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Why India Resists Kashmiri Separatism

By Raju G. C. Thomas, Raju G. C. Thomas is contributing editor of "Perspectives on Kashmir: The Roots of Conflict in South Asia" to be published by Westview Press. / July 22, 1991



WHATEVER the rest of the world may think, resolving the Kashmir issue on the basis of the 1949 United Nations resolutions calling for a plebiscite is not as simple as it may seem. The Kashmir issue raises questions about the very basis of the Indian state and threatens its unity and territorial integrity.India argues that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who took the Kashmir question to the UN with a complaint of Pakistani aggression against one of the Indian princely states that had "legally" acceded to India. Indians are also convinced that if the proposed UN plebiscite had been held soon after the January 1949 cease-fire, Kashmiris - having suffered raping and looting by invading Pakistani tribesmen who preceded the Pakistani Army - would have opted for India over Pakistan. But by the mid-1950s, the Kashmiris would have preferred independence to joining either India or Pakistan. When Pakistan attempted to seize Kashmir in 1965, Muslim Kashmiri not only refused to rise in revolt against India, but also captured Pakistani invaders and handed them over to Indian authorities. Similarly, there was no Kashmiri sympathy or support for Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani war over Muslim Bengali separatism in 1971. With the secession of Pakistan's more populated eastern province in 1971, there are now more Muslims in India than in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. India displaced Pakistan as the second largest Muslim country after Indonesia, giving more credence to India's claim to Kashmir. Under these circumstances, can the unfinished business of the 1947 partition of British India now be completed by sending the only Muslim majority state in India to Pakistan? After all, this is the first time that Kashmiris have openly demanded independence or accession to Pakistan - the result of the Congress government's rigging of the 1987 elections in Kashmir and the atrocities committed by Indian security forces in the state. Although the Indian National Congress accepted partition in 1947 reluctantly, it did not accept Mohammed Ali Jinnah's "two nation theory" of Hindus and Muslims that Pakistan considers the basis of partition. This "religious apartheid" was considered abhorrent by Nehru. The main problem was that Muslims who most feared Hindu domination, and who accordingly fought hardest for the creation of Pakistan, were the Muslims in the Hindu majority areas who were left behind in India. The few Indian Muslims who migrated to Pakistan, the Mohajirs, have found themselves now virtual aliens in what is simply a new territorial Pakistani state of four provincial linguistic groups: Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, and Baluchis. PERHAPS Kashmiris should be the fifth provincial linguistic group in Pakistan. But for Pakistan to claim Kashmir based on the "two nation theory" would undermine the already tottering Indian secular state and endanger the future of 110 million Muslims in India. This is why some Muslim leaders in India claim the grievances of 5 million Kashmiri Muslims should be resolved in the context of all Indian Muslims. From the Indian standpoint, all South Asians are Indians. Except for Sinhalese, Pathans, and Baluchis, all the major linguistic ethnic groups found in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are also found in India. India must also cope with another 15 major linguistic groups and a religious minority population of more than 160 million. In fact, everybody in India may be considered a "persecuted minority" based on religion, language, caste, or economic class. This complexity is reflected in India's treatment of its neighbors - almost as if they are a part of India - and in its attitude toward the Kashmir question. Whether it has a strong or weak case, India cannot let Kashmir go for fear that it would be followed by an independent Khalistan, Assam, Tamil Nadu, a greater Bengal united with Bangladesh, Nagaland, Tripura, and so on. The 1947 partition not only failed to solve India's Hindu-Muslim problem, but added the problem of a militaristic Pakistan determin ed to keep India weak. Kashmiri independence or accession to Pakistan will not make India's future any better. It's a no-win situation. Given this awareness, India will resist separatist movements indefinitely, whatever the cause, justice, or consequence.

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