Saturday, May 1, 1999

Conquest Without Victims-Another look at Kashmir

My article titled Conquest Without Victims-Another look at Kashmir appeared in the newsletter of Liberty Institute, May 1999.

War clouds are again gathering over Kashmir. While the political divide is obvious, effective steps towards open trade and travel in Kashmir and in South Asia, would go a long way in building a market based relationship. And this, in turn, could help ameliorate the political pressures.

The specter of balkanisation on race, ethnic, religious or linguistic grounds around the world has generated the realisation that no society is immune to this pressure and “ethnic cleansing” is a completely unacceptable solution. This century is replete with instances of horrendous crimes committed in the name of defending one's community.

For instance, Pakistan was created on the basis of a particular religious affinity, which claimed to be irreconcilably different from other major religions in the sub-continent. However, within two decades, it was clear that Pakistan’s religious homogeneity was not sufficient to overcome the linguistic divide, and Bangladesh was born. Since then, there is growing evidence that even an apparent religious and linguistic homogeneity has failed to smoothen the communitarian fissures, be it the Shia-Sunni or the Islamic fundamentalist-moderate divide, or even the tribal variety. This also highlights the enormous disruptive potential of trying to reshape India on any idea of exclusion, in an attempt to mirror Pakistan, as some alleged nationalists have been promoting.

In contrast, the unique Indian experience with democracy shows, that despite enormous political and economic blunders, it is possible for a pluralistic society to retain its basic political unity. Because, the democratic institutions, despite their many flaws, have succeeded in building a sense of participation in the political process among the diverse communities.

The major problem in India has been that while political participation has increased, participation in the economic domain has remained greatly restrained. As a result, the economic process became politicised with ever increasing pressure group warfare, at times fuelling various forms of fissiparous tendencies.

The key, therefore, is to recognise that while democracy enables political participation, an open market enables economic participation. Democracy maximises choice in the political domain, while market maximises choice in the economic domain. Attempts to intervene in the market process, therefore, to achieve certain political objectives actually harm the very process of participation that is essential for the sustenance of a diverse and pluralistic society.

In the context of Kashmir, this means that people on both sides of the Line of Control, be allowed the opportunity to travel and trade with those on the other side of the political divide. A healthy relationship at this level is the best guarantor of peace and prosperity for the people on both sides of the divide. Kashmir is much more than just prime real estate.

There is no doubt, that the Indian soldiers, braving the harsh environment, will eventually succeed in defeating the infiltrators. Although the cost will be not insubstantial, the country will bear it unitedly. Even if full-scale hostility does break out between the two countries, there is little doubt that India will once again triumph, as it has in the past. But equally certain is the fact that, like in the past, such victories will not help us move any closer to a solution on Kashmir.

On the other hand, market may achieve without much humdrum, what the military manoeuvering will almost certainly fail.

There is no other choice. With the end of colonialism, the focus is no longer on armed conquest of foreign territories for gaining access to resource and markets. Today, the only way of gaining a market is by free trade and open competition, a continuous battle in search of better products and services at cheaper costs. The political borders of nation states are increasingly vulnerable to technological advances, and freer trade is opening up large windows of new opportunities for populations in remote corners of the planet. It will be a losing battle if India and Pakistan try to hold on to their physical borders, with the exclusion of everything else. The tide of civilization is against it.

Unlike armed conquests, conquests by the market forces leave no victims, only winners–peace and prosperity. Let us now give the market a chance in Kashmir and the whole region.

No comments:

Post a Comment