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Jammu & Kashmir: Self-Determination and Secession           
(Excerpted from Asian Commentary, Vol. 1, No. 3, July-September 1999, Jammu, India)

Jammu and Kashmir: A Multi-Ethnic State
Contrary to most reports in the media,  Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)  is not a state where only Kashmiri Muslims live. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state with 64% Muslims, 33% Hindus, and 3% Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and others. There are three distinct geographical regions - Ladakh  (with 58% of the area, and 3% of the population), Jammu  (26% area, 45%  population) and Kashmir  (16% area, 52% population: of which over 90 % of the region's minorities, i.e. 3% of the state's total population have been driven out). The primary languages of Ladakh  are Ladakhi (Bodhi) and Balti, of Jammu: Dogri, and of  Kashmir: Kashmiri. In addition, Gujari, Pahari, Punjabi, Shina and various dialects and  mixed languages are also spoken by different ethnic groups within the state.

Fifteen per cent of the state's Muslims  live in the provinces of Jammu and Ladakh. They are non-Kashmiris, and  by and large, they stand behind J&K's association with India. (There are a few small exceptions  in some towns of Doda district). Of the state's 49%  who reside in the Kashmir province, about 13% are Shia Muslims.  Shia Muslims do not wish to have  anything to do with Sunni-dominated Pakistan, knowing full well the fate that awaits them there.[1] This is especially true of the Shias of Kargil who know of the poverty and degradation experienced by their ethnic siblings in Baltistan, a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir  referred to as the Northern Areas. 

About 14% of the people in Kashmir province are the pastoral nomadic Gujar and Bakarwal people. They are strong supporters of association with India and have demonstrated this by organizing Militancy Mukhalif Morcha (Anti-Militancy Front) to assist the security forces in surveillance of terrorist activity. As far as non-Muslim groups are concerned there is no reason for them to even think about living outside multi-religious and secular India. [1]

The support for secession in Jammu & Kashmir is thus largely limited to the non-pastoral Sunni Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley who constitute 22% of the state's population,  or about 1.9 million people at 1999 population estimates.  This segment of the population controls political power in the state and has the ability to cripple the normal functioning of the society in Kashmir province; either by inaction or insufficient action against Pakistani infiltration and terror or, worst still, by sabotage. The reason that many believe separatism to be a  widespread sentiment in J&K is a reflection of the extent of control this dominant section exercises in the affairs of the state and in its ability to secure international attention.

As a consequence  of its continued domination of the state politics, this group has also been the major beneficiary of Jammu & Kashmir's development of last fifty years. However, the extremely skewed distribution of wealth within this group has left many out of the group's general economic advance. On the one end of the income spectrum of this group are the corrupt elite of politicians, government officials and their cronies, on the other end are the educated unemployed youth whose expectations are set artificially high by the lavish lifestyle of their parasitic elite. Rather than aligning along class lines, cutting across ethnic and religious boundaries, for an honest, fair and a responsible government in the state, this class let itself be coopted by Pakistan and become the cannon fodder in its proxy war against India.

Results of a Possible Referendum
Since the concept of self-determination must be applied to each of Jammu & Kashmir's unique population groups, there can be no equation of self-determination with secession. If, however, the undivided state including  "Azad" Kashmir & Northern Areas  were to have a referendum under truly neutral supervision, and the people were given three options - join India, join Pakistan or be independent _ the results might be shocking to votaries of secession. The majority could very well go with India, because the separatists will split the vote between pro-Pakistan and pro-independence groups. Sayyed Ali Gilani, Jammu & Kashmir's Jamaat-e-Islami leader, opposes the option of independence precisely because he is afraid that this vote may split in India's favor. [2]

On the other hand, if the people of the state are given only two choices - join India or join Pakistan - the majority vote could still go in India's favor. Of the 12.8 million people in the undivided state (1999 estimates, see also Note below), J&K's population is 8.5 million, "Azad" Kashmir's is 2.8 million and Northern Areas is 1.5 million. If 1.9 million from J&K and all of "Azad" Kashmir and Northern Areas vote for Pakistan, it still gives India a vote of 6.6 million and leaves Pakistan with 6.2 million! Even if provision were made in this analysis for erosion of support for India as a result of the current turmoil, and some sprinkling of  support for Pakistan from other Muslim groups in the state, the results of the referendum would be too close to call. In reality, the vote for Pakistan could be much less for the  following two reasons:-

1) Since 1948, the non-pastoral Sunni population of the Kashmir (22% of the state's population), has dominated the legislative, political and administrative structures in the state of J&K. Kashmir province receives more weightage in the Assembly elections than does Jammu province. Based on  the size of it's population Kashmir province sends two extra members to the Legislative Assembly that it steals from Jammu's share. The government ministries and administrative bodies have also been dominated by this group.

This grouping has also expropriated a disproportionate amount of resources for their own development needs. The bogey of  a  plebiscite and secession (in the garb of  self-determination) has been raised by this  group,  primarily to extract concessions from  the Central Government in India. These have come  in the form of grants, subsidies and other forms of economic aid. This has enabled this group to maintain its  political dominance and, as a result,  has seriously distorted the democratic process in the state.

However, if the Central Government in India were to call this bluff, the whole complexion of separatist politics in J&K may change, and if a plebiscite were actually to be conducted,  support for Pakistan may drop way below this 1.9 million population base in J&K. The effectiveness of the demand for plebiscite and its propaganda value lies precisely in its rejection by India. Were the tactical utility of such a demand  to be lost, wiser elements amongst the separatists may abandon Pakistan and vote for India, simply because a relatively progressive India offers more benefits.

2. It is also  likely that a significant percentage of the people of the Northern Areas could vote for India. The population in this region is very hostile to Pakistan because of the total neglect of  this area. Literacy in the Northern Areas is 7% compared to J&K's 59%. Since 1947, there has been little improvement in the infrastructure _ schools, hospitals, paved roads, electric power and piped drinking water. These are practically non-existent! The inhabitants have no constitutional rights and are still ruled by the frontier laws inherited from the British times. Since the population of the eastern part of Northern Areas is Balti speaking Shia Muslim they could very well decide to join their siblings in Kargil area and vote for India.

Considering all this, one might ask: Why doesn't India accept a plebiscite? The fact is, it did, when, in its naivete, it took its complaint of Pakistan's aggression in J&K state to the UN, where an  Anglo-American imperialist alliance turned India's complaint into a dispute in which Pakistan and India were made equal parties,  thereby equating the aggressor with the aggrieved! Yet, India waited a long time for Pakistan to fulfill the pre-conditions of plebiscite as laid down in UNCIP resolutions. Instead of complying with the resolutions, Pakistan  invaded Kashmir for a second time in 1965!

Kashmir's accession to India in 1947: An act of  Self-Determination
Regardless of what Pakistan did or didn't do, the people of Kashmir did have a plebiscite of sorts in 1947. This was demonstrated in October 1947 when Kashmiris from varied backgrounds defiantly resisted the invasion of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed raiders, who had sacked Muzaffarabad,  razed the towns of Baramulla and Rajouri and Poonch, and slaughtered thousands of civilians, all in a matter of days.

Realizing that the Valley was going to be swallowed by these Pakistani marauders, the most popular political party, the National Conference took over the de facto administration, and organized a 10,000 men and women Kashmiri militia to stall the invasion and protect critical installations. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah appealed to Mahatma Gandhi to send Indian troops to  defend Kashmir. In the meanwhile, all civilian vehicles were requisitioned by the National Conference to be made available to the Indian army who had to be flown in by air. When the first Indian military convoy reached Srinagar by road in November 1947, the whole convoy route in Srinagar was lined with cheering crowds waving the Indian tricolor. The tricolor flew  over almost all of Srinagar's homes. That was an  expression of Kashmiri self-determination.

When Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, Maulana Sayeed Masoodi, the leaders of Kashmir's freedom struggle from the autocratic rule of Maharaja spoke of Pakistan as a feudal state and about imperialism's interest in Kashmir, when they publicly expressed their contempt for the two-nation theory, when they paid glowing tributes to Indian jawans for defending Kashmir, they echoed the sentiments of the majority of Kashmiris. That too was an expression of Kashmiri self-determination.

Equating today's terrorism with a "freedom struggle" is an insult to those leaders and their sacrifices. Today, Sheikh Abdullah's grave is protected by national security forces for  fear that  terrorists will remove the dead leader's body and desecrate it as threatened by them. Eight years ago, one of the first victims of  terrorist bullets was the octogenarian Maulana Syed Masoodi,  veteran freedom fighter of Kashmir. What is happening in Kashmir today is a low intensity war by Pakistan against India spearheaded by the ideology of two-nation theory and Islamic fundamentalism. "Azadi" is a smokescreen under whose cover the "freedom fighters" who are nothing but religious zealots, with support from a theocratic Pakistan, wage war against secular  India.

The fact is, that in essence, Kashmir had a plebiscite in 1947, and its people voted for  India. If India refuses to talk about a second plebiscite today, it has many valid concerns.  The 1948 and 1949 UNCIP resolutions pertaining to plebiscite put explicit obligations on Pakistan which Pakistan has since failed to meet. Any acceptance of a new plebiscite would once again reward the very forces that obstructed the very first plebiscite. Pakistan could then drag its feet for another twenty years and invite imperialist intervention on its behalf. And the situation would be back to where it started half a century ago.

Unless there is  an atmosphere of a free and fair debate in an environment of confidence and trust - no truly representative plebiscite is possible. Moreover, free and fair campaigning and fearless participation has to be guaranteed on both sides of the border. Pakistan with it's history of muzzling the press, of military coups and arbitrary dismissals of elected governments is in simply no position to guarantee such fairness. Neither is the UN, with it's highly partisan role  in world affairs and now a tool of the U.S. foreign policy.

Secession and its implications
As mentioned earlier, the right to self-determination cannot be equated to the right to secession in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society. Nevertheless, there are other compelling reasons to examine the idea of secession in era where imperialism is a powerful  force in the world.

First: Kashmir did exercise it's right to self-determination in 1947, but since it was not in a format approved by the imperialist nations, there is a tendency to dismiss its validity. That encourages people like 33 year old Yasin Malik of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Kashmir to ask for a second referendum because he was born 19 years after the first one took place, which he therefore conveniently trashes. If one were to accept his contention that the 1947 accession of Kashmir to India was invalid, then the whole concept of self-determination would be trivialized. The right of self-determination would then be  reduced  to a voting exercise conducted in an atmosphere of terror, repeated every 25-years or so, to meet the demands of a new generation, at whose whim the boundaries of a country could be redefined! It is not difficult to imagine the chaos in the world if imperialism, by its selective application, legitimises such proposals.

Second: How does one accommodate minority interests under a plebiscite?  If 51% of the population of J&K decide to vote for a theocratic Pakistan, is it fair to the other 49%  to be forced to join that state, in spite of feeling greatly threatened by that state? J&K's Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Gujar and Bakarwal, and Shia people genuinely fear that they   will be decimated in a Pakistani state, women will lose the freedoms they have, and be forced to march backwards under a Taliban-style barbaric patriarchy.  If a majority cannot live in a multi-religious secular India, is it fair to ask a sizable minority to live under a theocracy?

Even if the majority vote went for independence, what guarantee is there that the minority interests would be safeguarded? Although a few groups like the JKLF speak of secularism, their leadership and membership is almost exclusively made up of Sunni Muslims. Besides,  the JKLF has had close ties to Pakistan's  ISI, a close collaborator of the Taliban. This exposes the JKLF as  opportunists of the first rank who mask their retrograde ideology in meaningless statements about  secularism and freedom. One should not be duped by JKLF's slogan of "Azadi."  In the early 1990s, the slogan: "Azadi Ka Matlab Kya? La Illah A Illal Allah" equated "Azadi"  directly to Islamic rule! "Azadi" is also the voice of the rising nouveau rich of Mirpur who seek Kashmir Valley as their lebensraum.[3]  The word "Azadi" which has an excellent marketing appeal is thus used by both Islamic fundamentalists and Mirpuri expansionists alike.

Furthermore, the principle of self-determination must apply to all communities. If the Muslim majority in Kashmir province has a right to secede from India and form a separate state, the same right of secession must be extended to the Hindu minority to secede from that new state. If the Shias feel oppressed by the Sunnis, the same right must be extended to them too. The travesty of the demand by secessionists is that they want the freedom to secede, exclusively for themselves. They want freedom to deny others their freedom!

As an alternative solution, some may suggest a region-wise  plebiscite, but a look at the map of the undivided state will show how impractical that would be. The Kashmir valley separates the regions of Kargil and Ladakh from the rest of India and can threaten the survival of these remote regions if the political composition in Kashmir turns hostile to India. Kashmir province itself may get fragmented under a region-wide plebiscite. What about the Gujars and the Bakarwals who migrate twice every year from the mountains to the valleys and vice versa? A region-wise plebiscite can become a nightmare for these communities.

Third: It should be noted that the demand for self-determination leading to secession has usually been advanced by an oppressed people which leads to the natural question: Are the Kashmiri people oppressed? In 1947, J&K was at the bottom of the economic ladder in India. In 1960-61 it ranked 11th among 16 states of India in per capita income; in 1971-72, 14th among 24 states. But with generous Central assistance it had improved its position by 1981-82 to number 7,  surpassing industrial West Bengal, A.P., Karnataka and Tamil Nadu! [4]. Most of the income increase had taken place in large urban areas such as around Srinagar where the Index of Social Development (that includes literacy, health care, access to other social services, etc.) is the highest of the 14 districts in the state.[4] Yet, separatist sentiment is the strongest in this region! Kashmiri people may have grievances but, by no stretch of imagination, can one call them an oppressed people.

Fourth and most important: How does one factor in the role of imperialism? In spite of the seemingly "neutral" US role in the recent Kargil conflict, the U.S. is unlikely to give up Pakistan as its choice weapon against a large and "unmanageable" India unless, of course, the latter is balkanized into "manageable" segments. In addition, the U.S. has a special interest in J&K region. It is strategically placed in Asia from where events in the many neighboring states can be monitored, and when necessary, an intervention conveniently initiated,  and carried out. For this reason the U.S. prefers an independent state of J&K over which it can exercise easy control. If political conditions do not allow independence, the U.S. would like to keep India and Pakistan in a continuing state of simmering hostilities over the "Kashmir problem". Pakistani rulers who  danced to the tune of their British colonial masters prior to 1947, and since, to their imperialist masters have been more than happy to oblige. After all,  India-baiting is the glue that Pakistan's elite have used to keep Pakistan together.

In this unipolar world, fragmentation of third world countries  not allied with imperialism only helps imperialism, more so now that the counterfvailing force of the Soviet Union is absent. Fragmented nations are far more likely to be more deeply indebted to foreign banks, to accept foreign military bases, vote with the U.S. and it's allies in the UN, and become its surrogates. They are also more likely then to resort to retrogressive domestic policies, suppress minorities within their borders, leading to new tensions and separatist tendencies.

Unlike Pakistan, a large secular and democratic country like India offers more opportunities for different communities to express dissent and realize their reasonable demands. This is not to say that democracy in India is perfect, or free from all the problems that unequal distribution of wealth entails.  However, considering that none of the separatists have a progressive (or more democratic) social, economic and political platform for J&K's people, the relative benefits of  aligning with India assume significance.

Pakistan has been injecting the poison of the two-nation theory ever since it was created. Those in Kashmir who are afflicted by this poison are in a minority and have been holding the majority of the state's peoples hostage. One could argue that if they feel so suffocated and oppressed by the democracy and secularism that India offers, they could simply cross the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan-controlled "Azad" Kashmir and enjoy the sort of theocracy and intolerance they wish to impose on an unwilling population in J&K.

The demands for plebiscite and secession come from a  politically dominant and a vocal minority of Kashmiris and needs to be exposed for what it is. The overwhelming majority of the people of Jammu & Kashmir want to be part of a secular and democratic India and they are the ones who need our unqualified support to help defeat separatism and Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir.

[1] The breakup of the Muslim population in Kashmir province is based on the data in the article Ethnic Identities and political deadlock in Jammu & Kashmir, by Hari Om, in Indian Defense Review, 1997

[2] Sayyed Ali Gilani, Rudad-i-Qafas Vol. 1, p. 412, Srinagar: al-Huda Publishing House, 1993.

[3] Pandita, K.N., PoK Diaspora in UK, Daily Excelsior, January 1999

[4] Statistical Year Book of India, 1983

[4] Misri, M.L. & Bhat, M.S., Poverty, Planning and Economic Change in Jammu & Kashmir, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.,      Delhi, 1994

Note: The combined population of "Azad" Kashmir and Northern Areas was about 25% of the total in 1947, it is 33% now, despite the fact that J&K 's population has itself grown at a high rate of 29% every decade since 1961. This unusually high increase in "Azad" Kashmir's and Northern Areas population is attributed to Pakistan's attempts to change the demographics of areas under its occupation, especially in Northern Areas, with the settlement of Punjabis and NWFP Pathans in these areas. This settlement policy was actively pursued after the Shia revolt of 1988 was brutally crushed by the now Pakistan military Chief, General Parvez Musharraf.
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