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Mehbooba Mufti made history last week as the first female chief minister of the Indian-controlled region of Jammu and Kashmir. Her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had previously held the title of chief minister of the region before his death in January.
There has been speculation that Mehbooba will bring about progress in the Kashmir conflict, but will her efforts be more conducive to peace in the tumultuous region than that of her father?
Kashmir has been the source of violent territorial dispute between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years and it is currently one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world. In 1998, both nations declared that they had nuclear capabilities which has lead to speculation and concern about the possibility of nuclear war in the future. As the only state in India with a Muslim majority, many Kashmiri people have urged for an independent Kashmir or to instead unite with Pakistan. The region has been said to be “stuck in the 1950s” with regard to its lack of development. Water shortages are a regular occurrence and many small villages must operate without essentials such as gas, roads or hospitals.
The Kashmir region has also seen its fair share of disagreement with New Delhi’s politics. Both Mufti and her father identified with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which is viewed as intrinsically having a sharp contrast in ideology when compared to India’s prevailing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The PDP is known as pro-Kashmir in its use of dialogue with Pakistan and has traditionally drawn criticism for utilizing “soft separatism” from India. The two parties also differ, for example, in their views of Kashmir’s special constitutional status, which allows Kashmir to create its own laws. The PDP, of course, supports the status while the BJP does not.
The PDP and BJP have not always held such contrasting views, however. The late Mufti was praised for his reconciliation efforts between New Delhi and Indian-controlled Kashmir – he developed a strong friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, and he did not push for Kashmiri independence.
Mehbooba, on the other hand, is more outspoken about independence than her father was. It is believed that she plans to completely restructure the PDP. She has been reluctant to continue the PDP’s alliance with the BJP without a structured plan to rebuild the region, although it is unlikely that she will sabotage all of her father’s friendship-building efforts right away. But as it stands, the PDP-BJP alliance has decreased support for the PDP among people from the Kashmir Valley and the two parties will likely inevitably clash given their ideological differences.
From Ms. Mufti’s political standpoint, it makes sense that she would want to slowly but surely break away from New Delhi and the BJP as to stay true to her roots and garner more support from the Kashmiri people.
The conflict, however, will not slow until Mufti addresses the cause of people’s anger: economic stagnation. The desire for separatism and the resulting violence from all sides in the conflict stems largely from a high unemployment rate among young Kashmiri people and a general poor quality of life. As BBC states, the fighting is a “hindrance to economic development in the region.” The region is already wrought with economic turmoil precisely because of its current isolation.
Perhaps Mufti would be better off continuing in the path of her father, who sought to promote trade and travel within the contested Himalayan region while still managing to cooperate with the Indian government. His plan was to make the Kashmir region a “paradise of peace” but of course this was not fully realized due to his death.
Peace in the Kashmir region is without a doubt many years in the making, but perhaps attempts to remedy the economy and cease isolation might in turn lead to, first and foremost, more stability and a better quality of life for the people of Kashmir.
Photo courtesy of Indianexpress.com