Saturday, 31 May 2008

Time to move forward

Time to move forward
Speech for JKLF International Kashmir Conference, Mirpur Azad Kashmir on 19/20 February 2005
Dr Shabir Choudhry

Mr President, distinguished guests, colleagues, diplomats, journalists and other respectable members of the Kashmiri community Aslamo Alaykam.

When last year International Kashmir Alliance, after observing positive developments taking place in South Asia, announced International Kashmir Conference to be held in London, in which leaders from all regions of Jammu and Kashmir were invited, it opened a ‘flood gate ‘ of public meetings held in name of international Kashmir conferences in different capitals of the world.

And when JKLF announced the International Kashmir Conference, first of its kind to be held inside the State territory, it unnerved people in certain quarters and they rushed to announce conferences. We don’t envy them. They have their agenda to follow which is set up and controlled by non Kashmiris, and we have our own agenda which is pro people, pro Kashmir and is set up by Kashmiri nationalists who believe in unification and independence of Jammu and Kashmir.

Distinction of our conference is that we have invited leaders, journalists and human rights activists from all regions of the State, and have a policy of providing a platform to even our political opponents. Whereas in other public meetings and seminars only those Kashmiri leaders are invited who believe in accession of the State with Pakistan.

Not everyone could come from the other side of the LOC, as some people had difficulties with passports and visas; and others had personal and political commitments elsewhere and could not find time. But they have expressed their goodwill and best wishes to us.

Rationale of the conference

We carefully analysed world opinion on conflict resolution and closely monitored geo political developments in the region, and came to conclusion that there is no military solution to this dispute; and that we must work out a strategy that the dispute could be resolved through a process of dialogue in tripartite or trilateral negotiations.

Both India and Pakistan have their strategies worked out and they sit at the negotiating table to safeguard their national interest, and decide future of us Kashmiris who are not represented in the peace process. Their policies are not pro Kashmir; they are either pro India or pro Pakistan, and harm the interest of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is unfortunate that we Kashmiris don’t have a strategy on future of Jammu and Kashmir; and it is partly because of this we don’t have a seat on the negotiating table. Some of us want to be part of Pakistan, some want to be independent and others are either happy with the status quo or want to be part of India. And what hurts us more is our eagerness to either eliminate those who disagree with our opinion or declare them as traitors.

With this background and with Jammu and Kashmir forcibly divided in to various regions, we decided to hold this Intra Kashmir dialogue; and we don’t want this conference to be just another conference. We want this conference to reach some decisions and formulate a policy which is agreeable to majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Kashmiri strategy

Before we can ask India and Pakistan to include us in the process of dialogue we need to formulate a strategy. We have to agree on common minimum programme that we can protect national interest of people of Jammu and Kashmir. We cannot wait for a miracle to happen; and cannot continue with the present policy of wait and see while innocent people of Jammu and Kashmir continue to die, and they continue to live under fear of oppression and intimidation.

Time and again a question is asked who will represent people of Jammu and Kashmir, if and when they get an opportunity to join the peace process. It is a good question and it deserves a serious attention. However this question should not worry India and Pakistan, as it is for us Kashmiris to decide who are the best people to represent people of Jammu and Kashmir; and protect interest of the State.

We request both governments to review their current policy of bilateralism as it will not produce a viable and acceptable solution on the Kashmir dispute; and provide us opportunities to interact with each other that we can strengthen our social, cultural and economic ties, and also select our representatives.

It is universally agreed that use of violence is not the best way of resolving disputes, and the Kashmir dispute is not an exception to this rule. People of Jammu and Kashmir have already suffered too much; they, like any one else, deserve peace, liberty and freedom. However it should be construed that Kashmiris want peace at any cost, we want peace, but with dignity and honour.

It is very easy to point fingers that so and so is responsible for suffering and misery of the people; but the issue is much more complex than what it looks, and it is best that we avoid this blame game which is not conducive to friendly environment we are trying to create to take this process further.

While working out a strategy we need to remind ourselves that Jammu and Kashmir is a multi lingual, multi religious and multi racial state; and while appreciating genuine concerns of India and Pakistan, we have to think as Kashmiris and protect Kashmiri interest. Both India and Pakistan have large machineries to protect their national interest, and if we speak either language of Islamabad or New Delhi, we won’t be helping the Kashmiri cause; in fact, this will further complicate the matters.

Any solution of Kashmir dispute which gives rise to extremism and communalism could only exacerbate problems of people of Jammu and Kashmir, and that of India and Pakistan as well. We, therefore, need to formulate a strategy which promotes regional and communal harmony; and opposes division of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, as division in any form or shape will not provide much needed peace and stability.

We, as leaders of different Kashmiri parties with welfare of people in mind, have to consider the following:

1. What mechanism is required to make Kashmiris part of the peace process; and how to elect/select Kashmiri representatives?

2. Will the bus service and ‘softening’ of borders help the peace process, and if so how it should be done?

3. Can the peace process be successful while militancy continues and there is a large concentration of army in the State?

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