I was just looking at the different things Kashmir wants, and it seems quite obvious that India seems to be better at ensuring the welfare of the Kashmiris. Was wondering, idly of course, is it possible for us to trust the Kashmiris to make responsible choices and announce  a plebicide?

Honestly, if we are able to fix the violence inflicted by the police and army on the locals, I don’t think we are doing anything else wrong.

Just for comparison:

  • Kashmir’s independent identity. India has got a lot of soldiers there, but not allowed anyone to settle into Kashmir. Pakistan has got all kinds of people there, including Afgans and now the Chinese. Neither country has offered freedom (though Pakistan has offered lip-service, which is worse)
  • Safety. This is a big one. On the whole, we are able to create law and order and safety, but it is all getting leveled by hostility between the soldiers and locals. The stone pelters are misguided, extremist hot heads, but there is no smoke without fire. There has to be a genuine grievance to fuel an outrageous stand. On the other hand, the situation is very bad in POK as well.
  • A voice. India allows communication outside the region, open access for visitors and considerable freedom in reaching out. POK seems to be a black out.
  • Economy. Without getting into nit picking detail, I think we are doing better than Pakistan on this front.
  • Education. Schools, colleges, universities… I don’t think Pakistan has anything major happening on that front. its almost like the country hasn’t invested anything into the place till its officially theirs.
  • Resources. We aren’t exploiting Kashmirs resources for our gain like the Mangla dam, for example.
  • Cultural integrity. India ‘rules’ Kashmir, yet people are free to make their choices, work, protest, study…. get on with life in general. In POK, Kashmir is supposedly free, but in reality they don’t have the power to do much. Outsiders are settled into their land and the rules are made outside. What goes as Azad Kashmir doesn’t include all of Kashmir that is in Pakistan.
  • Satisfaction. Both Kashmirs are unhappy with their respective countries. Its easier for us to deliver on dignity than it is for Pakistan.
  • India has a stable and growing economy and respect around the world.
  • India is the country of their original alignments.

This is just a quick scribble, but the overwhelming sense of things is that if we are able to minimize physical harm to the people, that’s almost the entire battle. And honestly, it is their right. We will have to examine a lot of things and slog to create change, yet whatever happens, it will be a change that will enrich our country anyway.

Its a massive risk. Stakes are high. Yet, it may be the one way of really winning hearts and ending this melodrama. Pakistan has created a huge mess in POK under the assumption that India will never want a plebiscide. India suffers continually from allegations of rights abuses and reneging on our commitment.

It may be time to put the ball in Pakistan’s court and say that we are ready when they are – empty the valley of all illegal occupants but the Kashmiris. Get Kashmiris settled outside rehabilitated back. Establish rules and mediators that work for both and lets put the damn thing to a vote. At this stage, I don’t think it would be a good option in terms of security to offer freedom, but if this goes well, heck, why not? We could see after a decade or so if people still wanted freedom.

Perhaps its time to turn the tables. Announce a date and work to make it happen. Even if we end up losing Kashmir, its a step better than where we are. We can’t force people even if it is for their good. Not infinitely. The situation the original plebiscide wanted is gone. We can’t go back. We can move forward creating as neutral a situation as we can.

If this is too huge a risk (and it is indeed), hold a ‘mock vote’ – the situation isn’t fair enough that this would be a valid vote, but we would like to know your desires, so that we can hold it in our awareness. You matter. Voting for Pakistan or freedom will not mean we give it to you, but it will mean that we hear you. Heck, we can add in tick boxes for other major concerns – jobs, human rights, roads, whatever. We will be able to make choices that align with the majority as far as possible.

The whole point is that we cannot keep considering an entire population’s wishes about their own land irrelevant, just because we assume we know what they will say and we don’t want to act on it. Break it up. Find out if the assumption is correct. Whatever the answer is, use it to govern better, not control. We may not be able to offer freedom, but we can listen. We can learn to offer something that they like better than freedom. Throwing money at them is not the solution. Find out what they really want.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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