Transcript: Victoria Schofield, 01 Dec 2008

The Kashmir conflict and how it may relate to last week's attack in Mumbai.

Thom Hartmann interviews Victoria Schofield, 01 December 2008

[Thom]: The situation in India has gotten a lot of ink, and rightly so, frankly. This is a terrible, terrible, disastrous situation. And I want to get into it in some detail here because this is, this does not just affect India. First of all you've got the situation that started as if it was some sort of a Robert Ludlum novel, you know, these guys, you know, coming in on a boat, taking over a ship, slicing the throats with, of the captain, tossing him overboard with his hands bound with rope, killed the trawlers, four other crew members, dumped their bodies overboard, made it to Mumbai and made it into these locations.

But as I've said, you know, glancingly, I've been to India a number of times, I've done business in India going all the way back to 1979, stayed at the Taj many times, in fact. And in my opinion Kashmir is to India and Pakistan what the West Bank is to the Palestinians and the Israelis. And it's an imperfect analogy, but one I think probably most Americans would get immediately and one which ... Victoria Schofield, an expert on Kashmir ... I don't know if you would agree with that or not. Victoria, welcome to the show. Thank you, thank you so much for being with us here today. Hello?

[Schofield]: Hello, yes, can you hear me? I'm speaking to you from London.

[Thom]: I can. And thank you so much for being with us from London, Victoria. Your take on this situation, please.

[Schofield]: Well, I think it's a little more complicated, with great respect, than comparing Kashmir to the Middle East situation. It really is a complicated political position. But I also think we should look more closely at the Kashmir dispute, not so much in connection with the Mumbai attacks because this Kashmir issue has really moved on from terrorism and it's now a political issue. And in the past month, in fact, we've seen a situation whereby India and Pakistan have been very keen to talk about Kashmir. They've been keen even to involve the Kashmiris in the discussions. And, you know, this is obviously a huge setback when there's a terrorist issue as we saw in December 2001 on Indian soil, which therefore sets back that peace process between Pakistan and India.

[Thom]: But, you know, I realize it's a deeply imperfect metaphor. I'm looking for some way to, first of all, would you agree is that the root of this violence that we just saw probably has, probably exists in Kashmir?

[Schofield]: I think it's too early, really, to pin it entirely on Kashmir. There are many organizations operating and again, you know, when we're talking about terrorism, terrorists operate in cells and certainly as soon as the extent of the terrorism, as soon as the terrorist attack was known, the Kashmiri groups that are working for their self-determination, they're working for a political settlement with the government of India, condemned this act of terrorism. Now, this is not something which, as I say, for the Kashmiris, helps their cause at all, because it already is in the public domain. And certainly what the Kashmiris don't want is for them to be branded as terrorists.

[Thom]: Right.

[Schofield]: They used the gun, as they admit, in the 1990s when the insurgency began, in fact in 1989. But as many Kashmiris, many of these militants now turned into political activists have said, the gun took our issue out of cold storage; now a solution has to be at the negotiating table. And so I'm more than 100% sure that they're horrified at these latest attacks and they themselves would not condone them. That said, there are organizations who might maintain they're working for the Kashmir cause and who would take responsibility and say we're doing this for the unresolved dispute over Kashmir. But certainly those people who really have the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris would condemn these acts of violence.

[Thom]: We're talking with Victoria Schofield, ... she's an expert on Kashmir. Her books include "Kashmir in the Crossfire", "Kashmir in Conflict", and "Afghan Frontier: Feuding and Fighting in Central Asia". A frequent commentator on BBC and BBC World Television as well. And Victoria, to say Kashmir is even to be overly broad. My recollection is there are at least four or five states in that region including Kashmir and Jammu, if I have that right; that in Kashmir, that in one you have a principle, you know, like over 90% Hindu population and in another you have an over 90% Muslim population. I'm doing this all from fifteen year old memory. Please set me straight on this.

[Schofield]: Well, you are right, the state, the Princely State, it was a Princely State and it was called the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir which already would indicate to you there is diversity in the region.

[Thom]: Right.

[Schofield]: In fact the region includes several other vast territories which, just to give you the idea that we're talking about a state that's something in the region of the size of Texas, I think. And this state has a sparsely populated region, but those inhabitants who are there are Buddhist, and that's Ladakh; that's under Indian administration. And the state currently divided on the ground between India and Pakistan, one third roughly controlled by Pakistan, two thirds by India, that also includes a huge area called the Northern Areas which is predominantly inhabited by Shiite Muslims. But the area which has really been under dispute has been the valley of Kashmir; it's known as the heart of Kashmir, it's the most beautiful region. The green, lush green valley is what's inspired poets and romantic writers since, you know, they discovered it. That area is roughly ninety percent Muslim. The entire state was 75% Muslim. Jammu region is roughly two thirds Hindu; those are the current statistics.

But the disputed area has really been the valley and this is where the core of discontent arose in the late 1980s, early 1990s. The inhabitants of the valley of Kashmir were unhappy with their continuing status as part of the Indian Union, more specifically because they felt they had been promised a plebiscite or a referendum at the time of partition in 1947, and this plebiscite and referendum has never been held and when the Kashmiris say 'we want our right of self determination', this is what they mean. They mean that they would like to decide whether they endorse their status as part of the Indian Union or whether they would prefer an alternative status. Originally this was whether they would prefer to become part of Pakistan, but now there is a very strong movement for independence. And again it's complex because it's whether it's independence of the whole state or part of the state.

[Thom]: Right. Yeah, I was in India in '84, '86 and '90 and it seemed that the current more moderate party and then the BJP party, the more right wing party, there, the Congress party and the BJP, there's this competition, as it were, between the two and Kashmir occasionally came into that. This is going to bring that the fore?

[Schofield]: Well, it's already, in terms of domestic Indian politics, it's already very much been in the fore and it's been in the fore in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations ever since the insurgency began. The difficulty is that no country gives up land willingly and much as the Indian government has tried to improve the situation in Kashmir, the thought of any part of the Indian Union, wherever we're talking about, seceding is very difficult, and that's where a political settlement has, has to be negotiated.

[Thom]: Very well said. Victoria Schofield, ... thank you so much for being with us today.

[Schofield]: Thank you.

[Thom]: Good speaking with you.

Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.

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