Every few years the Indian government makes noise about claiming Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, publicising its maximalist position on the Kashmir issue.
Nobody takes it seriously since everyone knows it’s never going to happen. Pakistan will always have enough global leverage thanks to its dirty games in Afghanistan. And with the nukes, the military option is anyway ruled out.
Besides, the people of PoK aren’t exactly giving up their lives to join the Indian union. Perhaps, they have silly notions like not wanting to get lynched for being Muslim and continuing to enjoy Netflix shows. No wonder that more Hindutva activists worry about Balochistan than Baltistan.
For reasons both military and diplomatic, Pakistan can also never hope to take over the Kashmir Valley, or the Jammu and Ladakh regions. The Pakistani army is happy to keep stoking the fire in this region because an army with a state needs a permanent enemy.
The most impractical solution
The strategic community in India therefore has a practical approach. They think the only solution to the Kashmir imbroglio (on days when they admit it’s one) is to turn the Line of Control into a permanent border. It’s the only solution practicable and possible, they say.
It’s an idea that’s almost treason in Pakistan. Reclaiming the Kashmir Valley from India is the centre-piece of Pakistan’s militaristic nationalism. To say that the Line of Control should be converted into an international border is to give up a claim over which Pakistan has spent more than seven decades fighting with India. And yet, I once met a Pakistani politician who said, sotto voce, “It’s been seven decades of India having one part and Pakistan having another. It makes sense to just make LoC an international border and finish the matter.” Problem is, he can’t dare to say this publicly.
The dismantling of the state of Jammu & Kashmir by the Narendra Modi government has made such a solution even more impossible. Even if the Pakistani army hypothetically wants to do it, how will it sell the idea to its people? And with rising Hindu nationalism in India, can you imagine any Indian Prime Minister agreeing to changing the map of India and having the head of Bharat Mata look chopped off? Never. Not even Modi could sell it.
Turning the LoC into an international border is actually the most impracticable idea.
Two forks in the road
If it seems like such a practical solution to common sense-loving people, why are we so far from it? That’s because Jammu & Kashmir is not a land dispute. It’s a nationalism dispute.
For example, India and Bangladesh resolved their border disputes in 2015, with India actually giving away more land to Bangladesh, because nationalism did not come in the way. The intractable issue of the border enclaves was resolved without any spectacle.
Anyone who wants to bring peace between India and Pakistan has to address Kashmir, and anyone who wants to address Kashmir has to address nationalism.
Many conflicts in the world are disputes between two competing ideas of nationhood. That is why North and South Korea can’t get along, China and Japan can’t see eye to eye, and Israel can’t be at peace with even a subjugated Palestine. In Balochistan, it is essentially Baloch nationalism versus Pakistani nationalism. In Nagaland, it is Naga aspirations versus the Indian flag. East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong are up against Chinese nationalism.
Kashmir is a unique situation with not two but three different kinds of nationalism clashing against each other: Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri. This makes it more intractable than most other international conflicts. There’s not one but two forks in the road.
As if this was not difficult enough, there’s also global post-9/11 pan-Islamism and India’s Hindutva majoritarianism. As young radical Kashmiris started looking up to the ISIS, the rise of Hindutva in India after 2014 has now alienated even Gujjars and Bakarwals of Jammu from New Delhi. The Kathua rape and murder was a turning point.
A post-nationalist dream
Even if India and Pakistan agreed to turn the LoC into an international border, there’s no guarantee they will stop fighting with each other. Pakistan will likely continue using terrorist groups for ‘asymmetric warfare’, and New Delhi will continue alienating Kashmiris, pushing them to participate in Pakistan’s proxy warfare against India.
The only way out, whenever it happens, will be post-nationalism. India and Pakistan will need to get comfortable with their national identities, move on from Partition, stop competing with each other like jealous neighbours wishing the worst for each other. Doing so will need resolving Kashmir, because the dispute ignites nationalist passions on both sides.
India and Pakistan will one day realise there’s something beyond flag-waving, chest-thumping nationalism. Nationalism as an idea in the subcontinent is only a little over 200 years old. Our next step has to be one where we are less agitated about winning a race against our neighbour. When we get to that point, we will be ready for shared sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir.
The Manmohan-Musharraf 4-point formula in effect was about shared sovereignty. It was an idea expressed much before its time. It may take decades or, who knows, centuries for us to get there, but it is the only solution possible. As long as we are fighting for land, no side will ever be happy. It is nationalism, which we have to eventually confront to bury the ghosts of Partition.
It may be difficult to make a case for post-nationalism in the age of Trump and Brexit, but even after Brexit, the European Union will have 27 countries without borders. Many of these countries were at war with each other just when India was coming out of colonial rule. It took the horrors of two world wars to make Europeans look beyond nationalism. Perhaps, a gory war is what it might take for India and Pakistan to graduate to post-nationalism and ‘free’ Kashmir.
Views are personal.