The Chatham House Poll–what did it show?

The Chatham House poll conducted in the autumn of 2009 in Jammu, Ladakh, Kashmir and Azad Kashmir has revealed an interesting pattern of opinions held across these regions on issues ranging from the perception of major problems people face to effective solutions to the Kashmir issue and the best means to achieve them. Robert Bradnock, under whose supervision the poll was conducted, however presented the results somewhat shoddily leading to confusion over the real import of the opinion poll. This confusion has prompted media in India and Pakistan to portray the polls selectively or in a self-serving manner, largely reflecting their nationalist stances on the Kashmir question. The poll, in reality, points to some interesting developments in Kashmir and indicates a way toward an eventual, mutually agreeable solution.

Consistent with every other poll on the issue, Chatham House poll has shown again that an overwhelming number of people (74—95 percent) in Kashmir region demand independence. This figure comes as no surprise because the support for independence for Kashmir over accession to Pakistan has been steadily growing over the last 20 years. This feeling is more concretely reflected in the fact that most Kashmiris (more than 90 percent) support withdrawal of Indian troops from Kashmir, while a similar figure (around 80 percent) want Pakistan to withdraw its troops from Azad Kashmir. Along with demilitarization, there is a clear demand for de-weaponization (more than 80 percent) and an end to militant violence (around 90 percent) in the Kashmir region. The Line of Control in its present form is uniformly rejected in both Kashmir and Azad Kashmir.

Almost all Kashmiris see themselves personally invested in the political future of Kashmir. While socio-economic problems, like the lack of employment opportunities are high on Kashmiri minds, the issue of human rights abuses is regarded equally important. The sentiment is overwhelmingly against war between India and Pakistan. At the same time, India-Pakistan talks are seen as ineffective for the long-term peace in the region, and to be seen as fruitful a meaningful involvement of Kashmiris is sought. There is, however, no clear means that people endorse to achieve the goal of independence. Both elections and militant violence as a way forward find only a few takers. A clear goal but the lack of effective means highlights Kashmiri frustration with the separatist leadership for failing to chart out a potent strategy.

In contrast, Jammu region presents a more broken opinion, and the only consistent feature is that no one favors the status quo (which is equally true for all the regions). While independence finds extremely low support (close to 1 percent) there is no unified support for an alternative. Slightly more than 50 percent in Jammu, Kathua, and Udhampur would vote for India as an option, but Rajouri and Poonch seem not to care so much about India, Pakistan or independence. The overwhelming concern in these two latter districts is the permanent marking of the LoC. At the same time, however, the people in Rajouri and Poonch want LoC to remain open for free flow of goods and people (a demand that gets support across the regions). In Jammu, Udhampur and Kathua a frighteningly large number of people see war between India and Pakistan as a means to end conflict over Kashmir, but like Kashmiris, people of Rajouri and Poonch are absolutely opposed to war. Again, in Jammu, Udhampur and Kathua, most people would like to see Pakistan withdraw its troops from Azad Kashmir, but no such sentiment is expressed to support demilitarization and de-weaponization on the Indian side of LoC. Contrast it with Poonch and Rajouri, where almost the whole population equally supports withdrawal of Indian as well as Pakistani troops, and de-weaponization of the entire region.

It is clear that Jammu region has a much more fragmented opinion on most of the questions the poll asked. Jammu region, therefore, cannot be considered a unified whole as far as political opinions are concerned. For any debate on the future of the whole region one cannot club Rajouri and Poonch with Jammu, Udhampur, and Kathua because of the fact that these two blocks within the Jammu province express widely divergent opinions. It would be interesting to see how people of Doda, one of the largest districts in Jammu and Kashmir, view their own political future. But a number of other areas are missing from the poll, like Gilgit-Baltistan. An exercise like this in that region could have revealed the nature of ties people there would want with Pakistan and Kashmir.

In presenting his findings, Bradnock rightly concluded that plebiscite based on the UN resolutions, with India and Pakistan as the only options, will no longer solve the Kashmir issue. And yet, despite the fact that the results were presented with an eye on the regional and district-wise variations, when it came to analysis independence as an option heavily favored by all Kashmiris was diluted by aggregating the opinions in Kashmir and Jammu. The weighted mean for independence between almost 90 percent in Kashmir and 1 percent in Jammu (and around 30 percent in Ladakh) came down roughly to 43 percent overall in Jammu and Kashmir, while support for independence was around 44 percent in Azad Kashmir. Between Kashmir region and Azad Kashmir support for independence is clearly close to 70 percent, while the rest are almost equally divided between pro-India and pro-Pakistan positions. So, what appeared to Bradnock as a “startling” result was a consequence of him comparing his findings on the option of independence along Indian and Pakistani state lines. He took the whole of Jammu and Kashmir as one unit and compared it with Azad Kashmir, while ignoring, at least in his summary, the difference between Kashmir and Jammu, as well as the internal differences in the Jammu region. Bradnock, with these lacunae in his understanding, suggested that there are “no simple fixes” to the problem, when clearly a demilitarized, independent Kashmir, mutually recognized by both India and Pakistan is certainly not such a difficult path to take.

Taking these findings as an endorsement of their respectively nationalist positions over Kashmir, the report was published with expedient twists by the Indian and the Pakistani media. Times of India began its article by exuberantly claiming that: “Only 2 per cent of the people in Jammu & Kashmir want to be part of Pakistan” and then falsely adding, “the study…comes as a significant blow to hard-line Kashmiri separatists.” The report never mentioned that in Kashmir the best option seen is independence. Pakistan English daily Dawn headlined its report on the story as “Kashmiri majority not in support of Independence” clearly misrepresenting what its report could barely hide, “In the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, which has been at the heart of a 20-year-old struggle against Indian occupation, between 74 per cent and 95 per cent respondents favoured independent Kashmir.”

These two modes of news reporting on Kashmir indicate clearly that both India and Pakistan agree at least on one proposition: Kashmir should not be made independent. This pits both these countries directly against the most important political goal for the Kashmiri people. One of the lessons Kashmiris can draw is to, therefore, challenge the hegemonic representation of Kashmir as a territorial contest between India and Pakistan. Kashmir must be seen as a national question where Kashmiris demand the right to self-determination, with India and Pakistan not as the only two choices. Much of the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir is in reality symbolic in nature with little substantive interests involved (except for the issue of water for Pakistan, which can be legally settled). For Kashmiris, however, the future of Kashmir is a substantial question with real material consequences for their future. The prolonged India-Pakistan tussle over Kashmir has harmed Kashmiris the most. The only way India and Pakistan can solve this symbolic contest between them is to substantively give up the territories in Kashmir that don’t belong to either of them, and have been forcibly occupied. This poll is telling us as much. It is also telling us that a peaceful, demilitarized, and independent Kashmir, an equal friend of India and Pakistan, is possible. Kashmiris, the poll shows, would be the last to be any obstacle to that future.

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3 thoughts on “The Chatham House Poll–what did it show?

  1. Hi Junaid,Landed on your blog after googling for the Chatham report. Have a question…you say"Between Kashmir region and Azad Kashmir support for independence is clearly close to 70 percent, while the rest are almost equally divided between pro-India and pro-Pakistan positions. "Not sure how you arrived at the 70%, from Bradnock's data (ref: Page 19, Table 6 of the paper), the overall percentage of people in the two regions combined (AJK and J&K) who would prefer independence is 43%(under the total column). I did a quick calculation using his sample sizes and it was indeed the case. Then I was curious to pull off the real population figures from wiki and use it with these percentages, it would be well below even 43%, but of course there are caveats here. What I would have liked to see is the opinion of people in other districts (not covered in this poll) as well so we get to cover all the other districts which make for over a 3 and a half million additional people. This in all honesty looks like a very fragmented opinion, if we are to take the whole of J&K and AJK as one unit. We'll be more in touch with reality if we look at district-wise opinions, but to suggest a viable option in this matter is another thing. Have been wondering…should only the four districts in J&K that have a majority of independent-Kashmir supporters be formed into an independent Kashmir? Or should it include the "don't care" populations of Rajouri and Poonch? or should only the five districts that are decidedly pro-India stay with India and the rest of J&K be independent along with whatever districts want to join from AJK? The first and, more important problem, I would argue, is to have people listen to such surveys (and people's opinions) without bias and preconceived notions, to truly try to gauge public opinion rather than fit it to a prior. But given that it's done, coming up with a solution in this diverse land is no easy task as well. Deep inside I know neither the political leadership of India nor Pakistan nor the Kashmiri leadership and representatives of various shades of opinion in the region are willing to do the first, it requires much more maturity and widening of vision than is currently rampant in all the above parties. For lack of this, the Kashmiri continues to suffer. How long before we evolve? Before we understand? Honestly, looking at the direction it's going in on all fronts, I'm not very optimistic.Best,D

  2. Hi D, the figure you suggest is right if you take J&K as a single unit. But as I argued I am taking figures from AJK and Kashmir region (excluding Jammu and Ladakh). I don't believe J&K is unfied political unit with similar aspirations and demands, and wouldn't want to impose opinion pre-dominant in Kashmir on either Jammu or Ladakh. If you take some districts of AJK (actually more than 44 % pro-independence) and Kashmir (an average between 70–95%) and adjust these figures with the total populations of AJK and Kashmir you will get the pro-Independence population more than 70%.In Jammu, the three districts of Doda, Poonch and Rajouri I think provide an interesting opinion which varies from Jammu, Kathua, and Udhampur. The latter are quite clearly pro-India and see war as a solution. In the opinion poll Rajouri and Poonch results show a much more flexibility: they are for liberal borders and see war as anti-thetic, but seem equally not enticed by Independent kashmir, India or Pakistan. It needs to be really clarified, however, if a majority of people there want liberal borders within an independent Kashmir, under India, or Pakistan… You are right in blaming the politicians for the mess. There is a history as well to the construction of this mess. All I'm saying is that in Kashmir people are more than clear what their future should be like. It is for India and Pakistan to understand how denying the reality in Kashmir is immensely destabilizing for the whole region. And right, Kashmiris are suffering in the meanwhile, they have paid a terrible price for the national egos of India and Pakistan. It is time their legitimate demands are accepted. I don't see any other way out than respecting the people wishes and staring a meaningful, goal-oriented, time-bound political process.

  3. on a day when a 9 year old was shot dead, someone told me there are 'kashmiri pages and blogs' on the net. somehow, i found this, and have been reading in part amazement and delight. who are you? perhaps, we may even know the same people. my name is najeeb. if you can, write to me at najeeb.mubarki@gmail.combests,n

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