| by Shabir Choudhry
( March 29, 2012, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) A few months ago some critics ‘fuelled’ by sentiments of tribalism and secret agencies started a vicious campaign against me for attending a Kashmir conference held in New Delhi in November 2000. Some of these critics worked with me while I was President of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front; but their tribal loyalty proved to be stronger than the party loyalty and ideological commitment. My speech, as it was delivered in the conference is produced below; and neutral people will note that it is not anti Jammu and Kashmir.
Text of a speech made by Shabir Choudhry, President Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front UK & Europe, in the conference jointly organised by International Centre for Peace Initiatives, Delhi; Chr. Mitchelson Institution, Oslo; and Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad, held in New Delhi on 25/6 November 2000.
Theme of the Conference: Next steps in Jammu and Kashmir – Give Peace A Chance”.
ession title: “Inter-Regional Factors in J & K’s pluralistic society”.
Before we begin to discuss and understand the Kashmir dispute and peace we must establish what do we mean by Kashmir. When we talk of Kashmir do we mean a strip of land that is 84 miles long and 27 miles wide; or we mean the State of Jammu and Kashmir which existed on 15 August 1947.
The fact that the present struggle started in the Kashmir Valley does not mean that only this area is disputed. As the JKLF and I see it, the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed; and our aim is the unification and independence of the State. When we talk of the State we mean the Kashmir Valley, Jammu, Ladakh on this side of the Line of Control, and areas known as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan on the other side of the LOC. At this stage I would like to make it clear that JKLF Chairman is honourable Yasin Malik, and he is in better position to elaborate on this and explain the JKLF ideology and future strategy.
The fact that the present struggle started on the Indian side of the LOC does not make these areas more disputed than the areas on the Pakistani side of the LOC. And the fact that there is no visible unrest on the Pakistani side of the LOC does not mean that the people of these areas are happy with the current situation. It must be clear to all concerned that all these areas are disputed and for peace and stability of Kashmir and that of the South Asia, it is imperative that a mechanism is worked out that people of Kashmir could determine their future.
If we are serious and sincere in finding a solution acceptable to all three parties to the dispute then we have to abandon rhetoric and emotional attitude. We have to abandon slogans of “Atoot Ang” and “Sha – Rag”, and adopt a pragmatic attitude by taking the ground realities into consideration. In the words of Pundit Jawarhalal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India: “Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon as a prize for India or Pakistan. People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future” (Report to All Indian Congress Committee on 6th July 1951).
Similarly Mohammed Ali Jinnah in an interview on 17 June 1947, said:
” After the lapse of paramountcy the Indian States would be constitutionally and legally Sovereign States and free to adopt for themselves any course they wished. It is open to the States to join the Hindustan Constitutional Assembly or to decide to remain independent. In my opinion they are free to remain independent if they so desire.”
These statements of two great leaders show legal and realistic approach to the Kashmir dispute – approach that was not clouded by emotions. But it is unfortunate to note that the Kashmir dispute, as we see it today, is a direct result of competing national interests and designs of both India and Pakistan. In other words we Kashmiris are suffering because both countries were at a state of war and competing against each other. This competition and animosity has continued through out these years.
Whereas other countries in the world have moved on both India and Pakistan are still in a state of war. As a result, apart from the Pakistani and the Indian people, we Kashmiris are also suffering. We are still forcibly divided, tortured, uprooted and deprived of our basic human rights. May be we (the people of Indian Sub Continent) have reached that stage where it would be suicidal to continue this situation. For the sake of peace and stability in the South Asia we have to leave the past, with all its tragic events, behind us and make a new start. Up till now Kashmir has been a source of competition and rivalry between India and Pakistan, and may be Kashmir could become a bridge of friendship, a source of peace, stability and inspiration.
Problems faced by people
Many people say the Kashmir dispute is easy to resolve. In their view all what is needed is the withdrawal of the Indian forces from Kashmir. This view is unrealistic and naïve. Much more than that is required, if we are serious about resolving the dispute. It is true the United Nations Resolutions ask India to withdraw ‘bulk’ of her forces from Kashmir; but it is also true that the same Resolution ask Pakistan to withdraw her forces first. We know that demilitarisation, as asked by the Resolution, could not take place because of differences between India and Pakistan. As a result of this failure our motherland, Kashmir, is forcibly divided with troops of India and Pakistan facing each other on LOC.
Apart from that we have to look at regional, cultural and religious issues. It must be noted that the people of Kashmir, despite recent endeavours to communalise the Kashmiri politics, by and large see their nation as a multi-cultural and multi religious – one with a strong tradition of mutual co-existence. Kashmir has its own proud history with diverse and rich cultures and unique sense of toleration and brotherhood. In stark contrast to the religious intolerance and violence found in other places of the Indian Sub Continent, Kashmir became a land of mutual acceptance and tolerance. Both India and Pakistan need to learn to respect this, and must not try to alter this by communalising the issues. In fact they can learn lessons from the Kashmiri culture of co existence, toleration and respect for each other’s religion and culture.
Kashmiri people also have a strong tradition of decentralised internal political rule. This decentralised system of politics helped each region to develop its own culture and traditions; and also helped to develop individual agricultural and economic systems. Previous foreign rules did not too much disrupt the internal geographical, cultural, and economic interconnections which have existed for centuries. But the occupation and the forced division since 1947 has greatly affected the Kashmiri way of life, and completely alienated the people from each other. India occupies the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, and Jammu regions. While Pakistan occupies areas known as “Azad Kashmir”, and Gilgit-Baltistan (approximately 32,000 square miles). China also occupies two portions of the Kashmiri land, Aksai Chin in Ladakh, and a portion given to China by Pakistan from Gilgit-Baltistan This forced division controlled by a large concentration of troops has absolutely barricaded the social, economic, and cultural relations that existed through the internal routes for thousands of years.
Apart from disrupting economic and social interaction between people of different regions, the effect of the “Line of Control” has been so devastating that families living just on opposite sides of the same little valley have been unable to see each other for more than 53 years. The only chance these unfortunate people have is to make a difficult and expensive trip to the capital of either India or Pakistan and then apply for a visa to the other occupying country. If one is fortunate enough to make it to the other side of the dividing line, he or she must then make equally difficult trip back home. This is time consuming, expensive and exhausting, as the journey is more than thousand miles. Worse still when these people go from one place to the other they are treated badly and often with suspicion. More than likely a poor visitor will be branded as either “Indian agent” or “Pakistani agent”. They will have to live with the burden of this allegation for the rest of his life.
A re-unified and independent Kashmir would re-open the internal routes and unite all the inhabitants of the divided country. This would end the isolation of places like Ladakh and Gilgit and Baltistan, and this interaction between different communities would help in nation building.
It is deemed proper and acceptable that apart from businessmen and ordinary people, journalists, diplomats, lawyers etc from India and Pakistan could visit each other’s country without too many problems, but how unfortunate that poor Kashmiris cannot. Many legal and bureaucratic hurdles are created for them, and if some how they manage to get relevant travel documents they are likely to be accused of being a “spy” of either one country or the other
Even though I live in London and have a 30 years track record of working for a united and independent Kashmir, I know what I had to go through to come to Delhi to attend this conference. I don’t know what would be the outcome of this conference, but I know for sure that I will have to face a barrage of criticism and baseless allegations for the “crime” of attending this conference. But my response to all this is who cares I know what I am doing, and what is right for my organisation and country. We have to adopt a new strategy and move forward, and in doing so we will have to face many challenges, and not be intimidated by those who benefit from the status quo.
The way forward
It should be clear from the above that the people of Kashmir no matter which side of the LOC they are living are facing huge problems. On the Indian side of LOC their problems are different because of the armed struggle and large-scale human rights violations. The armed struggle and subsequent excessive actions by the armed forces have greatly affected the social fabrics of the Kashmiri civil society. All sections of the Kashmiri community have suffered because of this, of course some have suffered more than others – I mean Muslim members of the Kashmiri community have suffered more; but aim of this paper is not to go into details of these sufferings, and make any comparison. Whether the sufferers are Muslims or Hindus they are all Kashmiris and sons and daughters of the soil. And their suffering is regrettable; it is a loss to the Kashmiri nation. Whereas I feel sorry for the families of those who have lost their loved ones, we have to think of those who are still alive; and who could be saved.
It is becoming increasingly clear that there could be no military solution to the Kashmir conflict. No party is in a position to dictate terms militarily. The cost of any military expedition, especially between India and Pakistan with nuclear capability on both sides, would be disastrous for not only Kashmiris but all people of South Asia.
Similarly UN resolutions, whatever their worth, have failed to provide any solution acceptable to all parties to the dispute. Moreover there was no Kashmiri input into these resolutions. Both Indian and Pakistani delegates at the UN only represented their national interests, with little care or concern for the people of Kashmir. In any case a series of Agreements such as Tashkant, Shimla, and Lahore Declaration have greatly influenced the position of UN resolutions.
UN resolutions and all these Agreements and Declarations accept that State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed, and we could use this as a starting point and start trilateral talks to resolve the issue. Before we reach that stage there has to be inter – Kashmir dialogue- a dialogue between various regions and communities to build some consensus. We have to accept that due to forced division and other factors there is some mistrust and misunderstandings between different Kashmiri communities. We have to work out a strategy for rehabilitation of all those who have been uprooted because of this struggle, this includes Muslims, Pandits and other Kashmiri minorities.
It must be clear to all that the Kashmir issue is not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan; and nor it is a religious issue, or fight of one religion against the other. The dispute is about the Kashmiri peoples unfettered right of self-determination. Our struggle is for unification and independence of the State, we don’t want to be part of any other country; nor we are doing this on behest of anyone else. Here it would be appropriate to quote JKLF Chairman, Mr Yasin Malik, who responded to a question in an interview:
‘No. It is not a religious issue. We want a total reunification of the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. It is not a religious issue. We are not demanding the right of self-determination on the basis of religion. When we speak about the self- determination of the people of Kashmir we say that the right of self- determination must be given to 12 million people of the united Jammu and Kashmir’.
Kashmir has seen enough suffering. The Kashmiri people also have right to live peacefully, and live with honour and dignity. But we don’t want peace at any cost. We want India and Pakistan to realise that they have also suffered because of the Kashmir dispute, and they will continue to suffer if they don’t resolve the issue according to the wishes of the Kashmir people. Peace has to come to South Asia. We have to move forward and become a political and economic force; and Kashmir could provide the necessary ingredient to move forward.
If we want to avoid a permanent division of Kashmir then we have to win confidence of each other. And Kashmiri Muslims being a dominant political force and being in majority have to ensure other Kashmiri minorities that it is safe for them to live in Kashmir, and that their rights would be protected by law. We have to ensure each other that for peace, stability and prosperity of the Kashmiri people we have to live together in peace and harmony.