Choices in Kashmir
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
18 April 2001
Counterpoint to Mr. Yasin Malik, Chairman of the JKLF, during the Kashmir Discussion Series at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC.
Mr. Yasin Malik is the third member of the All party Hurriyat Conference (Hurriyat) executive to make it to Washington, DC. The warm reception that he has received from U.S. policy makers and officials reminds me of the first visit of his colleague, Mr. Abdul Gani Lone, whose first visit to the U.S. took place in 1996.
Mr. Lone revisited the U.S. three years later, and was practically ignored by same intellectuals and officials that lionized him a few years earlier. On the very last day before returning to New Delhi, he told me of his bitter experience, summarizing by saying that “the U.S. has its own vested interests and does not really care for the people of Kashmir”. I, most humbly, disagree with that statement. The U.S. cares a lot about Kashmir and its subjects. Indeed, we would not be here today if it was not out of that concern.
As I see it, the challenge for Mr. Malik is not to repeat Mr. Lone’s mistakes by continuing with the tradition of presenting sectarian views on who is to blame for ills in Kashmir when in fact many parties, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the Hurriyat, are equally to blame. But more importantly, as Mr. Lone realized perhaps a bit late, that Hurriyat had been short sighted in staying away from political discussions with India, and indeed there can be no politics if one does not undertake the most rudimentary exercise of exchanging political views without any pre-conditions. In avoiding such pitfalls, Mr. Malik will have to go against the grain of the Kashmiri political psyche that puts a premium on gloss over substance. A commonality among all Kashmiri separatists is their collective belief that victory in Kashmir can be achieved through a propaganda war and the Press Releases tend to lean towards the hyperbole. I have noticed that at some stage the faithful tend to believe their own Press Releases more than objective views from third parties or the actual situation on the ground. The real problem is that Kashmiri politicians tend to ignore traditional political processes that are necessary to bring about peaceful changes through tough negotiations and hard compromises. In this regard, I recall a statement made by Lord Eric Avebury during his first trip to the valley in November 1998, “The Hurriyat believes in the big bang theory – they wish to wake up one fine morning and find that India has given them Kashmir on a silver platter – well that simply is not going to happen.”
The road to peace in Kashmir must be based on certain hard choices. Are the local politicians playing to the gallery or do they really care for the future of Kashmir? Is this a popularity contest where reputations rise and fall depending on the intensity of denunciations against the establishment or will Kashmiri politicians show leadership and courage by taking risks to do the right thing?
Then there is the crux of the problem itself. Is Kashmir a political issue or a religious issue? It is fashionable to talk about “religious tolerance” and “religion neutral politics” in the U.S. For example, I personally know of Kashmiris who are ardent pro-Pakistan Jamaat-i-Islami followers but have chosen a politically correct public posture of pro-independence in the U.S. JKLF was the only major terrorist outfit operating in the valley from 1986 through 1990 during which time nearly half of the thousand Kashmiri Pandits, who perished in Kashmir in the last decade, were brutally killed. The name of JKLF brings memories of pain and senseless killings to peaceful Kashmiri Pandits who never took to violence in return. This name should be discarded in the dustbin of history to allow the healing process to begin.
JKLF is also an executive board member of the Hurriyat. The Constitution of the Hurriyat in Section 2 (iv) states that in keeping with the Muslim majority character of the State, the organization will promote the building up of a society based on Islamic values. Such an explicit statement does not leave much to imagination of what public expectations should be. Indeed, on April 4, 2001, former Hurriyat Chairman Ali Shah Geelani again reiterated that those Hurriyat member organizations (e.g., JKLF) that pretend that Kashmir is not a religious problem should go back and read the Article 2, Section 4, of the Hurriyat Constitution. The JKLF cannot have the cake and eat it too. It should either prove its non-denominational character by demanding and securing a change in the Hurriyat constitution or remove itself from such a fundamentalist alliance. One cannot have it both ways and still claim credibility befitting a multi-religious and multi-ethnic character of Jammu and Kashmir State.
Among externalities affecting the outcome of any peace initiative in Kashmir is the role of terrorists and religious mercenaries waging a Jihad in Kashmir. Does any one truly believe that there will be peace in Kashmir so long as the gun culture thrives in some people’s hearts and minds? Can any Kashmiri organization or a neighboring country really contribute to a peaceful solution if such bodies do not out rightly condemn violence and deny financial and logistical support to Mujahideen and Fidayeen squads creating havoc in Kashmir? How can any one support the idea that terrorism and peace can co-exist? This is yet another inconsistency in Kashmiri politicians who talk of peace and yet are hesitant to stand on principles when the finger is pointing in their own direction. This lack of objectivity is one of the main reasons why Kashmiri politicians are poorly regarded by their own people who frequently cite duplicity as a common characteristic in most of them.
There is also the issue of history. What about the promises that Mountbatten or Nehru or some one else made in 1947? Were these promises implemented or not? Quite frankly, I have heard arguments on both the sides, and some of these are very persuasive on either side. So I am not sure I would hang my justification for the future of Kashmir on those arguments alone. What about the UN resolutions, in particular the often quoted UN Resolution 47 of April 21, 1948? Can that decide the issue? Most commentators focus on Article B, Section 2 of the Resolution, but let us go to the very beginning of this resolution (Article A, Section 1) and read again the words that were relevant to the situation then and are relevant even today:
A – RESTORATION OF PEACE AND ORDER
1. The Government of Pakistan should undertake to use its best endeavours:
(a) To secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purposes of fighting, and to prevent any intrusion into the State of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State.
My point is that if you replace “tribesmen” with “Mujahideen”, you are suddently “back into the future” with General Akbar Khan’s covert war being updated by General Pervez Musharraf’s proxy war in Kashmir. Anyway, putting trust in the UN resolutions may not mean much. As recently as March 11, 2001, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, told an audience in Pakistan that “since the UN resolutions on Kashmir do not come under Chapter 7 of the Charter, these are not self-enforcing”, meaning that not much can be done without Indian and Pakistani approval to implement such relics of history. So I do not see any hope there either.
Thus, I feel that the best way forward is to work within the bounds of realism for bringing about changes peacefully and democratically. If the peace process has to succeed, the expectations on both sides should be based on what the other can deliver at the end. If some Kashmiri politicians believe that world opinion or external intervention is going to lead to an independent Kashmir, I feel that they are out of touch with the reality. On the other hand, if the objective is to improve the quality of life in Kashmir and reinforce institutional structures that will allow Kashmiris to fully exercise the freedoms that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution, then something is possible. It is important to recognize that grievances expressed by some Kashmiri Muslims against the State and Central governments are indeed serious. But equally important is the fact that numerous minorities in the State, namely, Ladakhis, Pandits, Dogras, etc., have also expressed their utter dissatisfaction with the hegemonic rule of the Muslim establishment. Unlike tactics adopted by the JKLF and other militant organizations, various minority communities in Kashmir have chosen peaceful means of protest, though their demands are no less serious. For example, what is the future of Kashmiri Pandits who are currently displaced and want to return to their homeland with proper political, economic and security dispensation? Unfortunately, Prof. A.G. Bhat, Hurriyat Chairman, has rejected the idea of involving other parties and other communities in any peace dialogue with India and Pakistan, a proof once again that Hurriyat’s agenda is sectarian and the organization is insensitive to the needs of the entire State. I wish to repeat that for durable peace in Kashmir it is imperative that all communities participate in the political process, and all constituents receive equal consideration in the final outcome.
Our organization has welcomed the most recent initiative by the Indian government inviting all people of J&K to a political dialogue, though we have serious reservations as to whether the militants will reciprocate such a gesture with political maturity. History teaches us that those who live by the sword usually die by the sword. And so it shall be in Kashmir too, unless Kashmiris do not denounce the gun culture openly, forcefully and unequivocally.
To conclude, broad dimensions of the issue limit the final choices in Kashmir. But there can be no progress unless peace is given a chance on the ground. To promote peace, one must renounce violence in all forms, direct or indirect. Kashmiris deserve leaders who have the vision and courage to speak openly and frankly on the choices that are possible. We need leaders who are willing to put their emphasis on improving the lives of common people, rather than on image building and demagoguery. Already enough time has been wasted, and the process cannot be delayed any further.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.