(To elaborate the political nature of Kashmir problem, one needs to examine the historical perspective of the land and its people)
Recently Kashmir’s Finance Minister lost his job for saying that Kashmir is not a political problem. Apart from that he had denigrated the political leadership of Kashmir standing for its total freedom. He had stated that they were barking up a wrong tree! A fellow columnist has shown him his place in his recent article, “Idioms of Hubris”. It would be useful to recapitulate Kashmir’s history for the “Naïve” gentleman displaying total ignorance probably as alleged by some with certain ulterior motives!
Before one delves into history of Kashmir and Kashmiris, it would be interesting to understand the meaning of the words the Nation and the Nation-State. According to Oxford dictionary, a Nation is, “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory”. According to Wikipedia, “A nation is a stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, ethnicity or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. A nation is distinct from a people, and is more abstract, and more overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests”.“It is a more precise term than “country,” but of the same general meaning, being that it is an ethnic nation with its own land (thus “homeland”) and government”.
Kashmir has existed as a separate independent country ruled by various kings from the earliest times. Kalhana’sRajtarangini goes almost 5,000 years back to describe the kingdom of Kashmir from the time of Gonanda I. The most important earliest confirmation of Kashmir as an independent country is from Greek sources. It is the Ptolemy’s geography which has preserved many of the references to Kashmir. He calls the region KASPEIRA. The importance of this reference lies in the name of the territory as it is a phonetic derivative between Kasmira, the ancient Sanskrit name of Kashmir, and the present day Kashmir or Kashir.
After Greeks is the mention of Kashmir in Chinese records. The earliest reference to Kashmir dates back to A.D. 541. Kashmir is described as a country “enveloped on all sides like a precious jewel by the snowy mountains, with a valley in the south which leads up to it and serves as a gate of the Kingdom”. Ninety years after this first mention of Kashmir in Chinese records, Hiuen Tsang visited the valley and stayed here as an honoured guest for two years. He entered Kashmir through the valley of Vitasta (present Jehlum). Kashmir which he calls Kia-shi-mi-lo described as a country surrounded on all sides by very high mountains which have very narrow and contracted passes for entry.
The next reference to Kashmir in Chinese records relates to the Annals of Tang dynasty which mentions the arrival of the first ambassador from Kashmir sent by Candrapida and then another sent by Muktapida (Lalitaditya) of the Karakot dynasty of the Rajtarangni. In fact, Muktapida had entered into a treaty of military alliance with the rulers of Tang dynasty of China against Tibet which he subsequently raided with a strong Kashmirian army. He failed to conquer it as his entire army perished in the cold and high altitude deserts of Ladakh.
Kashmir also figures in records of Muslim scholars. In spite of Kashmir’s natural seclusion, the Arabic literature has very accurate and valuable account of Kashmir. This is due to the research and critical appraisal of ALBERUNI who travelled with Mahmud of Ghazniupto the borders of Kashmir at the fort of Lohkot (presently Loran in Punch). This stronghold of the Kashmiri forces brought the invasion of Mahmud to a standstill and he had to ultimately retreat from here due to the onset of winter. Though this expedition failed to reach Kashmir but it gave Alberuni ample opportunity to collect detailed information on Kashmir. He refers to the pedestrian habits of Kashmiris and mentions that the nobles were carried in palanquins on the shoulders of men. He describes Kashmiris anxiety and care to protect their country. “They are particularly anxious about the natural strength of their country, and therefore take always much care to keep a strong hold upon the entrances and roads leading to it. In consequence it is very difficult to have any commerce with them”.
Thus there is so much historical evidence for the existence of Kashmir as a separate country from the earliest times. Unfortunately, Kashmir lost its sovereignty to Mughals in sixteenth century and since that time has been enslaved by one or the other conqueror. However, in spite of all the hardships the Kashmiris have not reconciled to their external slavery and the urge to regain their lost freedom has been increasing with the passage of time. The movement to achieve this goal is quite strong. Thus, in view of this entire history, as denigratingly suggested by the former Finance Minister, the people are not barking up the wrong tree! Incidentally, in the Indian sub-continent there is at present only one country which qualifies to be called a Nation-State and that is Nepal. Kashmir could be the second one!
The million dollar question is will the Kashmiris be able to reclaim their Nationality as it existed for thousands of years and will Kashmir ever be again a Nation State? Will they be ever able to lead a life of honour and dignity? Well, keeping in view the current regional political set up it seems impossible unless these neighbours get tired of their unending mutual hostility or get decimated in a destructive war! Howsoever, it would be an ideal solution if they agree to declare Kashmir as a Nation State of the erstwhile times and make it a totally neutral zone like Switzerland remained in the two world wars. This may seem a utopian dream but sometimes such dreams happen to show the way. In the present global context, Nation States have almost ceased to exist independently due to the economic considerations. A typical example is the European Union. Even though the individual countries do maintain their cultural individuality yet in reality it has become one unit for all practical purposes. Can’t the countries of our region do the same? Make the area a composite economic unit and keep Kashmir as a Free Economic Zone with total political neutrality! Something on these lines could be worked out through dialogue among all the stakeholders including all the neighbouring countries. Ultimately, after getting exhausted by mutual bickering and fights reducing their citizens to abject poverty, the neighbouring countries may have no alternative but to do it! The other choice would be total obliteration by a destructive nuclear war! Let us hope and pray that good sense will prevail all round and Kashmiris are emancipated after centuries of oppression!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir