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‘Let the people of J&K decide what they want’

Majid Maqbool | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on April 28, 2017
Telling both sides of the story: Dr Christopher Snedden

Telling both sides of the story: Dr Christopher Snedden

Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris: Dr Christopher Snedden, Speaking Tiger, Non-fiction, ₹1,495

Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris: Dr Christopher Snedden, Speaking Tiger, Non-fiction, ₹1,495

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Author of two books on Kashmir, Dr Christopher Snedden acknowledges the agency of its people in the protracted conflict the region has become synonymous with

Professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu, Dr Christopher Snedden is also a politico-strategic intelligence analyst and security practitioner who specialises in South Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Australia and Australasia. He has visited both sides of disputed Kashmir. His first book on the region — The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir — was republished in India in 2013 as Kashmir: The Unwritten History.

Snedden’s most recent book, Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris (Hurst and Co, London, 2015) has now been released in India by Speaking Tiger.

Edited excerpts of an interview:

Your book, which has been recently released in India, is titled Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris. How would you define Kashmiri identity and locate its uniqueness?

The Kashmiri identity — that of the people who inhabit the Kashmir Valley — is very old, complex and famous. There are various aspects to its uniqueness, including the concept of Kashmiriyat. However, it is important to understand, as I discuss in my book, that the term ‘Kashmiri’ also means different things to Indians and Pakistanis, a circumstance that confuses their discussions about Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). For Indians, a Kashmiri invariably is someone from the Kashmir Valley. For a Pakistani, the term usually refers to someone from the former princely state of J&K. When talking of Valley Kashmiris, their identity is very different from most Indians and Pakistanis. This is to do with Kashmiris’ relative isolation, blend of religious thought, experiences with conquerors, and so on. My book discusses many of these concepts, both in relation to Kashmir and J&K.

You have predicted that the dispute over Kashmir could linger on for another 67 years. How did you arrive at this prediction?

This is not my prediction; some of my friends have told me this. Nevertheless, the bilateral dispute over whether India or Pakistan should possess J&K will continue for some time. India and Pakistan have not yet been able — or perhaps willing — to resolve it. There is little or no political will on either side to do so; neither has a perception that might lead to a meaningful compromise. Furthermore, both are able to survive without resolving the Kashmir dispute. Finally, the world and the United Nations are, currently, not terribly interested in the dispute — except to prevent India and Pakistan from going to war.

Some people believe that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) can create conditions for the resolution of the dispute over the Kashmir region. Do you see any such relation between CPEC and Kashmir?

There is a direct relationship between CPEC and J&K, if only because the CPEC route from Kashi (in China) to Gwadar goes right through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is part of J&K and part of the Kashmir dispute. Furthermore, while Pakistan currently is “administering” Gilgit-Baltistan, India claims it as an “integral part of India”, because Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India in 1947. This geopolitical circumstance appears to be making China a little concerned, and it would like India and Pakistan to resolve their dispute. In other words, China may be reluctant to invest fully in Gilgit-Baltistan lest its investments, due to any changes in Gilgit-Baltistan’s current political situation, fall into the hands of India, a nation with whom China has a difficult relationship and rivalry.

More than a decade ago, you wrote in an article, “Would plebiscite have resolved the Kashmir dispute?” Do you still think plebiscite can solve the issue or are there any other creative solutions that can help us in solving the Kashmir conundrum?

It is highly unlikely that the plebiscite will ever be held, chiefly because India no longer wants it. Equally, Pakistan has never been prepared to withdraw its forces from all of J&K, as the UN resolutions require.

However, if J&K-ites are prepared to accept the result of a plebiscite that is free and fair, it might work. Such acceptance is highly unlikely as there are certain J&K-ites with strong inclinations to be either with India or Pakistan who wouldn’t want to join the “other” nation in the event of their side not winning the plebiscite, and who might take up arms to defend their particular territory.

My solution is — because both India and Pakistan are unable or unwilling to resolve their dispute over J&K — they should let the people of J&K decide through discussions with their representatives what solution, or solutions, they want.

You have travelled and researched in both parts of Kashmir. What are the commonalities and differences between the two regions in terms of political culture, State institutions, and State-society interactions?

Some commonalities: wherever I have been, people think strongly about the political situation of, and options for, J&K (join India, join Pakistan, something else) and for them personally. On both sides, some people have issues or challenges with the nation and its military and/or bureaucrats who control them. The differences are to do mostly with people’s history, culture and, most importantly, their political aspirations.

The academic and media discourses on Kashmir tend to be State-centric rather than people-centric. Your books, Kashmir: The Unwritten History and Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris indicate that you have taken a people-centric approach in writing history and attempted to acknowledge Kashmiri agency in the conflict. Is this a right assessment of your work?

Yes... The people of J&K are the first party to the Kashmir dispute, because the dispute is over their lands and also because they instigated the dispute of J&K’s international status in 1947 before the Pukhtoons invaded Kashmir Province on October 22, 1947. They did so via the Poonch uprising and via serious inter-religious violence in Jammu Province. J&K-ites also displayed agency in other ways: the instigation of Azad Kashmir two days before Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India; the creation of the People’s Militia to defend against the invading Pukhtoons; the Gilgit uprising in early November 1947; by supporting either Indian or Pakistanis forces in the fighting in J&K that ended on January 1, 1949; by their political interest, actions and involvement thereafter.

Majid Maqbool is a Srinagar-based journalist and writer

Published on April 28, 2017
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