Friday, 30 May 2008

Whose Kashmir is it anyway?

Whose Kashmir is it anyway?
Shabir Choudhry

Much has been said and written about Kashmir over the years, but still there is some confusion what is Kashmir, and who is Kashmiri, and whose future is to be determined. Some people deliberately add to this confusion by giving their own interpretation of Kashmir and Kashmiri and the term future. I venture to make some clarification about this, although this is tantamount to inviting some more negative criticism.

When people refer to Kashmir as a disputed territory they mean the State of Jammu and Kashmir which existed on15 August 1947, the day British Raj ended in India and the British Paramountcy in the State of Jammu and Kashmir lapsed. Kashmir therefore is not synonymous to the Valley of Kashmir or Indian held Kashmir. When people want to talk about a region of the State they call it Valley or Jammu etc.

Similarly the future of all constituent parts of the State, namely Valley, Jammu, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan, is to be determined. The fact that armed actions are limited only to certain parts of the State, namely Valley and some parts of Jammu, must not be construed that only these areas are disputed. The areas of Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan and Ladakh are also disputed, and the people of these areas hold same right when it comes to a vote to determine whether they want some kind of accession or an independent Kashmir.

After this clarification I would like to explain who is Kashmiri. Some people when they talk of the Kashmiri people mean Muslims of Kashmir. And in the eyes of some only those are Kashmiris who speak the Kashmiri language, and wear pheran. All others, to them, are not Kashmirs or at least, first class Kashmiris. Whereas in the eyes of Kashmiri law all citizens of State of Jammu and Kashmir are equal in status as explained in the State Subject Notification of 20 April 1927. They all carry one vote and no one is higher in status just because of colour, creed or ethnicity. Islamic teaching on this subject is very clear too.

Those who think of themselves, as members of 'superior race' must stop this nazi practice, as it is undesirable and could further divide the Kashmiri people. There is more than one language, more than one religion and more than one culture in Kashmir, and they all must be respected, unless we are deliberately working for the division of Kashmir on communal lines. This would really mean pushing through someone else's agenda, as it cannot be Kashmiri agenda, because we all believe Kashmir being one political entity.

It is agreed by all that there are three parties to the Kashmir dispute, namely India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir for different reasons. No matter what pretext they use in order to justify their claim on Kashmir, but one thing is clear that they both have great interest in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir and want to annex it even at intolerably high price. Both have spent more resources in their contest over Kashmir than on social and welfare programmes in their countries.

When people talk of three parties to the dispute, it is assumed that all three are with equal rights. This is not true. Syed Nazir Gilani, a known human rights activist and a distinguished lawyer, has rightly differentiated the positions of the parties to the dispute. He said, 'whereas other two parties have claim to Kashmir, Kashmiris have a 'title' to self - determination'. And as we all know any claim could be illegitimate and unjustified, but the 'title' to self - determination is our inalienable right by birth and that could not be challenged. In other words we Kashmiris are the only genuine party to the Kashmir dispute with an irrevocable title, and the other two parties are making claims on Kashmir because of their de-facto control of our territory.

This could be compared with the State of Junagarrh, whose Muslim ruler acceded to Pakistan, even though the State had overwhelming non- Muslim population. India claimed it because the State had non- Muslim majority, and unlike Pakistan, had land access to India. The Pakistani claim rested on the accession made by its Muslim ruler. We all know what happened to the Pakistani claim to this State, and Pakistanis don't even like to talk about it now. In other words claims are made and forgotten according to the situation, and at times claims are declared as illegitimate and unjust, but the 'title' of belonging to a nation is irrevocable.

We are the main party to the dispute, and we should decide how to conduct our national struggle. Those parties and governments construed as our friends may advice us to take a certain course of action but the ultimate decision must lie with us. We have to ensure that we are only pushing through the Kashmiri agenda, and that we must encourage such initiatives that the Kashmir issue is resolved according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people. There are powerful forces determined to push us in a certain direction, and if we are not careful and do not take appropriate steps, we may find another Afghanistan evolving before us.

The writer is a Director of Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

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