On 5 May 1946, People’s Age, a communist newspaper, noted in a commentary that granting the right to complete self-determination to all the nationalities living in India would eliminate the possibility of a constitutional solution along communal lines. The right, it continued, could be conceded after a territorial re-division of provinces, done on a scientific basis keeping in mind linguistic and cultural homogeneity. And all such units, the commentary concluded, should be allowed to decide whether or not to join the Indian Union. On 6 January 1950, the Cross Road, another communist paper, condemned Kashmir’s accession to India as “treacherous” and demanded the “withdrawal of Indian troops”. In the 9 September 1950 issue of the New York Times, a Soviet journalist named Oleg Orestov took Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah to task for having proved impotent in the face of Indian reactionaries.
As is apparent in this taste of historical communist sentiment, initially the Communist Party of India (CPI) wielded significant influence over Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference party – to the extent that the party manifesto, known as Naya Kashmir (1944), was drafted by CPI leader B P L Bedi and his wife Freda Bedi. For many years, the communists thought Sheikh Abdullah was playing their game. Then, in 1953, the communists suddenly became the most significant critics of the man whom they had long admired and nurtured. At that point, the CPI began to believe that the Sheikh was playing into American hands, attributing his 1953 demand for Kashmiri independence (as applying to the Kashmir Valley) to American encouragement. The turnaround had come, after all, following successive meetings between Sheikh Abdullah and a number of influential Americans, including Adlai Stevenson.
At the time, the nature and extent of American influence in Jammu & Kashmir (as in the rest of Southasia) was complex. As a result, many publications in India on the issue remain well within the realm of speculation, as writers regurgitate old, unverified facts. To this trend, Howard Schaffer’s The Limits of Influence is a notable exception. A veteran US diplomat who spent much of his almost four-decade-long career in Southasia (in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and as the US deputy assistant secretary of state for the region as a whole), Schaffer clearly had access to hard-to-come-by sources, as well as an experiential understanding of the Subcontinent.
Though Schaffer does not mention the exact reason for Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest, it is time for scholars to revise the longstanding overemphasis on the ‘foreign hand’ as being behind Sheikh Abdullah’s change in attitude. In fact, dispassionate research reveals that internal factors within J & K constitute a far more potent explanation. The Sheikh’s speech in Jammu in 1952, in which he nearly supported independence for the Kashmir Valley, was also a consequence of events already taking place in Jammu and Ladakh, where the absence of a decentralised polity within the state had led to public protests.
A number of groups, such as the Praja Parishad, began agitating in January of that year, demanding full accession for Jammu – protests that were blessed by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), which became the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980. Jana Sangh leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru in January 1953 saying, “Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh represent different types of people; their language, their outlook, their environment, their habits and modes of life, their occupations differ from one another in many vital respects.” A demand for separation from the Kashmir Valley and a direct relationship with New Delhi had already been raging in Ladakh since 1948. It was then that Sheikh Abdullah concluded that the separation of the Muslim-majority Valley from the rest of the state was the only solution – a decision that caused much friction in his relationship with Nehru.
The painstaking research evident in The Limits of Influence sheds light on several key aspects of the US involvement in J & K. The most proactive intervention of the American establishment was during the era of John F Kennedy, when the president sent a State Department official named W Averell Harriman to gain a better understanding of the situation. The visit took place in the aftermath of the 1962 Sino-Indian war, at a time when India’s confidence in the international community was at its lowest. Harriman met with Nehru and General Ayub Khan in an attempt to lay the foundation for bilateral negotiations, buttressed by letters from President Kennedy to both of them. At the time, a solution in Kashmir was seen as critical for US interests, and cordial India-Pakistan ties were deemed likewise crucial in formulating a joint front against the communists. The famous 1962 talks between Indian leader Sardar Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were a product of this effort on the part of the US. The failure of those talks subsequently forced the Americans to revise their strategy, thereafter opting for limited intervention.
Today, it is a vast understatement to say that Kashmir remains a sensitive issue for India and Pakistan. India is allergic to any kind of American intervention, while internationalisation of the issue has always been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s preferred policy. In return for supporting Washington’s ‘war on terror’, Pakistan today wants the US to use its influence with India to facilitate a dialogue on Kashmir, as reiterated by Yousuf Raza Gillani since he became prime minister. President Barack Obama has thus far refrained from making public statements on Kashmir, though the US administration has consistently made pronouncements asking India and Pakistan to return to the negotiating table.
In this context, Schaffer is quite hopeful. The possibilities for a breakthrough, he suggests, “though limited, are likely to be higher than they were in 1962.” It is largely believed that the contours of the broad agreements between India and Pakistan have already been reached on Kashmir. Among the accepted parameters are federal autonomy for both J & K and Azad Kashmir, a reduction in troops levels, and the promotion of institutional links between both parts of Kashmir. The main challenge lies in persuading India and Pakistan to be realistic in their expectations, a feat that Schaffer is optimistic that the US can facilitate. India, he says, can be persuaded to give genuine and enforceable concessions, including autonomy. Pakistan, meanwhile, is likely to believe that it is getting the worst of the deal, so Schaffer stresses that finding a way to sweeten that bitter pill will be among the most important parts of any solution.
Discussions of Kashmir cannot remain solely in the rarefied air of international politics, however, and at some point need to deal with the militancy that continues to rage on the ground. In researching Shadow War, the New York-based writer Arif Jamal gained good access both to the jihadi institutions in Pakistan and the prime actors of Kashmiri militancy. Indeed, the author took considerable risks in discovering the facts that end up providing crucial information regarding key facets of the militancy, including recruitment, organisational structure, ideological base and its transnational character.
The chapters on the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) make up the core of the book. The former, founded by Maulana Syed Abdul A’ala Maududi in Raj-era India in 1941, was splintered into three groups following Partition, with separate organisations in India, Pakistan and J & K. Much later, in 1974, a unit was also established in Azad Kashmir, which, according to Jamal, was set up to slow down the spread of secular ideas in the area. In early 1980, General Zia ul-Haq met with Maulana Abdul Bari, the leader of the JI wing in Azad Kashmir. Jamal quotes Bari as stating that Gen Zia had decided to contribute to the American-sponsored war in Afghanistan, in order to prepare the ground for a larger eventual conflict in Jammu and J & K. Gen Zia reportedly told Bari that the largest share of international and American financial assistance would go to “whoever trains the boys from Kashmir”. Apparently, while Maulana Sa’adud Din, the founding amir of the J & K wing of the JI, was initially reluctant, he eventually struck a deal with Zia. Indeed, Jihad-i-Kashmir, a publication of the Pakistani JI, is quoted as saying that Sa’adud Din sent his son with the first group of volunteers to receive training.
On 14 January 1990, representatives of all of the JI factions met in Kathmandu. There, it emerged that the leader of the J & K JI was against the organisation’s direct involvement in the struggle, as it was likely to lead to an Indian assault on the group. However, in the face of JI cadres absconding to various smaller Islamist groups, the organisation was in a bind. JI leaders were also in the midst of intense bargaining with the Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, which wanted “to connect Hizbul Mujahideen and other Islamist groups to Jamaat-e-Islami.” Subsequently, writes Jamal, a constitution for the HM was finalised in June 1990, allowing the J & K JI to nominate one of its members as the leader of HM – essentially turning the organisation into the JI’s militant wing. Thus, the JI appointed Yusaf Shah, the district amir in Srinagar, as the first patron of the HM.
That HM cadre exploited the institutional resources of the Afghan mujahideen becomes clear in Shadow War. Six HM operatives were trained in communications at a university outside Peshawar, though this fact was hidden from the ISI, as HM leaders did not want the spy organisation to plan their strategies. According to Jamal, the six came in contact with Afghan mujahideen leader Abdur Rab Rasool Sayyaf, who in turn met Ali Mohammad Dar, the deputy amir of the HM. Thereafter, Jamal suggests, hundreds of thousands of dollars, funnelled to the mujahideen from the US, were transferred to the HM. Subsequently, many HM cadres were trained in camps in Afghanistan – including at the camp Abu Jindal, which Osama bin Laden used for his May 1998 press conference promising to launch attacks against the United States.
In early 1991, a meeting took place between HM chief Syed Salahuddin and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. At that time, Hekmatyar, still a mujahideen leader and yet to become prime minister of Afghanistan, reportedly advised Salahuddin to eliminate all of his rivals within the HM. The latter evidently took this advice to heart, as evidenced by the 2003 killing of senior HM commanders. Ethnic differences among the militant groups also clearly played out in some of the internecine battles in Azad Kashmir. For instance, the clash within the HM between Kashmiri-speaking Muslim Syed Salahuddin and Masood Sarwar, a local Pahari-speaking commander from Azad Kashmir, though not mentioned in the book, was apparently a fallout of this cultural chasm.
Though Schaffer and Jamal explore the Kashmir issues on very different levels, both of these new works make clear that an understanding of the ground realities is crucial to finding the long-elusive ‘solution’ to the situation. Considering the narratives put forward by both authors, the reality of Kashmir appears to have been lost in the subterfuge and intrigue perpetrated on the people of J & K over the past five decades. Ultimately, a workable compromise will only be possible when India and Pakistan abandon power politics for genuine dialogue.
Luv Puri is a Fulbright fellow at New York University. This essay was previously published in Himal Southasian magazine.