What Kashmiris want?

In my new series “Question on Kashmir” I am going to interview political scientists to get an academic view of Kashmir issue. I will also try to explore what possible solutions are there in their view to resolve Kashmir issue. Series will be based on diverse questions varying from Kashmiri Identity to peace in South Asia, from nationalism to Kashmiri Kashmir and from Pakistani Kashmir to Indian Kashmir. Here is my first venture. Other day I interviewed Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal. He is an assistant Professor at School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. Here is what he said.

Pakistan and India do not know what Kashmiris exactly want says Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal

Kashmirica: What is the core of Kashmir Issue, why is it important for Pakistan and India?

Mujeeb Afzal: Kashmir is an existential issue for both Pakistan and India. India wants to keep it to justify its showcase secular democracy, and Pakistan wants to get it to prove its two nation theory as well as its apprehensions about the Hindu majority. Neither Pakistan nor India is prepared to give up its stance on Kashmir. India aims at expansion as it sees South Asia from New Delhi and wishes to control it from there like a hegemon; whereas Pakistan feels threatened by India’s desire to keep an unwilling Kashmir under its control and it perceives in its occupation the Indian expansionist design, which looks credible and quite legitimate after the fall of Dhaka and emergence of Bangladesh with the Indian armed assistance. Kashmir’s importance for both Pakistan and India is also strategic in nature. The Indian objective to have an India-controlled South Asia and Pakistani desire to be a meaningful – if not equal to India – partner in the South Asian state system can never be fulfilled without having Kashmir. The Kashmir region is also important in economic terms because of the waters; any state possessing Kashmir as its part would control almost all the water resources of the region. Therefore, Kashmir is vital for cognitive, strategic and economic reasons for both Pakistan and India.

Kashmirica: On what grounds Pakistan and India both claim Kashmir their part?

Mujeeb Afzal: Apparently both Pakistan and India do not know exactly the wishes of the Kashmiri people because they have never counted their opinion in this matter. Neither India has ever asked the Kashmiris whether they wanted to be part of the Indian Union or otherwise nor has Pakistan ever taken their consent. No empirical evidence is available on the options, whether the Kashmiris would like to be part of any of these two states or wish to live as an independent entity. So the whole process is assumptive and both states believe in their assumptions as true but the fear of losing Kashmir in case of any plebiscite on the Indian side, even though it also exists on the Pakistani side as well, because of Muslim majority of the region.

Kashmirica: Is peace in South Asia possible without the solution of Kashmir Issue?

Mujeeb Afzal: No, peace in South Asia is not possible without the solution of the Kashmir Issue because Kashmir is now a reason as well as a symbol of contention: reason in the way that Pakistan insists on redefining the borders in South Asia, and symbol in the sense that it provides the basis for Pakistan-India strategic competition. Kashmir is the center of competition between Pakistan and India.

Kashmirica: What Pakistan and India have gained and lost so far from their contest on Kashmir?

Mujeeb Afzal: Strategic issues are beyond gain and loss; competition is for the sake of competition. Many a time, competition at the strategic level can be endless. I see no solution of this issue in the near future which means there will be more competition between Pakistan and India.

Kashmirica: Incorporating Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan will make Pakistan’s stance of right of self-determination for Kashmiris baseless, what you say?

Mujeeb Afzal: Yes, in a narrow legalistic sense, you can say so but opinions are divided on this issue. Gilgit-Baltistan’s own popular opinion is in favor of incorporation. I think, where you place a region legally is not important; what is important right now, is the provision of basic rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan because as long as there is no permanent solution you have to find a temporary one. Pakistani state has to be innovative to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan as India did in case of Jammu and Kashmir by granting Kashmir special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Pakistan has also developed such a mechanism to administer Azad Kashmir but provision of basic rights to the Kashmiris need to be guaranteed.

Kashmirica: Brad Adams the Asia director at Human Rights Watch has said in 2006 that although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but, The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms, how you see human rights violation in Kashmir and particularly Azad Kashmir?

Mujeeb Afzal: It is virtually Pakistani territory for all practical purposes; therefore, Pakistan treats Azad Kashmir as an allied state. For strategic purposes it is defended, and perhaps only Kashmir is defended. So a strict control is necessary. Besides, Pakistan itself has faced strict control throughout most of its history under the military regimes.

Kashmirica: GB &Jammu has been practically detached from Kashmir, fact or fiction?

Mujeeb Afzal: Intellectual debates on this aspect are there but neither the Pakistani state nor the Indian state has taken any such position. Both the states maintain their original stated positions.

Kashmirica: What possible solution is out there for Kashmir issue?

Mujeeb Afzal: There could be more than one solution of the Kashmir issue but right now there is not a single constituency working for minimizing tensions and normalizing relations between Pakistan and India. Any solution depends on the nature of Pakistan-India relations.

Kashmirica: Dialogue on Kashmir, formal, back channel has been a failure to solve Kashmir issue, yes or no?

Mujeeb Afzal: Yes, officially no dialogue has produced any positive result. Unofficial records and public statements by the participants are available but all the formulas and talks have remained mostly for media consumption. Practically no progress has been observed on this issue so far.

Kashmirica: Independent Kashmir was never on the agenda of Pak-India negotiators, why?

Mujeeb Afzal: I think, ‘independent Kashmir’ is not acceptable to any of the two states, and the reasons are pretty obvious. Firstly if a plebiscite for an ‘independent Kashmir’ materializes, it will set a precedent for the disintegration of these states in future. Secondly independence of Kashmir can provide basis for demands of independence of territories both on the Indian side as well as on the Pakistani side.

Kashmirica: If Kashmir issue remains as it is from past half century how it will affect the socio-political and economic development of south Asia and how it will affect Kashmiri Identity and Kashmiri Diasporas struggle?

Mujeeb Afzal: I see it from a different angle. Structures which were supposed to build from Kashmir’s reference are there, they have been built. Pakistani Kashmir is virtually part of Pakistan. It is highly integrated into Pakistan and this process is going to be more embedded in future. The Kashmiris are perhaps the only community that is deeply integrated into Pakistan. Almost every Kashmiri family from Azad Kashmir has a stake in Pakistan. And you will see, Gilgit-Baltistan will be easily assimilated. The problem is on the Indian side, because Article 370 has partially served its purpose; and now it is being contested within India. I foresee, water shortages, Siachen issue and other smaller issues that are linked with the broader issue of Jammu and Kashmir will affect Pakistan. Pakistan will face concerns on foreign policy level and India at the domestic level. As far as identity is concerned, I see that the whole issue of identity exists on myths, and myths do not evaporate easily. They stay for long, even the contested Identities persist.

Interviewer/Writer is pursuing his Mphil at Iqra University Islamabad, blogs at Kashmirica.org and works with Institute for Social and Economic Justice (ISEJ). He can be reached at