Kashmir : The Switzerland Model

Kashmir is an unfortunate historical legacy. In the normal course of things , the valley should never have come to India. Nor in the real sense did it belong to Pakistan secluded as it always was from the mainstream of post-mughal Indian society and politics. It was perhaps Nehru’s folly to encourage its accession to India. But since this is an unalterable historical reality , the Kashmir issue has acquired national dimensions. (Chandan Mitra,’There is an Alternative to the Hardline’ The Sunday Observer, 15 Apr 1990)

During the Quit Kashmir movement, in all probability, Sheikh Abdullah may not have thought of various permutations and combinations in case Kashmir achieved freedom from the yoke of Maharaja Hari Singh. Sheikh Abdullah, however, maintained close liaison with the leaders of Indian National Congress all through the movement. He may have anticipated ruling at least the muslim majority valley after its liberation. The unexpected partition of India, Jinnah’s indifference to him and non-recognition of his party and Nehru’s consistent friendship put Sheikh Abdullah in a dilemma. He took his decision as the fleeting time demanded and pondered over it later. Subsequent national and international developments made him rethink over his decision and work on a model not originally contemplated viz. the model of Independent Kashmir having friendly ties with both India and Pakistan. To quote an urdu couplet;

Yeh jabar bhi dekha hai Tareekh ki nazron mein,

                                    Lamhon ne khata ki hai , Sadiyon ne saza payee.

Sheikh Abdullah’s idea of independent Kashmir, as expounded in his autobiography, The Atish-e-Chinar, was based on the Switzerland model which had geo-political similarities with the State. Kashmir as an ‘Eastern Switzerland’, according to him, would ensure durable peace to the state and the subcontinent by becoming a buffer between the two strife torn dominions. It would also ensure a five fold tourism and trade for the State with all its neighbours. The concept was however utopian and not practicable given the scenario of the subcontinent which had been gripped by the cold war by then. Peace in Switzerland had been assured by all the neighbouring nations that surrounded her which were civilized and developed and had learnt many lessons during the past two world wars. On the contrary, the countries surrounding Kashmir had no such experience, were under-developed and the subcontinent had experienced the worst religious carnage at the time of partition. The expansionist plans of its neighbours manifested later in the form of annexation of Gilgit and Skardu by Pakistan, Aksai Chin by China besides part of J&K ceded by Pakistan to China, coupled with claims over Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong by China, and Sikkim by India. While on one side Anglo-American bloc was continuously on the look out for bases to contain USSR, the Soviet Republic itself was trying to maintain control on its neighbours which ultimately resulted in aggression over Afghanistan and subsequent pull out. And then there were the two newly liberated countries, India and Pakistan, facing each other, one trying to prove religion as a binding force for a nation while other trying to disprove the two-nation theory. Under these circumstances how could a land-locked state of Kashmir have remained insulated?

Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah seems to have been aware of these eventualities. In his speech before the J&K Constituent Assembly, he said,” the third course open to us still has to be discussed. We have to consider the alternative of making ourselves an Eastern Switzerland, of keeping aloof from both States but having friendly relations with them. This might seem attractive in that it would appear to pave the way out of the present deadlock. To us as a tourist country it would also have obvious advantages. But in considering independence we must not ignore practical considerations.

Firstly, it is not easy to protect our sovereignty and independence in a small country which has not sufficient strength to defend itself on our long and difficult frontiers bordering on many countries.

Secondly, we must have the goodwill of all our neighbours. Can we find powerful guarantors among them to pull together always in assuring us freedom from aggression? I would like to remind you that from August 15 to October 26 of 1947 our state was independent and the result was that our weakness was exploited by our neighbours with whom we had a valid stand-still agreement. The State was invaded . What is the guarantee that in future, too, we may not be the victims of similar aggression. (V D Chopra,’Genesis of Indo-Pakistan conflict on Kashmir,p 12)

In the background of what has been written above, a sincere effort has to be made by all the parties concerned with proper mandate from their respective people to find out a solution to the problem so that it does not result in further destabilization of the subcontinent and prove a threat to the world peace at large.

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