Stalin’s Ghost over Kashmir

Jawed Naqvi

The daily tragedies in Kashmir cannot be exclusively explained by a new phenomenon called terrorism, but were anticipated by Stalin as an aspect of the Big Game.

The April issue of Revolutionary Democracy has published documents from a Politburo discussion on the Kashmir question. Some excerpts, relevant as they are to the ongoing discourse on peace in the Himalayan region, throw light on the Soviet dictator’s insights years before his communist comrades discredited him.

The Politburo’s assessment on Kashmir, made between October and December in 1951, was in response to petitions from the Communist Party of India, which urged Moscow to become more vocal at the UN and other forums on this matter of urgency to communists in both countries. As a follow up, in a telegram authorised by Stalin, the Soviet foreign ministry advised its UN representative A.Ya. Vyshinsky to respond to US and British support ‘against India and to a more reactionary Pakistan’ on the Kashmir issue.

‘In the discussions of the Kashmir question in the Security Council, the representative of the USSR till now has not been taking an active part and has abstained during voting on various proposals relating to this issue. Such a position of the Soviet representative was necessitated by the need to clarify, above all, the positions of India and Pakistan,’ Vyshinsky was told.

Moreover, the foreign ministry stressed: ‘This was also justified by the need to ascertain the plans of the USA and England in relation to Kashmir and to lay bare the futility of these plans from the point of view of the regulation (sic) of the Kashmir problem, and their invasive imperialist nature in relation to Kashmir, which has been revealed for example, by their support against India to a more reactionary Pakistan that has, as it is well known, openly demonstrated its willingness to provide military bases on its territory for the American and English imperialists.’

Since the Kashmir problem was increasingly attracting the attention ‘of the public of the Asian countries’, Stalin said it would be wrong to continue to be passive about it. He thus prescribed a set of new principles. These were mostly contained in the telegram to Vyshinsky. Henceforth, it said: ‘In his interventions the Soviet representative must declare that in the opinion of the Soviet government, the Kashmir question can be successfully resolved only by providing the Kashmiri people the possibility to solve the issue of the status of Kashmir on their own without any external interference.’

Stalin advised that this could be done by means of the status of Kashmir being decided by the state’s own constituent assembly ‘that has been democratically elected by the people of Kashmir.’ The foreign ministry said such a resolution of the question would also be congruent with the UN Charter, ‘in particular, the article which establishes that one of the goals of the organisation is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination’.

In a separate letter to CPI leader Ajoy Ghosh, Stalin’s Politburo appreciated that Indian communists had posed the question of peaceful resolution of the Kashmir question ‘by proposing the signing of a no-war pact between India and Pakistan’. Withdrawal of the Kashmir question from the UN, departure of the UN representative from the country and resolution of the question in a peaceful and democratic manner, were also encouraged by Moscow.

On the other hand, it warned: ‘To support a plebiscite under the observation of five great powers would be incorrect, as it would give the American and English imperialists the ground to intervene in the resolution of the Kashmir question.’ That Moscow was beginning to watch Srinagar as closely it had followed Kabul and other regions of interest to the warring sides of the Cold War, was evident from the detailed advice it offered to the Indian comrades.

'For the present, the demand for the withdrawal of the Indian and Pakistani troops from Kashmir should not be put as a condition for the convening of (Kashmir’s) Constituent Assembly.’ the Politburo cautioned. In deciding the communists’ approach to Kashmir, Moscow asked Indian communists to side with Sheikh Abdullah and India because they were ‘more acceptable to the democratic camp than the positions of the ruling class of Pakistan.’

Not only that, unusually strong words were used to describe the scenario should Kashmir be taken by Pakistan. ‘The accession of Kashmir to Pakistan would lead to the enslavement of Kashmir and strengthening of the influence of the American imperialists in Kashmir.’ Should Pakistan attempt to incorporate Kashmir by force, therefore, ‘the Communist party must come out in support of a military reply to Pakistan by India, declaring such a reply as military aid to Kashmir in its liberation struggle against Pakistan.’

Since Stalin’s warning, the Soviet Union has disappeared but have the problems he had raised also gone away? Most probably not. After all, during the 1990s, when Kashmiri insurgency was at its peak, most of the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference were cozy with western embassies. British and American diplomats visiting Kashmir frequently, (more intensively after the kidnapping of the western hostages by the shadowy Al Faran) would hold quiet and intensive talks with all the Kashmiri resistance leaders that India eyed suspiciously. Likewise, all the Kashmiri leaders visiting New Delhi would inevitably head for the American and British embassies.

This aspect of their solidarity suffered after the 9/11 storms engulfed much of the world. Gradually the Hurriyat too broke up into moderate and hard-line factions. While the moderates among them were encouraged by India and Pakistan to hold talks in and with both countries, exigencies of the war on terrorism and the fact that South Asia’s foes found themselves on the same side of the global alignments put the Kashmir question, the way it was seen by Stalin, in a virtual cold store.

Recently, as they returned from Pakistan empty handed, so to speak, it was obvious that the Hurriyat leaders and their other variants in the anti-India stable were going to be ploughing a lonely furrow.

Indian officials too have been taking comfort from the change in the international stance on Kashmir where the United States seems to have nudged an undeclared status quo, which suits everyone except the Kashmiris. However, there are more ways than one to regard the sense of satisfaction prevailing in New Delhi.

It could mean on the one hand that a hawkish establishment in India, applauded by Moscow’s former communist allies, has won the battle for Kashmir. But it could also mean that ‘American and English imperialism’ that Stalin warned about has strengthened its hold in the region exactly as he feared it would.

The writer is Dawn correspondent in Delhi.
Dawn, Karachi, July 10, 2008

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