Kashmir Dispute Reimaging the vision

By Ashok Ogra

We all know that several attempts, both at the level of top political leadership as well as back-channels- for resolving the Kashmir dispute, have yielded no results. On the contrary, we continue facing terror – sponsored from across the border. The fact remains that the Pakistani Army sees its battle with India in existential terms. The army has been and remains the centre of gravity in Pakistan. The saying goes that most countries have an army; but the Pakistan army has a country.

That being the case, it is pertinent to pose the question: will the Kashmir dispute be ever resolved? The counter argument advanced by those who believe that progress can be achieved take refuge in history and quote numerous examples of disputes as complex as Kashmir that have been resolved by nations during the last hundred years or so.

It is against this background one finds Ashok Dhar’s debut book KASHMIR AS I SEE IT: FROM WITHIN AND AFAR highly informative and educative. Ashok encourages all interested parties to think of restoring normalcy and ultimately resolving the Kashmir dispute using ‘Game Theory’. He uses his experience from the corporate world where he has served with great distinction, and believes that Game theory and other management tools have the potential to yield positive results in conflicts that are political in nature.

The widely used example of Game theory is the ‘Prisoners’ Dilemma’, wherein two people have been caught committing a serious crime, but there are no witnesses except each other. Both A and B are arrested and held incommunicado separately. The police tell both the accused the way to go forward is through confessions.

What A and B are both told is the following: o If neither accuses the other, they both get one year imprisonment as the case against them is not strong o If A betrays B and B does not betray A, then B gets 10 years and A gets to walk away, free. The reverse is also true. o If both A and B betray each other, they get five years each.
On the face of it, it appears that the best option for both the accused would be to cooperate with each other and not betray the other and get away with light one year sentence. But because they don’t trust each other and are kept separately, the most likely outcome is that they both betray each other. That is a Nash Equilibrium: a stable situation which is non-optimal, but in which neither party will dare to unilaterally change its strategy because of the possibility of a worse outcome.
The award-winning Hollywood film ‘The Beautiful Mind’ is based on the life of John Nash who pioneered this theory and was awarded 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics – along with two other researchers.

Game theory has a wide range of applications, including psychology, evolutionary biology, war, politics, economics, and business. It has been lately invoked by several political commentators including Rajeev Srinivasan (First Post), Hindon Sengupta (Fortune), Raj Jaganathan (The Mint) and others as a means of predicting the behaviour of both India and Pakistan when it comes to Kashmir. However, no other book has examined the Kashmir dispute so deeply from a management perspective as this one.

Ashok is a product of NIT, Srinagar, and IIT- and it is only expected that he advocates analytical tools that are based on using a set of pre-determined rules. He contends that looking merely at the legality of the state’s accession to India is like looking at an iceberg; peace will not come if we don’t understand Kashmiriyaat (syncretic culture ). “What strikes me about the extant literature on Kashmir is the centrality given to the legality of the Kashmir dispute…. While legality is certainly one of the integral components of the dispute, I feel many other elements have also potentially contributed to the continuance of the dispute.”

Rigorously researched, the book is divided into three parts. In Part I, the author shares his experiences of growing up in Nai Sarak, Srinagar, making life -long friends with Muslims – both in school and college, imbibing Rishi and Sufi traditions and embracing the beauty that the valley has to offer. It is these beautiful memories of the past that define his narrative all through.

He believes the “core value of our Kashmiriyat was inspired by the verses of Lal Ded. She was a devout follower of Kashmiri Shaivism. The verses of Lal Ded became the inspiration for Sufis and Saints who came to Kashmir.”

In Part II we get to read about the practice of Islam in Arab countries and its relationship with Kashmiriyat, and the role of key leaders during and immediately after 1947.
It is in Part III that he articulates his vision for Kashmir and elaborates on Game Theory and its applicability to the Kashmir dispute. It is this segment of the book that at first glance appears somewhat ‘complex’ but the author manages to demystify these concepts with relevant examples to make it intelligible for an average reader.

The author comes up with an innovative phrase ‘LeLaMOKSHI’: ‘Le’ stands for legality, ‘La’ for land, ‘M’ for morality, ‘O’ for operability, ‘K’ for Kashmiriyat, ‘S’ for Sufism, ‘H’ for historicity and ‘I’ for identity. ‘These elements have to be understood separately while also being studied in conjunction with each other.’ The author argues that maintaining a status quo cannot resolve a dispute permanently. Reconciling sovereignty with the principle of self-determination or autonomy is possible.

Ashok takes pains to enlighten readers with various conflicts that have been resolved: SAARS dispute that was resolved through a referendum in 1955, when Saarlanders chose Germany over France; Northern Ireland agreement of 1998 that acknowledged that ‘civil wars’ are not a substitute; The Quebec Model that recognizes the diversity within a country with Canada respecting the French language being spoken by the residents of the city; Aceh Accord of 2002 that guaranteed certain freedom to its inhabitants by the Indonesian government etc…

Lest the author is misunderstood, he gives no hint that Kashmir has ceased to be a political problem. Far from it! In the chapter titled Multidimensional Dispute, the author acknowledges that “Kashmir has become a site of contestation between proponents of territorial nationalism and ethnic nationalism. Territorial nationalism was originally the basis of conflict over the Valley between India and Pakistan.”

Therefore, while being acutely conscious of the intractable nature of the Kashmir dispute, the author is adventurous enough to propose a new radical approach: “I have often wondered if one could get some direction for solving the Kashmir problem in the context of an India-Pakistan standoff using mathematical models of cooperation and conflict between intelligent, rational decision makers.”

To strengthen his argument, the author refers to the seminal work of Surapati Pramanik and Tapan Kumar Roy who have used a standard 2×2 Zero Sum Model to identify an optional solution. It is based on identifying the options that each country has, and an attempt to evaluate, based on a chosen option, what each of the two countries is trying to achieve.

The on-going conflict is analyzed as an enduring rivalry, characterized by three wars (1947-48), 1965, 1971, low intensity military conflict (Siachen), mini war at Kargil (1999), internal insurgency, cross border terrorism. The researchers also examine the influence of USA and China in crisis dynamics. They also discuss the possible solutions offered by the various study groups and persons.

However, today the Kashmir dispute has acquired new dimensions. Nobody will deny that there exists a huge goodwill among the large majority of Kashmiri Muslims who would like to see Pandits return to their homeland? At the same time there is increasing influence of Wahabi ideology in the valley. And then there is the dimension of home-grown terrorists – supported by ISI -out to inflict huge damage to the Indian state.
Dr.Ramesh Tamiri, a keen observer of Kashmir politics, calls it “externally sponsored Wahabi insurgency.”

One wish the author had dealt with some of these issues. Perhaps what must have must have weighed heavily on the author is to stay focused and avoid the temptation to expand on the brief. Given the nature of the dispute, there will be those who may find his suggestions somewhat un-implementable, if not, naïve. Noted journalist cum author Dr. Manoj Joshi in his excellent foreword echoes similar sentiments: ‘One thing is clear; the solution to the Kashmir issue will not come through the application of mathematical models. It will come through human agency, and will require courage and statesmanship….. That Kashmir is a unique problem requiring a unique solution, and that the Indian constitution has enough room to provide it.’

But the optimist in Ashok is not the one to abandon his thesis so easily. He argues that it is important to analyze the importance of each element of LeLaMOKSHI at the individual level and in conjunction with each other. Only then can we realize why addressing the issues at hand in Kashmir requires a different approach and understanding.

The author does not shy away from narrating the events of that fateful night of January 1990 that led to the mass exodus of peace- loving Kashmiri Pandits. “In January 1990, fear and threats after selective killings of Kashmiri Pandits had reached a crescendo.”
He ensures that the narrative doesn’t slip into sentimentality when describing the spirit of brotherhood and bonhomie that existed before the eruption of insurgency, and even now when he visits the valley. He has many friends in Kashmir, always ready to welcome him.

In an account that is part memoir, part history, Ashok “hopes and prays for the beginning of a new dawn in Kashmir when we feel safe enough to return home and not wait for departed souls to make the valley secure for us.”

Just a minor correction required in the book: during 1971 Bangladesh crisis it was P.N.Haksar who was the Principal Secretary to Indira Gandhi. P.N.Dhar was that time working as Secretary in the PMO.

Published by Rupa, the book is full of interesting anecdotes and insights gained from meetings and conversations from a large section of people – both in Kashmir and outside. The author sees it as a personal journey interspersed with geopolitical analysis and about the voice that yearns to be home again. The book is about RE-IMAGINING THE VISION and drawing attention of all the stakeholders to THINK DIFFERENTLY. To fully understand and appreciate the thesis being advanced by the author, one has to read the book.

(The author is currently working as an Advisor (MC) in a reputed education society in Delhi)
For full text see: dailyexcelsior.com/sunday-magazine