December 21, 2005Foreign Affairs

Kashmir, Religion and Pakistan’s changing stand

Where The Acorn defends Kuldip Nayar!

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Ijaz Hussain, a Pakistani newspaper columnist, argues that from the start, Kashmir was never really a religious issue, but one of self-determination; and that the current Pakistani policy on Kashmir reflects this reality. Having framed the issue in this manner, he goes on to refute Kuldip Nayar’s suggestion that Line of Control must be converted into an international border to avoid the repetition of the religious bloodbath that followed Partition. Nayar, he contends, favours portraying Kashmir as a religious issue to play to the Western audience, which is utterly hostile to anything religious’.

According to Hussain, while Partition itself had a religious basis, this principle was not applied to the princely states, whose rulers were free to choose between India and Pakistan. What Hussain avoids is that Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir were blatantly religious — for how could a Hindu ruler cede his subjects, a majority of who were Muslims — to a secular India? Much more so when secular India coerced Muslim rulers of Hindu-majority states to accede to it. Surely, it was not the principle of self-determination that caused Pakistan to perceive Kashmir as the unfinished business’ of Partition. Self-determination was the cloak of convenience that Pakistan used to disguise the religious basis of its territorial ambitions.

It is especially rich of Hussain to deny everything that Pakistan did in Kashmir in the name of religion. Didn’t the Pakistani press call the terrorists mujahideen (holy warriors) until that term got a bad name after 9/11? And what, if not religion, was the basis of the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s? Apart from one major terrorist outfit, Yasin Malik’s Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, none of the major terrorist groups that Pakistan sponsors has a name that suggests that it is waging a struggle for self-determination. The Army of Mohammed, the Movement of Holy Warriors or the Army of the Pure are not secular organisations.

Hussain’s denial of Pakistan’s use of religion to colour its territorial dispute with India would not have been as serious if he had not used it to argue for a new division of Kashmir. It cannot be a reasonable argument that an issue like Kashmir — in which an Islamic military dictatorship and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are key players — will be spared religious violence just because of an academic assertion that the conflict is really about self-determination. And surely, to blame all the violence that followed Partition on Lord Mountbatten’s criminal negligence’ is an overly simplistic, even naive, view of that great tragedy. Neither India, and certainly not Pakistan, have fully cleansed themselves of the capability for communal violence — the same evil that befell the subcontinent in 1947. How can the gory story of Partition be irrelevant today where hundreds of people are killed each year in incidents of communal violence in either country? The circumstances may be different, but our capability to engage in great evil in the name of religion remains undiminished.

Without offering any proof, Hussain dismisses Nayar’s argument that a secular India will simply not allow another division on religious lines as a standard plea by the Indian government and its apologists’. Despite what he thinks of whether or not the Indian government is entitled to wiggle out of a binding international commitment’, the fact remains is that no Indian government can deliver on an international commitment it has made unless it has popular support across the country. And there is no popular support for another Partition.

It is amusing to see Pakistani academics twist and turn events of the last half-century in support of the Kashmir cause’. But Kuldip Nayar should find it disappointing.

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