Thursday, 29 May 2008

Interview of Dr Shabir Choudhry with Liberty International

Interview of Dr Shabir Choudhry with Liberty International

1. What are the reasons for formation of IKA, especially when a platform of APHC is already there?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:

Over the years the people of Kashmir have suffered enormously. More than forty thousand people have lost their lives, thousands disabled and maimed, women dishonored and property destroyed, and yet there is no resolution in sight. Where we hold India and Pakistan responsible for failing to resolve the Kashmir dispute we feel the Kashmiri leadership especially the APHC is also partly responsible. Despite full support and despite enormous resources available to them they have failed to deliver, and they have failed to save Kashmiri lives because they failed to seize opportunities available to them either to initiate or reciprocate the dialogue process.

After analyzing their performance over the years it became clear that they have no vision and no commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Moreover their actions demonstrated that they were not free to take decisions or to work out a strategy for the resolutions of Kashmir. It became clear that on each important juncture they were looking towards this side of the LOC for signals and dictation. And those who for whatever reason start taking dictations from a party which is also occupies a large portion of the Kashmiri territory cannot be taken as a serious and sincere Alliance to lead the Kashmiri nation and represent their true aspirations. Also they failed to speak for rights of all the Kashmiri people. They have failed to speak for rights of the Kashmiri minorities and rights of people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan.

So one can see that APCH was not a platform which believed in unification of the State. To them, it appeared, Kashmir was the Valley of Kashmir, and by and large, they speak for their rights; but even in the Valley they did not have a fully representative character as important political forces were outside the APHC.

In view of all this Kashmiri expatriates met in Geneva to discuss and analyse the situation. After a number of meetings it was decided to establish a platform which can speak for the rights of all the Kashmiris irrespective of their religious or political affiliations. Previously we were all working for peaceful resolution of the dispute from different organistional set ups, we thought time has come to coordinate our activities and start our peace offensive, and tell all those who have interest in the Kashmir dispute that we are pro peace and pro people alliance. For a number of years we have advocated that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute and the dispute could only be resolved by a process of a tripartite or triangular dialogue.

2. Liberty: In your opinion APHC does not represent the Kashmiris, but how does IKA represent them?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:

Increasingly people are accepting the fact that APHC does not represent all regions of Kashmir. They have been in existence for more than ten years and yet they have failed to expand to any of the regions of Kashmir. They have no representation in Jammu, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan. Minorities of Kashmir do not trust APHC because of their past record; and same is the situation with people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan who have no trust in APHC.

People rightly say that APHC is a Valley based alliance, and does not even fully represent the Valley, especially if we see it in light of current situation. If APHC was a national alliance with national character and had vision for unification of Kashmir then they should have appointed leaders of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan to represent them in what is known as a Shadow APHC or Pakistan chapter of it, instead of importing people from the Valley and thrusting upon us as the Kashmiri leaders. It is interesting to note that some of these people don’t know the Kashmir dispute never mind representing to the diplomats here in Islamabad.

It is unfortunate that these people have done disservice to the Kashmir cause as they are only seen as a ‘b team’ to promote our neighbor’s interest rather than promoting the cause of the Kashmiri people.

As far as IKA is concerned, we speak for rights of all the Kashmiris. If something goes wrong on the India side of the LOC we speak against it, and unlike APHC we do not bury our heads in sand when something goes wrong on this side of the divide. We can proudly say that we have a talented and dedicated team which has a track record of fighting against injustice and promoting cause of peace and democracy. We believe that Kashmir consists of five regions namely the Valley, Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, and we want to preserve life and promote quality of life in all regions and build civil society in all regions and not only speak of rights of people from one region.

Also I can confidently say that we have support from all five regions and we will demonstrate this at an appropriate time. In the International Kashmir Conference which we are holding on 24/25 April in London you will see people from all regions present there and speaking with one voice.

3. Liberty: What are reasons for the present split in APHC and what impact it will have on the Kashmir dispute?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:

Those who established APHC and provided resources thought it was becoming too big for its shoes, and was asking for a role in the negotiations so they thought it necessary to cut it to appropriate size that it can easily be managed. Also they thought that it would help them to keep the Kashmiri people away from the negotiating table as they could say that these Kashmiri leaders are only good at fighting each other. They can’t be ‘trusted’ to sit as equal party to the dispute and negotiate. This split has damaged the Kashmir cause as it has shown our inability to unite and represent the Kashmiri cause; but this also proves my earlier point that APHC was not the right vehicle to promote the Kashmir cause, as the leadership lacked know- how and ability to promote and protect the interest of all the Kashmiri regions.

Also some people think it is their personal interest and personality clash that has led to this sorry state of affairs. Kashmiri people repeatedly say that we have very tolerant culture but it is ironic that they are not even prepared to accept each other and that shows lack of tolerance.

4. Liberty: How do you see the present talks between India and Pakistan?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:
I welcome the peace process initiated by the Prime Minister of India and appropriately reciprocated by president of Pakistan. It is an acknowledgement that what we said many years ago was correct and it has been taken on board by both governments that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute, and that it has to be resolved through a process of dialogue. Also it is an acknowledgement that in order to promote liberal and democratic society forces of communalism, which we have always opposed, have to be side lined if not defeated.

But I want to point out here that Pakistan and India have every right to resolve their other issues which are bilateral in nature, and establish friendly and cordial relationship, but they have no right and justification to decide future of Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute is not a territorial issue that could be resolved bilaterally. The dispute concerns about our future, our identity and our right to live as a nation, and we as people of Kashmir have right to decide future of our homeland. Of course in doing so we need maximum goodwill and support of both governments; and also support of all Kashmiri ethnic groups.

The dispute could only be resolved through a process of tripartite or triangular dialogue; and if people of Kashmir are kept out of this peace process then I am afraid there will be no peace in Kashmir and South Asia. All those who want to see peace and stability in this volatile region that there could be economic stability and prosperity, and investment opportunities are increased not only in South Asia but also in central Asia then we have to ensure that the dispute is resolved peacefully and according to wishes of the Kashmiri people.

In the past both India and Pakistan have tried to resolve it bilaterally and they have failed. India and the Kashmiris have tried and they also failed, and lesson from this history of bilateralism clearly demonstrate that all three parties to the dispute need to sit together and negotiate.

5. Liberty: What role is there for the international community in this matter?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:

International Community, especially America and Britain have great role to play in this matter. They both have good friendly relations with the both countries; they are rightly concerned about instability in the region which is mainly because of the Kashmir dispute. They are also concerned about human rights issue in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere, and want a solution of the dispute according to aspirations of the people.

Apart from that they are rightly concerned about the issue of nuclear proliferation, and it is in every one’s interest that this practice, who ever authorized it, must not be repeated; and that there are strict rules applied that in future no individual or group of individuals could put so many lives and future of region at risk.

Many believe that the there is close relationship between the Kashmir dispute and the nuclear issue, they are so closely inter linked that it is difficult to deal with one without making some sound arrangements for the other. Also it is believed that violence in the region has close association with the Kashmir dispute, and if you want to eliminate ‘violence and terrorism’ in the region than you have to resolve the Kashmir dispute which has been used as ‘breeding ground’ and source of ‘recruitment’ to send ‘Jihadi volunteers’ to other regions as well.

So I firmly believe that the role of the international community has become more important, and in my view, it will be the determining factor in the peace process and in the stability and prosperity of the region as a whole. Their role, which could be viewed as a ‘facilitator’ or a ‘supervisor’ is urgently needed to ensure that all parties to the dispute are equally represented and that no party, because of the edge it has got, could bulldoze the peace process.

We are living in very difficult time, and time is fast running out. We have to demonstrate that we are all serious and sincere about the peace process, and wish to have stability and prosperity in the region. We cannot afford to have talks for the sake of talks or just continue them to gain more time in order to get certain things in order. We have extremist elements sitting in the wings on both sides who want the whole process to end and end soon, so we have to make progress soon enough to defeat their agenda which I fear could be put in practice as early as this Summer if sound progress is not made.

We cannot afford to witness another Kargil or failure of Agra; we, with the help of the international community, must ensure that all those who are in support of the status quo and who preach communalism are side lined if not defeated.

6. Liberty: A, You seem to be very optimistic about the role of America and Britain in this matter?
B, What relationship do you have with them?
C, And how do you know that India will listen?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:
A. International Community, by and large led by America and Britain, has an important role to play in many parts of the world, and especially in South Asia. This region over the years has gained more importance, and no power with worldview could afford to ignore it. American and British policy makers are not ignorant of these facts, in fact they know more than us. It is not only South Asia but Central Asia as well, and events and progress here will have its impact in Central Asia as well. These regions and issues related to these regions will make world headlines in future, so I cannot see these two great powers will sit aside and let events unfold which could be against their national interest.

B. What relationship do you have with them?
As far as my relationship is concerned it is not of a special nature. I have contact and close working relationship with many diplomats of various countries. I am prepared to work with anyone and everyone who wants to promote peace and stability in the region and want to resolve the Kashmir dispute through a process of dialogue.

I have certain things common with diplomats of many countries, of course including America and Britain. For past many years I have been advocating the following and there is considerable support for this in various circles, that:
· There is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute;
· The dispute has to be resolved through a process of dialogue between all three parties;
· The Kashmir dispute is not a religious war or Islam versus Hinduism, it is a struggle for national identity and our right to determine our future without any restrictions imposed upon us;
· And in order to resolve this dispute we have to ensure that forces of communalism and those who have commercialised this struggle or either defeated or at least side lined.

As I am against all sorts of extremism, I sometimes get support from like- minded people, and sometimes I am at the wrong end of the stick getting all sorts of abuse from those who pursue politics of communalism and hatred.

C. And how do you know that India will listen?

Your other point if India will listen, why do you want only India to listen? We have three parties to the dispute, and we all have to listen to each other and see writing on the wall. We have to remember that you can choose your friends but not your neighbours. We are all neighbours in South Asia, we have no choice but to accept this reality and make appropriate changes in our stance that we can all live in peace here.

The State of Jammu and Kashmir is not only under India, Pakistan also has a large portion of it; and we are not talking about liberation of the area under India alone, but also about liberation of the area under Pakistan. In the past mistakes have been made by both governments, and now that attempts are being made to create friendly atmosphere, it might not be appropriate to throw a spanner and embitter the environment.

I believe that both India and Pakistan have much to gain from peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Both have millions of people living below poverty line and even deprived of clean water and two meals a day. Both have huge social and economic problems, and both have desire to enhance international role; and especially in case of India it has much greater role and possible access to the Security Council seat. So both governments have too much at stake and because of internal and international compulsions both will listen.

But in all this the people of Kashmir also have to play their cards sensibly, and start thinking as Kashmiris. In the past some took pride in calling themselves as Pakistanis and unpaid soldiers of Pakistan, and defending frontiers of Pakistan; others took pride in calling themselves as Indians. The result of this approach was that those who regarded themselves as Kashmiris were sidelined; and Kashmiris were in race to either present and protect the Indian interest or Pakistani interest.
Now time has come that we think as Kashmiris and give priority to our national interest. Both India and Pakistan have huge government machineries to project and protect their ‘national interest’, and as we are the weakest party in this dispute we need to muster all the support and protect our interests as Kashmiris, which in the long run will be in the interest of the region as well.

7. Liberty: What is your role in JKLF and what is your relationship with the JKLF leadership now?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:

I am one of the founders of the JKLF which was established in England in 1977. As a teenager I started working for united and independent Kashmir in 1973, and have a track record of promoting the cause of independent Kashmir, democracy, equality and justice. In my view JKLF is a movement, and at one time enjoyed support of many sections of the Kashmiri society.

However the senior JKLF leadership has ensured that the organization does not flourish on principles of democracy, accountability and equality. The JKLF as an organization has suffered many splits, and on each occasion it was unconstitutional and undemocratic action of the Chairman which led to the crises. It was because of these ‘manufactured crises’ one political commentator said that JKLF is good at creating crises and diverting attention, and this is done because they have no strategy to unite and make Kashmir independent.

Those who were at the helm of affairs talked of democracy, equality and non communal politics, but did not practice it; and at times promoted regionalism and communalism in order to safeguard their interests or to further some one else’s agenda. It is possible that because these leaders had upbringing in societies where little attention is given to liberal and democratic values that they became accustomed to these tactics and adopted dictatorial attitude.

But people like me who had first hand experience of living in liberal and democratic society and had benefit of acquiring knowledge and political grooming in place like London had different mind set. We strongly believe in democratic values and adhere to principles of justice and equality, so we oppose all those who try to make JKLF as their personal jageer (fiefdom).

Now there are many groups working in the name of JKLF, and they all claim to be working for the same goal; but the reality is somewhat different. Some groups are there to protect and promote their personal interest or protect and promote interest of those who send brown envelops and brief cases full of money.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to figure this out that why is it that some JKLF factions don’t want to speak about rights of the people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan, but they feel very anxious and disturbed about rights of people living in the Valley or Jammu? Some of these leaders even come from Gilgit and Baltistan where people are still deprived of their basic rights, and instead of speaking for rights of these people they ensure that no one else speaks either; and yet they spend all available resources to show their sympathy with the people on the other side of the LOC.

Similarly JKLF faction which has its leaders based in Srinagar mainly want to concentrate on rights and privileges of people of the Valley. They don’t want to speak about rights of the Kashmiri minorities, or rights of people in Azad Kashmir, about Mangla Dam upraising or rights of people in Gilgit and Baltistan. They are doing this either because of some kid of compulsion or reward, or may be there is shift in their ideological stand which is different to the JKLF stand that we launched in England in 1977.

We live in England and have strong commitment to the cause of united and independent Kashmir; and in pursuant with the JKLF Central Committee directions I and Abbas Butt who is now President of JKLF UK & Europe, spoke against Mangla Dam upraising and about human rights in Gilgit and Baltistan at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.

One can see nationalism and character of these leaders that we were told not to speak about these issues as this brings problems to them (meaning that rewards are stopped and help is denied). We refused to do so because it was within our constitutional right and ideological stand to highlight these issues which greatly affected a large section of the Kashmiri community. As a result a declaration was made that Dr Shabir Choudhry and Abbas Butt were no longer in Yasin Malik’s JKLF faction. JKLF constitution does not allow anyone to take decision like this, and JKLF Central Committee in its meeting completely rejected this statement and fully supported us; and declared that from now on we will have no administrative relationship with any organization and that we will support all like minded organizations who are truly working for united and independent Kashmir.

Before these crises developed I was a member of Central Committee and Chairman of JKLF Diplomatic Committee, and I still hold these positions and continuing my Jihad against injustice, hypocrisy and communalism. I did not need any certificate from anyone to establish my credentials at that time and I don’t need it now, as we are working very effectively and our message is getting across.

8. Liberty: Last question is about you. You have been controversial figure for sometime, and there are certain allegations made against you. Would you like to say something for our readers?

Dr Shabir Choudhry:

Every one who challenges the status quo or speaks against the interest of the ruling elite becomes controversial. If Hadrat Abraham had followed his father he would have been wrong but could have avoided controversy. Similarly Hadrat Mohammed (pbuh) challenged religious and social practice of his time and got opposition, and he was even forced to leave his home town, but he did what he thought was right and not what could have avoided controversy.

Maqbool Butt pursued a line which was against the ruling elite and political practice, and as a result he was labeled as an ‘Indian agent’ by Pakistani officials and those Kashmiri elements who consider themselves as Pakistanis. And on the other side of the divide, Indian officials labeled him as ‘Pakistani agent’, yet he was only pursuing interest of the Kashmiri people. In other words one can be either a ‘Pakistani agent’ or an ‘Indian agent’, but not a Kashmiri agent. Sheikh Abdullah was projected as a lion of Kashmir, but when he did not support Pakistan’s Kashmir policy he was declared as an Indian agent and traitor, but when the same Abdullah was imprisoned by India he was projected as lion of Kashmir again.

So anyone and every one who sincerely and honestly will pursue the interest of the Kashmiri people, which will of course could be at variance with interest of the Pakistan official policy, will have allegations coming his way. One can avoid this by having some secret understanding with agencies, and provided you don’t cross the line, you are seen as a ‘good boy’, and many have done this and they are still regarded as ‘nationalists’.

But as a non- communal person with true nationalist ideology I have to see what my priorities are. Do I want to be in good books of the establishment and say good -bye to what is so close to my heart- an ideology of united and independent Kashmir, based on universally accepted principles of liberal and democratic values; or continue with what I believe is right and wait for events to unfold in favor of what I believe?

I chose the latter line of approach and of course I had to pay price for this, but I have no regrets. I did what I thought was right and I got criticism from many quarters. In 1993/4 I said that there was no military solution, and that the dispute has to be resolved peacefully. In 1995/6 I started speaking against ‘introduction of non Kashmiri Jihadi’ elements, as I feared that it would change the character of the Kashmiri struggle; and also create problems for Pakistan. Also I strongly advocated a role for the people of Kashmir and rejected the UN resolutions as basis for any settlement, as in my view they have failed to provide a solution acceptable to all the parties to the dispute; and moreover the ground reality had changed since these resolutions were passed. Apart from that I spoke about rights of all Kashmiris irrespective of their religious and regional background, and authorities were not happy about issues related to Gilgit and Baltistan.

Many people in private discussions agreed with everything I had to say, but insisted that I should not say this in public as this was helping the ‘enemy’. And all those who disagreed with my approach labeled me as ‘pro Indian’ because according to them my views were helping the Indian policy. But I am glad that a line of approach I pursued many years ago and for which I was criticized has now been followed by Pakistani government, and I welcome that, and see if I can support the peace process in order to establish peace and stability in South Asia.

I just want to add that I have been strongly advocating non-communal politics, speaking against extremism and non Kashmiri Jihadi forces in Kashmir for years, and that there is no military solution to the dispute, and it just happens that America, Britain and other democracies also speak against this. Pakistan has also come to realize that post 9/11 world DOES NOT accept policies pursued in1990s, does this mean that I have now become either pro Pakistan or Pro America and pro Britain? No, I am still pro Kashmir and pro peace and pro people; it is just that we have certain common points around which we can travel to achieve peace and stability. END

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