Book Review: Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir by Dr. Radha Kumar

Book Name: Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir

Author: Dr. Radha Kumar

Publisher: Aleph

Rating: 5/5

Book Blurb: ‘A political scientist on Kashmir once said to me: “You cannot discuss Kashmir, or the Kashmir conflict, without starting with history.”’ In this way begins Radha Kumar’s political history of Kashmir, a book that attempts to give the reader a definitive yet accessible study of perhaps the most troubled part of India. Beginning with references to Kashmir as ‘a sacred geography’ in the Puranas, Kumar’s account moves forward in time through every major development in the region’s history. It grapples with the seemingly intractable issues that have turned the state into a battleground and tries to come up with solutions that are realistic and lasting. Situating the conflict in the troubled geopolitics of Kashmir’s neighbourhood, Kumar unpicks the gnarled tangle of causes that have led to the present troubles in the region, from wars and conquest to Empire and the growth of nationalism; the troubled accession of the state to India by Maharaja Hari Singh amidst partition; Pakistani attacks and the rise of the Cold War; the politics of the various parts of the former princely state including Jammu and Kashmir, and the areas administered by Pakistan; the wars that followed and the attempts that Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri leaders, starting with Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru, made to find peaceful solutions, including taking the Kashmir issue to the UN, which had unintended consequences for India; the demand for plebiscite; the Simla Agreement, turning the ceasefire line into the Line of Control; communal riots in the 1980s and the growth of insurgency; increase in security forces in the state in the 1990s leading to public resentment; and the guerrilla occupation of Hazratbal, the fifteenth-century mosque. Showing that a changed Post-Cold War milieu offered new opportunities for peace-making that were restricted by domestic stresses in Pakistan, Kumar analyses the Lahore Declaration and its undoing with the Kargil operation; the morphing of insurgency into an Islamist jihad against India; India’s attempts to parley with separatist groups; and the progress made towards a Kashmir solution via peace talks by various Indian and Pakistani governments between 2002 and 2007. Kumar’s descriptions of the contemporary situation—the impact of 9/11 and the war on terrorism; the Afghan war and the Mumbai attacks which created pressure on Pakistan to take action against radical Islamists; the blowback in Pakistan resulting in the growing radicalization of Pakistani institutions such as the judiciary and its spill over in Kashmir; the Indian government’s failure to move Kashmir into a peacebuilding phase; the trouble with AFSPA; the anti-India feelings that were triggered by counter-insurgency responses in 2010, the contentious coalition of 2014 and the killing of suspected terrorist Burhan Wani in 2016—underline the tragedies which ensue when conditions, timing and strategy are mismatched. Drawing on her experience as a government interlocutor, Kumar chastises the Indian government for never failing ‘to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it comes to the state’s political grievances’. Equally, she shows how Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has been ‘an unmitigated disaster’. While arguing that India can do a great deal to reduce violence and encourage reconciliation within the former princely state, she concludes that if Kashmir is ever to move towards lasting peace and stability, the major stakeholders as well as regional and international actors will need to work together on the few feasible options that remain. Timely and authoritative, the book cuts through the rhetoric that cloaks Kashmir to give the reader a balanced, lucid and deeply empathetic view of the state, its politics and its people.

Review: Dr. Radha Kumar was one of the interlocutors appointed in 2010 and has closely witnessed the Kashmir issue first hand. She shares her wealth of knowledge in this book that delves deeply and looks at the Kashmir issue right from the beginning. She has researched very well for the book and this erudite work is in essence a complete history of Kashmir.

Given its complex nature, the Kashmir issue has been lingering since generations with no immediate solution in sight. Everybody must acknowledge that a military solution can never be the true way towards resolving any conflict and a political solution is in the interest of the common man of Kashmir.

She has discussed each decade in detail and the role of the political leaders in Kashmir has also been dissected. There is no bias or an attempt to manufacture facts here, all information is presented as it is without taking sides. The reader will get a holistic picture of the Kashmir issue and this book is a good starting point for anybody who is studying the Kashmir conflict.

“For the sake of Kashmiris, we must hope that a peace agreement is arrived at sooner rather than later.” 

Naturally, no discussion on Kashmir is complete without discussing the role of Pakistan and the ISI. The book presents some keen insights from the time of Mr. Gujaral’s brief stint as PM of India and his talks with Sharif who was the ruler of Pakistan at the time.

No problem is without a solution ever. A successful deal in Kashmir can only happen when every side gets something.

“As happened over and over again in the history of Indian and Pakistani peacemaking, Pakistani leaders, both civilian and military, put out feelers for peace while simultaneously pursuing a Kashmir jihad.”

However, a successful strategy for long lasting peace has never materialised and it is the common man of Kashmir that has faced many hardships. It can only be hoped that such books will bring this issue into limelight and will pave the way for better negotiations.

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