An impatient reader can ask what it has to do with the Kashmir dispute? Everything and nothing! It depends who you are. For leaders it matters most because their opinions matter not only to them but to their followers as well. If Valley Muslims continue to be affected by ‘categorical perception’ then they would always see India as a ‘ghost’ and an ‘aggressor’. It is permanent fixation; more the time passes, more it becomes non-elastic permanently.
If one starts with prejudices and biases then a problem becomes more complicated. Kashmir dispute has a religion-angle as Pakistan was created because of Iqbal and Jinnah’s assertion that Hindus and Muslims are separate nationalities and they should have separate nations whenever and wherever possible. The creation of Pakistan is good for the overall stability of the region but the division of Kashmir stabilizes the region as well.
The simple argument that Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state and therefore, it should either merge with Pakistan or become independent is incorrect. What Valley Muslims think is that since they have co-religionists in India, in the South Asia and globe all over and therefore, not only their campaign is justified but it is also sustainable and viable. This is not a wrong thinking in this identity-driven high consciousness era.
Now Indian stand is inconsistent is well known as it allowed referendum in Hyderabad and Junagadh but denied the same to Kashmir. Of course, Pakistan would not have fulfilled the condition of vacating its occupied land as demanded by UNSC if referendum were to hold. Anyway, there was no Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan then, but the West still didn’t favor it. Why? The reasons were that the West found division of Kashmir between India and Pakistan as more stabilizing and also it allowing it to play the now famous ‘zero sum game’ in the subcontinent. Indian stakes in Kashmir keep the temperature down in the region. This was the utter selfishness of the West and it looking at the region over very long term that shaped its policies on Kashmir. The West had nothing to do with either of the dominant religions of the region.
But Kashmir dispute mostly invokes hostile religious feeling in the subcontinent both ways, whereas in reality it is purely a geo-political dispute. The reason for religious hostility has to do with the fact that people emphasize their religions’ absoluteness more than they understand that of others. This is becoming truer and more frequent in this online social networking dominated era.
Relativism is the single biggest clue in resolving the Kashmir dispute: Hinduism has the same meaning for Hindus as Islam has for Muslims. Similarly, as Indians love India, Pakistanis also love their nation. As far as Valley Muslims are concerned they may have genuine problems against Indian administration and that needs to be frankly admitted and corrected by Indian authorities. But the ghost of religion needs to be exorcized.
Therefore, the problem is not rooted in religious beliefs, instead in the selfishness of the parties concerned and in the stability of the region. Fine, Valley Muslims may not agree but Indian stakes in Kashmir are gainful to many and can lead to win-win situation for all. If Valley does not recognize this simple fact and also the fact that nuclear complexity of the region has made exclusive solutions virtually impossible, then it cannot have clues about their legitimate demands that India and international community can consider. The people need to be realistic and objective in their assessments.
Valley can reintegrate fully with its brethrens in Pakistani administered Kashmir and with those in Pakistan, culturally, economically and socially. Only thing they cannot get is a sovereign status like India and Pakistan. Valley Muslims need to understand that their permanent dominance as a group is assured by special status of Kashmir in Indian Constitution. The constituencies are so demarcated as to favor Muslims. Similarly, Jammu and Ladakh cannot get separate statehood without the consent of J&K Assembly which will always be dominated by the Valley.
Why I have just talked about Valley is that because of the relativism, localism, nationalism and continuity, Jammu and Ladakh have become undisputed parts of India just like Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas in Pakistan have become unalienable parts of Pakistan. Only Valley is disputed from investors’ viewpoint. One needs to understand that reconciliation is possible after relativism is accepted while unnecessary emphasis on absoluteness would lead to continued confrontation.