“Enduring Trauma of Partition: Critical Insights Into Neighbourly Relations”

Enduring Dilemma Flashpoints in Kashmir and India Pakistan Relations

K.M. Seethi, Enduring Dilemma: Flashpoints in Kashmir and India-Pakistan Relations (KW Publishers Pvt Ltd New Delhi 2021)

As India and Pakistan are set to celebrate the 75th Year of independence, the trauma of partition and the unsettled issues of the past continue to haunt the people of the subcontinent in diverse ways. The region of South Asia is not only volatile—from political and strategic points of view—it is also one of the testing grounds of democracy and development. With Afghanistan being pushed into another spell of civil war and uncertainty, amid the rising tide of the Taliban forces, there are concerns whether the Afghan syndrome would spill over into sensitive regions like Kashmir.

Perceptibly, both the partition history and the postcolonial challenges are end-products of imperialism and interventions also, and understanding these phenomena from a broader socio-historical perspectives is a challenging task. Books and articles written on these subjects have a general tendency to discount imperialist and interventionist dimensions. Scholars writing on such subjects—from both India and Pakistan—tend to fall into this intellectual trap of ‘nationalist’ and ‘national security’ obsessions. How to overcome these politically ‘obsessive-compulsive logics’ is a question of intellectual honesty and scholarly integrity. It is in this context that reading of K.M. Seethi’s Enduring Dilemma: Flashpoints in Kashmir and India-Pakistan Relations is a refreshing experience. The book has appeared in a crucial moment of South Asian history.

The author says that the work comes out of his long years of research and reading in South Asian history. Of course, the central point of discussion is how India and Pakistan engage themselves on a variety of issues and, most crucially, the Kashmir question. The state of Jammu and Kashmir experienced a bewildering scenario on 5 August 2019 when the Narendra Modi Government repealed the ‘Special Status’ accorded to J&K under Article 370, and subsequently Parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which made J&K into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh This was followed by massive arrests and restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression and assembly.

Since the beginning of these developments, Pakistan has been trying “to internationalise the issue by deploying strategies of isolating India in a high-voltage campaign mode.” The author says that “this has virtually made South Asia a veritable powder keg with threats and counter threats emerging from both Pakistan and India. Many would characterise the scenario as the most dangerous phase in India-Pakistan relations. As nuclear powers, India and Pakistan have the capability to inflict considerable damage on each other, but little do they realise that it would be at the cost of an inexorable human tragedy of a high magnitude.” Its impact “cannot be restricted to and contained within the framework of India-Pakistan relations.” As rightly pointed out, it “has considerable implications for South Asia as a whole.”

According to Seethi, at the heart of the “conflict architecture is the Kashmir question,” and hence comprehending “this conflict-dynamic calls for a deeper level analysis of the historically constituted perceptions and mindset of the people and their engagement with issues of wider socio-cultural dimensions.” In line with this, the author attaches considerable importance to “human security perceptions.” He also says that the concept of security has been broadened and complicated by the interplay of various factors and forces so much so that security is not just a matter of ‘territorial integrity’ but “a multi-dimensional concern involving military, economic, ecological, ethnic, political and societal aspects of a nation’s life.”

Some of the issues addressed in the book are related to elite perceptions vitiating state-to-state relations, emotional and ideological dispositions generating feelings of hostility and fear-psychosis, the involvement of the extra-regional powers having bearing on the regional threat perceptions, and the defence/security policies of India and Pakistan being articulated with a view to strengthening themselves against each other.

The author makes it amply clear that the legacy of partition has been very critical in the making of India-Pakistan conflicts. The two-nation theory itself “was not a historically evolved ideology but an imagery intended to counter the aspirations of the Indian National Congress.” The book argues that the partition of the subcontinent did not offer any solution to the Hindu-Muslim question; nor did it lead either to the settlement of this problem or the creation of an Islamic state. But, the antagonistic perceptions of the pre-partition days “got transformed into India-Pakistan conflict and rivalry,” Seethi writes.

Seethi also says that the ruling elites of both countries made Kashmir the linchpin of their political strategy and, eventually, it has become the most decisive factor in the foreign and defence policies of the new neighbours.  Even as the constraints of the political conditions made the ‘struggle for Kashmir’ the political obsession of the ruling elite of Pakistan, “the tactical goal of India was, first to allow matters to rest where they were, and then to consolidate its position by a combination of political and military measures. However, both countries tended to ignore the human security dimension of the Kashmir question,” says the author.

The book also deals with the changing security conditions in the 1960s and 1970s which brought in new set of strategic configurations in South Asia, with Beijing and Moscow becoming important factors in dictating the pattern of India-Pakistan relations. According to the author, India always maintained strategic advantage over Pakistan due to its preeminent power position. This became more evident with India’s role in the Bangladesh liberation and the nuclear build up since 1970s. It triggered a new phase of arms race with Pakistan seemed determined to retaliate by buttressing its position on Kashmir and by propelling its own nuclear-missile programme.

The chapter on Kashmir is very insightful with fresh thoughts on the ground situation since 1980s. The author, while being critical of the interventionist politics of both Pakistan and India, underlines the “need for deepening democracy by strengthening decentralisation in J&K in the larger context of the aspirations of the people as well as in the interest of peace in the region.”

Though the book does not delve into the Modi Government’s tactical interventionist gameplans in Kashmir, it provides some snapshots of the emerging situation following the Pulwama attacks and India’s ‘surgical strikes’ (in the annexures of the work as commentaries). While the author says that “a sustained democratic campaign may prove productive,” it is not yet visible and reassuring under the present dispensation. Though the central government had set the institutional framework for decentralisation and local self-government, way back in the early 1990s, it has not yet been ‘productive’ enough to address the issues of J&K. Seethi argues that “democratic decentralisation and participatory development could be potential strategies for dealing not only with the human security question within J&K, but the national security problem as such vis-à-vis Pakistan.” He also hopes that this would “strengthen India’s strategic position in any dialogue process across the international fora involving Pakistan.”

It is true that we must set our house in order before preaching moral lessons to others. However, the recent experience of negotiating with the central government—on Kashmir—is a disappointing one. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) already expressed their deep concerns over the outcome of their meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24. They were particularly unhappy with the lack of any ‘substantial confidence-building measures’ being taken by the Centre in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the real dilemma of the people, on both sides of the boundary. The trauma of partition in the form of a ‘enduring dilemma’ is much more evident when, a day before India’s Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that August 14 will be observed as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.” In reply, Foreign Office spokesperson of Pakistan said that “It is shameful that the practitioners of ‘Hindutva’ ideology, and purveyors of hate and violence, would so hypocritically and one-sidedly invoke the tragic events and mass migration that occurred in the wake of Independence in 1947.” The ‘action-reaction spiral’ in the form of ‘tit-for-tat diplomacy’ is the real curse of this partition history. This is exactly a reminder that Seethi’s Enduring Dilemma tries to convey.

Roy Mathew is a Delhi-based journalist and online researcher

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