'If All Is Well In Kashmir'

Cover Story in South Asia Magazine:

If All Is Indeed Well In Kashmir

By Cynthia Ritchie

Now that the crisis in Kashmir has captured global attention, it is important for those of us who’ve either travelled in the region extensively and/or have detailed on-ground knowledge, to continuously remind the world of the fundamentals of the Kashmir Crisis, so as to clear any additional confusion or attempts at obfuscation.

It can be difficult for anyone to understand the cultural, religious and military aspects of the region – much less the multilayered, multi-generational geo-politics of the nuclear flashpoint that is Kashmir.

Political posturing wrapped in the flamboyant colours of a staged Bollywood production could easily distract the easily vulnerable. Modi’s House of Mirrors is meant to distort reflections of reality; this confusing situation makes it difficult for many to distinguish between truth and illusion with numerous, competing versions of reality. Between India, Kashmir and Pakistan, perhaps the most accurate version of reality belongs to the Kashmiris. However since the media clampdown several weeks ago, precious few Kashmiris have been able to get their stories out to the masses.

And many outsiders who fear the unknown have, frankly, found it easier to turn a blind eye. This is thankfully changing though.

In 1967, psychologist Thomas Stampfl invented a technique known as ‘flooding’ – exposing the patient to painful memories with the goal of reintegrating their repressed emotions with current awareness. In this context, we will remind students of history of the territorial disputes between India and Pakistan, decades ago, and the fact that – despite India’s political machinations – the will of the people was to go with Pakistan, as painful as this must have been for India.

Elaborating further, when partition occurred in 1947, the people of the former North West Frontier Province (now known as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, located along the international border with Afghanistan), had a chance to vote: become citizens of India or Pakistan. The vast majority of these voters were Muslims and over 99% voted to go with Pakistan. It is also important to note that, according to some declassified documents, prior to elections, the then-British Governor – who was said to have a ‘soft corner’ for the Muslim population – was recalled by Mountbatten [at the insistence of Nehru and Gandhi] on a mysterious ‘sick-leave’ – never to return. This maneuvering was an attempt to try and sway the vote. Despite the extensive political connivance of Nehru and Gandhi, and Mountbatten’s favouritism towards India, the people voted to become Pakistani citizens.

Although the chronology of events in the subsequent decades remains bitterly disputed, similar patterns can be seen and inter-linked with Kashmir. Since the British Empire left, the epicentre of conflicts has been seemingly centered around metallurgical and waterways assets. The Indus Waters Treaty, brokered by the World Bank in 1960, was an agreement to give control of the eastern rivers of India (the Beas, the Ravi, and the Sutlej), with control of the western rivers (the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum) to Pakistan. This agreement has, notably, resolved a number of disputes between India and Pakistan via legal procedures, within the framework of the treaty.

Coming back to the behavioural technique of ‘Flooding’ as a method for overcoming fears, since people naturally tend to fear the unknown, so one of the best ways for fear reduction is to educate and enlighten them on a consistent basis. India has its own economic struggles, with some states demanding independence; acknowledgment of this by the Indian Government requires courage and willingness to integrate repressed emotions of past experiences with current awareness. Sweeping matters such as these under the rug will not help the masses of people suffering – in India, Pakistan and especially Kashmir.

As the saying goes: Knowledge is Power. With all the challenges of the information age, the world is vastly more informed as to the matter of Kashmir.

We mentioned early on that it’s easier (mentally) for people to turn a blind eye to things they don’t understand (fear). And a common tactic for any bully, be it a small child or one of the largest ‘democracies’ in the world, is to avoid third-party mediation and, in India’s case, to try to exhaust the defenders of Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Movement, and the defenders of the Kashmiris’ Right To Self Determination. What are some of these techniques? Propaganda machines populated by huge centres of professional trolls; accounts traced to India and Afghanistan use insults and hack personal information among their many intimidation tactics.

Why would a democracy allow such a massive disinformation campaign? Why would India not want third-party mediation in this matter, if all is well?

Because once the masses are consistently educated, over a sustained period of time, they can decide for themselves how best to influence the governing bodies, (including the United Nations Security Council) to enforce the Kashmiris’ Right to Self-Determination – as guaranteed by the United Nations many decades ago.

History, again, appears to be repeating itself: Pakistan is facing politically-oriented conflicts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan International Border and in Kashmir – both of which have strong connections to India’s expansionist plans.

In 1952, India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (formerly an Indian Independence activist) acknowledged, “Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people… we have made it clear to the leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their plebiscite… we have taken this issue to the United Nations and given our word as a peaceful solution; as a great nation we cannot go back on it. We have left [the] solution to the people of Kashmir; and we are determined to abide by it.”

However, India does not want a repeat of NWFP elections – decades ago. India does not want to risk the Muslim-majority population going with Pakistan, so they have – for years – been populating parts of Jammu with non-native Hindu residents. Why? In the event there ever is a plebiscite, the newer ‘residents’ will potentially throw the vote. Not really the ‘impartial plebiscite’, that all parties agreed to, is it?

It is interesting to note that Nehru and Gandhi worked closely together after partition, so many decades ago, yet the so-called modern day leadership has taken a monumental leap backwards: no longer believing these UN Resolutions are relevant: No. 47 of April 1948, No. 51 of June 1948 and August 1948, calling for ceasefire followed by plebiscite in Kashmir. Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the Fascist Hindu Movement, which is the dominant influence on the B.J.P. (Bharatiya Janata Party) today.

During elections, Modi’s nationalist B.J.P. won a massive majority, yet that massive majority was based on less than forty per cent of the vote. Again, the voices representing the masses of over one billion people are really nowhere to be seen. Today the BJP, comprising India’s President, Prime Minister, and leadership – all of whom are Hindus – are more interested in solidifying Hindu Rule over the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, which is home to about 7 million people. Since Modi suspended autonomous rule in Kashmir, Gandhi’s ashes were stolen, statues vandalized, and photos defaced by some of the same RSS-driven mentality that killed Gandhi in the first place.

Yet, the Indian Government claims ‘all is well’ in Kashmir – so much so that tourism and businesses are said to be resuming. What would the more than 2,000 people, including mainstream political leaders locked up or under house arrest, say? It is likely the international community won’t know until the mobile, internet and phone services (that Modi’s government cut) are restored.

If ‘all is well’, why deny access to US Senator Chris Van Hollen? Van Hollen was visiting India on trade and other matters, when he asked to visit Kashmir. Pakistan later took Senators Van Hollen and Maggie Hassan to Muzzafarabad, AJK, to speak to the people, and assess matters on the ground.

Kashmir is seeing its third month in lockdown. No foreign journalists have been allowed by the Indian Government to report in Kashmir since August 5. Why the smoke and mirrors, if all is truly well in Kashmir?

The writer is a freelance director, producer and communications consultant. She lives in Islamabad and can be reached at