Thursday, 29 May 2008

JKLF and the Kashmiri struggle, by Dr Shabir Choudhry

JKLF and the Kashmiri struggle, by Dr Shabir Choudhry

JKLF and the Kashmiri struggle
Dr Shabir Choudhry
Speech at the School of Oriental African Studies in London on 27 April 2005.

The Chairperson, friends and colleagues Aslamo Alaykam
I am grateful to the SOAS Jammu and Kashmir Society, and Nageela Yousaf for providing me this opportunity to speak to you.

Many people believe that the Kashmiri struggle started in 1989; and some think it started in 1931. I disagree with both dates. In my opinion it started in 1586 when an independent state of Kashmir was invaded by the Moghal Emperor, Akbar the Great.

By nature every human being likes freedom; and hate to be enslaved or subjugated. People of Jammu and Kashmir are no different. We also like to enjoy freedom, democracy and prosperity.

In other words the Kashmiri struggle for independence is as old as its slavery and subjugation. This struggle has seen many ups and downs in its long history. Events like 13 July 1931 are different phases of that struggle.

Instead of giving you a long historical background to this struggle I will focus my attention to the events of late 1940s; and will try to update you on the present phase of the struggle. I will also try to explain why the JKLF was formed, and what role it has played.

Is Kashmir part of ‘Two Nations Theory’?

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir; whereas India claims it on the strength of provisional accession, Pakistan claims it on the strength of Two Nations Theory. But before we start looking at different options on Kashmir it is important to establish the exact legal position of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. As we all know the British Raj in India consisted of two units: British India and the Princely India, and Kashmir was one of hundreds of princely sates in the Indian Sub Continent. Whereas the British India was directly ruled by the British, Princes were taken as allies of the Crown. They enjoyed varying degree of autonomy, but they surrendered their sovereignty in return for the British protection.

At the end of the British Raj in India, they divided the British India; and not the Princely India, as the Two Nations theory did not apply to the Princely States. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was founder of Pakistan and President of Muslim League, in reply to a question on 17 June 1947, said, and I quote:

‘That after the lapse of paramountcy the Indian States would be constitutionally and legally sovereign states and free to adopt for themselves any course they wished. It is open to States to join Hindustan Constituent Assembly {or Pakistan Constituent Assembly} or to decide to remain independent’. Unquote

Apart from this Mohammed Ali Jinnah practically proved that the Two Nations Theory did not apply to the Princely States. State of Junagarr had a Muslim ruler and nearly 80 % of its subjects were non Muslims, and the state had no land access to Pakistan. Had the rules of Two Nations Theory being applicable to Princely States, then this state would have automatically joined India; but the ruler of this State acceded to Pakistan and Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a Governor General of Pakistan accepted this accession.

Similarly Hyderabad state had 80 % non- Muslim majority, and ruler of this state wanted to become an independent ruler. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, as a Governor General of Pakistan supported his right to become a sovereign ruler.

These two examples clearly show that the Two Nations Theory was not applicable to the Princely states, and Princely rulers had a right to regain their sovereignty after the lapse of British Paramountcy.
This principle was also confirmed by Lord Mountbatten, who as a Governor General of India and Crown’s representative, addressed Chamber of Princes on 25 July 1947, he said, and I quote:
‘There had been universal acceptance among the States of the Cabinet Mission's Memorandum of 12 May and when the political parties accepted the Statement of 3 June they fully realised and accepted that withdrawal of Paramountcy would enable the States to regain complete sovereignty….Now, the Indian Independence Act releases the States from all their obligations to the Crown. The States will have complete freedom- technically and legally they become independent.’
Princely States had to join either India or Pakistan before the lapse of paramountcy, which ended on 15th August 1947, and those states who, for whatever reason, did not accede to either country, legally and constitutionally became independent. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was among those states who did not join either India and Pakistan, and regained their sovereignty after the lapse of British paramountcy.

Is Kashmir an integral part of India?

Now let us examine Indian claim to Kashmir, which rests on that controversial provisional accession. Many people question if at all this accession was signed by the Maharaja. Let’s us assume that the accession documents were signed by the Maharaja, but the point to remember is that it was a provisional accession which had to be ratified by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pundit Nehru, as a Prime Minister of India, wrote to Liaqat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan on 31 October 1947, and I quote:
Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of the State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world. Unquote
To date this provisional accession has not been ratified by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Government of India claims that Kashmir is its ‘atoot ang’, meaning an integral part, and in order to support its claim, government of India says that they have had many elections in Kashmir. Legitimacy of these elections aside, the UN Security Council resolution of 1957, clearly says that no election can substitute a plebiscite.
What this means is that accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India is still provisional, and Kashmir is not ‘Atoot ang’ of India and nor it is ‘Sha rag’ of Pakistan. And good thing is both governments are aware of this. If India seriously believed that Jammu and Kashmir was its legal and constitutional part as a result of that provisional accession, then they would not have taken this to the UN, as no country agrees to hold a plebiscite on its territory to determine future of that area.

Apart from that both governments have many rounds of dialogue on the division of the State, and no country agrees to divide its territory and give it away to a neighbouring country. What this suggests is that, to them, issue is related to control of land and its resources, especially very important water resources. And Kashmiris suffer because they live in a beautiful country which is full of resources and its geographical location adds to more importance to its value.

An independent Kashmir

Many people think that the concept of an independent Kashmir is a new phenomenon, and some even link it to New World Order, and some conspiracy theorists even say that it is an India ploy. The concept of a New World Order emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the struggle for an independent Kashmir has a long history.

As I said at the beginning, the people of Kashmir have been fighting for their rights and their independence since 1586. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, was not a democrat, but one thing is clear that he wanted Kashmir to become an independent country; and despite pressure from Lord Mountbatten and others he refused to join either India and Pakistan.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, as quoted earlier, in principle agreed that Kashmir could become an independent country. Before the Partition, National Conference was the most popular political party in Jammu and Kashmir, and it favoured an independent Kashmir. Muslim Conference was another important political party, and its acting President, Chaudhry Hameed Ullah Khan also agreed that it is best for Kashmir and all sections of the Kashmiri community that the State becomes an independent country.

It is interesting to note that in the past both India and Pakistan disagreed with each other virtually on everything, but both agreed to oppose an independent Kashmir; and both agreed to keep the Kashmiris out of talks on Kashmir. Just to emphasis this point I want to list some of the main events where we were deliberately kept away from the negotiating table:

1. People talk of UN resolutions on Kashmir, but we had no input on these, both India and Pakistan presented the case as it suited their national interest. First UNCIP resolution (of 13 August 1948) talked about future status of Kashmir which implied an independent Kashmir; and this did not suit national interest of Pakistan, so they suggested that Kashmiri peoples right to independence should be limited to either joining India or Pakistan.
2. We were kept away from all bilateral talks on Kashmir which has a long history;
3. We were not part of the Tashkant Agreement in 1966;
4. We were not part of the Shimla Agreement in 1972;
5. Pakistan hosted an Islamic Conference in Pakistan and Kashmiris were not invited. There was talk of all other disputes but no mention of Kashmir;
6. We were not part of Lahore Declaration;
7. And we are not part of the present peace process, although we fully support it as we think this could create conducive environment for final settlement.

They want to decide about the future of Kashmir without making the Kashmiris part of this process; and history of bilateralism shows that when it comes to Kashmir it is doomed to fail because their diagnosis and prescription is wrong. Kashmir is not a bilateral issue, and cannot be resolved by bilateral talks.

It was in 1960s when Kashmiri nationalists regrouped themselves because they thought both countries had their own designs on Kashmir; and rights of the Kashmiri people is not on their agenda. Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front was set up to promote the cause of an independent Kashmir. Maqbool Butt (Shaheed) was its Publicity Secretary; he later became its President.

Maqbool Butt with help of other colleagues organised a secret military wing of this party, known as Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front. After the Ganga hijacking of an Indian plane in 1970, Pakistan tried to brutally crush both parties in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan in early 1970s.

It was after this that nationalist Kashmiris organised their struggle outside the State. There were small nationalist groups in England, and in 1977 JKLF was formed in Birmingham. I am one of those who helped to set up the JKLF.

In nutshell the JKLF proved to be the biggest organisation to project the cause of united and independent Kashmir. The JKLF believed in liberal and democratic values and claimed to speak for all sections of the Kashmiri community.

It is unfortunate that practise of some JKLF colleagues indicated undemocratic and communal tendencies which resulted in splits, and also it gave the JKLF bad name. It is also unfortunate that the JKLF is now in many groups, and many people question if some of the groups still adhere the ideology of the JKLF.


In the long Kashmiri struggle, a military aspect was once again introduced in 1988/9, and leaders of the JKLF have been proudly taking credit for this. However with hindsight many leaders of the JKLF now accept that they were used, and militancy was never under their control; and those who controlled it had different agenda to that of the JKLF.

Introduction of foreign militants was something else which the people of Kashmir never appreciated, and it not only changed character of their struggle but it also added to their problems.

One group of the JKLF headed by Yasin Malik declared a cease fire in 1995, and resorted to non violent struggle. JKLF believes that:

1. There is no military solution;
2. It has to be resolved through a process of tripartite or triangular dialogue;
3. It is not a religious dispute and no decision could be made on basis of religion; and that all sections of the Kashmiri community must be taken on board;
4. Kashmiri leadership should be allowed to meet that they can formulate a strategy to resolve the dispute;
5. 99% of the Kashmiris agree that there should be no division of the state, as division will cause more harm to the Kashmiris; and also it will detrimental to peace and stability of South Asia;

Bus Service

1. In principle we support the bus service. It gives an opportunity to people to meet their love ones who live on the other side of the forced division. Also it is a good CBM as people to people contact always help to diffuse tension, but we strongly emphasise that the procedure should be simplified. For example if a person from Gilgit wants to visit someone in Kargil, he has to first go to Muzaffrabad to get a form, which is a very long and difficult journey. I think it takes about twenty hours to get there, and completed form goes to Islamabad, and after clearance from there it goes to New Delhi; and when it gets clearance from Delhi then the lucky person is informed of his ‘success’.

2. I don’t need to remind people that this clearance is given by the secret agencies of both countries. This system virtually gives right to agencies of both countries to decide who should board this bus; and this way many genuine people could be denied of an opportunity to visit their love ones. Also this system will give encouragement to favouritism and corruption as agencies will support application of those who are part of their political system.

3. If the applicant is lucky to get permission, he/she will travel again from Gilgit to Muzaffarabad and board a bus to Srinagar, and from there many hours of long and hard journey to Kargil.

4. We therefore suggest that all traditional routes which existed before the partition should be opened and people should obtain and submit these forms from district head quarters.

5. We also strongly oppose that people of India and Pakistan should not be allowed to travel on this bus as the danger is that it might turn this in to another Wagha border - international border between India and Pakistan. Other routes which suit them more should be opened for people of these two countries. My fear is that if agencies are to decide who should board the bus then obviously they will prefer their own people, and not the Kashmiri people; and when this travel becomes hazard free then one could see more Indian and Pakistanis on the bus rather than the Kashmiris.

6. Another thing which is of concern to us, and which we have repeatedly pointed out and it is about the stipulation that people travelling on the bus could be asked to pay custom if they were carrying goods above certain value. This implies a first step towards an international border, as people don’t pay custom when they carry goods from one part of the country to another.

Kashmiris are not united

As pointed out India and Pakistan have always ensured that the Kashmiri leadership is not part of any dialogue on Kashmir; and to support their policy they sometimes say Kashmiris are divided, and there is no one suitable person to represent them.

True, we Kashmiris are divided, but that can be taken as a positive sign. We are thinking people, and we all have ideas about various things. Isn’t it true that all thinking people differ on certain things? What about Pakistani and Indian societies, are they not divided over many issues? Don’t they have many parties and groups? This is a flimsy excuse to keep us away from the negotiating table.

We say it should not be their problem which team will represent us on the negotiating table. You let us meet and we will select a team which will represent all sections of the community, and protect the national interest of Jammu and Kashmir.

Is an independent Kashmir viable?

India and Pakistan oppose an independent Kashmir not because it is not economically viable, but because they know that an independent Kashmir has a great economic potential.

Jammu and Kashmir has great economic potential, and there are many sources to generate revenue. If we, for time being, leave economic potential of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan aside, and only concentrate on one revenue generating source still we can be economically self reliant.

A research done by Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development claims, that if we concentrate on Hydro Potential of Indian side of Kashmir, then we can generate 20,000 mega watt of electricity from there. The cost to generate one unit is only 20 paisa, and it is sold at 2.50 rupees. It means a net profit of 2 rupees and 30 paisa per unit. This source alone, according to the research, is sufficient to make Jammu and Kashmir self reliant; and it will pay back all the costs of the project within three years.

Last month I was in Islamabad where I met some Western diplomats. During the meeting they acknowledged that majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir were in favour of an independent Kashmir. They also agreed that economically it is viable, but the problem was attitude of India and Pakistan. An independent Kashmir cannot survive if India and Pakistan and the international community do not guarantee its independence.

Of course India and Pakistan have their genuine concerns about an independent Kashmir; and they also have economic and strategic interests. We Kashmiris want to be a source of friendship, cooperation and stability in South Asia. We cannot maintain our independence if we have two strong and hostile neighbours. We will all have to learn to live like good neighbours.

Both India and Pakistan have much to gain if there is peace, stability and economic cooperation in South Asia. Economic interests and other internal and external forces are pushing both countries towards a common goal and that is to have peace and economic cooperation in South Asia.

Of course India has much larger agenda which is to do with its international role and that could not be fulfilled without sorting out problems of South Asia first. And in my opinion for peace, stability and prosperity of South Asia, both India and Pakistan will have to agree to some kind of an independent Kashmir in near future.

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