Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Referendum to elect Kashmiri leaders

Referendum to elect Kashmiri leaders
Dr Shabir Choudhry 03 April 2006

Kashmir dispute, no doubt is a complex one, and it requires a great deal of effort, goodwill and patience to resolve it to the satisfaction of all parties to the dispute. Pakistan and India have claim to the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, and both have suffered in pursuit of this claim. People of Kashmir, however, are the principle party to this dispute and they have suffered most in this struggle.

Whereas India and Pakistan have their teams ready to discuss and take decisions on future status of Jammu and Kashmir, we people of the State are deeply divided and unprepared. Whenever issue of representation of Kashmiri people comes up we find there is no one person or single party who can claim to represent all or majority of Kashmiris.

And this point is exploited by both governments to keep people of Jammu and Kashmir out of the dialogue process. This point is also made, and we feel embarrassed, whenever we take the issue of taking part in the process with the foreign government officials.

We are a divided lot, and we should accept this. But those Pakistani and Indian officials who rub salt in our wounds are mainly responsible for our divisions and infighting. Unlike other occupied territories Jammu and Kashmir is occupied by more than one country; and both countries for their own interest have deliberately and systematically created rifts among the Kashmiri people.

And after creating rifts and exploiting the suffering and misery of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, both parties make this as an excuse to keep people of Jammu and Kashmir out of the peace process. Both governments, right from 1947, have deliberately kept out the Kashmiri leadership out of all discussions on future of Kashmir.

In 1947/8 Sheikh Abdullah was undisputed leader of majority of Kashmiris on the Indian side of Kashmir, and on the other side of the divide Muslim Conference leaders represented the rest; and yet they were never made part of any negotiations on Kashmir. This shows that these governments are making disunity among Kashmiris as an excuse to keep the Kashmiri people out of this peace process.

India and Pakistan have policies and designs on Kashmir to suit their national interests, and in order to safeguard those interests they have their own state machinery and their puppets among the Kashmiri populace. Most of these puppets don’t advance Indian or Pakistani agenda because of any ideology but because of their personal interest. These people are called opportunists, some even call them traitors, and are found in most societies.

These people help forces of occupation to further their cause, and at times, create splits and mayhem when desired by the occupying authority. This leverage gives added advantage to the forces of occupation, and they can call the shots to suit their policies in that territory. History is full of incidents when these saboteurs, in name of good and honorable cause have caused problems, or even derailed the entire process which could have brought fruits of peace, stability and democracy.

Whenever issue of representation is raised both governments claim that they have ‘elected’ government in the area under their control. As Pakistan feels it has an edge over India through its control of both groups of APHC, and some leaders outside these alliances, they present them as ‘leaders’ of the Kashmiri people.

India, of course, rejects this claim as some of these ‘leaders’ might not even win election for local council. In any case both groups of APHC don’t have any representative character, as they have no roots in Jammu, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan. They don’t even have confidence of majority of people of the Valley.

As pointed out earlier even when two leaders represented the overwhelming majority of the people they were not made part of any process on Kashmir, even though meetings to resolve the Kashmir dispute were held regularly and in various parts of the world. India and Pakistan have, without our consent, assumed a role of our ‘representatives’, and have protected their interest in the name of Kashmiri interest.

They enjoy this situation and would not like to lose this status; and in view of this one can see that they will ensure that there is no unity among the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Unity among the people of Jammu and Kashmir is not a good omen for India and Pakistan, as this will take away from them power and influence they have enjoyed for so many decades.

It is in our interest that our representatives are at the negotiating table, protecting Kashmiri interest; and we have to get our act together and counter their subterfuges on Kashmir. A million dollar question is how to get unity and ‘elect’ or select Kashmiri representatives. One suggestion is to have a referendum for the purpose of selecting Kashmiri representatives, and there seems to be support for this idea as well.

This idea is promoted by some Kashmiri leaders, and I feel they are sincere in this, but perhaps they have not given too much thought to hidden dangers. I know for sure that Pakistan will like this idea; and India could also go along with it even though there is danger that it will remind people of the promised plebiscite.

I will go as far as saying that it is a Pakistani idea, and it was discussed with me by as senior Pakistani official during my last visit to Pakistan in June 2005. The idea has apparent appeal but after a careful analysis I regard it as a ‘trap’.

Since 1947 both India and Pakistan have established a political, economical and social system, which only supports those who have adhered to that system. Both parts of Kashmir for all practical purposes are controlled by India and Pakistan, and with their army and administration in place there, they have the ability to influence the outcome of any such referendum even if it is to ‘elect’ representatives.
And danger of this exercise is that we might end up having majority of ‘pro India’ and ‘pro Pakistan’ people on the negotiating table with legitimacy of being ‘elected Kashmiri representatives’. These people have looked after Indian and Pakistani interests since 1947, and it is inconceivable that these people will look in the eyes of their political masters and defy them.

In view of this I suggest that Kashmiri leaders from all political persuasions pro India, pro Pakistan and pro independence- meet and decide who are the best people who have the ability, know how and skills to represent and protect Kashmiri interest. By this method Kashmiri leaders can select people to represent Kashmiris at the negotiating table.

Like any other community we are also divided, and I have explained why this is so; but the good thing is that we are all against division of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in any form or shape. Apart from that overwhelming majority wants peaceful resolution of the dispute; and an immediate end to human rights violations. Also all Kashmiri leaders agree that India and Pakistan cannot bilaterally decide our future, and that we must have a final say in this matter.

These positive things suggest that our divisions are exaggerated, and are encouraged to achieve desired results by some quarters as it suits them. If we want to be part of the peace process with some say then we have to tell both governments that we can decide who are the best people to represent us; and all we need from you is a facility that leaders from both sides could meet and interact with each other to build bridges of confidence and understanding.
Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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