Harsh truths about Kashmir

Published : Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, who is the president of the National Conference. -

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, who is the president of the National Conference. -

A solution to the Kashmir problem lies in making creative efforts to reconcile Kashmiris to the Indian Union and addressing the concerns of Pakistan.

They say only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite.

- Indira Gandhi's letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, on May 14, 1948.

On his return from a visit to Kashmir (Vice-President S. Radhakrishnan) came and told me that even Sheikh Abdullah thought we would lose in a plebiscite.

- President Rajendra Prasad's letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on July 14, 1953.

Hindustan was still to Kashmir an alien country and it can only be the conduct and behaviour of Hindustanis, particularly in Kashmir, that would induce the Kashmiris to become Indians willingly.

- D.P. Mishra to T.C.A. Srinivasavaradan, Union Home Secretary in the mid-1960s.

Even today, perhaps the best of us do not quite realise the depth of Kashmir alienation and are unready to ponder ways and means of overcoming it.

- Prof. Hiren Mukherjkee's statement on February 25, 1994.

We told the Centre's pointsman, N.N. Vohra, that the Central government has to make a distinction between alienation and militancy. While the alienation can be traced back to 1951, the militancy started in 1989 and even if the militancy was rooted out, you will have the problem of alienation.

- Jammu & Kashmir's Minister for Finance, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Muzaffar Hussain Beigh's statement on May 2, 2003.

We were being misinformed by the Ministry of Home Affairs which tells us about the problems of the security forces; and the problems of the people are not told.

- Somnath Chatterjee's statement in Srinagar on June 19, 2003, at a Communist Party of India (Marxist) meeting. He added that his impression of Kashmir had considerably changed during his visit as Chairman of Parliament's Standing Committee.

ANY one genuinely concerned with understanding the basic truths about the Kashmir situation would do well to reflect on these six pronouncements by persons of impeccable credentials during the last 50 years. On August 8, 2003, it will be exactly half a century since Kashmir's greatest leader ever, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, was dismissed from office as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and put in prison where he languished for 11 years till April 8, 1964, bar an interlude of three months, from January 6 to April 29, 1958. Documents in Volumes 23 and 24 of Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru reveal that the entire coup was enacted at Nehru's behest.

In still rankles in Kashmiri minds as Muzaffar Hussain Beigh's remarks on May 2 reveal. Sheikh Saheb was dismissed unconstitutionally, he said. During Beigh's party, the PDP's (People's Democratic Party) meeting with N.N. Vohra on April 27, "We told Vohra that the Government of India has always been purchasing the leaders of the State. That can be done even today". He cited a record of the Centre's arbitrary dismissals of governments in the State from 1953 onwards. Where else in India has this sordid game been played? The motivation for this and for the rigged polls was the same - Central control over an alienated populace.

On one point, he was wrong. Alienation did not begin in 1951. When the Sheikh's government became unpopular. Indira Gandhi's shrewd observation in May 1948 proves that it existed even as Indian troops were fighting the raiders and Pakistan's troops in the State. Its implication is harsher still. The word alienation, which implies an earlier affection, is a misnomer. Kashmiris were never for the State's accession to India. Realisation of this bitter truth rent two devoted friends apart. Nehru could not risk to hold the plebiscite he had promised, harried as he was by the Jan Sangh and the right-wing in the Congress. He pressed unwisely for a closer union. Sheikh Abdullah could no longer swear by accession and retain his popularity. He unwisely precipitated a crisis by bluntness in speech and impetuosity in conduct.

In essentials, this situation exists to this day; but with another factor which time has injected - India cannot possibly countenance Kashmris' secession from the Union. Patriotism does not lie in dishonestly denying harsh truths "in the national interest". It lies in an honest reckoning with both truths - Kashmiris' rejection of the Union and our inability to grant their desire - and in making earnest creative efforts to reconcile the people to the Union and to address the concerns of Pakistan which properly belong to it as a party to the 50-year old dispute. If one extreme, secession, must be ruled out, the other extreme, the status quo (the LoC) is no solution either. The solution lies between these two extremes.

Neither escapist charades on the Wagah border nor the pie-in-the-sky ideas of Kashmir's independence nor the insane Chenab formula (division of Kashmir on communal lines) nor the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh's (RSS) "trifurcation" help; least of all the brazenly dishonest denials of the realities in order to legitimise repression of the people.

Kashmirs are treated disgracefully in their own State. Recently the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Rashtriya Rifles thought nothing of "manhandling" a Minister of State. An order issued on June 13 by the Senior Superintendent of Police (Security) permits "tourists from outside the State, foreigners on their tour to the Valley" to enter the historic Cheshma Shahi garden "without seeking any entry pass". Locals are barred.

Last year's elections to the State Assembly settled nothing. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed candidly acknowledged on June 23 that "the people did not vote because this would solve the Kashmir issue. They voted for a good government". They wanted to be rid of both the Abdullahs, Farooq and Omar. Many shouted "azadi" while casting their vote, driving the bright ones in the electronic media to explain that the word did not mean what it meant over the last decade but only good governance. This is typical of misreporting on Kashmir. It was certainly not a vote for accession as Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani claims (vide the author's article "A fractured verdict"; Frontline, November 8, 2002).

A week's visit to Srinagar, even if crammed with interviews with a good cross-section, tells one little. But the little one learns acquires significance in the light of the record. Three features stand out boldly. First, to use a familiar word, the alienation from India. Secondly, a clear disillusionment with Pakistan right across the board. It began with Kargil when noted pro-Pakistani politicians hurled at Islamabad Mao's famous reproach of Khruschev after the Cuban missile crisis - adventurism followed by capitulation. Pakistan's U-turn on the Taliban exacerbated this feeling. Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamaat-e-Islami wrote after 9/11, while noting its constraints that "so far Pakistan's interests were mainly concerned with national and economic factors and the broader religious and Milli (Muslim community's) interests were ignored. Those at the helm of affairs in Pakistan should not ignore the fact that Pakistan today is an ideological state." So were Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China even while they sacrificed soldiers abroad in the interests of the state. The consequences of the policy adopted by the rulers of Pakistan today appear to be very terrible and serious." (S.A. Geelani, What should be Done; Tulu Publications, Hyderpora, Srinagar; page 50) If only the Home Ministry had permitted him to visit Pakistan at the end of 2000, his disenchantment with it would have increased to the gain of all concerned, Geelani particularly.

The last blow was the U.S.' listing of the indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen among "other terrorists organisations" on April 30; and swiftly thereafter, Pakistan's imposing curbs on it. Rama Laxmi reported in The Washington Post (May 24) that "the change is more than a technicality, according to analysts here (Srinagar) who have described Hizbul Mujahideen as the Kashmiri insurgent group most likely to put down its weapons and pursue peace if India and Pakistan ever open a dialogue on the region they have both claimed for more than half a century." It had announced a ceasefire in July 2000.

Kashmiris realise also that Pakistan is averse to the view of any single independent leadership lest it should cut a deal with India as the Sheikh did in 1975. But India cannot profit by this disenchantment. Its policies breed growing resentment.

The last feature is a yearning for a final solution to the Kashmir dispute. On this Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's stand is totally different from that of his predecessor Farooq Abdullah. Germany's Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was against detente with the Soviet Union. Willy Brandt was all for it to facilitate Germany's reunification. The Mufti is Brandt and Abdullah is Adenauer. The Mufti said on June 14 that he supported efforts to address both "the external and internal dimensions" of the Kashmir issue.

Administratively, his government's record is a poor one. He waffled on "disappearances" before the official admission in the Assembly, on June 21, that 34,709 persons, including 14,097 civilians were killed in the State from 1990 to May 31, 2003. Disappearances and arbitrary arrests continued after he took office. His PDP's coalition partner is the Congress(I) - which will nominate its Chief Minister around September 2005 under their accord, with consequences not difficult to predict. New Delhi does not make things easier for the Mufti. Witness the appointment as Governor of S.K. Sinha who richly deserves retirement from public office.

All that can be said for the Mufti is that he has not only shunned confrontationist politics but urges a dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which Farooq Abdullah did his best to crush, in complicity with L.K. Advani. In an interview on July 20, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said: "The Hurriyat has acquired a certain legitimacy. It has to be involved."

But the Hurriyat takes itself so seriously that it strikes postures that invite ridicule. Its newly elected chairman Maulvi Abbas Ansari is a respected moderate who has nothing but praise for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But he has, more than once, said that "if the invitation (to talks) is from N.N. Vohra, then we will nominate our Secretary to represent us". A more sensible response would have been to ask for Vohra's terms of reference. Has Advani mandated him to go beyond mere devolution of power to the State, which, unlike guaranteed autonomy, is revocable at his will? Has the Centre at all any concrete, realistic offer to make to the people?

The Hurriyat's goals were two-fold. First, popular mobilisation and, next, representation in negotiations. The second hinged on the success of the first. It is viewed with popular favour despite its lapses and follies only because it stands on a platform that reflects popular aspirations. It presents a pathetic spectacle of a house divided whose inmates fight one another with a ferocity that earns popular scorn. Even on policy issues, the APHC leaders revel in eccentric solo performances when they ought to be singing in chorus. If Mirwaiz Umar Farooq loudly touted his autonomy formula Yasin Malik, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader, went on a binge from June 11 on a signature campaign. Signatures are collected on a printed form with columns for names, parentage, residence and occupation. It contains a map of the State showing its Indian, Pakistani and even Chinese parts, in reckless disregard for the facts of history and geography. All this in aid of this vague formulation. "We demand our active involvement in the process relating to resolution of `Kashmir Dispute'." At what stage? How actively? Through whom? And what is the process "relating" to the resolution of the dispute? These questions are not ones which bother Yasin Malik

As for Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar, it is scarcely surprising that once out of power they begin to sing tunes which the Hurriyat has hummed with greater conviction for the last decade. In 1992 Farooq Abdullah wanted former U.S. President Jimmy Carter as mediator. He now (July 4) plumps for former South African President Nelson Mandela. Omar Abdullah's bitterness at loss of office drives him to comments like this on June 30: India will not give up Kashmir because of any love for the people of the State. "If it will benefit them, they can sell it as they did with Tibet and Palestine."

These two are the ones New Delhi propped up through one rigged poll after another (1987 and 1996) further exacerbating popular alienation. Omar Abdullah's real grouse is that in 2002 New Delhi jilted him having realised his limitations. He carries no conviction with the people when he says belatedly that "no solution to the Kashmir problem would work out if it is not acceptable to the people of J&K, especially Kashmiris on either side" (July 12).

That is a truism. But in Kashmir, there is a depressing vacuum of leadership. Who will represent the people and through what process? The Irish model suggests polls linked firmly to talks on an accord (vide the author's article "Irish lessons for Kashmir"; Frontline, April 11). Is the APHC in a position to participate in it as a united body and with an agreed programme?

The Irish model, like others, puts the onus squarely on India and Pakistan, the disputants since 1947, with Kashmiris - in all its regions and all its communities - having a decisive say on the accord. In this day and age, no international accord concerning a people can work unless it commands their approval. Since 1989, Kashmiris have become more sensitive than ever before.

That is a long haul. Immediately five steps are called for. First, the PDP chairperson, Mehbooba Mufti, must move beyond her daily reproaches to her father on the disappearances and work effectively to provide the oft-promised "healing touch". Secondly, the State government and all the parties must work towards an accord on a peaceful political process based on restoration of civil liberties. The APHC still has a role to play if only it would trust the people and mobilise them. The future belongs to democratic political process; to civil society; to redress of grave wrongs; and to unimpeaded exercise of civil liberties.

Thirdly, the rather sluggish India-Pakistan peace process must be activated in a determined manner. Fourthly, it is time to implement Vajpayee's offer to Pakistan on July 9, 2001, to open the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and the Jammu-Sialkot roads. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed urged this on May 9.

Lastly, New Delhi should reflect on the opportunity it missed in July-August 2000, during the parleys with the Hizb, which it had extolled for a few weeks as the true sons of the soil. It shuns talks with the militants, with the APHC and all who do not play its game. It tries, instead, to divide and break them using the intelligence services and thinly disguised agents of the Home Ministry or its rival the PMO, masquerading as performers in "track two diplomacy".

The kind of man that he was Charles de Gaulle despised such tactics. The distinguished French journalist and diplomat, Eric Rouleau, revealed in an interview on April 24-25, 1993, that when de Gaulle's advisers suggested that he negotiate with Algerian "Yes men" (Beni Oui, Oui), and not with the insurgent FLN, his reply was: "If you want to forge a lasting peace, you have to negotiate with those who are firing on your soldiers, you don't negotiate with those with no blood on their hands because they are irrelevant."

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