Friday, 30 May 2008

Sheikh Abdullah Kashmiri hero or villain?

Sheikh Abdullah Kashmiri hero or villain?
By Dr Shabir Choudhry

Majority of Pakistanis and a large section of Kashmiri community still regard Sheikh Abdullah as a traitor, and hold him responsible for the present fate of Kashmir. Of course there are those who regard him as a Kashmiri hero and the most popular and loved Kashmiri leader in modern Kashmiri history.

I admit that I was also among those who thought Sheikh Abdullah was a traitor; this is mainly because of literature produced either by Pakistani writers or those Kashmiris who are more loyal to Pakistan than Pakistanis.

But my views over the years have changed, because of my research on Kashmir. No doubt he was a towering figure in the Kashmiri history, and did his best to serve the Kashmiri cause. He was a Kashmiri nationalist and wanted to preserve and protect Kashmiri history and culture.

If Sheikh Abdullah was a towering figure in Kashmir, Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a towering figure in the British India. Mohammed Ali Jinnah pursued politics based on religion, and wanted a separate state for Muslims of the British India. Sheikh Abdullah was a nationalist leader, and pursued non-communal politics that suited the unique conditions of Kashmir, and it was because of this Muslim Conference was changed into National Conference.

Aim of this move was to ensure that non-Muslim Kashmiris also feel part of the political movement; and that Kashmir does not face problems of the British India, hence end up in division on communal lines. However this was not successful partly because the Muslim Conference was revived to continue their policies; and also Hindu communalists were not very compromising either.

So, apart from difference in political approach, both big leaders had some kind of personality clash. During Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s visit to Kashmir in 1944, these differences became more sharper, and public. There were some well- wishers who understood absolute importance of unity, or at least some kind of understanding, between these two leaders, so they arranged a meeting between them.

Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas who was heading the Muslim Conference, wasn’t too keen in this meeting, as it would have undermined his own politics and position, so he ensured that there was no meeting between the two. He was successful in his endeavours. Rumours and misreporting to each other and against each other, helped to widen the gulf. (Details are in Yousaf Saraf’s well - researched and comprehensive book, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, Volume 1), and also in 'The Kashmir of Sheikh Abdullah' Bilqees Taseer, page 184

This tension between the two leaders continued, and got worse, especially when Sheikh Abdullah started the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ against the Maharaja and Mohammed Ali Jinnah supported the Maharaja in his attempts to put down this ‘goondaism’. And Pandit Nehru, on the other hand, marched into Kashmir to put legal fight against Sheikh Abdullah’s imprisonment; and got himself arrested for violating ban that was put by the Maharaja on his entry to the State.

But when after the partition of the British India, situation was fast changing in Kashmir, and soon after his release from prison, Sheikh Abdullah was persuaded to make some kind of compromise with Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Even though he was insulted more than once by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, still for the cause of Kashmir and its integrity, he put his ego aside and agreed to secretly travel to Lahore to hold a meeting with Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This meeting was arranged by Mian Iftikhar Uddin and Rashid Taseer, both very active and influential within the Muslim League; and they also had friendly relationship with Sheikh Abdullah. Even though the situation of Kashmir was very uncertain, and Sheikh Abdullah had travelled all the way from Srinagar to Lahore to meet Mr Mohammed Ali Jinnah, he very stubbornly refused to see him. And it was at that time, Mr Jinnah made his famous statement, which is as follows: "I don't need to meet this man, Kashmir is in my pocket'.

Apart from Sheikh Abdullah, Rashid Taseer and Mian Iftikhar Uddin were also very disappointed with this outcome; and Mian Iftikhar Uddin commented that: "Kashmir is lost to us. It was very necessary that Kashmir should have been with us".

This was fourth time Sheikh Abdullah was rebuffed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah - in 1944, 1945, 1946, and 1947. Sheikh Abdullah wanted an independent Kashmir, but he realised that the best course for Kashmir is to have some kind of understanding with Pakistan, and it was precisely because of this he travelled to Lahore. Commenting on the event one Kashmiri leader said: " For the rupture in the relationship of Abdullah and Jinnah, responsibility thus lies with the latter, who was not satisfied with anything short of complete surrender on the part of anybody, particularly a Muslim, seeking political alliance with him. It was too a tall demand from the tallest leader of Kashmir, who was no less proud of his own personality as also of Kashmir, both of which he had to regard as synonymous”.

On his return from Lahore he had made his mind up what he wanted to do, but his close friends and political colleagues were still advising him to have some understanding with Pakistan, as that was best for Kashmir and Pakistan. And despite all this, Sheikh Abdullah still allowed them to make another effort to persuade the Pakistani authorities to come to some kind of reasonable understanding. Even as late as the "tribal invasion" his colleagues were in Lahore and in other places trying to persuade the Pakistani leaders.

Before the tribal invasion started, the Maharaja government was willing to talk to Pakistan on issues related to trouble in Poonch and other areas, and about violations of Stand Still Agreement. And on 20 October 1947, Pakistan Government invited Kashmiri Prime Minister to Karachi to discuss these matters. But on the night of 21 October the Tribesmen moved into Kashmir and the whole political and military scenario changed. ('Jammu and Kashmir', JB Das Gupta, The Hague, 1968, page 82)

The Pakistani leaders did not anticipate this outcome. It is claimed by many analysts and writers that 'Kashmir was pushed into the Indian Union by the unwisely and the untimely tribal invasion'. (Kashmir: Towards insurgency, Balraj Puri p15) It is also claimed that the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah had come to some agreement to keep the State independent of both India and Pakistan. Durga Das also highlighted this point in 'Sardar Patel's Correspondence'. If they acceded to India, he wrote, 'it was because by invading Kashmir, Pakistan left them no other choice'. Kashmir: Towards insurgency, Balraj Puri p15

No matter what we say, the fact is that the Maharaja wanted to maintain his independence; he was pushed against the wall and had no choice, but to seek protection from India. Even after his Provisional Accession, Pakistan could have got Kashmir only if Pathan warriors had proceeded to Srinager. Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan a prominent Muslim League leader of that time and a minister of the Pakistan Government explained it like this:

For three days they did not move (after invading an important town of Baramulla). They started looting locals and cutting lockets and earrings of Nuns who were running a Convent at Barramulla....... Instead of going forward and taking over Srinager Airport, these Pathans started looting bazaars and wasted precious time. By then more Indian reinforcement arrived by air into Srinager...... We lost Kashmir through our own blunders and bungling." ('The Nation that lost its soul' Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan, pages 214 –216).

Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues knew what would happen if these people also captured Srinagar, exaggerated stories of atrocities of Baramullah reached Srinagar and it strengthened their resolve to defend the city.

It is a different matter that Sheikh Abdullah was let down by Pandit Nehru, but we could not blame him for shortcomings of others, and accuse him for the fate of Kashmir. Pakistan lost Kashmir not because of Sheikh Abdullah, but because of follies and shortsightedness of Pakistani leaders.

After losing Kashmir they had to find a scapegoat and Sheikh Abdullah was the best candidate for this, and they blamed him for sins of others as well. In Pakistan as well as in India, it is common practice of police, when they nail down someone who doesn’t have much say in the society, then they charge him for all unresolved crimes.

It was unfortunate that Pakistan lost East Pakistan, and Shimla Agreement was signed which completely changed character of the Kashmir case; and with that a message was passed on that vulnerable and relatively weak Pakistan was no longer in a position to support the Kashmiri struggle.

It was clear that Kashmiris on the other side of newly established Line of Control had to make some arrangements over there; and similar arrangements were proposed for Azad Kashmir – make Azad Kashmir 5th province of Pakistan. It was already assumed that Gilgit and Baltistan were part of Pakistan. By signing the Delhi Accord, and throwing his lot with New Delhi, Sheikh Abdullah made it easier for everyone to accuse him.

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

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