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Reflections on Kashmir

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By Anjum Altaf

It is undeniable that the entire conversation about Kashmir has been marked, from the very beginning, by calculation instead of reflection. Between ‘Kashmir will become Pakistan’ and ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’ there has been a shameful scramble for real estate without any care for the inhabitants of the land. No one has even bothered to ask what they might have wanted for themselves.

Salman Rushdie’s brilliant new novel, Quichotte, is set primarily in America but is also a telling reflection on the tenor of our times. Consider these three dialogues (the first in the form of question and answer) and apply them to Kashmir to get a sense of their scope and relevance.

— “I’ve only been around for a short time… but in that period I have noticed that conscience isn’t a major requirement in human affairs. Ruthlessness, narcissism, dishonesty, greed, bigotry, violence, yes.”

— “It would not be prudent to make such a judgement based on the TV news. Many people remain who know the difference between good and evil. And who let their conscience be their guide…. Conscience never dies.” 

“You have been talking a whole lot about love… Seems to me you’ve got it ass backward and upside down. Let me tell you what I mean by that fine sentiment. I understand it to be, first of all, selfless. Love makes the other more important than you. And the other isn’t necessarily an individual. It can be a town, a community, a country…. Go back where you came from and set things right for yourself.”

“And all around me America — and not only America, the whole human race! — yes, even our India! — was also losing its reason, its capacity for ethics, its goodness, its soul. And it may be, I can’t say, that this deep failure brought down upon us the deeper failure of the cosmos…. But I still hope we may save ourselves. At least I hope we may try.”

How can we reflect on Kashmir in light of the three key takeaways from these dialogues — conscience as a guide, love as selflessness, and hope amidst failure? 

One starting point is to try and pick up the voices that seek to make themselves heard above the chest thumping and the jingoism. On the Indian side, there are quite a few and not just those of the fearless ones like Arundhati Roy who are always on the front line. Many opinions have been aired and petitions signed to challenge the action of the BJP government. A number of documentaries have been made under risk about the conditions in Kashmir to question the narratives of the government. Perhaps this is the case because, as far as the most recent events are concerned, in India the burden on the conscience of those guided by selfless love is too onerous to permit a response of silence.

On the Pakistani side, however, the absence of skepticism has been overwhelming. Is it because there is no burden of conscience on this side? Even Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, whom we look up to as our Arundhati Roy, has limited himself to saying that Pakistan has kept its commitments to the Kashmiris and now must fulfil the promises made to its citizens. 

Can we reflect on our commitments to the Kashmiris? What were they and were they entered into with their acquiescence? Let us assume for the moment that our actions were motivated by love of the Kashmiris but then assess honestly if they helped them in any meaningful way. Did the infiltration by tribesmen in 1947 help the Kashmiri cause? Did the invasion of 1965 lessen the oppression of the Kashmiri people? Did Kargil liberate the Kashmiris? Did the repeated infiltrations by Jihadis promote an outcome in which Kashmiris could flourish and live in peace?

Conscience, love and hope should force these questions upon us and demand answers. Not just that, they should force us to question our motives as well. Did we really wish to help the Kashmiris or was our real unstated aim to hurt India? If so, did we care how much pain was inflicted on the Kashmiris and how much sacrifice was imposed on Pakistanis, in both cases without their explicit agreement?

We should also reflect on the end result of these policies? We did hurt India but did we not hurt ourselves much more? We lost the moral high ground on Kashmir for certain but did we ease the way for the Indian action itself by our lack of a long-term vision? And did we not also bankrupt the country and leave it weak and wounded without any support in the world? 

We should all be asking these hard questions if we hope to avoid worse catastrophes in the future. Who was responsible for these policies? To what end? How were the policies sold to the public? Why did the public not see through them? Who gained? Who lost?

These are painful questions but they need to be asked. They cannot be put off till forever because, as Rushdie urges, we may be left without a forever in which to ask the questions. 

This opinion was published in The Friday Times on August 23, 2019 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission. The writer is the author of Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Delhi, 2019. 

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