Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Exit policy for non Kashmiri militants

Exit policy for non Kashmiri militants
Dr Shabir Choudhry 22 December 2004

It is encouraging to note that majority of people of Jammu and Kashmir is now talking of peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. At one time many thought gun was the only way forward; and moreover some of them thought that they will soon have their flag flying on the Red Fort.

Tragic events of 9/11 and subsequent changes in world politics and war on terrorism sent a strong message to all that days of non governmental militancy and private militias are over. But we in JKLF can claim that we said good bye to militancy many years before the tragic events of 9/11, as we realised that there could be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute.

In other words we in the JKLF could not be accused of changing our policy because of any threat or coercion. We genuinely believe that Kashmir dispute has to be resolved through a process of peaceful negotiations, and by making the genuine Kashmiri leadership part of the process.

After establishing some understanding with the Musharaf government, India successfully completed much desired fence along the LOC, which according to Indian admission, has drastically reduced ‘infiltration’. What this means is that fencing and other measures have effectively stopped crossing of the LOC, and no person can go across on either side of the divide.

There are some serious implications of this fact. This fence is about five miles inside the Indian side of the LOC, and one danger is that it could become an international border between India and Pakistan. And another implication is that those militants, especially non Kashmiris, who went across for purpose of fighting have no chance of coming back as they used to do before the erection of this fence.

What this in practice means is that if these people, for whatever reason, decide to say goodbye to militancy or even have a break from it for family or personal reasons, have no choice but to stay there and fight to the last bullet.

Even though no ‘infiltration’ is taking place yet violent incidents are taking place resulting in death of innocent people. It is generally believed that these militants, still a few thousands in number, have sufficient resources to continue their fight for many years without any help from outside.

And this will help Pakistan to claim that it is an indigenous movement, and that Pakistan was only providing moral and political support. Another possible implication of this could be rise in targeted attacks. These attacks could be of two kinds: highly selected military targets and civilian targets. Civilian targets could probably be of communal nature to heighten communal tension and pave way for division on religious lines; or at least cause hatred and sense of insecurity among different ethnic groups.

With passage of time the number of militants will decrease because of the causalities, and this will mean die hard militants, knowing that there is no escape route, will fight fiercely which will result in loss of valuable life on both sides, not to mention damage to life and property of ordinary citizens.

In view of this, would it not be prudent for the government of India to declare a cease fire in Jammu and Kashmir, and general amnesty for all militants with a safe passage for those who want to leave the State. This may look difficult but it could be done, and it could start a new era in Jammu and Kashmir.

Before this stage where people of Jammu and Kashmir and the militants could start trusting the government of India, they have to create appropriate environment that the desired progress could be made. Apart from the cease fire the government could release all those people who have no case to answer, and once the desired environment is created then movement of the army away from populated areas could inject confidence in the people.

Also progress on the bus service and opening of other traditional routes that people of Kashmir could interact with each other without need to obtain a visa from Islamabad or New Delhi, would certainly help the situation.

There is no sense in government of India’s policy of not allowing APHC leaders to visit Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, especially when these leaders and their followers have free access to the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi where they take part in parties, discussions and get all kind of help and practical support.

Apart from that these leaders are presented to visiting Pakistani journalists, officials including Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Foreign Minister and other governmental and non governmental officials as special dignitaries. One wonders what help, advice, media coverage is not available to them, and which would be made available to them if they go across and which could harm the government of India.

In view of many Kashmir watchers, these leaders, APHC and non APHC and from all regions of Kashmir should be encouraged to go across that they can see for themselves that the grass is not greener on the other side.

I have personally met a number of people who had big allusions about Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, and after their visit to Pakistan their allusions evaporated in thin air. These people were pro Pakistan before they set their foot on the Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri territory, and they soon changed their ideology because of the treatment and what they experienced there.

In my view these people should be encouraged, and where appropriate, a return air ticket should be given to them that they can go across and see ‘canals of honey and milk flowing in Azad Kashmir’. According to one report prepared by a Pakistani Think Tank, 85% of people in Gilgit and Baltistan are below the poverty line; and only employment available to them is government related, and officials there have tendency of ‘importing’ people from Pakistan for these jobs.

And in complete violation of the State Subject Declaration, demography of area has been successfully changed and people of Gilgit are now minority in their own homes; and what ever small industry and transport is there in the region, are by and large, controlled by non local people.

What little prosperity one can see in some towns of Azad Kashmir is not due to economic policies of government, but due to the hard earned foreign exchange by people of Azad Kashmir who work abroad, especially in Britain and the Middle East. These leaders will also have an opportunity to see fate of people of Mirpur. Pakistani authorities have worked out a ‘master plan’ to drown their homes and graves of their love ones for the second time in order to irrigate lands of Pakistani land lords.

Last week I met an old man from Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. This man came to Britain in 1958. He worked and saved some money, and built a house for his family, which together with graves of his parents, went under the water of Mangla Dam lake in 1967. Like many other unfortunate families, he was given ‘allotment’ in Dera Ismail Khan of Pakistan. Because of unruly and inhospitable attitude of local land lords he had to flee for safety and honour of his family.

After failing to get any compensation he moved back to Mirpur, and stayed in a rented accommodation for many years until he saved enough money to build a new house for his family. He thought it was his permanent home, and hoped that one day he will retire and spend rest of his life there.

Now he is seventy plus and has some health problems as well. He cannot work to build another home, but surely he will be a victim of Pakistani ‘mercy’ again. He is among those unlucky people whose homes and graves of love ones will go under water again, if the Pakistani authorities go ahead with the proposed extension of the Mangla Dam.

Perhaps it will be appropriate for APHC leaders, for once, to speak against illegal construction and extension of the Mangla Dam; and request government of Pakistan to build dams inside the Pakistani territory to meet their water and energy needs. Also it will be appropriate for these leaders to show their solidarity with all those who have been uprooted because of the Mangla Dam; and tell government of Pakistan not to exploit Kashmiri resources.

Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is a Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

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