THE conscience of India's liberal intelligentsia is gnawed by the repressive policies of the Indian state in Kashmir. Two human rights groups in India I've worked with for several years, the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties and `Citizens' for Democracy, have just returned from strife-torn Kashmir and reported on flagrant violations of human rights there by Indian security agencies.
There have been instances of brutality that sully India's decent record on the issue of human rights. For instance, last January the border security forces killed some 50 people and destroyed 250 shops in the apple-growing town of Sopore in retaliation against a small hand-grenade attack. A tale of courage and sacrifice has been woven out of the Sopore incident. It is such tales that inspire the Kashmiri people to fight the Indian state.
Yet apart from a small segment of the liberal intelligentsia, the larger population and all political parties, including the Communists and the rightists, support the present government's policy of holding on to Kashmir at all cost. And the Indian state that commands one of the largest militaries in the world has all the power it needs to keep Kashmir in the union.
What makes the Indian position on Kashmir precarious is the growing international disapproval of its approach. The United States, an outside power with the greatest influence in South Asia, now disputes India's and Pakistan's occupation of Kashmir and has been hinting at a notion of an autonomous Kashmir under the joint sovereignty of India and Pakistan.
The US also has repeatedly charged India with human rights violations in Kashmir and criticized it for refusing to let Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations visit Kashmir. It is difficult for India to ward off American and European pressures at a time when it is the world's fourth largest debtor nation and when the success of its attempt to switch to a market economy depends so much on Western support.
Pakistan's armed support for various resistance groups in Kashmir adds a dangerous dimension to the Kashmir problem. Pakistan has funded, trained, and armed Hizbul Mujahedin, a militant resistance group with the largest influence in Kashmir politics. It wields power by the sword but also by the invocation of the Islamic faith. This greatly appeals to the Kashmiri people at a time when their alienation from India is complete.
Pakistan undeniably supports armed insurgency in Kashmir; America and other relatively impartial countries confirm this. But to say, as India does, that it is the sole cause of unrest in Kashmir is untrue.
Pakistan's involvement in Kashmir carries the risk of an India-Pakistan confrontation, including a nuclear one. This is what makes the amelioration of the present situation in Kashmir urgent.
The governments of India and Pakistan have concealed from their people the frightening fact of their frightening brinkmanship in the spring of 1990, shortly after the first Kashmir uprising against India in January 1990. Kashmir could easily spark an Indo-Pakistani war, with attendant risks of escalation to a nuclear level.
International pressure will be the most effective way of prodding the government of Narasimha Rao to find a path out of the present crisis in Kashmir. But tainted by corruption, found guilty of numerous violations of public norms, and lacking a clear majority in the parliament, the Rao government is not capable of taking a decisive stand on any issue - certainly not one as sensitive as Kashmir. Its indecisiveness has become a matter of public ridicule.
Still, the Rao government cannot act now even if it wants to. Its opponent, the Bhartiva Janta Party (BJP), the largest opposition party and, until recently a party in power in four important north Indian states, adamantly opposes any settlement of the Kashmir problem.
BJP's spectacular increase in popularity in recent years is due to its vigorous espousal of Hindu nationalism.
BJP supports a Hindu state and wants the 120 million Indian Muslims here to willingly accept Hindu supremacy. It is BJP and its allies that are responsible for the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya last December and subsequent religious clashes in the country. Certainly it will oppose any compromise on Kashmir; and the Rao government is in no position to antagonize it.
But most important, the Rao government fears that any show of flexibility or reasonableness on Kashmir may well set forth a renewed round of Hindu-Muslim hostility.
Hapless Kashmiris are a pawn in the battle between aggressive Indian nationalism and Pakistani religious militancy. The battle may go on as it has for the past 40 years. But it does so now with increasing risk: An unresolved Kashmir problem can set-off a major ethnic and religious conflict in South Asia.