The conflict in Kashmir – Interview with Dr Adfer Shah, New Delhi-based Sociologist and the author of the book “Kashmir -yearning for peace”. Let us understand the conflict through his perspective.
We get an insight into the dynamics of the conflict in Kashmir with Dr Adfer Shah, departing from his lately-published book. Dr Shah emphasizes the crisis of leadership and the lack of civil society’s involvement in the search for conflict-management options. He focuses on the role of propaganda in hindering the peace process. International mediation and talks are assessed as the key factor in paving the way for a solution which is acceptable to both sides.
From a sociological point of view, Dr Shah analyses the impact that the conflict plays on inter-generational and women-men relationships as well as, more broadly, on the cohesion of the social fabrics and collective identity issues. Last but not least, he stresses the importance of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission as a confidence-building mechanism for offering Kashmiri people a sense of justice and providing the victims with acknowledgement of their suffering.
Sara Bonotti: In your recently-published book Kashmir-Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political History of Uncertainty and Chaos, you analyze the conflict from the angle of a leadership crisis, political inadequacy and lack of legitimacy and vision. When it comes to the grass-roots’ level, do you identify alternative ways of conflict management that can be adopted?
Dr Adfer Shah: Conflict in the state though undoubtedly has reached to the conflict management stage as per the time it had consumed so far but bilateral (India and Pakistan) or trilateral ego (J&K leadership) has crept in which is the real hassle to achieve the conflict termination stage. If at all the idea of a future Jammu and Kashmir is too ambiguous to understand today, the credit goes t
o the policy paralysis and leadership crisis. The solution after all has to come from the grass roots and masses have to be counted as an equal stakeholder because the very problem or say the brunt of the conflict or turmoil is felt by them to its worst. The political ego has to subside and stakeholders have to be brought in the dialogue table. Had it not been the leadership crisis, political will, visionlessness, lack of charisma, the situation in the Kashmir valley would have been different today.
SB: What has provoked the progressive detachment of masses’ representatives/leaders from their people in Kashmir? Is the political establishment taking advantage in that direction?
Dr Adfer Shah: In the state at the moment there are two types of leaderships, one is the mainstream leadership and another is the separatist leadership. Frankly speaking both enjoy peoples support but the separatist sentiment is much dominant in Kashmir valley whereas in Jammu and Ladakh it is the mainstream leadership which mass support. In a place like Kashmir who really represents the masses’ support is a big question as elections or the process of governance for basic amenities is one idea and the real sentiment to address the prolonged alienation is something else. Time and again even mainstream or pro-India leaders have maintained that their elections or government is to address the people’s issues and provide basic amenities but the Kashmir question has to be resolved for the peace in the state. The power elite know what they are for and where the real issue lies. I would not say they are taking any undue advantage as such major issues don’t get resolved overnight.
SB: You refer to an “illusionary peace” and “deceptive calm” – maintained by the power elite – as a sort of deterrent against a constructive solution to the conflict. Would you please provide us with a deeper insight into such deterrence mechanism?
Dr Adfer Shah: Peace has altogether a different meaning and context in Kashmir. It is a political project. Politically peace here means the absence of violence for a particular time (may be a week or a month or a season) but not the very existence of it. It is like hiding a bomb under the carpet and seeing the carpet as something beautiful .The current version of peace in Kashmir is of the illusionary peace –as it is the official and an imagined/illusionary version of peace that always waits for a spur or even a slightest provocation/aberration to blow up. By deceptive calm, I mean the deceptive /false lull which only appears but is very volatile, very spontaneous, very unpredictable and bloody violent from within.
SB: In your view, does the international community underestimate the gravity of the conflict? Would a supranational mediation be really needed at this stage or you are rather confident in a turning point of endogenous factors?
Dr Adfer Shah: To resolve any grave conflict in the world, international or call it super national mediation is a prerequisite. The international community and its concern for Kashmir is almost a myth as world powers would always talk in their own interests barring some insignificant noise from a few neighbours’. Many of them say that India and Pakistan should resolve it bilaterally. As far the essence of endogenous factors in the resolution, I think it has not worked and needs a serious international mediation. The biggest lie today is that the world feels for Kashmir and supports its cause.
SB: What you describe as “social breakdown” and “identity crisis” in Kashmir are somehow reversible processes? According to what pace, in your estimation?
Dr Adfer Shah: The pluralistic ethos has significantly declined between the three major divisions of the state, i.e. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh shaping up a sort of collective identity crisis along with the hatred for each other. I call it hate dichotomies. Even communities like Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims have developed certain social confrontations which I call th
e confrontations of suffering and conflict frustration. People over a period of time have got divided on regional and religious lines. I don’t see any occasion where all the three divisions of the state unite and look for a unitarian resolution. Identity crisis is the hallmark of such a dirty war that is going on in the valley. In the presence of such a prolonged and unending conflict, social fabric has torn to a larger extent and social breakdown is continuously manifesting itself into many pathological forms but simultaneously the inspiring incidents revealing Kashmiriyat (our rich ethos) keep coming to light.
SB: In this line, would you extrapolate a key lesson learned that could apply to other conflict scenarios?
Dr Adfer Shah: Conflict lingering or deliberate delay in resolution is more deadly than the conflict itself. When conflicts are continued and spread over decades needlessly, it takes away every credible and significant social/political/economic institution and leads to a total collapse which may or may not appear in physical terms but is a reality everywhere in the conflict zones. Over a period of time the conflict industry evolves out of such a long pending conflicts and a class of neo-riches also emerges while the victims or say masses keep suffering. Conflicts should be resolved wherever they are and negotiation and talks are the answer not the guerrilla warfare -that has taken a heavy toll on the oppressed everywhere in the globe.