Call for peace from overseas

Published : May 09, 2003 00:00 IST

FOR many overseas South Asians, reactionary causes back home are something of a spectator sport. Leaders of the Kashmiri community in the United States and western Europe have been among the ardent cheerleaders of the armed struggle in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is not hard to see why. Untold millions of dollars have been raised to fund everything from legitimate charities to secessionist political organisations, terrorist groups - and even fat-cats in need. A recent expose in The South Asia Tribune that millions of dollars raised for the Kashmir Fund set up by former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had disappeared without trace may also contribute to scepticism about Pakistan's real commitment to the struggle. Funds, of course, flow the other way as well. Indian and Pakistani diplomatic missions, as well as both countries' intelligence organisations, pay in cash for influence, and more than a few so-called leaders have made a decent living off what passes for the Kashmir `cause'. The more extreme the positions, it sometimes seems, the bigger the bucks.

Now, a small group of former Jammu and Kashmir residents from either side of the Line of Control are trying to make overseas politics have an impact that is wider than individual politicians' bank accounts.

On March 31, the newly formed International Kashmir Alliance (IKA) ended a meeting in Geneva by issuing the most emphatic call for peace that has emerged from activists based in the West. The IKA is made up of well-known Kashmir activists such as Syed Nazir Gilani, Shabbir Choudhry, Mumtaz Khan and Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, and its Geneva declaration calls for activists to work for a reaffirmation of "the spirit and the faith of the early Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, of a tolerant and non-communal society". It points to the need for violence to be replaced by a genuine people's movement based on "popular participation, accountability, transparency and justice".

The declaration squarely addressed the one issue few secessionist politicians in India or abroad have stressed upon - that of "how far post-1990 politics and militancy has remained in consonance with the history and discipline of the Rights Movement" from which it draws legitimacy. The answer its authors give is blunt. "The question of the violation of human rights by the security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir," it states, "has been used excessively for extracting political mileage". While there has indeed been a "massive violation of human rights", terrorists have been just as complicit in these as Indian forces. The document refers to "a culture of shared killings, although with a variance in proportion, between security forces, militants and unidentified persons". This constant threat to the life of "the common Kashmiri is used to exact political mileage by the various actors".

Put simply, the IKA formulation turns the traditional critique of the Indian state's presence in Jammu and Kashmir on its head. The criticism is all the more forceful, coming as it does from someone like Gilani, a strong supporter of Pakistan for much of his political career. It was only in November last year, after a visit to India, that Gilani began to shift position. In a bitter attack on the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, he referred to that organisation's relationship with Pakistan as an "alliance of the deaf and the lame". Pakistan's rejection of the just-concluded elections, he asserted, simply did not take into account the desperate desire of most ordinary people in the State for peace. If the democratic process could deliver relief, Gilani said, it was worthwhile, notwithstanding questions of the State's final status.

Leaders of the IKA have also addressed a second major area of discomfort for secessionist politicians - the situation in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. "On balance," the Geneva declaration notes, "we should not nudge past the human rights movement in two other parts of Kashmir - Azad Kashmir and Gilgit & Baltistan." "It is unfortunate," it says, "that the question of the violation of human rights in [Indian] Jammu and Kashmir is not being used to ameliorate the suffering of the victims, but is used as a weapon by one country against the other."

Signs of ferment have long been evident in what Pakistan calls "Azad" Kashmir, as well as in Gilgit and Baltistan. Last year political parties in Azad Kashmir and the Gilgit Baltistan National Alliance (GBNA) formed an alliance to highlight the continued mistreatment of their people. Announcing the formation of the alliance, its ANPA leader Wajahat Hassan Khan said that Islamabad had deprived the people of these regions of "their basic human rights for over five decades". He demanded that the people of Gilgit and Baltistan be given the right to elect their own representatives and that they be granted a voice in any final settlement talks on the status of Jammu and Kashmir. He also pointed to the enormous funds raised by overseas Kashmiris for the region and asked that the government commit at least some part of these to the backward regions.

The fact that the IKA has been formed does not in itself give New Delhi any reason to rejoice. The group is committed to an independent and united Jammu and Kashmir, a prospect unacceptable both to India and Pakistan. What it does make clear, however, is that there is some real introspection among overseas Kashmiris about the direction the state is headed in. Debate overseas on Jammu and Kashmir has been largely dominated by leaders like Ghulam Nabi Fai in the U.S., or Ayub Thakur in the United Kingdom, both with close political links to Pakistan and the Islamist Right. The fact that the IKA has been formed suggests that their hegemony over the overseas Kashmiri discourse has begun to fragment. Should the move gather momentum, it might persuade the hardliners in Srinagar to move forward.

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