BY NYLA ALI KHAN
The road to Kabul from India and Pakistan runs through Kashmir, my homeland. Central and Southern Kashmir shares borders with India, Pakistan, and China. Pakistan-administered Northwest Kashmir shares a border with Afghanistan and China. China administers the Northeast Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram tract in the northeast. Various territorial disputes persist. Thus, a crucial step to winning the peace in Afghanistan is to ensure the empowerment and stability of Kashmir’s culture, economy, and democratic institutions.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is so geographically located that it depends for its economic growth on an unhindered flow of trade to both countries. Kashmiri arts and crafts have found flourishing markets in India for decades. At the same time, the rivers and roads of Kashmir stretch into Pakistan. Prior to the partition of India in 1947, Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan, used to be Kashmir’s railhead, and Kashmiri traders would use Karachi, part of Pakistan, as the seaport for overseas trade.
Jammu and Kashmir has been marred by a long history of violent political and ethic struggles. On Feb. 14, just a few days ago, several people were killed when militants targeted a convoy with a car bomb in South Kashmir.
As Kashmir is vigorously discussed at the United Nations General Assembly annually by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, I am of the firm opinion that the welfare of the people of the state can be guaranteed by securing the goodwill of the political establishments of both India and Pakistan, and by the display of military discipline and efficiency at the borders. The forte of the armed forces of a country, to the best of my knowledge, is national security, not national interest or foreign policy.
I recall a conversation that I had with an interlocutor nominated by the government of India about the role of the Indian Army in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I asked rather acerbically how the Army had become a stakeholder in the Kashmir imbroglio, and she hurriedly and just as acerbically replied, “There are good stakeholders and there are bad stakeholders, and armed forces are, inevitably, stakeholders in an insurgent zone.”
I was rather ticked off by that response because I believed that a mediator should be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations to further the India-Pakistan peace process.
If the political evolution of a society is nipped in the bud by an all-powerful military establishment, state policies always fall short of becoming coherent. The more the military establishment makes incursions into democratic spaces, the more shaky institutions of state remain and the more fragmented the polity becomes. The “sovereign” role played by the GHQ in Pakistan is an example of such a scenario. The more military officials get involved in issues of politics, governance, and national interest, the more blurred the line between national interest and hawkish national security becomes.
Instead of deterring the growth of democracy, the goal should be to empower the populace of the state of Jammu and Kashmir sufficiently to induce satisfaction with the Kashmir constituency’s role within current geopolitical realities such that a dis-empowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive political ideologies. In addition to addressing the political aspect of democracy, it is important to take cognizance of its economic aspect as well.
In order to restore peace in Jammu and Kashmir, people must learn to work together across ethnic and ideological divides and insist that everyone be included in democratic decision-making and be given full access to basic social services. It is an egregious mistake and one that has severe ramifications to allow the military of a nation-state to bludgeon its democratic processes.
– Nyla Ali Khan is a member of the Harvard-based Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan [Palgrave Macmillan, 2010], and Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity [Palgrave Macmillan, 2012]. Nyla is also on the advisory council of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women.