The Quest for Political Identity in Jammu Kashmir

Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, peace activist and a freelance journalist. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, peace activist and a freelance journalist. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution.

By Nayyar N Khan

Prior to the emergence of modern state, during the monarchy the subjects of monarchs had little say in their relationship with the state. Over time, the concept of citizenship and identity developed, with the principle that citizens were not just residents of a given territory, but were members of a political community with a particular identification and recognition. Civil, political, and social rights became associated with citizenship, differing by country in the balance among these and in their scope.

Different simulations of the appropriate relationship between a state and its citizens are exemplified in different systems, which legitimize these models based on their preferred political ideology. All regimes have formal institutions that reflect their ideological claims. But central to these identifications, besides having differing ideologies is the element of political identification, because modern day nation states in global north have kept religion as a private and personal matter and have set forth a “political doctrine” where citizens are equal before the law without prejudice to the their spiritual beliefs. Social scientists have established several different methodologies to understand how identities are formed and why they become politically prominent. Whether identity groups are politically important, and whether people act politically based on group membership, depends on a variety of factors, such as whether a group has a pre-existing sense of itself: it must be an existing reality with both historic ties and a forward-looking agenda. It must have some felt grievance, and it seems to need political identity to be recognized as a distinct unit. When it comes to conflict in Himalayas where the State of Jammu Kashmir comprised of different regions, with inhabitants of different ethnicity languages and religions; the factor of political identity seems more prominent and dominant in the decades long strife in the region. Historically the ethnic, religious and linguistic groups living in the State of Jammu Kashmir have a shared history of living together in peace and harmony over the centuries. This “Peace and harmony” was, however, shattered by the religiously charged atmosphere of 1947, when both India and Pakistan attained their independence under the umbrella of Two Nations Theory. Although India rejected the concept of Two Nations Theory and vowed for the secular and political identification but over the years religious identity has been a dominant insignia across the Radcliffe Line.

Nations seek independence to be recognized as a nation-state, while members of an ethnic group may simply seek some level of acknowledgement and self-rule within the greater scope of a nation-state to which the ethnic groups belong in a wider sense and a shared history over the period of time. National identity can only be protected when a historically evolved nation achieves the status of a nation state and independent country. Kashmiri nation is divided and occupied. Two of its regions are controlled by Pakistan and three regions are controlled by India. Both countries, however, lay claim to the ownership of entire state of Jammu Kashmir. The Kashmiri people themselves have long been striving for identity recognition and ultimately independence. At its core therefore, this is a conflict that is both intrastate and interstate in its nature. The very dimensions that make it both inter and intrastate is division and subsequent occupation that denies the free movement and interactions across the line of divide.

Although living under the occupation of India and Pakistan for almost seven decades, the strong bonds of common identity could not be wiped out, even repeated attempts by India and Pakistan have failed time and again to weaken the bond between the residents of different regions under their respective occupation and that bond is surely the common political identity of people as the members of Kashmiri nation. Some critics may, however, differ by highlighting the regional identities as being Ladakhis, Baltis, Gilgities, Dogris and Paharies and more inimically as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Kashmiris. But these identifications are not that significant when it comes to political discourse. If these were the strong identities mostly these communities are living together besides the occupation. The civil and political unrest in all the parts of Jammu Kashmir State transcends these regional and ethnic classification and focuses on the quest for collective political identity and highlights that all these regional, religious and ethnic identifications are only protected under the umbrella of a stronger bond as Kashmiri citizens.

Although, the conflict in Jammu Kashmir embodies a complex amalgamation of religious, nationalist and political factors and all these factors are deeply rooted in South Asian regional history. This history dates back to the time when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were one, a time when the British colonizers adopted their policy of ‘divide and rule’ to create artificial imaginary boundaries between people, instigating the religious violence that continues to plague many parts of South Asia today. Because both India and Pakistan over the years have failed to be identified “Politically” rather both are preferring to be identified “religiously” as Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. This failure on part of Indian and Pakistani leadership have hostile impacts not only in both the core nations but their shared periphery, the State of Jammu Kashmir. The religious induction in politics have also impacted the Kashmiri nation and the relationships among the faith groups have serious doubts when it comes to the endeavor for the common identification. The result has been a conflict that has created immense volatility in the entire South Asian region and – because both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons – in extension also poses a grave threat to security and peace in the world at large.

The fundamental basis for conflict resolution and lasting peace in the sub-continent of South Asian region is the concept of the new social contract between the conflicting ideologies, according to which human beings contribute as equal citizens in a nation state, and create a society by establishing a contract whereby they agree to live together in harmony for their mutual benefit, after which they are recognized politically in the contemporary world system. This contract between the political governments of the nation states involves the retaining of certain natural rights, an acceptance of restrictions of certain liberties, the assumption of certain duties, and the pooling of certain powers to be exercised collectively. Where non-state elements are not allowed to make the entire region hostage due to particular faith and thus hampering the road to peace and development.

The widespread image of South Asia as the least integrated region in the world, one that is mired in perpetual conflict, comes from viewing the region through the prism of Pakistan and India’s troubled bilateral relations with a contending claim over the future of the State of Jammu Kashmir. It also hinders Pakistan and Delhi’s ability to build on the possibilities for stronger partnerships with other neighbors. As a result, pessimism about the subcontinent’s future has been persistent thus complicating the layers of conflict in Jammu Kashmir. Both have been in pursuit of wrong pathways and such an interpretation meshes awkwardly with common perceptions of the seemingly prominent role of political religions in South Asia. Ayesha Jalal notes in an article “Identity Crisis: Rethinking the Politics of Community and Region in South Asia” published in Harvard International Review, May 6, 2006 that “The binary opposition between secular nationalism and religious communalism is singularly inadequate for such an enterprise. Turning heterogeneities into homogeneities and conflicts into unities, both terms have done more to perpetuate stereotypes than shed light on political dynamics in South Asia. It is time to go beyond the morass of the communitarian mode of analysis which has locked interpretations of the subcontinent’s history and politics into a simplistic distinction between “secular” and “communal”-the more so since the dynamics of center and region, as well as of nationalism and religious communitarianism, are plainly defying such neat distinctions in contemporary India and Pakistan.” Sabina Khan, very rightly concludes in her article “Pakistan Identity Crisis” published by Express Tribune on January 26, 2015 that “Buildings are burnt and facilities are demolished because of the emotional tantrum we suffer on account of real or perceived insults to our belief. This cannot be righted by anyone but ourselves and it must start by de-radicalizing the populace.”

It is a crucial time for the Kashmiri citizens per State Subject Notification No IL-84-1927 to learn a lesson from the regional chaotic history and focus on their mutual and shared political identification to end the conflict permanently. The stronger the political will around political identification the easier the path towards freedom and peace in the region. Path to a more perfect union is still very long to go but a strong foundation could be initiated provided primary party to the conflict understands it that no regional, ethnic, religious or any other divisive solution to the conflict is attainable unless title of the Kashmiri people (Right to self-determination) is not awarded and that too in accordance with the charter of United Nations not the resolutions to which Kashmiris are not the party. A collective decision can only provide an opportunity to safeguard the common political identity with a renewed social contract among the regional and ethnic units of a nation state.

(Writer contributes regularly on Conflict Resolution and Peace. He can be reached at

Courtesy: Received via Facebook

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