent of the smaller entities and also, by a strange coincidence, power itself also speaking the truth to power about the full scope of the dispute, is different for the different parties. For India, it serves its attempt to diffuse the impact of the overt, unrelenting and death-defying resistance of the ethnic Kashmiris. For Pakistan, it strengthens its case for being party to the dispute for reasons other than exclusively religious. For China, it serves as an opportunity to flex its muscle as it advances ever westward, towards Afghanistan in extreme South Asia, during a phase in its history that it regards as fulfilling its manifest destiny.   

For the State of J&K, the first party to the dispute, this point in history means no less than having to deal, on the one hand, with Gulab Singh's participation in the then-necessary curse of colonially inspired 19th century state-formation in South and Central Asia and, on the other hand, the gift of the  complexity of that event which may help its constituent parts to wriggle out of a state of control that Kashmir has been in for over 430 years and the other constituent parts of the state for more than 170 years.  But the first step towards that is for the peoples of the state to recognize the historical moment it finds itself in. To recognize it is to know its political leverage. 

Three facts, briefly mentioned, of that moment may serve to animate our role in the determination of our own futures.

First, it is incumbent on us to realize that, against all odds, the state has returned to being pivotal to international geopolitics today. The nostalgic romance of Kashmir's links with Central Asia and its self-description by some as a "borderland" are well known. However, a quick glance at a map illustrates that Kashmir's historical linkages with Central Asia cannot leap-frog over Gilgit, Baltistan and Ladakh, a connectivity that has been at least twelve centuries in the making. This was true well until the middle of 19th century Central Asia and South Asia, when the only access was overland. It is still true today, thanks to the large reserves of oil and natural gas in Central Asia and the Chinese, American and Russian energy rush for access to it. India's and Pakistan's ambitions to play a regional role in that political economy, as also Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states, should encourage the "international community" to consider the resolution of the dispute over the State of J&K less in the India-Pakistan paradigm (since their larger rivalry seems to be holding us hostage) and more in the Central and South Asia paradigm. It is a model of international relations that is more in consonance with the phenomenon of globality and the process of globalization, which has moved apace in the last thirty years.

Second, the world has been habituated into seeing the J&K dispute as an India – Pakistan one. Meanwhile we, the citizens of the state, have become habituated to vociferously claiming that we are the "first party" to it, but being content with merely insisting on Pakistan's role in the dispute, while abdicating our own political agency and imagination about our own futures. The argument "but who will listen to us?" is specious; our role is determined by history, law and politics. Mere dissensus (the combination of dissent + consensus) will not do any longer. It is incumbent upon us, the 'first party', to deliberate among ourselves and to offer an accord that can at minimum start the ball rolling. In the interest of their nations, Gilgit, Baltistan, Ladakh and Jammu cannot afford to rest with an argument that is "more loyal than the king". The behavior of state-building over the last three centuries has been such that, if it is Kashmir today, it will be its neighbors tomorrow. Kashmir, meanwhile, cannot afford to live on faith alone, while continuing to witness the death of large numbers of its future generations.

Third, and not necessarily in set order of priority, the State of J&K can no longer afford to rest content at being wedged between three nuclear powered states, all claiming pieces of its territory, without regard for its peoples, their histories, their livelihoods and, indeed, their lives. I have long abhorred the implicit 'occidental' argument that it is somehow more rational than the 'oriental' when it comes to nuclear madness. The many nuclear non-proliferation regimes are tacit reminders of that prejudice. However, over the years we have learned of how fearfully close to nuclear war the world came at the time of the Soviet and U.S. rivalry during the Cold War regime in 1962 and 1983; and, in 1999, during the Kargil war between India and Pakistan. Kashmir may not be "the most dangerous place in the world", to quote Bill Clinton's rhetoric, but his country and Russia have met their match in South Asian state-building efforts. With North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and many other states understanding the political realism of the importance of nuclear weapons to be counted as important in the comity of nations, we live in a nuclear new-normal age. We cannot not lend our voice to rejecting this hollow realism in state preservation.

Bottom line, we the peoples of the State of J&K have a political role to play. To justify an inactive role or abdicate an active role in our own future is criminal. We relinquish that role not just at our own peril, but that of the future of South Asia and, indeed, the world. 

We need to stop being moderate and be unconventional, be radical.

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