The conflict in Kashmir – Interview with Dr Adfer Shah, New Delhi-based Sociologist; Senior Researcher at India’s Central University “Jamia Millia Islamia”; Associate Editor at US-based Eurasia Review
By Sara Bonotti
Link Campus University
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 to 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: What is the role of misinformation and propaganda in fueling the exacerbation of conflict dynamics?
Dr Adfer Shah: Misinformation, rumour mill and propaganda as a deadly trio plays havoc on routine basis and thus gives blow to the peace process. It has created a severe dichotomy between the soldier and the civilian and a greater hatred and trust deficit as well.
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: As your approach to the conflict is primarily sociological, do you detect an underlying inter-generational gap emerging within Kashmir’s society? Do youngsters interpret the conflict differently from the elderly, also thanks to a wider education and social networking? Do they represent more of a resource or of an obstacle vis-à-vis conflict resolution?
Dr Adfer Shah: While the inter-generational gap is a social reality everywhere which actually diversifies the opinions of different age groups however something very peculiar with the society in Kashmir especially is that we are witnessing a major shift in this very gap-the gap has been abridged by the prolonged uncertainty, turmoil and absence of peace and sense of security. Therefore vulnerability in such a situation is something that is common to all. Right from children to adolescents to youth to adults to elderly things that have juxtaposed or smashed the inter-generational gap is the sense of insecurity, huge conflict fatigue and huge trust deficit as everyone has a same take on this mess. Everyone interprets the conflict in terms of absence of peace and security and therefore I say inter-generational gap hardly exists in such perilous zones. Social media has no doubt given a vent to the frustrated social collective but it is not just youngsters, people across the age groups express their perceptions and vulnerabilities using the new media.
SB: On the basis of your own observations, how does the conflict impact women-men relationships and could women play a role in a peace-building context?
Dr Adfer Shah: Conflict pushes women to much harsh circumstances and has brought a new crisis to the institution of family and larger Kashmiri society. It snatches their inner peace of mind and makes them more vulnerable like we have Kashmiri pundits who are still in search of their identity and have lost what they call their “wattan” (motherland). Like Muslim community they have faced the worst in terms of the cultural alienation, social life, property, sense of security, horrible and forced dislocation, etc,. Today we have a plethora of widows and half widows in Kashmir who are living a lifeless life and have developed a deeper sense of alienation. As far as women and peace building is concerned and as I conceptualise it, honestly I would say that apart from some self-serving noise, some slogans and a few cross border trips, NGO talks, sharing of experiences at some insignificant foras, I don’t see much happening on the ground as far as women’s initiatives for peace are concerned. For Peace building and role of women we should look at the role played by women in ending Liberia’s civil war or may be in Afghanistan. In the valley so far women have been seen merely as sacrificing lot, sufferers and as victims and less as the activists for mass action or champions of peace.
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 the 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: Do you believe in the potential for setting up truth and reconciliation commissions in this specific case?
Dr Adfer Shah: Yes, absolutely, a sense of justice should prevail and justice must be delivered in all human rights abuse cases. Every victim should feel that he /she counts and state has delivered in its best capability. Such commissions should be more autonomous and even State commission for women must be a completely autonomous body run by credible and socially conscious women activists who really know the happenings at grass roots. It is actually the lack of credibility of such institutions so far, which has actually raised the graph of trust deficit between the masses and the power corridors. Even extra military powers like AF(J&K)SPA should be withdrawn for the sake of peace.
SB: In your studies, do you approach Kashmir’s conflict as a peculiar one, strictly embedded into regional dynamics, or you investigate also its global resonance?
Dr Adfer Shah: It is not either the problem that emanated out of a regional dynamics or out of any global resonance; it must be purely seen through a historical prism and in the light of the voices raised against the prolonged social, political and economic alienation. In a nutshell I would say, it is nothing but some Historical Blunders followed by a plethora of Political Waywardness.
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.
The author of “Kashmir-Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political history of Uncertainty and Chaos” (ISSN: 978-3-659-55971-6), Dr Adfer Shah is a New Delhi based Social and political analyst. In 2015, he earned doctorate in sociology from Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, India. Currently he is the Associate Editor (for south Asia) at Eurasia Review (ISSN 2330-717X) and Editor for Kashmir Affairs at Analyst world. Recently he was also appointed as the Associate Editor of the prestigious peer reviewed journal, ‘Women’s Link’ (ISSN 2229-6409). Besides writing for various prestigious media groups he writes columns for South Asia politics, Kashmir Times, Modern Diplomacy and Kashmir Pen. He has been writing on conflict in Kashmir and wide range of other socio-political issues in south Asia. He can be reached at adfer.syed@gmail