Political scientist says tensions may cool in wake of earthquake
Although she is on sabbatical this year, Political Science professor Reeta Tremblay has been sought out for her views about the political implications of the Oct. 8 earthquake in Kashmir. On Oct. 16, she was on CBC Radio twice.
Her research focuses on Kashmir, which has been a political flashpoint since the British Raj ended in 1947-48. It is also her homeland, since she is from India-controlled Kashmir.
She sees a silver lining in the horrific earthquake, which has taken an estimated 40,000 lives and affected about four million people, largely in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
“It’s a chance for India to send a positive image,” she said. “India was the first government to offer aid — rations, tents and helicopters, although the helicopters were declined for security reasons. Pakistan diverted 50,000 troops to the region for relief work.” Add to that the fact that some madrasas (religious schools) and extremist jihaddi cells were wiped out with everything else, and you have a respite from the political brinkmanship.
During the British rule, 60 per cent of India was directly ruled and 40 per cent, consisting of more than 500 princely states, was run by indigenous rulers though their external affairs and defense were controlled by the Indian British government. Kashmir was one of the princely states whose majority population was Muslim, its king was Hindu.
When the British left India, they advised the princely states to join one of the two nations — India or Pakistan. The king of Kashmir hesitated, not wanting to deliver the state to the Muslims, and equally loathe to give in to the secular, socialist nationalists running the newly independent India.
The tension has waxed and waned ever since. There have been regular elections and a mass-based secessionists movement in the Indian Kashmir, broken promises of plebiscites, complaints to the United Nations Security Council and agreements between India and Pakistan. These two heavily populated countries with nuclear capability have fought three wars since independence, and two of them were over Kashmir.
Tremblay said the bombings of Sept. 11, 2001, got the Americans’ attention. The U.S. pressured both countries for a détente and forced the prime minister of Pakistan to crack down on terrorists in his country.
Even among Muslims, views vary on Kashmir. “Opinion in Pakistan is different from opinion in Kashmir and India, for example. These are not cold facts. It’s a combination of theory and anecdote, human feelings and attitudes.”
Three years ago Tremblay went to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, to do research. She was aware of her suspicious status as a Hindu and a woman (“The army was our chaperone”) but in her interview with the prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the bonding between the two was immediate. Knowing that her father’s family came fron the same hometown as his, he spoke with her warmly and nostalgically about the good old days and their town. Alas, Muzaffarabad, like many other smaller towns, was virtually wiped out by the earthquake.
Tremblay is a stout defender of the federal government for sending the DART, Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, to Kashmir, though detractors have called it an expensive exercise aimed at impressing Canadian voters. In fact, more money should be put into DART, she said.
“Canada is not a great power,” she said. “We can’t compete with the U.S. in terms of foreign aid, but we can develop a niche in rescue and relief.”
She admitted that sending a rescue mission more than a week after the earthquake was “a bit late,” and recommended that officials “make up their mind, don’t make contradictory statements, and fast-track these policy decisions.”