The Edmond Sun

February 7, 2014

The labryinth gets messier in Kashmir

By Nyla Ali Khan
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — The first modern country in which democracy blossomed was the United States of America. As we are well-aware, the founding fathers of this nation learned from the mistakes of others, drafted a constitution and created a well-knit federal state through adult franchise. Looking at the ruthless and tyrannical dictatorships that people had lived through for eons, democracy had become a necessity.

It cannot, however, be said that democracy was universal in its appeal and acceptance as quite a few variants of it were devised by certain groups to suit their calling. Adult franchise, as practiced in the United States, was thrown to the winds, elections manipulated and rigged, and at times, the public verdict was contemptuously thrown into the trash can. The absolute limit is when tin-pot dictators in our living memory have brazenly called their autocratic systems democratic, the last of them witnessed in the Indian subcontinent. Democracy, as Abraham Lincoln underlined, is “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” A government that protects and promotes vested interests while marginalizing the general populace is, by no means, democratic.

The Indian subcontinent, where a bunch of legislators can be bought to send packing a duly elected government, betraying and abusing the electorate in the process, could, perhaps, learn a lesson or two from American democracy. Here a vote is valued, and there it is priced. Avaricious and power-hungry legislators flaunt their victory with aplomb, drum beating and with high pitched music in the streets, making life unbearable. Independent candidates in that part of the world are a party unto themselves, thus adding more parties to the already numerous ones recognized by their election commissions. It is an irony that the originator of the parliamentary system, Britain, has reduced its system to a two-party one, whereas the subcontinent is generously loaded with a multiparty system.

Here in the States, a billionaire ran for office as a liberal not long ago, and was defeated. It would be difficult to imagine that happening in the subcontinent. With this plethora of political parties and an army of so-called independent candidates, coalition politics is now a reality in the subcontinent, a formation in which independent candidates have a field day, where they can demand their price including a ministerial berth with a plum portfolio. Coalition partners are a thorn in each other’s side, needling each other through the tenure of the government. The head of such a government feels obligated to pander to every legislator because he fears the rug being pulled from under his feet, and poor poor democracy finds itself in a slaughterhouse.

Although I think the Indian subcontinent can learn from American democracy I’d point out American democracy is not completely flawless. At times it can seem like oligarchy.

In a democratic set up, however flawed it might be, the will and aspirations of the electorate are ignored by politicians at their own peril. It is important that the youth demands democratic rights, efficient governance, a stable infrastructure and a much less fractious polity. The electoral principle is discussion, not autocratic decisions.

Now, I segue into the intractable Kashmir conflict in South Asia, where the electorate has been demanding these rights for a while now. In January 1948, India referred the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations. Subsequent to the declaration of the ceasefire between India and Pakistan on Jan. 1, 1949, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two portions. Currently, a large part of Jammu and Kashmir is administered by India and a portion by Pakistan. China annexed a section of the land in 1962, through which it has built a road that links Tibet to Xiajiang.

The strategic location of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) underscores its importance for both India and Pakistan. The state of J&K borders on China and Afghanistan. Senior officials in the first Clinton administration recognized Kashmir’s disputed status and questioned India’s claim that Kashmir was an integral part of the Indian Union. Pakistan made every attempt to draw in the United States by making the argument that nuclear disarmament in South Asia can be achieved only if the Kashmir crisis is resolved.

In order to make their borders impregnable, it was essential for both India and Pakistan to control the state of Jammu and Kashmir politically and militarily.

The insurgency in Kashmir, India and Pakistan’s ideological differences, their political intransigence could result in the eruption of a future crisis. In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, the politically chaotic climate of Pakistan, the belligerence of the military and the tenacious control of fundamentalist forces basking in the glories of a misplaced religious fervor stoked by a besmirched leadership, can India and Pakistan produce visionary leaders capable of looking beyond the expediency of warfare, conventional or otherwise? Will the leadership in Pakistan seek to douse the conflagration that threatens to annihilate the entire region by flippantly shelving the issue for future generations to resolve?

While preparing to lead the new coalition government in Pakistan in 2008, co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, had condemned the distrustful atmosphere created in the Indian subcontinent by the Kashmir imbroglio. While underwriting the importance of fostering amicable relations between India and Pakistan, Zardari had said that the Kashmir conflict could be placed in a state of temporary suspension, for future generations to resolve.

Will the besieged populace of the state of Jammu and Kashmir remain beholden to a leadership that doles out valueless crumbs to laypeople while dividing the spoils amongst themselves?


NYLA ALI KHAN, an Edmond resident, is a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of “Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and “Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).