Friday, 30 May 2008

Murder of Lone Sahib--who is next?

Murder of Lone Sahib--who is next?
Shabir Choudhry, London

For past six months I have not written anything, not because I have run out ideas but because I was told not to. My articles were disliked in certain circles and pressure was applied through different channels. I am a staunch supporter of right of expression and if this right is taken away from individuals, then this means we are moving towards a totalitarian society. And I for one would not like to live in that society; and nor I want to help and impose it on freedom loving people.

Despite that I agreed not to use this right even though it is so close to my heart, because I was told that my writings were creating 'problems'. What I regarded as facts and expressed them that people could make informed decisions were seen differently by people with different agenda to mine. And it is not prudent, I was told, to bite the hand that feeds, or criticise those who are 'helping' us, so I had to suppress my urge to comment and write on events which were directly related to the Kahsmiri struggle and future of South Asia.

Then came the Dubai meeting on which I was tempted to write but I persuaded myself that I should follow advice of my friends and keep my mouth shut as it is in the interest of the 'struggle'; may be it is in personal interest as well not to make too many enemies. Then came the unfortunate killing of Lone Sahib, which, like me, shocked many around the world. This cowardly act was strongly condemned by everywhere (I am sure there would be some to commend it as well), as people thought this has added fuel to the tension in the region.

Lone Sahib was a towering figure in the Kashmiri politics and his murder is a great loss to the Kashmiri Movement and the Kashmiri politics. He wanted independence for his people and believed that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved through a process of dialogue. He advocated peace but did not ascribe to the political process pursued by the government of India. He believed in liberal and democratic values, and was considered as a moderate voice. But for some it was important to silence this voice which preached moderation.

This murderous act greatly upset me because of two reasons: one, we lost a politician who was courageous and strongly believed in democratic values, second it gave a very strong and direct message to all those who believed in democratic values and advocated moderation.

In private conversations with my colleagues and friends I strongly condemned this murder, but was not sure whether to issue any statement or write about it. Yesterday a friend came to see me and we discussed Lone Sahib's murder and the present situation in Kashmir and tension on the border. When he learnt that I have not issued any statement because of the reasons explained above, he said this submissive attitude also gives two signals: either we are condoning this cowardly act of murder or we are too cowards to speak against this. He said it is criminal negligence to sit at home in silence, and let forces of extremism triumph. If we all decide to remain quiet then that is tantamount to giving a green signal to those who do not believe in plural society. It is to encourage them to impose their own agenda on the society, and silence all those who oppose their point of view.

I tried to put forward my reasons for remaining quiet, but this further infuriated him. He said JKLF started this present struggle in 1989, and you were a General Secretary at that time; and now when more than 70,000 people have died, Kashmiri women have been raped and gang raped, people have suffered custodial deaths, thousands are still languishing in jails and all the fabrics of a civil society have been destroyed, for one reason or the other you people want to sit at home. It is criminal of you to behave like this. You people will not be forgiven on the day of judgement. He further said there are sectarian forces that want to eliminate centuries old tradition of tolerance in Kashmir, and silence all forms of opposition. They want to have a society where right of expression is denied to the people, and by remaining quiet at this critical juncture of our history you people are helping these forces.

Similar things were said to me by another friend who is a member of another Kashmiri organisation which believes in united and independent Kashmir. This friend said these things before the murder of Lone Sahib. I told him that I am playing a leading role in the political and diplomatic work of the JKLF, but in the 'larger interest' I have to remain silent. He also told me that it was criminal negligence of me to remain silent in order to safeguard my personal interests.

But this friend who came to see me after the murder of Lone Sahib further said, you JKLF people cannot escape responsibility. When the Movement was at its peak and wanted your leadership skills and directions you people started fighting among yourselves. You have weakened the independence movement by being in different groups, and by remaining silent you people are clearing the way for others.

He said Lone Sahib is not the first moderate Kashmiri leader to be killed. Before him Dr Guru, Mir Waiz Farooq, Dr Ashahi, Jalil Andrabi, Dr Ghulam Ahmed Wani and many others were killed for the same crime of being moderates and standing up for what they believed in. All those who advocate moderation and speak of independence and mutual coexistence are targets. He said if we the silent majority remain quiet and do not rise to challenge then Lone Sahib won't be the last leader to be killed by unknown assassin. He said it is for us Kashmiris to decide what kind of society we want to have in Kashmir. A society which believes in liberal and democratic values, and where there is tolerance and respect for each other; or a society which is based on non Kashmiri culture of non tolerance, and where people with different views are killed and harassed by extremists.

There was a lot of sense in what he was saying and as a member of JKLF, I also strongly believe in pluralism and adhere to liberal and democratic principles. He had his own theory about the killers of Lone Sahib, and vigorously advocated that it was connected with the Dubai meeting. He said Lone Sahib has been saying for some time that outside militants should leave Kashmir because they are damaging our struggle, and he had to pay a price for this.

I told him that whereas I strongly condemn this barbaric act, it is not prudent to point fingers of blame without concrete evidence. I share this view that presence of foreign militants in Kashmir, if still there are any, could be counter productive. And I have also been speaking against this for some time, but we must remember that the struggle started as an indigenous movement and that the majority of militants are still Kashmiris.

He said I remember you wrote a series of articles on this topic a few years ago, but if you had been in Kashmir you would have been among the 70 thousand Kashmiri victims of the struggle. We discussed various aspects of the Kashmiri struggle and agreed that the State of Kashmir is multi ethnic and multi religious, and only honourable solution of the dispute is to let Kashmir emerge as a united and independent State.

If religious extremists and sectarian elements have their way in Kashmir then the State would be divided on religious and sectarian lines; and it would engulf both India and Pakistan as well. South Asia needs peace and stability in order to meet challenges of 21st century. And People of South Asia deserve much better than what they have, and they could surely do without a war between India and Pakistan. It is in the interest of all concerned to resolve the Kashmir dispute by a process of dialogue rather than by use of gun or missiles. END

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