Friday, 30 May 2008

Nature of Kashmiri struggle

Nature of Kashmiri struggle
part 1
Shabir Choudhry

I call myself a Kashmiri nationalist, someone who wants the State of Kashmir to be an independent State. A state where all ethnic groups of Kashmir could live in peace and harmony, a place where religion is a personal matter of individuals, and where no one is oppressed because of his/her political or religious beliefs. Apart from me there are thousands of other Kashmiris who call themselves Kashmiri nationalists.

But question is, are we really nationalists? Do we satisfy the criterion to be called nationalists? Or we have different definition of ‘nationalism’ and ‘nationalists’ then what is accepted in other parts of the world.

A Kashmiri from the Indian side of Kashmir visited London recently, and he had a lengthy discussion with me on different aspects of the Kashmiri struggle. Of course he knew me well, and also knew what my political views were. He had good understanding of the political situation in Kashmir, and looked extremely concerned about the situation there.

He asked me if I was a ‘nationalist’ Kashmiri, to which I said of course I am a Kashmiri nationalist. JKLF believes in nationalist politics and wants unification and independence of Kashmir. ‘Do you know the geography of Kashmir’, he asked me. I was perplexed by his question, as he knew I had done a detailed research on Kashmir, and had many books published, so I asked him what he meant by that.

‘You know some parts of Kashmir are under Indian occupation, and others are under China and Pakistan. You claim to be a nationalist Kashmiri leader, and what I want to know is that what have you done to liberate Kashmir’, he asked me. I wanted to explain what the JKLF has done since its formation in 1977, and what I have done as an individual since 1973, but he interrupted me immediately, and said:
‘ All your activities are directed against one occupier of Kashmir – India, and as a nationalist Kashmiri what have you done to liberate a place known as Azad Kashmir, where you were born…..or are you one of those who regard this area as azad’.

I tried to explain to him that in one sense this area is ‘azad’ as it has its own President and Prime Minister…., he interrupted me again and said, ‘So if we have our own President and Prime Minister instead of Governor and Chief Minister, does that mean we are also azad.’

I said, look you cannot compare the two parts of Kashmir, as on one side there is a large concentration of army which is involved in gross human rights violations…’But you would have the same kind of human rights violations if you do in Azad Kashmir what we did against the Indian rule in Kashmir’, he retorted.

If you keep interrupting me like this then we cannot continue this conversation, I said showing my anger. After realising that I am not happy with his attitude, he said ‘Choudhry Sahib don’t get angry, but as a man in politics and moreover some one who claims to be a nationalist, must be prepared to answer some of these questions…I know you have spent most of your adult life in the Kashmiri struggle, but you need to ask yourself if your approach and method has been correct.’

I said to him that in a struggle for independence no one approach or method could be perfect, as a human being we all make mistakes. Things or decisions which looked correct at that time, may not look right now because of political and social environment, and new information available now. Our critics have advantage of hindsight, and we a can all be wiser after the event.

‘It looks that you are deliberately avoiding the issue’, he said. ‘Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh are occupied by India and despite all the difficulties we are fighting the Indian occupation. I am also a nationalist, but when I see that you people in Azad Kashmir are not fulfilling the requirements of the nationalist movement then it hurts me. We have sacrificed everything for this struggle and it looks that you people are basing all your political activities on the dead bodies of our youths.’

‘This is unfair’, I protested. We have different situation in Azad Kashmir and we are performing our role according to the situation here. It is totally wrong that we are basing our politics on the sacrifices of people of Indian occupied Kashmir. You got to understand that there is a fundamental difference in the positions of India and Pakistan, whereas India calls Kashmir as its ‘integral part’ Pakistan regard Kashmir as a disputed territory future of which is yet to be determined. It is because of this difference there is no apparent movement of the kind you are referring to.’

He said this difference is very minor; fact of the matter is that both India and Pakistan want Kashmir, and both have different strategies to achieve their objectives. If for a moment I accept your argument that absence of apparent movement in Azad Kashmir is due to this difference, then what about areas of Gilgit and Baltistan which Pakistan has called as a Pakistani territory more than once. There is no apparent movement for independence there either.

He further said, whether you like it or not, by and large the reality is that you people pay lip service to freedom movement and Kashmiri nationalism, but are not prepared to make sacrifices for it, like we have done on the other side of the border. You expect to get your Azadi, and may be Azadi of Gilgit and Baltistan as well, by this lip service and by heavily relying on the sacrifices made on the other side of the LOC.

I decided to let him get everything off his chest so he continued: ‘This is not practical or logical, and if we continue with the this strategy where only people on the other side of LOC are losing their lives, getting their loved ones killed, raped and their houses destroyed then they have to say good bye to this kind of nationalism, and think of a strategy which would suit us. Already more than 70 thousand people have lost their lives, and there is no light at the end of tunnel. It is time that we think of a new strategy and also think of saving innocent lives in Kashmir.’

I am rather disappointed to hear all this, I said. I know there are problems in the movement, we are divided and occupied by more than one country, which makes our task more difficult. We cannot fight against all the countries who have occupied us at once, it would be suicidal and illogical. Do you want us to start armed struggle in Azad Kashmir? Do you understand implications of that? Whatever little support and help you are getting from this side of the border will stop immediately and the whole movement will be crushed on both sides.

To be continued

Nature of Kashmiri struggle part 2
Shabir Choudhry

This discussion had many interesting and controversial aspects. He was a senior man with in-depth knowledge of what was going on in the Kashmiri struggle, and what in his opinion was needed to be done. Although I disagreed with some of the points he raised, but I could not detect any malice in his intentions. He was obviously bitter, and to some extent disillusioned, and it was because of what was happening in the Indian side of Kashmir, and in his view, lack of appropriate response in other parts of Kashmir.

In his view only people of Indian held Kashmir were making sacrifices, especially people of the Valley; and they could not continue to make sacrifices for liberation of the whole of State of Jammu and Kashmir, especially when other constituent parts of the State were not willing to play their due role. He thought the people of Pakistani side of Kashmir should have also started a campaign for independence to make it look that it was the struggle of all the Kashmiris, and that it was a nationalist movement and not a subtle move of Islamabad to get accession of the State to Pakistan.

When. I put forward argument that such a strategy would definitely back – fire, and land the whole movement in quandary. Pakistani authorities will tighten the screw on this side making it impossible, or at least extremely difficult to support and help the ongoing movement on that side of the LOC. And without help and support from this side the Movement on the Indian side might not survive for too long, and in any case it would not have the same importance.

‘I am not saying that you should start an armed struggle against Pakistan’ he said, ‘My point is that there should be a struggle, what form it should take it is for the people of that area to decide, but there must be a movement, it could be political dissent, otherwise message is going out to the world community that people of these areas are satisfied with the status quo.’

He further said, ‘People on this side of the LOC are beginning to think that you people don’t want to start any movement, not even political one, because you don’t want your love ones to get hurt or get into trouble, your houses destroyed and sons and husbands put behind bars.’

‘It is appropriate for all of you to issue statements and hold demonstrations against India, or in support of rights of the Kashmiris on this side, but you don’t seemed to be too worried about basic human rights of the Kashmiris living in so called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan. People of Gilgit and Baltistan DONOT even a right to vote, and that is in 21st century. You and other JKLF leaders of Azad Kashmir, especially Amanullah Khan could not see any injustice on this side of the LOC, so you decided to help us to achieve our rights. How unfortunate it is that an area 3 times larger than the Valley does not have even a newspaper, whereas we have many daily Urdu and English papers, and they are available on the Internet.’

No doubt he was bitter, but there was a lot of truth in what he was saying. If everything had gone the right way and after enormous sacrifices people could see light at the end of the tunnel then this bitterness and ‘blame game’ would not have been there.

I tried to defend some of the decisions and explained situation under which those decisions were taken. I said you complain about selfish and greedy leaders of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan, but you have similar class of leaders on the other side of the divide. If political leaders on this side are subservient to Islamabad then you know political leaders on that side are also subservient to New Delhi, we got to look at the character of ordinary people and those who are part of the struggle.

‘Shabir Sahib, don’t tell me stories’ he interrupted me. ‘For past many years I have lived there, and have sound understanding and experience of the people and their politics. Perhaps I know better than you because you live in London, and I have first hand experience of dealing with these people. I have seen those who you have classed as subservient of Islamabad, but I have also seen those who claim to be nationalist leaders and who are in the struggle.’

He paused for a moment and asked me, ‘Do you know who has disappointed us … it was not the politicians you have mentioned – as we had no expectations from them, but it was nationalists and those who claim to have initiated the struggle, who have let us down. Its due to their behaviour and attitude that we are beginning to think that if other parts of the State only think of their regions, and are not yet ready to make positive contribution for unification and independence of the State, then perhaps we need to see what is best for us.’

I said to him although there is some logic in what you say but this thinking is very dangerous, and if we follow the route you have chosen this would straight lead us to the trap of those who want to divide the State. We must not think of ‘us and them’, as this would divide the Movement and the State of Jammu and Kashmir forever.

My words further annoyed him, he said, ‘Don’t try to shift the blame for division of the Movement, if there is a division in the Movement you know who is responsible for that. Kashmir is a multi ethnic and multi religious State with Islam being the dominant religion, there was no threat to Islam nor there was any need to ‘Islamise’ the Movement. We didn’t ask Jihadis from other countries to come to Kashmir’.

‘The way Movement was launched it surprised everyone; non-Muslims of the State were also surprised. Some of them when they realised that it was a liberation movement wanted to take part in it, but by that time the Movement was taken over by Jihadis. I know a Sikh who said when you people demand we want Azadi, I can go along with that, but when you say Azadi means La ila ha ila’law, then I have a problem. My family has lived here for many generations, and Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism have lived side by side, but these Jihadi’s left no space for my religion or me. I love my country but I also love my religion and Guru Nanak, and if I have to choose between my country and religion I will of course choose Guru Nanak and Sikhism.’

During this lengthy discussion he said many other things, but it is not possible to give details of every thing. Another important issue he discussed was upraising of the Mangla Dam, and problems associated with it. He said you people could not even organise a campaign against this, and come out to protest even when your houses are going to go under water. There are more than half million Azad Kashmiris in UK, and majority of them are from the District of Mirpur, and yet only 39 people were present in a demonstration against this outside the Pakistani High Commission. Perhaps you people are expecting us to hold demonstrations in Srinager, and open our chests to the Indian bullets to protest against the upraising of the Mangla Dam.

Some of the things pointed out by him were valid, but what he didn’t understand was that we people of Azad Kashmir could not be held responsible for all the ills of the Movement. In this matter we people of Azad Kashmir, and to some extent the leaders, are as helpless as the people on the other side of the divide; and this point needs to be understood by all those who hold us responsible for all the ills in the Movement.

I am sometimes criticised for raising controversial issues - topics which many don’t dare to talk about. The purpose of raising these issues is that we Kashmiris could discuss and find solutions to these problems rather than shy away from them and bury our heads in sand.

The gentleman who discussed these issues with me is a learned man with nationalist views, but his thinking has clearly changed over the years. Now he says, we might have to think something for ourselves in view of the ground reality. That in practise means some kind of solution for the people of Indian side of Kashmir. He is not the only one to raise these issues, I heard this many years ago, but unfortunately numbers of these people are growing. I have also heard some people from Azad Kashmir saying similar things, and this dangerous trend, if not checked, could lead to division of the State.

We might have differences, and complaints about each other’s behaviour and attitude, but if we want to preserve our identity, history and culture then we have to fight for it and agree on a minimal programme. And despite all the problems in the Movement, difficulties we have personally encountered, different perspectives and different ideologies, we can all agree that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is indivisible.

Whatever the future of the State might be, the State should stay as one political entity, and as for the strategies to fight for independence we can always, improve, adopt and adapt strategies according to the ground realities of each region.

Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir.

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