“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow
The Kashmir Dispute and Building a Peaceful South Asia
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
14 July 2005
Text of Dr. Sazawal’s speech at the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) seminar hosted in Washington, D.C.
I want to thank the organizer for inviting me to this meeting. This is the second time the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) has invited me to speak at one of their conferences, even though I believe they were a bit apprehensive before the earlier conference that was held in New York City in February 2005.
I ask myself what has changed since that meeting to make a different speech than the one I gave in New York City. In fact, one can even ask, what has changed in the greater scheme of things to warrant another expensive conference only four and a half months later? In New York, I spoke of a choice: either to continue harping on solutions that are impossible to negotiate when there is a “trust deficit” in the subcontinent, or to move in a different direction to bring peace and hope to the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and end the cycle of misery, violence and continuing uncertainty in Kashmir. I suggested in New York City that it was time that we move away from proposing solutions and, instead, look to people-centric confidence building measures (CBMs) that emphasize restoration of peace and tranquility, reinforcement of Kashmiri identity, development of human values and the creation of new opportunities for economic growth on both sides of the line of control in J&K. Once those things happen, the boundaries will be rendered meaningless and the two countries – India and Pakistan – can finalize the resolution of the Kashmir problem at a time of their choosing.
I am sensitive to the fact that there are many people who believe rapid progress is being made in resolving the Kashmir problem and that a land-centric settlement between India and Pakistan is imminent. On further discussion, I find three major reasons why such beliefs are subscribed: (a) because the Government of Pakistan insists on a “timely” solution, (b) because big powers (“Americans”) are pushing India and Pakistan to come to an immediate agreement, and (c) because a deal is “cooking” behind the scenes secretly by India and Pakistan through authorized interlocutors. I do not want to disappoint the hopeful, but let me tell you that I have heard such stories before. For all I know, even if one were to believe that such an engagement is being pursued through diplomatic or intelligence channels, it still does not guarantee that a land-centric solution is at hand. A 58-year old problem does not get solved by overnight deals.
There are many others who feel that the recent trip by the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to Pakistan and Pakistani administered Kashmir has changed political dynamics and made the “final solution” closer to reality. But was this trip really as successful as it is made out to be? First, the APHC delegation consisted of a parochial group of valley elders that represented neither the geographic nor the ethnic diversity of J&K nor even the Kashmir valley for that matter. By visiting only the Muzaffarabad region of Kashmir and ignoring Gilgat and Skardu, the APHC clearly conveys the impression that it has a limited focus in so far as the future of the entire State is concerned. From the press reports emanating from Pakistan, I have noted that Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat sahib and the Chief of Pakistan’s Parliament’s Committee on Kashmir, Mr. Hamid Nasir Chatta, have serious reservations about the proposals that were put forth by the Chairman of APHC, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, during his stay in Pakistan. And I will not even discuss meetings that the visiting APHC delegation held with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jamatud Dawah/Laskar-e-Toiba and other colorful organizations that again create doubts about the sincerity of the recent APHC mission to Pakistan.
Let me, however, make one thing clear. I am not pushing any solution favoring one party or the other. All I am trying to do is to make the point that contrary to a general perception that a solution of the Kashmir issue is around the corner or that a consensus has been achieved in the framework of a land-centric solution among even the separatists, the reality is that we are no where close to any such solution at this time.
This is why I will reiterate that the progress we made together in the New York Conference, organized by the same people sponsoring this conference, is the first real building block for durable peace in J&K.
The “New York Declaration,” dated February 25, 2005, had in its wordy text the following key elements:
- The leadership of India and Pakistan must recognize that there can be no final settlement of the Kashmir issue without active and full participation of the people of J&K. Note that “full participation” includes the people of the Northern Areas (NA), not withstanding the fact that APHC ignored that region during their recent visit to Pakistan.
- The confidence building measures should continue in order to create an atmosphere that ultimately leads to a fair and lasting settlement of the Kashmir issue. Note that no particular solution path was advocated and no time limits were defined.
- The conference expresses its grave concern over continued violations of human rights – by state and non-state actors – in J&K and urges all stake-holders to ensure that human rights are upheld in full measure. Note that a test of the credibility of this conference will be to see if anyone here who speaks about the human rights abuse by state security forces also speaks with the same grim reality about the human rights abuse perpetuated by gun-toting zealots and terrorists.
- The rights of all members of minorities in J&K should be protected at all costs.
- The members of the Pandit community displaced in the recent past should be facilitated to return and their rehabilitation guaranteed.
The above five points, as well as a few other unrelated items, constitute the New York Declaration that was passed at a conference organized by same sponsors less than 5 months ago. The present conference would make a valuable contribution if it takes develops some or all of these five elements, which focus entirely on people-centric issues, to the next stage of development. I believe if that happens then this conference would have served its purpose.
In this context, let me follow-up on the last two elements dealing with minorities in general and Kashmiri Pandits in particular. The New York Declaration recognized the displaced status of Kashmiri Pandits. We know that of the nearly 400, 000 Pandits who lived in the valley until 1989 only about 8,000 remain today. Most displaced Pandits live in refugee camps and temporary shelters. Some displaced Pandits, currently in their 16th year of forced exile, have moved on with their lives and settled elsewhere. In New York I said that one of the key issues today in the valley is of Kashmiri identity. It is by and large a Muslim identity and unless specific CBMs are undertaken by the majority community towards the minority, it is going to remain unchanged. Such CBMs should not only address the human aspects of the problem, but also address real long term-survival issues concerning the sharing of political and economic power in the valley so that Pandits can feel that they too are true stake-holders in the future of J&K and not merely guests surviving on the goodwill of the majority.
Following the New York Conference, I discussed the possibility of intra-community CBMs with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and proposed to him that a composite political dialogue be held between APHC and its counterpart organization among Kashmiri Pandits on the facilitated return of Pandits to the valley. The APHC Chairman verbally agreed to my proposal and we briefly discussed modalities for such talks. I was promised some exploratory initiatives in this regard, but have heard of no follow-up since. So I was completely surprised to read newspaper reports emanating from Srinagar last week that APHC has decided to hold talks with Kashmiri Pandits after the organization summarily denounced the exodus of Pandits as “a wrong step taken at the behest of then government,” completely ignoring the pronouncement by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on June 11, 1999 that a grave situation, rising to the level of a “near genocide condition” for the miniscule community, had prompted Pandits to flee. The next set of reports from Srinagar in the last few days were even more alarming as it set a date of July 19, 2005 for talks with Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu, even though not a single Kashmiri Pandit leader of any stature has been contacted or is aware of such a meeting. Moreover, such an important meeting if truly meant to start the intra-community dialogue would require a lot of advance planning to be successful.
From what Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat said publicly a couple of days back, it appears that APHC may use the same group of relief workers belonging to the minority community that the Mufti government recruited from refugee camps to manipulate the so-called return of Pandits on a time-table suitable to the J&K government. Strange as it may sound, but it would appear that APHC and PDP are actually colluding in creating a convenient group of Pandit leaders who can be summarily hoisted at moments of need. That such a sordid drama will be played by the Mufti government is not surprising, but that APHC would engage in such a futile exercise is shocking. After all, APHC has itself, in the past, accused the State government of engaging in similar deceptive practices with Kashmiri Muslims. Now it seems APHC is trying out the same worn-out formula on Kashmiri Pandits. I am truly saddened. Nevertheless, I believe that this ill-advised process involving “fake leaders” will surely fail.
I believe it is time for APHC to go back to the contours of the discussion that we started in New York and thereafter. You know Kashmiriyat at one time meant something. It embodied values, principles, ethical percepts, cultural heritage and respect for pluralism that gave Kashmir its unique and peculiar character. Whether we were distributing tehar following an auspicious ceremony, displaying obeisance towards Nund Rishi, Lalla Ded or other sufis and saints, wearing pheran during winter, using kangri or enjoying wazwan, we were, in a sense, one. Life was simple and a word of the mouth was as good as a deal written on the hundi paper. When Pandit Kalhan, the author of the Rajatarangini said, “Kashmir can never be conquered by brute force, but only by moral and spiritual merit,” he was speaking with enlightenment that is as appropriate to the past misdeeds of invaders as it is to the present rule of the majority.
Today Kashmir, like the rest of the world, has changed. There are people justifying terrorism in the name of religion and there are young Kashmiris who know so little of the majestic libraries, art galleries, temples and Buddhist monasteries and artifacts of ancient Kashmiri Kings. Today who knows about the outreach of Sultan Zainul Abdeen (“Budshah”) who established a bureau to translate Sanskrit works of religion and culture as a way to provide jobs and bring Pandits back to the valley? Today J&K is the second most corrupt state in India – next only to Bihar, according to the Transparency International. Today we have successive State governments that have refused to grant the Minority status to Kashmiri Pandits in spite of numerous declarations by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). Today we have the Mufti government unwilling to assist the paltry 8,000 brave Pandit souls in the Valley with assured livelihood and rehabilitation, while deceptively trying to entice others to return in order to gain favors from New Delhi.
I hope that APHC can rise above the immoral, unethical and corrupt environment that has come to exemplify the recent Kashmiri leadership in power and do the right thing where the minority community in the valley is concerned. All politics being local, the two parties – Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits – need to work together towards a political and economic settlement so that Pandits do not face uncertain future as they have in the past. Kashmiri Pandits will return sooner or later, but the job could be made easier if the majority community would promptly recognize that a facilitated return will require a negotiated settlement. APHC can steal a march over PDP and NC if they show that they truly represent the people of J&K in pursuing the noble goals of Kashmiriyat. Such a move would also clearly show that APHC is maturing politically; it will greatly enhance the stature of the organization in the world and in particular, its credentials with parties that it is trying to negotiate with on the future of Jammu and Kashmir.
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.