Interestingly, India, which had suspended all official talks with Pakistan following the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Muslim terrorists from Pakistan, has now decided to hold secretary-level talks in New Delhi on Feb. 25.
While Indian officials say terrorism will be the main subject of discussion during the talks, Pakistan, as expected, has raised its pitch over Kashmir. Over the last fortnight or so, it has encouraged huge rallies in Lahore demanding that India leave the Kashmir region controlled by Pakistan.
In response, India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram issued a statement saying he would welcome the return of Indians from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Now, strictly going by the Indian Constitution, all Kashmiri people living in areas controlled by Pakistan are Indian citizens. So if the people return to India-controlled Kashmir, would that mean India is prepared to forgo the territory under Pakistan’s control in exchange for the population?
Viewed thus, Chidambaram’s statement is untimely and also bizarre, like the prescription of some “liberal Indians” who believe that Kashmiri people should be allowed independence if they do not want to remain with India.
It is no surprise that in the past few months separatists in Kashmir have made it crystal clear, in their numerous rallies decked with Pakistani flags, that since Kashmir is essentially a Muslim-majority area, Muslims there cannot co-exist with non-Muslims, who otherwise constitute India’s majority. In other words, Muslims cannot be part of a non-Muslim India.
This writer got a rude shock when a highly educated Kashmiri friend pointed out that Kashmiri people are no longer learning the Kashmiri script, as it is in Sanskrit. Rather, Kashmiri children are only learning Urdu and even avoiding making conversations in Kashmiri, one of India’s richest languages.
This is nothing but the reassertion of the so-called “two-nation theory,” on the basis of which the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, whether one admits it or not. If liberals accept the theory, what do they have to say about Muslims living in other parts of India?
Secondly, and more important, nobody is highlighting how India should allow independence in Kashmir. Will the process be conditional? This question of conditionality is important.
When India was partitioned in 1947, the population figures were about 330 million, 27 million and 30 million people in India, West Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) respectively. In terms of area, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh constituted roughly 1.3, 0.3 and 0.06 million square miles respectively. The population percentages were 85 percent and 15 percent and land percentages 75 percent and 25 percent for India and united West and East Pakistan.
But then united Pakistan was meant for all Muslims of the subcontinent, just as Israel is for all Jews of the world. If all Muslims of pre-August 1947 India had decided to move to united Pakistan, Pakistani rulers could not have said or done anything to the contrary.
There have always been exchanges of populationa in cases of partition elsewhere in the world. The cases of Greece-Turkey, Germany-Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria-Turkey, Poland-Germany, Bosnia-Serbia and Croatia-Serbia are recent examples where full-scale exchanges of populations took place, some even arranged by the United Nations.
However, in the case of India’s partition, a systematic exchange of populations never took place. In fact, every liberal, secular and democratic Indian should be proud of the fact that even after partition, India continues to have more Muslims than Pakistan or Bangladesh. That being the case, in 1947, India had to accommodate 85 percent of the population in 75 percent of the undivided land in the subcontinent. So the land deal was extremely unfair, as Pakistan then got a much better deal during the partition compared to India.
It may be argued here that the father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, talked of a Pakistan where every religious community could reside. He did not insist that Hindus and Sikhs flee Pakistan, despite the horrendous ethnic cleansing that took place in some border states of both India and Pakistan during that time.
But the present situation is radically different. In 1947, Hindus constituted over 20 percent in West Pakistan and 36 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Now, they are less than 1 percent in Pakistan and about 8 percent in Bangladesh. In contrast, the Muslim population in India has risen from about 10 percent in 1947 to about 15 percent today. In other words, Pakistan and Bangladesh now have fewer reasons to explain why they should have disproportionate land vis-à-vis India.
Clearly, India is the aggrieved party over the manner in which the partition was sustained. Now when one talks of “azadi,” or independence for Kashmir, he or she is precisely reopening the question of partition.
Talking of allowing Kashmiris to secede just because Muslims cannot remain in Hindu-majority India means the process of partitioning India still remains incomplete. And if that is the case, India has every right to demand the readjustment of territories involving both India and Bangladesh. Are the Kashmiri separatists and their liberal supporters prepared for such an eventuality?
Let Kashmir secede, but simultaneously both Pakistan and Bangladesh must be told to return to India the excess land they have.
Some liberals could counterargue that Kashmir’s case is different because of its ethnicity, which is distinct from religion. If ethnicity could be the basis of dividing and uniting nations, then Pakistan and Bangladesh have no right to exist as sovereign countries since Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are ethnically the same and geographically belong to the same landmass, and have common flora and fauna.
If geography and ethnicity are to be interpreted negatively, then too Pakistan’s legitimacy can be challenged, given the perpetual clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, including the ever-disenchanted Muhajirs, whose leaders have gone on record and said that partitioning India was “a historic blunder.”
If Kashmiri separatists, their official sponsors in Pakistan and their liberal supporters in India argue that Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims cannot coexist in Jammu and Kashmir, and therefore Muslims must either join Pakistan or form an independent country, then they should convince their Muslim brethren in the rest of India that they have done wrong by staying back in India and that they all should migrate either to Pakistan or Bangladesh, failing which the two countries should return excess territories to India.
This is not suggestive of undoing the partition, but emphasizing that the "Kashmir for Muslims” approach is aggravating the crisis not only in Kashmir but also in the rest of the Indian subcontinent.
(Prakash Nanda is a journalist and editorial consultant for Indian Defense Review. He is also the author of “Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy.” He may be contacted at Prakash.email@example.com. ©Copyright Prakash Nanda.)