Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace

Hi everyone, it's been such a long time. I had just purchased the Kindle version of this book last night after watching a Bollywood film, 'Fanaa' (I hope it doesn't surprise anyone that I love Hindi films). The second part of the film had piqued my interest in the Kashmir conflict so much that I began doing some online research on it, and voila! I came across this book and immediately bought it on Kindle.

Before I jump into the actual review of the book, I would like to first put it on record that I did not know that the Kashmir conflict is as old as the Israel-Palestine one. The circumstances under which the two conflicts developed may be different, but they share something in common: being the oldest and as yet unsettled international agenda of the United Nations Security Council. It really stunned me, after reading this book, that this conflict is not getting similar attention in Malaysia compared to the one received by the Palestinian issue. I guess maybe the politicians do not see anything to be gained by championing peace in Kashmir. If I am right, it is a real shame, because this conflict shows just how potentially dangerous strict adherence to national ideologies can become, and in light of recent revival of nationalism in some South East Asian countries, that is something states like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia can take lessons from.

To begin with, Sumantra Bose's clear and straightforward style of writing gives a very easy-to-follow narrative history of the Kashmir conflict, a huge plus point for anyone who is not particularly well-versed in this particular topic. This is so especially since Kashmir as a geographical entity is a very complex one. Even though Bose is an academic writer, the language he employed has very minimal jargon and of course, that is never a bad thing, right? But it really read like a detached account of the history and the whole time, I cannot say I was that emotionally invested in the conflict, not as much as much as I hope to be, anyway. But, what the book lacks in personal attachment, it makes up in stylish presentation.

The book itself is divided into 5 parts, the first 4 of which deal with the history and the last part deals with Bose's proposed answer to the issues faced in trying to bring about peace. So the reader is properly introduced to the roots of the conflict in the first 2 chapters, before the author starts getting to what the book really is about; the current situation in Kashmir (chapters 3 and 4) and a possible solution to the conflict. And this 5-part presentation of the subject matter is such a nice way to go about it. When I was reading, it really did feel like an incremental momentum is physically building up.

The only thing I can say against this book, and it's a very minor thing, is that the solution offered does not seem very practical. The author started the book by acknowledging that India and Pakistan have shown little real interest to concede control of Kashmir, and this reluctance is very much due to the ideological stubbornness that is almost inherent in the conception of both states. The deep-rooted rivalry between the two has manifested itself in several outright physical confrontations since 1947. Even though there is now a large degree of participation (and it is increasing at an alarming rate) by the Kashmiris themselves, the Indian and Pakistani governments are still central to any peace efforts that wish to succeed. Until this ideological opposition between India and Pakistan is significantly removed, I do not see how Bose's proposal of a 'more subtle self-determination' can ever be realistically exercised by all the regions within Kashmir.

Having said that, it is still a very fantastic read, especially if you enjoy history as much as I do. I have ordered another book that deals with Kashmir and unfortunately the title is not available in kindle format, so it may be a few more days before it arrives. But that is how interested in this issue I am after reading Bose's book. I highly recommend it to history fans and the politically interested. Enjoy.