Only then perhaps will people realise how great the tragedy was that so many lives were lost and so much time and money wasted arguing about ownership of land, which would have prospered far more if its people had been allowed to live peacefully, moving as geography determined their passage, long before political divisions were created to circumscribe the inevitable interaction of humanity.
(Victoria Schofield 246)
The concluding passages of Victoria Schofield’s exceptional book on Kashmir, represent Kashmir as a geography suffering from the enactment of national cartographies. Maybe, that is the problem of Kashmir for Kashmiris: A people who have a historical narrative of having shared the same geography and its attendant cross cultural broader regional identity, which now finds itself overwritten by political cartography of the immediate past and the present. In this overwriting, the Kashmir subject, in all its complicity, is overwritten by the competing interests of two major nation-states and thus, in the end, the Kashmiris are silenced and their spokespersons take over the all-important function of representing Kashmir as mediated through their own national discourses. On the Pakistani side of the conflict, by and large, Kashmir is often seen either as a future Pakistani territory or as a territory that should have been originally a part of Pakistan and is represented, in often repeated refrains, as the “jugular vein of Pakistan” (Ahmad)
While the Kashmir issue figures prominently within Pakistan and within the larger political dynamics of India and Pakistan, it seems to capture much less public attention in the United States. This, in my view, is caused by the lack of cultural representations of Kashmir and also because of Kashmir’s linkage with the interests of two powerful nation-states: India and Pakistan. In this brief paper, I aim to highlight the importance letting Kashmir and Kashmiris speak for themselves.
In pretty much all public representations of Kashmir in Pakistan, the issue of the rights of the Kashmiris, both in the Pakistani-held and Indian-held Kashmir, are always broached from the point of view of Pakistani national interest. Thus, one often encounters policy statements that claim Kashmir as part of Pakistan and then claim to lobby for this cause.
Similarly, on the other side of this divide the Indian nationalist claim Kashmir to be an integral part of India and see the Pakistani-held Kashmir as an occupied territory. These claims, to my view, are often bizarre considering that it is the Kashmiris in Indian occupied Kashmir who are fighting and sometime dying for their right to self-determination.
Living in the United States, I have noticed that when Pakistani leaders or activists talk about the Kashmir issue, they fail to garner the kind of public or official support as other global issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict or others. The main reason, in my view, is that the Pakistani politicians, officials, and activists always lobby for Kashmir to be a future part of Pakistan and do not necessarily only talk about the rights and aspirations of Kashmiri people themselves. By connecting the fate of Kashmir and Kashmiris to the symbolic and political power of Pakistani nation-state, they, thus, also transcribe the intrinsic value of the Kashmiri freedom struggle to Pakistan’s own political weight within the international arena. And to be honest, if both India and Pakistan are arguing for Kashmir to be a part of their nation, then, at least in the United States, India has a definite advantage. India, both as a nation as well as a cultural concept, has a huge advantage in its political power and symbolic value in the United States.
The case of Kashmir and Kashmiris is likely to get more attention if the argument was made under the regime of human rights and if Pakistan only focuses on the plight of Kashmiris themselves. For as long as Kashmiris are represented as Pakistani-citizens-in-waiting, the Pakistani advocacy for Kashmir in the US would keep faltering. It is important to remember that the main reason Kashmir is still prominent as an issue in the world forums is because of the internal struggle of Kashmiris themselves. By focusing on the autonomous, peaceful struggle of Kashmiris in their own right, Pakistan can more effectively build a case for the Kashmiri right to self-determination,
Yet another aspect of Kashmir problem and its representation by Pakistani media and scholars is the question of militancy. There is no possibility of getting any traction with the West, especially the US, by offering any militant groups as “freedom fighters,” as the public is normally hostile to any organizations that may, even accidentally, end up killing the civilians. So, instead of counting on the militants as representatives of Kashmiri struggle, it would be more pertinent to point to those who seek peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, and this also must be done from the point of view of Kashmiris alone and not from the vantage point of Pakistan’s national interest. It must also be noted that in most of the media accounts here, Pakistan is seen as using Kashmiris as proxies in their larger conflict with India, and if this perception is not challenged and revised, then Pakistan’s attempts on behalf of Kashmiris would be further hampered.
The Kashmir issue has some similarities with the Palestinian right to self-determination. Until the early seventies, the Palestinian conflict was often referred to as the Arab-Israeli conflict. This larger and generic representation of Palestinians usually bunched the Palestinians under the larger register of the Arab world and hence made Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan the sovereign speaking nations of the conflict. It was only after the Palestinian struggle made it possible to claim its own autonomous designation as a national struggle that the conflict came to be called the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Part of it also happened because the Arab nations either signed peace treaties with Israel or stopped lobbying for the Palestinian interests. Now, post Oslo accords, no one but the Palestinians themselves represent the Palestinian nation. Now, they do need Arab and international support, but their own identity as autonomous and sovereign people of a future Palestinian state is no longer disputed.
Similarly, the Kashmiris must be acknowledged as autonomous people fighting for their own independence and not as either proxies to Pakistan or India and certainly not as people who can be spoken for by either Pakistan or India. I think acknowledging this basic national identity of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control is a necessary first step in gaining more symbolic and material international support for the Kashmiris.
If the Kashmiris are treated as a nation-in-the-making and if then Pakistan lobbies for their interest on human rights and under other registers, then the chances of garnering a larger international support would be higher and I am pretty sure the Kashmir issue, as an issue that affects the lives of Kashmiris, would gain more traction in the public and official imagination of United States. Of course, this step alone will not solve the problem, but it, at least, assures that both India and Pakistan acknowledge the existence of Kashmiri people as autonomous and capable of deciding their own national destiny according to the wishes and aspirations of all the varied regional, ethnic, and religious constituencies that form the Kashmiri people.
(Note: I presented this paper at a conference at National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad in 2017)
Ahmed, Adeel. “Who said what about Kashmir in Last one year.” Dawn. July 20, 2016.
Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in Conflict. Revised edition. London. I B. Tauris, 2010.