Wednesday, 28 May 2008

New trend in Kashmiri politics

New trend in Kashmiri politics
Dr Shabir Choudhry 20 March 2006

Unthinkable has happened, and we welcome this move. Those who were hunted and killed by pro Pakistani Jihadi groups in Jammu and Kashmir a few years ago because they were perceived as pro India, hence deserved a bullet or a bomb, were invited to Islamabad and were given respect and honour.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to understand that these Jihadi groups were, and still are, trained, supported and in some cases directed by Pakistani agencies to carry out certain acts of violence. So much so that these groups proudly claimed killings of certain Muslim politicians who did not support Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan; and many politicians had to place advertisements in papers that they have severed ties with so and so political party.

These leaders who came from Jammu and Kashmir were given very high profile, and even President Musharaf was more than happy to find time to meet them and exchange views about the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, Yousaf Trigami, Bhim Singh, Nirmal Singh, Pinto Naraboo, Maulana Iftikhar Ansari and many others were stars of the much publicized Pugwash Kashmir conference held in Islamabad, of course with blessing of Pakistan and some others.

Many Pakistani and Kashmiri leaders and members of media proudly shook hand with them and made photos; yet when these same leaders were invited to participate in International Kashmir Conference organized by IKA (International Kashmir Alliance), Pakistani establishment went out of way to oppose this conference and labeled it as pro India. Every newspaper in Pakistan, on instructions of Pakistani agencies, carried headlines on their front pages to oppose this conference, because it was being attended by pro India Kashmiri leaders.

People of Jammu and Kashmir have been forcibly divided for the past fifty odd years, and that created a gulf of differences between various communities living in various regions. IKA leadership appreciated this and thought that the people of Jammu and Kashmir from different political, social and cultural backgrounds must meet and interact with each other to build bridges of understanding.

While organizing IKA conferences IKA leadership was aware of this, and wanted to invite people who differed with each other politically and culturally. We didn’t want to convert the converted as some Kashmiri and Pakistani groups do. Perhaps they lack courage and vision, and feel uncomfortable among those who hold different views to them.

It is because of this they always invite people who hold similar views to each other, in so called ‘International Conferences’, listen to speeches of each other and declare it a successful conference. We wanted to set a new trend of also inviting those who differ with our views and see if we could come to some common ground, so we invited leaders from all regions and political and cultural backgrounds.

As this was something new as far as Pakistan and Pakistani sponsored Kashmirsi politics was concerned, and they opposed us tooth and nail. Perhaps they thought interaction with other Kashmiris will expose their propaganda and myths regarding Jammu and Kashmir, and with that in mind they not only opposed us but created obstacles that people could not travel from Pakistani side of Kashmir. They also instructed their ‘yes men’ to keep away from this conference which very obediently they did.

To the satisfaction of many now situation has changed. Leaders and officials of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir proudly welcome these pro India Kashmiri leaders. IKA leaders also feel proud that we were the pace setters, therefore, we have no qualms, in fact we urge that this process should continue that we can work together to achieve peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir and in South Asia.

But we have a long way to go yet. The road to peace is not only long but it is full of dangers. People with vested interest don’t want to see peace in South Asia. They want the Kashmir pot to keep on boiling that India and Pakistan remain at daggers drawn.

Pugwash conference was a good attempt although it failed to achieve the desired outcome. Many thought it would be too much to expect a breakthrough after one meeting- more similar meetings are needed to create appropriate environment that people can trust each other and reach some consensus.

Many things were lacking in the Pugwash conference. Many important people and alliances were not present. IKA, as an alliance, has done so much to support the peace process and bring divided communities closer to each other; and paved way for strengthening social and cultural and economic ties.

Many analysts wonder how Pugwash organisers could leave out IKA leaders from this conference. And, moreover, how could they forget to invite nationalist leaders and thinkers from Gilgit and Baltistan.

It is known that a retired Lt General of Pakistan looks after Pugwash matters in Pakistan, and in line with thinking of Pakistani establishment, he would not recommend any one who is perceived as ‘undesirable’. He and Pugwash leaders need to understand that if they seriously and sincerely want to resolve the Kashmir dispute then they have to broaden their horizon and invite all those ‘undesirables’ because they have an important contribution to make.

Until recently Omar Abdullah and Yousaf Trigami and others were also perceived as ‘undesirables’ and deserved a bullet in the heart, and now they were called as respected guests; and I am sure these people must have made valuable contribution to the debate. They must have presented a perspective which was different to perspective of those who have always been ‘darling’ of Islamabad establishment.

If Pugwash wants to be taken seriously then they have to behave differently. Soon after their conference another conference took place in Male with people from same political background; and many wonder what help this kind of conference will provide to the peace process.

Apart from that a ‘conference’ was held in London last week in which same old people were present; and organisers ensured that no one should be invited who could present an alternative view which could possibly annoy the audience. Some critics believe that this conference was delayed due to earthquake and organisers had to spend this amount in this financial year that they could claim more for the next financial year.

By this kind of conference, where people from same political background are invited, organisers achieve their immediate and personal targets, but it is highly debatable if this helps to further the cause of Kashmiri people, or even supports the peace process.

I welcome the new trend of inviting people from various political and cultural backgrounds; and hope that organisers of London and Male conferences will broaden their horizon and learn from IKA and Pugwash when they organise future conference on Kashmir. They need to learn that by gathering some like minded people in a conference room will not to advance the cause of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

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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