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Srinagar says yes to freedom, no to Pak

Aug 12, 2007 09:58 PM IST India India
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As India and Pakistan approach the 60th year of Independence, the one issue that has divided the two countries is Kashmir. The resolution of the Kashmir issue hinges on a factor that is usually discussed in euphemisms, such as ‘ground reality’, ‘mass psychology’ and ‘emotional state’. What does ‘the valley’ really want? Are the opinions of the people in Kashmir shared by their counterparts in Jammu and Ladakh? Will any resolution enjoy acceptance in the rest of the country? Will the hardliners in the rest of India and Pakistan veto any attempt to solve the Kashmir problem? The first-ever Indo-Pak poll sponsored by Indian Express, Dawn News and CNN-IBN and designed by CSDS, Delhi offers us significant clues about this question and shows that public opinion offers greater room for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute than is usually believed. The poll was carried out in the last week of July and the first week of August in the top ten cities of Pakistan (by A C Nielsen) and the top twenty cities in India (by CSDS). Besides 1010 interviews in urban Pakistan and 2030 interviews in urban India, the CSDS conducted a special straw poll by interviewing 226 persons in Srinagar and 255 persons in Jammu city. (Methodological details about the survey will be carried in the final instalment of the reports on the Indo-Pak poll) Let us begin by acknowledging something everyone knows but does not wish to talk about. The people in Kashmir valley want ‘Azadi’ in the sense of becoming an independent country. As many as 87 per cent of the respondents in Kashmir chose this option over other options like maintaining status quo or merging both parts of Kashmir either with India or with Pakistan.

Valley wants Azadi, but little support from outside

Preferred solution for Kashmir

Urban India

Urban Pakistan
Jammu
Srinagar
The whole of Kashmir should be with India
67
2
95
7
The whole of Kashmir should be with Pakistan
2
48
1
3
Kashmir should be an independent country
15
47
3
87
The present status should continue
16
3
1
3
Note: All figures in column percentages. ‘No opinion’ excluded. Figures for urban India exclude responses from Jammu and Srinagar
Kashmir issue remains an obstacle for Indo-Pak friendship, less for Indians than for Pakistanis

Urban India

Urban Pakistan
Indo-Pak friendship not possible till Kashmir issue is resolved
43
55
Need to move ahead even if resolution of Kashmir issue takes time
57
45
Note: All figures in column percentages. ‘No opinion’ excluded.
PAGE_BREAK The hard core strategists in India will not doubt draw some consolation from the fact that Pakistan figures almost nowhere as a first preference for the Kashmiris in this poll. Yet India is only marginally better placed. Even after allowing for the complexities of the sentiment for ‘Azadi’ and recognising the peer pressure that operates more in Srinagar than outside, it is hard to dispute the basic finding that the people in this part of our country do not display much attachment to the nation-state called India. This finding is very much in line with a much larger and more representative survey (carried out by CSDS and Jammu University) in 2002 that found a similar level of support for ‘Azadi’ all over the valley. Unsurprisingly, this sentiment is not shared outside the valley. There are no takers for Kashmiri independence in Jammu town, with nearly everyone supporting an integration of Indian Kashmir and POK into the Indian union. The opinion in other cities in the rest of the country is not as vehement as Jammu but there is an overwhelming preference for integration with India. The opinion of urban Pakistanis are, predictably, opposed to the opinions of urban Indians. That makes it look like a perfect deadlock so familiar of national struggles in many parts of the world: a tiny minority wants freedom from nation-states that treat their land as nothing other than a piece of property. If such a conclusion needs to be resisted, it is not merely because it is dark and depressing, but also because the Indian Express –The Dawn – CNN-IBN poll provides many concrete reasons for hope. Positive signs come from both sides of the border. Urban Pakistanis do not insist on Kashmir joining Pakistan; those who desire so are matched by as many who are willing to accept an independent status for Kashmir. A majority of urban Pakistanis are also willing to let Kashmiris decide their own fate. Although a majority (higher among the Punjabis) insists that Indo-Pak relations cannot move forward till Kashmir question is resolved, as many as 45 per cent of those who have an opinion do not see Kashmir as a pre-condition. This proportion is higher among the urban Indians. A series of national surveys conducted over the last few years by the CSDS have also shown that the Indian population endorses negotiation rather than suppression as the right approach in Kashmir. The most positive signals come from within the troubled state. The state assembly election of 2002, widely seen as one of the few free and fair elections held in the state, has changed things for the better. Respondents in both the cities, more in Srinagar than in Jammu, said that the overall situation in the state has improved in the last five years. Besides, the state government is not without popular support. The people are not very unhappy with the Ghulam Nabi Azad government, though the valley would prefer Mufti government over the current one. As any observer of the state would know, these are no mean achievements.
Within Pakistan, the Punjabis are more hardliners than the rest

Urdu speakers

Punjabi speakers
Others
Indo-Pak friendship not possible till Kashmir issue is resolved
45
59
63
Need to move ahead even if resolution of Kashmir issue takes time
55
41
37
Note: Note: All figures in column percentages. ‘No opinion’ excluded.
Majority Pakistanis are willing to let Kashmiris decide their own fate

All

Kashmiris themselves should decide the future of Kashmir
58
Pakistan must have a say in deciding the future of Kashmir
31
Note: All figures in per cent of respondents from Pakistan. Rest ‘no opinion’ or ‘cant say’
PAGE_BREAK Equally significantly, the two major regions of the state are not poles apart in their thinking on many key questions, despite stark differences in their population profile. Of course their differences on the question of ‘Azadi’ spill over to their assessment of the Indian security forces. While the people in Jammu back the unrestricted powers to security forces and would like its misuse to be curbed, the people in Srinagar are one in their rejection of the powers enjoyed by the security forces. Apart from this crucial difference, there is a lot that binds the people of Jammu and Kashmir together:
  • Both the cities are unanimous in their rejection of the RSS-backed proposal for the trifurcation of the state
  • The Muslims of Srinagar are as vocal in supporting the demand for bringing the Pandits back to the valley as the Hindus in Jammu
  • Both the regions are overwhelmingly in support of retaining article 370 of the Indian constitution that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
  • A majority of the people from Jammu also agree that the struggle of the Kashmiri people is against the government, not the people of India
  • There is much higher willingness in Jammu to endorse a dialogue with Hurriyat than used to be the case.
This kind of public mood may not be the dream scenario hoped for by the pacifists and democrats within and outside Kashmir valley. But this is far from the nightmare that many had feared all along. This is much more than the minimum that a visionary statesman, or stateswoman, would need to start a historic initiative to bring lasting peace and democracy in this part of the world.
Both J&K agree that things have improved since 2002

Overall conditions in the state have…

Jammu

Srinagar
Improved since 2002
63
79
Deteriorated since 2002
10
7
Note: All figures in per cent of respondents from Jammu and Srinagar. Rest ‘don’t know’ or ‘no opinion’.
People from both the regions agree on many steps to solve the Kashmir problem

Those who agree with the view that…

Jammu

Srinagar
Article 370 should be retained
81
99
J&K should not be trifurcated
92
97
Kashmir’s struggle is against the Indian government, not people
66
99
The government should bring back Kashmiri Pandits
96
84
The Indian government should negotiate with the Hurriyat
48
95
Note: All figures in per cent of respondents from Jammu and Srinagar who agreed with the statement in each row. The remaining disagreed. ‘Don’t know’ and ‘no opinion’ excluded from analysis
But the consensus does not extend to the role of security forces

Those who think that the security forces…

Jammu

Srinagar
Should not have the powers they enjoy
10
82
Need unrestricted powers to deal with terrorists
57
5
Need their powers but should not misuse these
33
13
Note: All figures in per cent of respondents from Jammu and Srinagar. Rest ‘don’t know’ or ‘no opinion’.