Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A meeting with Sardar Atique Khan

By Dr Shabir Choudhry 17 October 2004

Sardar Atiq Khan is known as an intelligent and energetic young man, although over the years he has become somewhat controversial, especially within ranks of the Muslim Conference, the party he presides.

To many he is the future Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, and a major threat to rule of the present ’Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, Sardar Sikander Ayat. His claim to the top job in Azad Kashmir is as good as anyone else’s claim, but I am not sure if he will get it because he is not in good books of some people in uniform; and in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan it is people in uniform who call shots.

His supporters think he should be given a chance to rule Azad Kashmir. He is young and energetic man who could introduce new style of politics in Azad Kashmir. In any case he could not be any worse than some of his predecessors.

In view of political commentators the Muslim Conference is heading for a split whether he becomes Prime Minister or not, and that will have its own implications in the politics of Azad Kashmir, and might influence future outcome and politics of Kashmir. Those who are calling shots in the Kashmiri politics and Kashmiri struggle want to ensure that no alliance or party of any importance remains united to challenge their decision on Kashmir.

When the Taliban were dumped by these people I was among those who pointed out that Kashmiris are in line to be dumped in near future. My contention was that Pakistani elite which could easily forget loss of East Pakistan, dump 3 Lakh Biharis in camps, dump their ‘own boys’(Taliban) in Afghanistan and do many illegal and unconstitutional acts will have no problem in dumping Kashmiris. Like always I was criticised from right, left and centre. Ironically some of those who criticised me for questioning Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, are now saying that 'Pakistan has betrayed Kashmiris’

I have known Sardar Atiq Khan for more than a decade, and even though we belong to completely different schools of political thought, he has always been friendly, cordial and compassionate to me. His father, Sardar Qayyum Sahib when he was Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, also greeted me with respect and dignity even though I wrote a number of things strongly criticising his politics,.

Title of my one article was ‘Kashmiri Karzai in London’ it was published when Sardar Anwar Khan, the present President of Azad Kashmir was visiting London. I compared his role with that of Hamid Karzai President of Afghanistan, and when he came face to face with me in a public meeting in London, he was furious.

In politics one has to learn and control his/her anger. And despite being in politics, unlike Sardar Qayyum Sahib, Sardar Anwar Khan was angry with me for writing that piece. He was wearing a lovely suit that day but his aggressiveness indicated as if he was still in a uniform.

Sardar Atiq Khan has no military background and I hope that he will not be angry with me for writing this article which is based on my conversation with him during my recent meeting with him. I was impressed by the hospitality offered to me by Sardar Atiq. His big lounge was full of visitors and yet he was able to find time for me in another room for special guests.

Whether he makes it to the top job or not, but in my opinion Sardar Atiq has politically matured over the years. His view of Kashmiri politics is not limited to the affairs of the Azad Kashmir, and he seemed equally concerned about welfare of Kashmiris in other parts of the State.

In other words he believed that we need to think of future of the entire State, and when I questioned him if areas of Gilgit and Baltistan are also part of his view of the State, he said: ‘Shabir Sahib, whether someone likes it or not, these areas are legal and constitutional part of Kashmir, and we must speak for rights of all Kashmiris irrespective of their religious or cultural background.’

This was a pleasant surprise to me, so in order to clarify this I asked him, if he meant that we should also speak for rights of people of Gilgit and Baltistan, Pandits, Budhits and other ethnic minorities. ‘Of course I mean that’, he said with a smile. They are all Kashmiris and as a Kashmiri leader I am concerned about rights of all Kashmiris. ‘I believe in unity of the State. I want to see a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. I want to see peace and stability in South Asia.’

He further elaborated this point by saying that we need to stop thinking of Kashmir only. We live in a very volatile region of South Asia. We need to think of peace and stability of the entire region as if there is no peace in the region we cannot enjoy peace and stability in Kashmir.

I asked him what he meant by ‘peaceful resolution’, does it mean armed militants have no role to play any more. He paused for a moment and said, ‘We Kashmiris must learn to change our policies and strategies with time, as we don’t want to be out of step with the world opinion. After 9/11 and with nuclearisation of South Asia situation has changed and increasingly people are accepting that there could be no military solution to this dispute.; and dialogue is the only way forward.’

I responded to this by saying that those who are in control of militancy have different view on this. They believe that they can defeat India in Kashmir and possibly disintegrate India. Sardar Atiq said we cannot control thinking of everyone, but in ‘my considered view disintegration of India is not in the best interest of South Asia because of its implications’. As I said earlier we need to move with time and in my opinion we need to change our policy of ‘India bashing’ and ‘Pakistan bashing’. We all have to live in South Asia and we cannot live in peace if we generate dislike and hatred.

I asked him if he supported the present peace process and if he would accept any such decision if Kashmiris are not part of the dialogue process. He said Kashmiris are the main party and they must be part of the process, and that India and Pakistan cannot decide future of the Kashmiri people without our participation. He said Kashmiri people should be allowed to meet each other and trade with each other, and for that all possible routes should be opened that people can interact with each other.

He elaborated this by saying that if India and Pakistan can trade with each other why can’t people of Kashmir trade with each other. I asked him if he supports the visa system for Kashmiris to meet their fellow citizens. He said we should be allowed to go to other side of Kashmir without a visa system. It is important that we meet each other and strengthen social and economic ties which will help us to formulate our strategy on Kashmir.

He expressed his desire to go to Srinagar and Jammu and visit Kashmiri leaders on that side of the LOC. He said he would love to visit Charar E Sharif, as he is one of the followers. I wish if I could visit at the time of Urs (annual gathering to pay tribute to the saint).

He agreed that there is no easy solution to the Kashmir dispute and that the division of the State was not acceptable option. He said we have to resolve the Kashmir dispute by putting confidence building measures in place and for that we need maximum cooperation and goodwill of both countries.

Towards the end of this meeting I said to him if these are your views then I can’t find much disagreement between your stand and the stand of the International Kashmir Alliance. We also say that there is no military solution to the dispute and that the dispute has to be resolved through a process of dialogue. We also say that all possible routes should be opened that people can build and strengthen social and economic ties; and yet you did not participate in our conference which was unique in the sense that it was attended by Kashmiris from all regions and religious backgrounds.

He congratulated me for holding this historic conference, and said he could not attend it because of prior political engagement. Before I left his house I told him that I would like to write about this conversation, to which he agreed, provided I don’t say anything out of context.

I decided not to write about it soon after the meeting as I didn’t want to jeopardise his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir. Now it is more than two months since the meeting took place, and as the time passes, in my view his chances of becoming a Prime Minister are receding; and it is safe to do it now.

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. Email:

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