Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Shaukat Kashmiri and Gandhi Peace Award

Shaukat Kashmiri and Gandhi Peace Award
Dr Shabir Choudhry 19 September 2006

Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri is a controversial political figure. Some say he is a nationalist political figure who wants unification and independence of Jammu and Kashmir; others say he is not as he is projecting India’s agenda. Like this saying that one person’s freedom fighter is other person’s terrorist, depending on who is saying it there could be some truth in both statements.

History is witness to this fact that every one who has introduced something new or challenged forces of status quo has become controversial, even declared traitor and sentenced to death.

Those who like Shaukat Kashmiri or those who believe in Kashmiri nationalism will defend him and those whose political, economic and national interests are hurt by his politics will curse him and accuse him of being ‘foreign agent’. This label sticking is so rampant in Pakistani and Kashmiri political culture that people think it is their right to accuse their political opponents as being ‘foreign agents’.

In Pakistan every political figure of any importance has been accused of being either agent of India, America, Israel or Russia, and even Prime Ministers and Presidents are not immune from this blame game. Similarly every Kashmiri nationalist who has some importance and who has projected his ideology to promote Kashmiri interest, and has not protected Pakistani interest has been labelled as an ‘Indian agent’.

For a long time Pakistani secret agencies and other members of the establishment successfully used their trump card of declaring Kashmir nationalists as ‘Indian agents’ to discipline them. Like human body becomes resistant if one consistently takes some medicine for a long period; Kashmiri political culture is also showing signs of resistance as more and more people are not taking this accusation seriously any more.

Recently Shaukat Kashmiri was honoured with Gandhi Peace Award, and we noticed a systematic campaign against him that India has awarded him with this award because of his services against the Kashmiri struggle. In some Urdu newspapers we saw articles and even editorials against this, and some political pundits called it a biggest conspiracy against integrity of Pakistan and Kashmiri struggle since Ganga hijacking of 1970.

If criteria of getting a Gandhi Peace Award were pro India policies and anti Kashmiri struggle stance then there were many deserving candidates. Some of these candidates have wholeheartedly served the interest of India and yet they could not win this award because their policies were motivated by greed and conflicting and oscillating policies.

I heard Shaukat Sahib’s name for the first time in 1989/90. Even at that time he was known as a ‘nationalist’ and an ‘Indian agent’ at the same time. So what has changed? I lucidly remember that during my visit to Rawalpindi in 1990 I expressed my desire to meet him as his office was not that far from the office of JKLF (Amanullah Khan). I was cautioned not to go near him as he was an ‘Indian agent’, and intelligence is always after him. I was successfully manipulated not to meet him as it would have far reaching repercussion on me and the party.

Shaukat Kashmiri was arrested by Pakistan’s elite secret agency ISI and kept in a solitary confinement for nine months. And when I visited Islamabad next time Shaukat Kashmiri was a ‘guest’ of ISI, God father of the Kashmiri politics and Kashmiri struggle. My friends at that time boasted didn’t we tell you that he was not the right person to meet. May be he was not, as far as they were concerned, but with hindsight I think I should have met him.

Shaukat Kashmiri was arrested but not charged. If the authorities had any evidence of his guilt, why didn't they charge him and try him in a court of law. I am sure in constitutions of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir there is a provision to deal with those who are guilty of treason. Is that itself not an evidence that he was arrested because of his political views and not for his alleged guilt.

Also with hindsight I accept that we should not have boycotted the conference organised by Clair Galez in which Shaukat Kashmiri and other nationalist were taking part in Geneva. I as a President of JKLF went to take part in it. Abbas Butt and Dr Nazir Gilani were also among the invitees.

Majid Tramboo was not invited as he had other important assignments. At night (before the conference) he and Ashoke Bhan came to our room and told us that this conference was funded by India so we should boycott this otherwise surely JKLF would split. He claimed that he was saying this with the authority of JKLF Srinagar. We were cautioned to keep away from this conference, and if JKLF is split because of this decision I, Shabir Choudhry, would be held responsible for this.

I consulted Abbas Butt, my friend and colleague on this important issue. After discussing pro and cons of this we decided not to take part in this conference as we didn’t want to cause a split in the ranks of JKLF. We also talked to Dr Nazir Gilani, and under the circumstances he also agreed with our view and he didn’t take part in the conference as well. We later learnt that Majid Sahib was angry because the task of arranging this conference was given to a white person and not him, who could have done a better job.

Gandhi Peace Award

Award no matter who gives it and who receives it, it is recognition of that person’s work in a particular field. However sometimes awards and titles are achieved because of economic muscle - people with money give x amount to some NGO or even a government and get an award in return. We know Shaukat Kashmiri does not fall in that category. He is not poor but is not rich enough to buy off people in the NGO concerned.

Propaganda against him is that government of India has given him this award therefore he is an ‘Indian agent’. Let us assume for a moment that it was the government of India and not some NGO who awarded this prize, and according to this theory when a government gives award to some one from another nation then that person becomes an agent?

This reminds me that not long ago Dilip Kumar, a Muslim actor and a proud citizen of India was given award by government of Pakistan. Does this make Dilip Kumar a Pakistani agent? I have not seen articles and editorials saying that Dilip Kumar has committed treachery and that he should be charged for this crime of accepting an award from Pakistan. He is still a loyal Indian as he was before receiving this award. Similarly Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a Pakistani poet received a Lenin Award, and he was not agent of Soviet Russia; and those who were never received anything.

The Gandhi Peace Award is given by different NGOs of the world working to promote peace and harmony. It is awarded to those individuals who have done ‘outstanding work in filed of social, economic and political transformation through non violent and other Gandhian methods’.

The Government of India awards ‘Gandhi Peace Prize’ to people who deserve it and prominent people like Nelson Mandella, John Hume, Sir Shridath Ramphal and International Red Cross are among those who have received it. The award of London based Gandhi Foundation is ‘International Gandhi Peace Prize’ and recipients include people like Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Shabana Azmi.

America based NGO ‘Promoting Enduring Peace’ which shares liberal and socialist ideals also awards Gandhi Peace Award. This NGO was set up by Yale Professor Jerome Davis in 1952, and it started giving Gandhi Peace Award in 1960. Those who have received award from PEP include some of the following: Eleanor Roosevelt, U Thant, Ramsey Clark, Professor John Somerville, Father Roy Bourgeois, Senator George McGovern and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

As it looks the government of India has no role in awarding this award to Shaukat Kashmiri, as it is given by PEP in consultation with Gandhi Institute for Peace. Mrs Nirmala Desh Pandhe is the Chair of this NGO and she has played a crucial role in this regard. Nirmala Desh Pandhe is renowned personality who has made tremendous contribution for peace, and has been nominated for Nobel Peace Award. Her reputation as a good humanitarian goes far beyond borders of India and even President of Pakistan General Musharaf proudly calls her deedi, meaning sister.

I am sure there are other NGOs who give peace prizes/awards whether in name of Gandhi Foundation, Gandhi Institute for Non- violence or some other name. One thing however needs to be understood is that people who have made valuable contribution in the society and who have worked through out their lives to preserve life, dignity and honour of other human beings are honoured with awards.

We can disagree with Shaukat Kashmiri as a person and even disagree with his politics. We should not oppose him just because he has excelled in one field, and his work has been recognised. We should not feel jealous, and like Abbas Butt, President of JKLF, acknowledge his contribution as he did by holding a reception in Shaukat Kashmiri’s honour.
Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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