A challenge and an opportunity

Published : Jul 08, 2000 00:00 IST

ISLAMABAD has always dismissed politicians of Jammu and Kashmir as "puppets" of the Indian government, but this time it was forced to sit up and take notice. A flurry of statements from Pakistani leaders, pro-Pakistan Hurriyat "leaders" based in Pakistan and even the leaders who attended the recently-concluded Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur, made in the wake of the "autonomy resolution" passed in the State Assembly on June 26, reflect the level of concern in Pakistan ab out the political development in Kashmir.

There is little doubt that since 1989 (when terrorist attacks gathered momentum in the Kashmir valley) Pakistan has systematically played on and cynically exploited the alienation of the people of Kashmir. At every stage, it has sought to emphasise that the Kashmiri people will never be given their democratic due by India and therefore a plebiscite and "merger" with Pakistan were a logical solution.

The general response to the autonomy resolution indicates that Pakistan is genuinely concerned about any efforts made by the Indian government to settle any differences with the Kashmiri people politically.

If the resolution becomes part of the process of a settlement in Kashmir, then the concerns of the Pakistani state will only increase. The "jehadis" (freedom fighters) operating in Kashmir will, in all likelihood, be once again instructed to raise their "level of operations" in the Kashmir Valley and other parts of the State.

Given the fact that Pakistan's concerns about Kashmir and Kashmiris are restricted to territorial aggrandisement, the autonomy move backed by the National Conference (N.C.) and a possible opening of dialogue with the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) are not the preferred options here.

While the resolution has invited contempt and condemnation from the Pakistani establishment, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), led by Amanullah Khan, has seen it in a different light. Amanullah Khan maintained that the stand taken by Chief M inister Farooq Abdullah and his N.C. members in the State Assembly was a "pleasant surprise". They had acted as "Kashmiri patriots", his statement said.

Although the JKLF stood for complete independence of the entire Kashmir, it stated that a reversion to the pre-1953 situation would restore to a great extent the distinct national identity of Kashmiris. They would, once again, have their own President, P rime Minister, national flag, independent judiciary and national language.

Amanullah Khan said that New Delhi was morally, politically and democratically bound to accept the demands made by the majority of the MLAs, whom India had projected as the "true representatives" of the Kashmiri people.

Political analysts in Pakistan believe that the "only way" forward in Kashmir is for India to hold a dialogue with the Kashmiri people. Such a move clearly will cut at the roots of the propaganda and strategy of the Pakistani state, for which "acquiring Kashmir" has become the raison d'etre.

In the past 11 years, the political bankruptcy of the Indian state and its failure to deal with situations of internal armed conflict imaginatively have prevented any forward movement in Kashmir.

The total boycott of the Lok Sabha elections in 1989, the dramatic kidnapping by terrorists of Rubiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the same year and the successive tragedies that have visited the State have not so far proved a sufficient enough reason for New Delhi to address constructively the grievances of the Kashmiri people.

While there are enough reasons to be sceptical about the autonomy resolution, especially in the background of the record of both Dr. Farooq Abdullah and the successive governments at the Centre, the fact remains that this is the first such text to be app roved since insurgency gained ground in the State.

Clearly, there is an opportunity for India to set its Kashmir house in order. A degree of political maturity and sensitivity is required on the part of New Delhi if the autonomy motions is to have any meaning. Any summary rejection of the resolution can only send yet another wrong signal to the Kashmiri people; that will once again confirm the fears of some Kashmiris that there is no "hope" for them under the present dispensation.

The beginning of a solid dialogue with the Kashmiris will also put pressure on Pakistan's "maximalist" position on the United Nations resolutions. It will allow India to weaken Pakistan's position and then permit a solution of a type where the Line of Co ntrol (LoC), the de facto international border, becomes the de jure international border.

Whatever their problems with New Delhi, Kashmiris cannot be oblivious to what is happening to people living in the northern areas and "Azad Kashmir". The former, especially, have had no right to representation and have been "ruled" by the minions of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad.

Punjabi domination in the affairs of State, at the cost of smaller provinces in the country, especially Balochistan and Sindh, cannot also be missed. The absence of democracy, Army domination in civilian affairs and a continuing military regime cannot wa rm the democratic hearts of the Kashmiri people.

A challenge and an opportunity have simultaneously presented themselves in Kashmir. Will the parties concerned miss the opportunity again?

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