Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Kashmir needs a change of heart

Kashmir needs a change of heart
By Dr Shabir Choudhry 14 November 2005

Many problems of India, Pakistan and that of South Asia, poverty, ignorance violence etc, are directly linked with the Kashmir dispute. This dispute has cost death, destruction and misery to millions of innocent people of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir.

The genie of hatred and communalism which came out of the bottle in 1947, and which inflamed passions of people that resulted in worst communal violence the region had ever seen, was continually fed on communal and religious hatred. Religious leaders of all sides and governmental and non- governmental organisations also played their role in spreading this evil; and tolerating and harmonious society of Jammu and Kashmir also fell victim to this.

Wounds of partition and subsequent communal violence could have healed if it was not for the unresolved dispute of Jammu and Kashmir, which became a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Powerful groups, in India, Pakistan and outside, used Kashmir dispute to broaden gulf of differences and actively promoted sectarianism and hatred.

Jammu and Kashmir, no doubt, is full of resources and has great strategic importance. Apart from India and Pakistan there are others who want to have a foot, or at least, have some influence in this beautiful land; and it is because of this Jammu and Kashmir has been a source of tension, rivalry and violence in South Asia.

People of India and Pakistan have suffered because of this rivalry, especially people of Pakistan as its military and religious parties have used the Kashmir dispute to control and dominate not only Pakistan but also Jammu and Kashmir. This control and domination has created enormous problems for people of Pakistan and encouraged regionalism, feudalism and sectarianism; and kept democratic and educational progress under control.

But the worst sufferer in all this, have been the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have been forcibly divided for the past fifty- seven years. Apart from that Jammu and Kashmir has been a battle –ground for war, proxy war, intrigues, communal killings, custodial killings, terrorism, wide scale human rights violations, influx of jihadi militants etc.

In all this some individuals and groups benefited, whereas ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir suffered enormously and continue to suffer. But this suffering has to end, as people cannot be expected to endure this suffering forever.

Both India and Pakistan have claim over Jammu and Kashmir, and have entrenched positions which they have been advocating vigorously since 1947, and one cannot expect them to all of sudden abandon their positions on Kashmir without causing political upheavals at home.

But somehow they have to work out a mechanism to tell their masses that Jammu and Kashmir is legally and constitutionally not part of any country, because its future is yet to be determined. People of Jammu and Kashmir were promised that they would be given a chance to determine their future, and that chance was never given to them.

Fifty –six years of continuous cold and hot war, rivalry, confrontation and hatred, has hindered progress in resolving the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir; it has also hindered the progress in resolving other bilateral disputes. But a few years of apparent ‘friendship’ and peace process has helped to make some progress; and this process has to continue for the sake of peace and stability of Jammu and Kashmir and South Asia.

Kashmir dispute has to be seen as human issue not as a territorial gain, or strategic advantage. Like anyone else I have no solution to this dispute that could be acceptable to all concerned, but I know what is not workable and what will not provide much desired peace and stability in the region: and that is division of the State or its accession to any country.

Kashmir dispute should not be used to settle score of the past tragedies or past adventures, for example, to avenge problems of 1965, 1971, 1980s, proxy war or Kargil adventure. Also Kashmir should not be used as a battleground for competing political and religious ideologies, as it is happening on both sides of the divide.

Pundits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Shias, Ismahilies, pro Pakistan, pro India and pro independent, and others are all part of Jammu and Kashmir; and we must not target any community for holding whatever they believe in. We must put the past behind us and make a new start by inviting pundits and others who have been uprooted from their homes because of political, communal and armed conflict back in to their homes and compensate their losses.

Non - Kashmiris are requested to leave Jammu and Kashmir that we can build bridges of understanding and establish friendly and conducive environment to work out suitable strategies for future of the State.

A huge disaster has struck Jammu and Kashmir, and that should be used not only to help victims of the earthquake, but also to strengthen the peace process and cooperation. India and militants should declare a cease- fire that innocent lives could be saved from harsh Kashmir winter. Also India should release all those who are not required in criminal cases, that change of heart is visible to all concerned.

MQM was among the first to reach out to help people of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and we are grateful to their Qaaid, Altaf Hussain, who timely directed his volunteers to proceed to the affected areas. Thousands of MQM workers have made a valuable contribution in the relief work, and have helped to save hundreds of lives. We are really indebted to them, and request them to continue with their good work.

Jammat E`Islami has a history of problems with the MQM, especially in Karachi; and now that the MQM is generating goodwill by helping victims of the quake, and it is worrying to the Jammat leadership that MQM might make political space here. Jammat E`Islami’s anger and frustration resulted in some unpleasant scenes in an area where millions of people still need maximum help and cooperation in order to save lives; and not confrontation and clashes.
I request Jammat e Islami leaders to declare truce, if not in Karachi then at least in Azad Kashmir, where we need support and cooperation of both parties to save lives and rebuild devastated villages. If this is too much to ask, and you have to settle some political scores against each other, then please settle that somewhere else and not in Kashmir.

I request both India and Pakistan to stop playing politics in the relief work, as any more delay will cost in loss of tens of thousands of lives. The disaster of earthquake should have brought both countries closer to each other that people could be saved, but that did not happen. Statements and speeches were designed to make political advantage rather than working out strategies to support the relief work; and that has resulted in loss of thousands of innocent Kashmiri lives.

For a number of days Pakistani authorities kept on showing margala towers of Islamabad, and did not even acknowledge that some towns and hundreds of villages of Pakistani Administered Kashmir have been destroyed; and that is not because they didn’t know about it, but because their military defences were destroyed and they feared that India could take advantage of the situation by avenging the Kargil intrusion.

A source, which keeps a watchful eye on politics of South Asia, while talking to me confirmed that military rulers of Pakistan were extremely worried that India would take advantage of the situation; and that their shattered defence could not have coped with assumed Indian intrusion, so they asked America to rescue them once again.

After the Kargil misadventure Pakistani rulers sought American help to get a face saving agreement. This time they asked for American help because of their deep- rooted mistrust and suspicions; and Americans wanted to get a space in this region anyway, so without any hesitation they landed some American and NATO troops there, even though NATO does not get itself involved in relief work.

This source said it was regretful that despite all the confidence building measures, friendship and on going peace process, military rulers of Pakistan did not trust India; and this lack of confidence reflects ‘true thinking of Islamabad’. And danger, he said, was that this mistrust could manifest itself in future negotiations, especially when out of no where, it has also provided America and NATO a ‘role’ in affairs of this region which could have implications of its own.

Germany and France have been enemies of each other and have fought more devastating wars then what India and Pakistan could even imagine; and they still have differences over many issues which concerns their national interest, but God forbids if there was a natural disaster of this magnitude in France on borders of these countries, then France would have phoned Germany for help rather than Washington or Moscow.

Confidence building measure, peace process and trust demanded that in this hour of desperate need, in order to meet challenges of this disaster, Islamabad’s first point of contact should have been New Delhi and Beijing, and not Washington and London. China has a large fleet of helicopters and great experience in fighting national disasters; and India also has a big fleet of choppers and was placed in a position to help and save lives, but because of deep rooted suspicions it was preferred to let people die and suffer but not to seek help from neighbours.

This kind of situation requires a change of heart and mind, and we need to say good- bye to mistrust and hatred to meet new challenges. If we fail to reach that level of understanding and trust, then I am afraid we will be bogged down with rivalry, hatred and politics of past decades and it will surely hold back our progress towards peace, stability and prosperity.

Writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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