Barely one and a half years after Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s cabinet minister proposed the Irish power-sharing model as a “solution to the Kashmir issue”, the erudite professor known for his conflict capability has endorsed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) for the lingering problem.
In his ‘Kashmir at the Crossroads: Inside a 21st-Century Conflict’, published by Pan Macmillan India, Prof. Sumantra Bose, an ace Indian political scientist and expert on the Kashmir conflict, terms the Kashmir resolution in the “supreme national interests” of India and Pakistan.
“The Northern Ireland type of settlement finds favour despite its new complexities arising from the UK’s troubled exit from EU,” Prof. Bose argues in his new book. “Laying the conflict to rest through diplomacy and statecraft is clearly the only way forward.”
In August 2020, a year after New Delhi rendered the last vestiges of Kashmir’s autonomous structure null and void, Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari proposed the Northern Ireland model as a possible solution to “Kashmir dispute”.
“Pursuing the model of the GFA in 1998, which brought together all parties to the conflict in Northern Ireland and ended decades of violence as a possible approach to resolving the Kashmir dispute,” she addressed a webinar organised by Islamabad Policy Institute, a prominent think tank of Pakistan.
Mazari’s proposal surprised many, as it was a clear departure from Islamabad’s stated position of the right to self-determination for Kashmiris as per the United National Resolutions of 1948 and 1949.
Signed on 10 April 1998, the Good Friday Agreement aka Belfast Agreement is a pair of agreements that thawed political conflict in Northern Ireland.
As a “feasible solution” for conflicts between the opposing groups on territorial claims, even Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had reportedly thrown his weight behind it in mid-2000s.
Before coming out with this telling treatise, the professor of international and comparative politics at the London School of Economics had long hogged headlines with his celebrated conflict chronicle — “Contested Lands: War and Peace in Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka”, published by Harvard University Press, in 2007.
It was a literacy attempt to examine the recent and current peace processes and address the question of how peace can be made, and kept, between warring groups with seemingly incompatible claims.
“The search for durable peace in lands torn by ethno-national conflict is among the most urgent issues shaping our global future,” argues the professor who specialises in the study of ethnic and national conflicts and their management, with a particular focus on the Indian subcontinent, especially Kashmir.
Since 1947, he says, when the partition of subcontinent created Kashmir conflict, the ruinous potential of nationalisms competing for supremacy has become a grim lesson. “However, the political aspirations of Kashmiris make them participants in the tragedy.”
Terming the 1953 captivity of Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as a tragic tale of treachery, Prof. Bose raises a question: “Why was the harmonious Kashmir-India symbiosis fatally damaged?”
Abdullah’s arrest in the “Kashmir conspiracy case” inaugurated the “permanent police state”, the professor argues. In that controlled state, governments were installed through “farcically rigged elections and dispensed with by their masters once they outlived their usefulness”.
The result, he says, was a dysfunctional polity bordering on dystopia, “ruled by a host of Draconian laws”.
Years later, the professor maintains, those installed governments would set the stage for the abrogation of Article 370. He, however, terms the August-2019 event as barely consequential.
“Narendra Modi and Amit Shah almost certainly anticipated that the Pakistani reaction to their new, iron-fisted Kashmir policy would verge on the hysterical, and that this reaction would help them sell their policy to the Indian public,” Bose writes. “It’s almost as certain that the strongman duo in New Delhi did not anticipate the nature and severity of China’s response.”
In a bid to alter the Kashmir issue with their unilateral decision, Prof. Bose argues, New Delhi ended up changing the geopolitics of South Asia by provoking the dragon.
“The erasure of the state from the political map of India has made the current situation highly flammable,” he warns. “It was a very deliberate act calculated to degrade the sense of self of the liquidated state’s people.”
People chafe at the denial of everyday freedoms and civil liberties in Kashmir, the professor says, like a media policy that makes journalists and news organisations “answerable not to their readers but to government bureaucrats and security officials with power to decide what news is fake or anti-national”.
Prof. Bose’s new Kashmir book carries different watersheds, including The Dispute (1947 to 1989), The Carnage (1990-2004), The Stone Pelters (2005-19), The Hindu Nationalist Offensive (2019 onwards).
Above and beyond the recent political developments, the book talks about the valley of mystics.
Before becoming a battleground between a Pasthun guerrilla-led insurgents and Indian Army in 1995, Prof. Bose terms the Nund Reshi’s talismanic town of Chrar-e-Sharief as a symbol of Kashmir’s syncretic faith. He credits the patron saint for translating Islam into Kashmir’s spiritual and cultural idiom. This version of Islamic faith, he argues, proved enduring and resilient in Kashmir 600 years later.
Among the latest literary compilations, Bose’s new book is undoubtedly a doleful description of the discord. Based on his 20-odd field visits to Kashmir, he makes scholarly statements and denounces dehumanization of Kashmiris. “Entire generation has grown up and come of age in an environment of repression and violence,” he notes.
This literary avowal is already evoking the professor’s own question raised in 1997: “Why another book on the conflict in and over Kashmir? Hasn’t the vexed topic been flogged to death already?”
That’s right, professor! But then, as readers would argue, the new Kashmir twists and turns are only making the conflict chronicle an endless enterprise.
Ishita Sen is an Indian Journalism Academia, currently working in IIT Mandi