Chennai: It is not often that one comes across a non-academic work of critical exposition of history laced with personal life-world experiences and a constructive reconstruction in finding an ‘optimal solution’ to the over seven decades long Kashmir imbroglio between India and Pakistan.
While ‘re-imaging the vision of Kashmiriyaat’ (the spirit of tolerance to diverse points of view) where multiple religions and cultures have flourished, using mathematical tools like ‘Game Theory’ to show an ‘optimal solution’ acceptable to all stakeholders in J and K, which includes keeping the soul of Article 370, is the charm of this balm, ‘Kashmir As I See it, From Within and Afar’ by Ashok Dhar, a reputed technocrat in the Energy sector and founder-director of Kolkata chapter of the Observer Research Foundation.
Hailing from a family of suffering Kashmiri Pundits in Srinagar, Ashok Dhar’s reflections of 210-odd pages in this work are unique, a blend of the real and the ideal. They effortlessly juxtapose his personal, experiential dimensions with the major historical landmarks, besides the philosophical and cultural ethos of Kashmir. This multi-layered narrative also throws light on the ‘soul of Kashmiriyaat’, as much as it brings out enlightening informational nuggets, rhetoric that paraded as substance and little known anecdotes in the lives of key players in the Kashmiri drama, particularly in the 20th century from late Maharaja Hari Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru to Sheikh Abdullah, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (there is a very insightful chapter on the ‘Simla Accord- The Real Story’) and so on. Again, not many may know in India’s new millennium that it was poet-scholar Mohammad Iqbal who first backed the ‘two-nation theory’ much before Jinnah would even consider it. And Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq is very different from Jinnah’s Pakistan.
The Hindu-Muslim camaraderie has been an integral part of this ‘spirit of Kashmiriyaat’, one reason why Kashmir, its people led by Sheikh Abdullah could never really accede to Pakistan after Great Britain carved out two dominions in the run-up to the Independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947. This was notwithstanding the fact that Hari Singh initially toyed with the idea of joining Pakistan for reasons of geographical contiguity and demographic composition.
“Even today, I remember the soothing aarti at the temple (in Srinagar), (Om Jai Jagdish Hare) and the azan recital of the Taqbir from the mosque. It was a common thing for Kashmiri Pundits (Hindus) and Muslims to meet at a shop serving ‘halal’ meat after offering prayers. Such was our life while growing up in Kashmir, full of stories of religious tolerance and cultural amalgamation,” recollects Ashok Dhar as he begins describing his long journey in this book.
‘Kashmir Shaivism’ as propounded by Abhinavagupta in a society that was for several centuries ‘Vedic’ until Buddhism came on to the scene, the emergence of the ‘Mayahayana’ sect of Buddhism in Kashmir, subsequent revival of Hinduism after Adi Sankaracharya started it in the South, the influence of Lal Ded (1330-1392), the mystic poetess whose aphorisms ‘ Lal Vaakh’ and later Sufi mysticism, all these and more are at the heart of Kashmir’s ‘composite culture’, he says.
Cutting through all this rich pack of details on various efforts to solve a multi-dimensional problem, where perhaps Ashok Dhar seeks to make a difference is his attempt to distil a mathematical way, as extracted from ‘Game Theory’, to outline a pathway for a permanent solution acceptable to all stakeholders.
The ‘disputed region’ as the author puts it comprises of Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, northern Kashmir and PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir). “However, it is also important to recognize that Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir are three different and distinct regions with different languages, cultures and religions. Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir came together only after the Dogra rule. It is not a state which is bound by a commonality that unifies to create a strong linkage of allegiance. The creation of J and K was a force-fit solution enforced by the British to serve their geopolitical interests, mainly because of the Anglo-Russian fallout.” Cut back to mid-14th century, post the arrival of Islam, Ashok Dar underscores that the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin (1420 -1470 CE) stands out as best.
The ‘Game theory’ jargons come in at this point. It was during his period that the Valley had reached its “own Nash Equilibrium”, analyses the author. “The Nash Equilibrium is a concept where the optimal outcome of a game is one where no player has the incentive to deviate from his chosen strategy after considering his choice of opponent,” explains the author.
Quoting from global models of conflict resolution that could help resolve the Kashmir dispute, the author unveils a “simple Dove-Hawk game” to illustrate the possible scenarios. A ‘Dove-Dove’ scenario would be one in which both sides (India and Pakistan) agree to a bilateral solution based on the Simla Agreement. It would mean the territory of PoK and Gilgit Baltistan would be given to Pakistan, and Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh to India, “to convert the ground reality (LoC) to the de jure situation.”
Dhar argues that a ‘Dove-Hawk scenario’ would mean India making territorial concession and Pakistan not accepting to abide by the Simla Agreement. The third possibility, ‘Hawk-Dove scenario’, envisages India continuing to fence “along the LoC or retaliating with its military might (ultra Hawk) and Pakistan agreeing to comply with the Simla Agreement. The fourth, ‘Hawk-Hawk scenario’, “is more or less what is happening currently, with both sides being unable to enforce the Simla Agreement. In such a scenario, a tit-for-tat strategy is dominant,” writes Dhar. “Lack of trust, national pride and identity issues” makes a Dove-Dove constructive framework, a bilateral solution very difficult now, he writes little knowing a Pulwama and a retaliatory attack were not far away.
Building on this line of argument, Dhar goes on to lay bare five alternatives, including ‘status quo’. These are “reforms decisions required to be taken across some key areas.” These would cover the status of Article 370, scope of Article 370, the level of autonomy and merging Jammu and/or Kashmir with the Union of India by the abrogation of Article 370. Each alternative is then validated by a set of criteria, knowing what each stakeholder prefers. Each solution is then ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being least preferred and 5 being most preferred).
In this matrix, the author shows how the fourth option, ‘Middle ground’ gets the highest weighted average score of 3.42, the most preferred solution by all stakeholders. It involves Article 370 having a “temporary status with an eventual vision of integration”. The Scope of Article 370 is to be ‘limited to Kashmir’. While Jammu and Ladakh are to be made independent states of India, Kashmir valley is “to remain separate with greater autonomy”. With even late Jan Sangh leader Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee not ruling out autonomy for Kashmir, this ‘middle ground’ option could help solve Kashmir imbroglio, contends Dhar.
Ashok Dhar emphasises it is time to shift from ‘management’ of the crisis to its ‘resolution’.
He underscores that a leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on the same wavelength as Jawaharlal Nehru on this issue, by “trying to build public opinion in J and K and the rest of India for deeper understanding and an amicable solution to the problems that plague the state.” “They left pearls of wisdom to guide us,” he sighs. Seeing Kashmir ‘from within and afar’ opens a new window.