Nobody seems to have a solution to the Kashmir problem. It seems that policymakers believe that a solution will emerge by itself by the dynamics of time. In other words, status quo is preferred till the alternative surfaces on its own. But we have a history in the past of not accepting status quo. If one had waited for a non driven solution to Nizam’s Hyderabad, or to Junagarh and Goa—and the status quo to dissolve in a self created solution—these regions would not be a haven of peace and stability as they are today.

Indeed in Kashmir, a matrix of dynamism is at work, but there should be a clear eyed vision of its direction. Ever since its accession to India, a demand for greater autonomy has been voiced in Kashmir. What does this demand entail? J&K has more autonomy than any other region of India, including the district councils of the tribal districts of Northeast. The state has its own flag and Constitution and a special Article in the Indian Constitution, defining its relationship with India, Article 370. The state elects its own Legislative Assembly. This Article cannot be deleted without a Constitutional amendment. So what is the content of the greater autonomy which some people in the state are seeking?

To understand the real implications one should take an unjaundiced view of Wahhabism. To understand the reality of Kashmir one has to comprehend the reality of the spread of Wahhabism.

In our own neighbourhood, no exceptions to the Wahhabi principle of exclusivity have been allowed. A millennium ago, persecuted Zoroastrians had to run away from their country to survive. More recently, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have witnessed an exodus of minorities. In our own country, in the one region where Wahhabism is on the rise, the Kashmir valley, the Kashmiri Pandits have been driven out and their return is most likely near impossible. This is the naked truth about autonomy. It hides aspirations for separation, secessionism and eventually caliphate.

Such aspirations are not shared by the people of Jammu and Ladakh. When the valley sometimes erupts with slogans of azaadi due to provocations created by separatists, Muslim majority pockets in Jammu like Poonch and Doda and in Ladakh like Kargil city, do not display any signs of disquiet. In the valley also, Shias, Hindus, Sikhs, Gujjars and Bakarwals keep away. The disturbances take place mostly in five districts out of ten in the valley. Even most of those who join the agitators during the day, often approach the commanders of the Indian Army in J&K for a job in the evening. A majority of the population in J&K is thus outside the pale of such agitation, but the sensation seeking media makes out as if the entire valley is on fire.

There is no doubt that radicalism is gradually tightening its grip on the valley. There are four main channels of such transmission: madrasas, mosques, social media networks and internet. The Friday sermons at the mosques influence a great many, young and old alike. The mosques are increasingly coming under the control of the Ahle Hadis religious fraternity which propagates Salafi ideology and thereby deepens conservatism and creates inclination towards extremism.

The secular government of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh, facing similar problems, is now compelling the madrasas to include in their syllabus a heavy dose of science and mathematics. The clergy of the mosques are being advised to orient their sermons to modern social trends and development and abjure Salafi and Wahhabi scripturally intolerant indoctrination. Some similar steps could be considered in the valley to arrest the growth of radicals there. But the most dangerous faultline today remains the absence of and opposition to 100% integration of J&K with the rest of the country. As long as Article 370 subsists, such integration cannot be brought about and the status quo will continue. Removing the hurdle is entirely an internal issue of the country and needs to be taken up as a top priority and a political necessity for long term survival, tranquility and stability in the whole country.

What could be the repercussions of this step? No political leader anywhere is going to commit suicide over it. Indians at large will welcome it with the exception of the lunatic fringe among the so called promoters of human rights and some left liberal segments whose voice will be completely drowned out by the national acclaim of acceptance. Communal harmony will remain undisturbed.

In J&K’s Jammu and Ladakh regions, there will be a welcoming chorus. Dissenting voices will emanate only in the valley from the well known separatists and their minuscule supporters, who remain confined to some districts. The most voluminous opposition is likely to be in the sermons at the mosques in the valley where the Wahhabi-inclined clergy are likely to view the development as a body blow to their dreams of establishing a caliphate.

Just a dialogue, while welcome and desirable, alone cannot take J&K to its ordained destiny. Abolition of Article 370 is the first step from where a solution begins.

Anand Kumar Verma is a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of Government of India.

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