Sunday, 1 June 2008

Interview of Dr Shabir Choudhry for Liberty International

Interview of Dr Shabir Choudhry for Liberty International
As a result of this devastating earthquake a generation has perished, especially those closely involved with the Kashmiri struggle have died; and in view of this how do you see the future of Kashmir dispute?

Answer 1:

This earthquake will have far reaching consequences not only for Jammu and Kashmir but also for future of South Asia. Earthquake has not only destroyed militant camps which have been a stumbling block in the progress of peace process, but also have seriously damaged Pakistan’s defence on this side of the LOC.
You might recall that for success of the peace process Indian government demanded immediate end to infiltration and dismantling of militant training camps; and the international community fully supported this demand as it could have helped them to fight global war on terrorism.

President Musharaf agreed to do the needful in a public statement, as curbing activities of the jihadi groups also suited him; but despite his uniform and unprecedented powers at his disposal, he failed to deliver because he did not have full control over all organs of the government।

So destruction of these militant camps and death of thousands of militants on its own will have a serious affect on the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, and on the Kashmiri struggle. And you got to see things in perspective that apart from the above, thousands of villages and some towns have been destroyed and more than hundred thousand people have been killed and millions have been uprooted.
The whole generation of young people have lost their lives, especially students; thousands of schools and colleges have been destroyed. There were little employment and professional education opportunities available in Azad Kashmir due to lack of proper investment and appropriate infrastructure, and now that everything is destroyed and millions of people are homeless and living on aid, my fear is that it will promote begging and unemployment which will surely have great negative impact on the Kashmiri society and on the freedom struggle.

This tragedy, as has been pointed out by some, could be used to make progress in resolving outstanding issues between India and Pakistan including the Kashmir dispute. But this could only happen if there is a change of heart on all sides, and there is will to resolve all disputes in order to have peace and stability in South Asia that this region could face challenges of the 21st Century.

Q2 The region has been hit by a great earthquake which has caused death and destruction, and unprecedented human suffering, and as a result all the attention is focussed on relief and reconstruction work। In view of the above it appears that the Kashmir dispute itself has been put on the back burner; or there is some understanding between the governments, and people are kept in dark। What is your view on this?

Answer 2:
The region has been hit by the biggest disaster where more than hundred thousand innocent people have lost their lives, and more than two hundred thousand people are likely to lose their lives because their homes are destroyed, and five weeks after the disaster still millions of people are waiting for help, food and shelter; and in view of the above it appears that the Kashmir dispute might have gone on the back burner or in the storage.
It is true that attention has been focussed on the earthquake and its consequences, but it has not undermined the importance of the dispute itself, if anything, sane voices are saying that if there was no LOC then thousands of lives could have been saved। And many even suggest that behind the scenes serious efforts are being made to reach the final settlement on Kashmir.

Even if we look at statements of general Musharaf, one feels that he is more eager to make some progress on Kashmir। He asserts that in view of the earthquake it is ‘more possible’ to resolve the long - standing dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. ‘This opportunity’ he asserts, ‘should be utilized to reach fair settlement of the dispute’. But he on his own, no matter how sincere or desperate he is, cannot make any progress on this issue, and he realises this when he says, that, ‘We cannot clap with one hand, I hope India realizes that the solution has become more possible now in the wake of the tragedy, in which Kashmir suffered’.

This shows that serious efforts are being made behind the scenes, but what I want to emphasize is that these efforts have to be sincere and pragmatic as well. Sincerity and pragmatic approach demand that they take Kashmir as human issue not a territorial issue; and make genuine Kashmiri leaders part of the peace process, those leaders who represent aspirations of the people and not wishes of Islamabad and New Delhi.

If India and Pakistan only promote those leaders as genuine leaders, who actively dance on tune played by them, then this approach will not produce the desired results to establish peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir and in South Asia.

Pakistan has suggested flexibility on LOC and withdrawal of forces, how do you see this suggestion, and what impact this can have on bilateral relations; and how could this help to resolve the Kashmir dispute?

Answer 3

Since start of the peace process Pakistan has made many suggestions, some even say too many suggestions - almost one a week. When too many suggestions come directly from head of a state and without proper home – work, then these suggestions are not taken seriously by the international community, as it brings him down to level of Sheikh Rashid who is not taken seriously when he says something.

In process of making these suggestions Pakistan has considerably shifted its ground on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, and has also weakened its position and also weakened the Kashmiri struggle. India on the other hand has not given away anything, and in my opinion India seems to be in the strongest position since the start of the militancy in 1988.

And in view of this many people say that CBM means continue bending man, as General sahib has been shifting ground since he has taken over power in Pakistan. He is seen as a man in hurry to find a solution, and that may be is because of his weak, and to some, unconstitutional position at home, whereas Indian leadership despite a weak case and different pressures appears to be much more relaxed and in control.

I have strongly advocated non - military solution to the Kashmir dispute, and have been criticised by those who have made Kashmiri struggle as a business. I support the peace process, and strongly advocate Confidence Building Measures to ease tension and pave the way for the final solution of the dispute. But CBMs have to be well thought out and must be made with good intentions.
I say armies of both countries should leave Kashmir that state of Jammu and Kashmir could be united, but we have to be realistic, and in any case who is going to fill in vacuum created by withdrawal of these forces? Have we got some kind of international or UN force to move in should India and Pakistan agree to move out? For scoring political points, we all say things that sometimes are not practical.

We have to be practical if we are serious and sincere in resolving this dispute, and work out a mechanism to reach this stage of withdrawal. We cannot say India should pull her forces from Kashmir whereas Pakistan keeps army in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, for example, Siachin or Gilgit and Baltistan.

Apart from that we cannot ask India to take Indian troops out of Kashmir when militants are still there and are involved in militancy. Even after devastating earthquake they have not stopped their actions in which innocent people have lost lives, if anything their activities have increased; and whether we accept it or not it is known fact that directly or indirectly they still get help\and support from this side of the LOC. In view of this situation, which government will withdraw her forces from a disputed area like Kashmir, especially when that government is a democracy and is answerable to people.

Indian army was in Jammu and Kashmir before the start of the militancy, but they were not roaming around in streets and knocking doors at midnight. It was militancy that has provided an opportunity to troops to invade our privacy and abuse peoples rights. This is not to say that only Indian army has committed human rights violations and militants are exonerated from this, we all know that they are also accused of abusing and killing people.

In view of this, many say that before Indian forces could go back to barracks, militant activities have to cease. And in words of JKLF President Abbas Butt, ‘First in first out, militants moved in first to populated areas and the troops followed them, and now it is only logical that militants should move out or cease their activities before India could be asked to do so.

I fully support flexibility on LOC, but withdrawal of troops of both countries without some kind of mechanism seems to be a political statement. Under what rule both countries should withdraw their troops- if we follow the UN resolutions then they only ask Pakistan to withdraw, and once Pakistan has completed its withdrawal then India is only supposed to withdraw ‘bulk’ of her troops.

In absence of any agreed mechanism of withdrawal both countries need to create appropriate conditions before the withdrawal of troops could be seriously considered, and if somehow a workable mechanism is agreed, and withdrawal takes place then it will surly be a big step in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

Q 4
President Bush and other American officials have shown extra ordinary interest in this disaster; and in name of relief work American and NATO forces are active in Azad Kashmir. People are concerned about this as Pakistan has a large army of her own. What are your views on this?

Ans 4.

This is very important question and there is more than one way of looking at it. Simple way of looking at it is that Pakistan is a close friend of America and is ‘fighting America’s war’, and America being a good and sincere friend wants to help Pakistan in this time of need. But we know politics and international relations is not that simple.

Policies of countries are decided with national interest in mind, and there is generally more than one motive behind these policies, especially policies of big powers that have history of colonialism.

Small and weak countries are often let down by big powers after they have used them to achieve certain aims; and Pakistan has also tasted this medicine in the past, and is likely to do it again.

No doubt a major earthquake with unimaginable devastation has hit Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Pakistan, and Pakistan desperately needs help to cope with this disaster. But there are some issues that are of concern to me and to many other thinking people.

One has to see why Pakistan did not seek China’s help to meet these crises when Pakistan calls China as ‘all weather friend’ - a friend which is tried and tested more than once? China also has a large fleet of helicopters and vast experience to deal with natural disasters, and in view of this one wonders why they preferred to wait for heavy equipment, helicopters and other help from Britain and USA, at a time when innocent people were dying and crying for help.

Apart from this, Pakistani authorities refused to accept Indian helicopters, which could have saved thousands of lives because they could have reached there in no time, just across the LOC. We have to see things in perspective, there was a peace process going on between India and Pakistan, certain CBMs were in place and trade between them is booming since the peace process. There was no threat of war, and there was a cease- fire on the borders, and yet Indian help with helicopters was refused, yet Israeli help was accepted, and Pakistan has no diplomatic or trade contacts with that country.

Apart from the men in uniform, men in militia uniform (members of Jihad outfits) were also seen very actively helping the victims. It is good to note that they have heart and desire to help people in need; but this also worried many as it clearly indicated their manpower, resources and command and control system.

Many people, especially Westerners, thought help of Jihadi organisations will surely create a soft corner in the hearts of these victims, and they could be persuaded to join ranks of these groups, which could seriously damage their war on terrorism. As far as victims of the earthquake are concerned they need help and need it desperately, no matter where it is coming from.

It appears that there are four advantages of inviting NATO and American forces.

Most obvious one is ‘help’ to the earthquake victims, some of whom still have not received any help, and they are lying under the sky in extremely cold weather without proper food and shelter.
Other main advantage was to counter presumed Indian attack in wake of a serious blow to Pakistani defences in the area. Pakistani military officials thought that despite the peace process India could take advantage of the situation; and they might return ‘Kargil’ adventure with interest.
Third advantage is that these forces could ‘find’ Osama Bin Laden, or his remains, as he is presumed dead in this earthquake. Also their presence here will help them to keep track of the Alqaeeda operatives, if there are any, in the Pakistani Administered Kashmir, North Pakistan and Gilgit and Baltistan.
Their help and support and mere presence will keep jihadi groups on guard, and will deter them to do anything else than the relief work.

Some commentators feel that even Pakistan is less visible with the relief work when compared to activities of NATO and America, never mind ‘azad government’ of Pakistani Administered Kashmir; which is taken as a puppet or mere shadow of Ministry Of Kashmir Affairs, Islamabad.

It looks that NATO’s role is fast changing, and from being a military alliance it is becoming an extended tool of UN Commission on Human Rights. When we analyse the role of NATO and American troops in our region, we got to see what role NATO played in other natural disasters. For example, not long ago the tsunami devastated many countries, but we did not see NATO or American troops in action to help victims of that disaster. And moreover NATO, as an organisation, showed no interest and concern for the Katrina-devastated population of New Orleans.

At one time Pakistan was even reluctant to let an aircraft fly over certain areas of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, Northern Pakistan and Gilgit and Baltistan; and now thousands of NATO and American troops with highly sophisticated technology are wandering up and down as they please. How do this affect Pakistan’s military installations, intelligence gathering installations and other sensitive matters in these areas?

Above all how do our neighbours, especially China and Iran; view this and what impact this is going to have on future relations with these countries because of obvious concerns these countries have about America’s military presence at their door steps.

One reason given for their presence here is that they have sophisticated technology, which is needed here. This advanced technology was more useful to locate and rescue victims under the rubble, and surely that stage has passed; and if we still require this technology then why didn’t Pakistani government asked to borrow this, as it was the case with the Indian helicopters. I am sure a large Pakistani army with high level of technical know how, and a nation that successfully manufactured and exploded an atomic bomb had sufficient skilled manpower to use this technology.

Another point that worries many people is the role of Pakistani government in all this? Civilian government is no -where visible. What role has parliament and Cabinet played in all this?

I am among those who believe that presence of NATO and American troops are here to stay for some time. I understand some statements suggest that they will stay here for 80 days, and purpose is relief work; but I have my doubts about this because I don’t know whether this 90 days promise is a military promise or a civilian one. If it is a military promise then it reminds me of 90 days of Zia Sahib; and these troops could be here for many years.

In any case my feeling is that they are not only here for relief work, the kind of relief work they are doing, delivering food items and building walls etc, could very easily be done by Pakistan army. As has been noted above these troops have multiple roles in this area, which includes a political and military agenda.

Q6 China’s role in earthquake

Ans 6.
(It is partly answered above)
China has very close relationship with Pakistan. One can say that China is the only country, which has lived up to expectations and has not let down Pakistan at any time. But one can question if Pakistani governments have lived up to expectations of the Chinese?

One can say that more than once Pakistani governments intentionally or unintentionally worked or allowed its territory to be used against interests of China. And China instead of retaliating or showing annoyance in open decided to remain quiet or decided to play a low profile role. In my opinion China is facing that situation again, and it is because of that China appears to be side lined in the whole process.

American policy towards China clearly shows that they see China as a major emerging threat, and want to encircle it, and contain its growth and potential. America has clearly made considerable progress in this regard, and one can see that apart from troops in Afghanistan, America has bases in some Central Asian countries. Also America has strong influence in South Korea, Taiwan and some countries of South East Asia; and now that they have direct presence in Pakistani Administered Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan and Northern Pakistan, and this is a serious concern to China.

No Chinese government would like to see American troops in Azad Kashmir, Northern Pakistan and in Gilgit and Baltistan, as this is the region which provides important link to China, generally known as ‘outside window for China’.

Since 9/11, without much homework, Pakistan has made important policy decisions, which were also of major concern to China; and Pakistan did not even consult old and traditional ally. China appears to feel betrayed but they don’t have much options open to them at this stage. In any case Chinese diplomacy is unique in many ways, and even when they are annoyed they don’t express it and continue with the cooperation and work at hand.

China for obvious reasons is upset with new developments taking place in South Asia, but feels that it is better to watch and see the changing situation and wait for the appropriate time when tide starts to change.


Ans 7

There are people who have many bad things to say about MQM as a party and a movement, and they even have criticism to make over their role in the relief work. As a Kashmiri nationalist I welcome their help. According to news in Pakistani papers there have been some clashes between MQM workers and Jammat E Islami workers in Pakistani Administered Kashmir. Rivalry between these two go back to Karachi and has manifested itself even in the filed of relief work.

As far as I am concerned MQM was among the first to activate its cadre to support the victims of the earthquake, and they have provided millions of rupees and blankets etc; and have helped to save thousands of lives. We are grateful to MQM for everything they have done for us, and we hope that they will continue to help us because still there are millions of people without any shelter.

MQM, at one time, was only a regional or ethnic party with interest largely restricted to Karachi and Hyderabad, but we saw role of MQM gradually expanding to the rest of Pakistan. Over the years they have played an important role in the national politics of Pakistan; and now they have moved to Pakistani Administered Kashmir to help the quake victims.
Before the rise of MQM, Jammat e Islami had a big say in politics of Karachi, and after bitter confrontation their position was take over by MQM. And now that MQM workers came to Pakistani Administered Kashmir this alarmed Jammat e Islami, because they feel they could be squeezed here as well.

I can see MQM playing an important role not only in Pakistan but also in Kashmir as well. Sooner or later Pakistani government has to make some compromise on Kashmir and they have shown their ability to make u turns on important issues and get away with it. Kashmir dispute is a different ball game; the government has to get support of some powerful forces in the country.

MQM over the years has proved that they have the ability to mobilize public support on important issues, and effectively support the government. MQM Chief, Altaf Hussain, by sitting in London can call shots and make things happen in Pakistan. The military government and MQM need each other in order to be relevant. Their interests are common, and they have to forge closer ties to be successful in the next phase, which starts in 2007; but for that a lot of work needs to be done beforehand.

As noted above Pakistan has to swallow a bitter pill on Kashmir, and MQM could be a useful ally in this. It would not surprise me at all if MQM starts its branch in Azad Kashmir. I oppose Pakistani parties to have their branches in Pakistani Administered Kashmir and in Gilgit and Baltistan; but if other Pakistani parties can have their branches here then no one can stop MQM to set up their branch here.

Should MQM decides to follow other Pakistani parties and move in to this area, which in one way they have already done because of the relief work, then they could soon be a successful party as they know how to make alliances and mobilize masses.

Recently International Kashmir Alliance, IKA, held an international Kashmir Conference in Brussels, what were the aims of that conference and how successful you were in this? Apart from that what was the purpose of formation of IKA, and what role it has played in the Kashmiri politics?

Ans 8.
IKA was formed under Geneva Declaration to provide a platform to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that they can express their views without any threat or intimidation. It is a pro people and pro peace Alliance which believes that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute; and that the dispute has to be resolved in a process of dialogue involving all three parties to the dispute. It strongly opposes politics of vested interests which is commercialised and which has encouraged violence and proxy war; and this has resulted in loss of thousands of valuable lives and has done enormous damage.

We can proudly claim that we have made a difference in the Kashmiri politics. We openly opposed commercialised politics and gun culture in Jammu and Kashmir; and strengthened those groups and individuals who opposed all this but did not have courage or did not have a platform to oppose these power groups. We provided a voice to disadvantaged groups in the society; and promoted culture of tolerance and coexistence.

IKA not only promoted peaceful resolution of the dispute but also promoted Kashmiri nationalism, as we are the first party or alliance to have reached out to people of all communities and regions and provided them a platform. From this platform, a first International Kashmir Conference in its true sense was held in London, which was also attended by notable people like Benzair Bhutto and Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Despite strong opposition from certain powerful groups it was very successful conference from anyone’s standards; and notable delegates from different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds sent a powerful message that we don’t want any more violence, and that we want peace, dignity and right to live our lives like other human beings.

We were the pace setter, it helped to change thinking of the people. This provided them encouragement and they felt that they could oppose and challenge those who want to continue this proxy politics and proxy war in Kashmir resulting in mayhem and bloodshed. It also showed that the whole State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed, and especially areas of Gilgit and Baltistan also came to limelight first time since the present militancy. A clear message came out of this conference that majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is against division, violence and sectarianism.

IKA London conference also opened a flood- gate and many groups with vested interest started holding conferences in various parts of the world, but they failed to attract delegates from all regions and all communities; and they only looked official show representing one view point.

IKA held its second International Kashmir Conference in Canada, which also proved to be very successful, as more people representing ethnic minorities of Jammu and Kashmir were present. And we also managed to issue a joint declaration from the delegates, which reinforced IKA programme and promoted politics of tolerance and coexistence. It rejected division of Kashmir, and condemned violence and sectarianism. It promoted more confidence building measures, opening of LOC and peaceful resolution of all issues including dispute of Jammu and Kashmir; and insisted that there must be an active participation of the Kashmiri people.

It must be noted here that apart from these conferences IKA leaders held a number of seminars in various parts of the world, and have held many press conferences to highlight different issues, which directly concern the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Also IKA leaders have met British MPs, European MPs and MPs of various other countries, including diplomats of important countries and Think Tanks to project a Kashmiri point of view.

In pursuance with IKA policy and programme of reaching out to people and give out Kashmiri version to the international community, we arranged third International Kashmir Conference in Brussels. This conference, like our previous conferences, was very successful, and some would say more successful because of the contribution, debates, interaction and final outcome in the form of comprehensive agreement known as Brussels Declaration.

But this conference should not be an end itself, this is means to an end, and end being a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute to the satisfaction of everyone concerned that we can have peace, stability and prosperity in the region. Many positive changes have taken place since our first conference, India and Pakistan are firmly committed to the peace process; and there has been change of attitude to violence and many stumbling blocks.

Even there have been some major changes in Jammu and Kashmir and South Asia since our last conference in Brussels. Earthquake has destroyed thousands of villages and towns in Kashmir and Pakistan, and there are millions of people who desperately need help; and the world community and aid agencies have been very active in dealing with the disaster.

India and Pakistan have also come closer since the earthquake; and they have opened five points across the LOC to help the quake victims. Indian government was among the first to offer massive help, although there were some trust and confidence related hiccups that delayed the relief work and as a result we failed to save thousands of valuable lives. This also indicates that we all need to do more to boost trust and confidence that all the concerned parties to the dispute could sit down around the table and resolve all issues which hold our progress.

What this means is that role of IKA has not finished yet. We need to do more to build bridges among different communities and ethnic groups that we can all trust each other, and work out a strategy to establish peace in the region and face challenges of the 21st century.

I understand that there are other peace loving people and groups who share our ideals and we are willing to work with them; and in this respect IKA leadership has taken some decisions to incorporate and affiliate other like- minded groups and individuals. We planned to announce this strategy in October after completing our discussions with all the concerned groups, but that could not happen due to massive earthquake which has not only killed more than lakh people and destroyed nearly half of Azad Kashmir, but political activities have also been taken over by relief work.

We could not have continued with our political programme after this tragic event for obvious reasons. Anyhow like other aid agencies we have also been active with the relief work, as first priority was to save lives and be with people in this time of desperate need.

However we shall soon be starting our political activities which will have a strong element of relief work. I believe IKA can play a leading role in helping and supporting the peace process; and bringing people from different social and cultural backgrounds on one platform. For this purpose IKA can hold a conference in Islamabad followed by one in New Delhi, which could help people of all shades of political opinion to discuss and debate issues; and forge alliances and unity among different groups.

Apart from that IKA leadership has ability and skills required to help in the negotiations because of their understanding of jurisprudence of the Kashmir dispute; and play crucial role as we believe in non - religious politics, and have strong commitment to liberal and democratic ideals. And this way we can justifiably claim to speak for all sections of the Kashmiri nation as majority share our political ideals.

Q10 It appears that your first priority now days is article writing, analysis and interviews; and your activities for JKLF seem to be on decline what is reason for this? Apart from this you seem to have no visible contacts with the JKLF leadership like Yasin Malik; and in view of this where do you stand politically?

Ans 10

It is an interesting question which requires a detailed answer. Every national struggle for independence goes through different phases, and Kashmiri struggle is no exception to this. However our struggle is unique in the sense that we are occupied by more than one country, and some sections of our people don’t want independence. To put it crudely they either want to be Pakistani or Indian but not a Kashmiri. And our occupiers because of their physical control exploit the situation by projecting these people as leaders of the Kashmiri people, whereas it is known fact that their loyalties either lie with Islamabad or New Delhi; and in some cases with both.

Every genuine struggle for independence has many fronts, and militancy is only one front, and political activity is the other. As militancy has seen its hey day, and is no longer seen as a viable and acceptable method of pursuing one’s objective; and in any case as I have no role in militancy, so let us talk of political work.

Political activity consists of meetings of different organs of the party, public meetings, press conferences, political statements and interaction with other political parties etc, and purpose of all that is to send political message to party members, and people in general and governments. First of all I would like to know which of the above we have not done.

We regularly have party meetings, press conferences, political statements and close interaction with other political parties. In fact, you will be surprised that we are perhaps the only Kashmiri political party, which has regular meetings. However I accept that we might not have had same media coverage in Pakistani media, and that is because they want to project other JKLF groups, which are perceived as ‘their own’ and projecting a Pakistani agenda.

In our effort to refine and clarify the JKLF ideology, which has been tarnished by compromises made by Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik, we had to reassert our position with regard to Gilgit and Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir; and that didn’t win us friends in Pakistani media and in Pakistani establishment. Pakistani establishment went out of its way to instruct different organs and members of the civil society to either boycott our activities or present them in negative sense.

Apart form that in this global village and with access to new technology one doesn’t have to hold a rally to get its message across. In a struggle for independence parties carry out different kinds of activities some legal and others not so legal, and purpose is to highlight the cause. Kashmir dispute has been highly publicised because of some legal and some illegal activities, and there is nothing more that one could to do further highlight it.

With help, support and influence of outside forces a lot of work has been done to resolve the Kashmir dispute; and one can see a considerable progress in this regard. There are a number of direct and indirect channels working full time to work out modalities to move forward; and hammer out a formula that could be acceptable to all the concerned parties.

And in this phase of the struggle, a public meeting, a rally or violence is not going to change anything. To me it is a battle of ideas, and JKLF cannot win this or influence this by holding a public meeting or by throwing a bomb, and that again in public place. This phase of the struggle needs an intellectual input from the JKLF, and we don’t want to be out of step with that.

We need to demonstrate to people who matter that we know what is happening, and that we are willing and capable of making a positive contribution to support the peace process and reach an acceptable solution. Over the months and years we have made concerted effort to influence or at least get an ear of those who matter; and some of this activity is best to be kept away from the media.

If we are not holding rallies it does not mean we don’t have means to do so, and one should not construe that we don’t have support on the ground; if anything we have more support and more friends in Pakistan, Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan then ever before. Apart from that tell me which Kashmiri party is holding big public meetings and rallies, in fact most are waiting for a miracle to happen. They have already given in, and live in hope that someone else will do the needful.

Unlike our JKLF other JKLF groups and some other Kashmiri parties have no financial worries, in fact, they have so much that they don’t know what to do with it, so we have to use our meagre resources carefully.

Generally when a Kashmiri party holds a public meeting they get up to a thousand people after a lot of effort and expense; and after people leave the meeting they hardly remember what was said. A message heard by people from a platform in a speech is difficult to remember and nearly impossible to pass on; whereas a message on a paper is easy to understand, could be read again and is easy to pass on.

So we use our resources sensibly, and by spending half of that money we produce books and booklets, which help to pass on our message to thousands of people. In the past two years we have produced more than six books and booklets on different aspects of the Kashmiri struggle; and in December of this year we will (inshallah) produce at least three more booklets We will hold launching function for these, and that itself is a political activity, which to us, is more productive and long lasting.

I write articles on current affairs, act and react on the everyday issues, and not on ancient history to get my name published and stay alive in media; and those who have this in mind they are totally wrong. My articles are published in many papers and are also used by different Internet papers, and by Grace of Allah, are read and noted in various places.

With regard to Yasin Malik, what you and others got to remember is that he joined the JKLF in late 1980s, and I am one of those who helped to form it in 1977. I have my own contribution and standing in the JKLF and he has his own. We don’t need umbrella of Yasin Malik or Amanullah Khan to continue our struggle for unification and independence of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

In any case these two have alleged to have maligned the JKLF name by making ideological compromises; and our JKLF would not make any agreement with them until they come clean on their ideological stand. There is an old saying that there are no free dinners in business, similarly there are no protocols without an ideological compromise.

This is not only our view, this is a widely held view in political circles; and no nationalist party of Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan want to have any political contacts with them. Apart from that they are regarded as ‘b team’ of agencies. Their activities sometimes reflect and reinforce this image, for example, Amanullah Khan attempted a border crossing of LOC in 1992; and now everyone knows that it was funded and engineered by Pakistani agencies.

He seems to be more worried about rights of people living on the Indian side and less worried about rights of his own people in Gilgit and Baltistan, who have far worse living conditions in the whole State of Jammu and Kashmir. One may ask how many demonstrations he had taken out for rights of people of Gilgit and Baltistan, or for that matter for rights of people Mirpur who will be displaced fro the second time to meet needs of Pakistan. One can give many other examples to support above point.

Similarly Yasin Malik’s JKLF gets official patronage, and in view of some, on both sides of the divide. Officials of Pakistan miss no opportunity to project him, and high level government officials take part in his functions, Ministers and even Prime Minister and President of Pakistan have enough time to attend his functions and project him.

One can only get this level of official support and media projection if there is some understanding behind the scenes, which in practise means an ideological change; and this is visible in policies of Yasin Malik’s group, as he doesn’t talk about rights of people of Gilgit and Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir. He doesn’t even talk about rights of people of Mirpur who will be evicted from their homes for the second time to provide water and electricity to Pakistan.

Very recently I met an Indian journalist and a Pakistani journalist, both of them have good understanding of Kashmiri politics and during course of discussion both of them acknowledged that Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik have compromised their ideology.

This proves the point that we are the only JKLF group which adheres to the original ideology as it was enunciated by the JKLF in 1977, and this is the ideology of Maqbool Butt Shaheed. In view of the above we are proud to say that, at least, we have the correct ideological stand.

As far as our strength and public support is concerned, soon after the deadly earthquake, we were the first Kashmiri political party to announce help of 50 lakh rupees and have practically given out help in form of tents, blankets, clothes, food and building of tin houses. This money was raised by JKLF members and given to us by public who trust us.

Which other Kashmiri party or JKLF group has done this. One might say that Yasin Malik announced one cror rupees and he went across to help and support the earthquake victims. But there are some serious questions attached with the help he has given, and there is no comparison between the two.

Yasin Malik, it is claimed, raised this money from Kashmir, the Valley. Within days after the tragic event he came to New Delhi to sort out his visa, and practically stayed less than a week in the Valley, and war torn Kashmiri society is not that rich that he could raise one cror within a few days, especially when there is serious trust vacuum there. Even if he did, he must have got that money in Indian currency; and he went to Pakistan by air, so he could not have put that money in a suitcase and boarded the plane.

Fact of the matter is that he got this money in Pakistan, and it was not one cror it was much less. It was good of him to come and show solidarity and support people on this side of the divide, and we appreciate this; but as far as money is concerned it was not raised but given to him. And as a good and obedient boy he gave it back most of the money to those who provided it in first place. There is an old saying that Kunwainh ki matti kunwainh main lag jati hai, meaning that soil out of well is generally used on it to complete it. You might recall that he gave ten lakhs rupees to President of Azad Kashmir’s relief fund and twenty lakhs to President of Pakistan’s relief fund; and very little money was actually given out to the people in the form of relief work.

Corruption in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir is rampant, Pakistan is still fifth most corrupt country in the world, and Yasin Malik knows it; and in view of this why leave this money, especially if it was given to him by the people in form of Zakat and Sadka etc at the mercy of corrupt officials.

I hope this explains the situation with regard to the JKLF, and why we don’t want to align ourselves with either of these two leaders of JKLF because it will tarnish our image and reputation. I also hope that now you know where we stand in practical politics and on ideology. Whereas others have made some advances by ideological flirtation and by making compromises on ideology, but we have not shifted ground; and history will tell who were loyal to the ideology and the cause.

Q11. How do you see future of India and Pakistan talks, and in your opinion how long it will take to resolve it?

Ans 11.

Despite a lot of hard work and many proposals on the table, in my opinion no one exactly knows what will be the final outcome of the Kashmir dispute. Both governments because of internal and external pressures have agreed to continue their talks even though if there is no visible progress, and even if some groups commit violence to derail the process. They have also agreed not to resort to military adventure to solve political disputes.

In view of the above agreement I can safely say that the peace process will continue, as both governments have no option but to continue talking. Not only this soon against their tradition and agreed policy of the past, they will have to invite the Kashmiris to the negotiating table, which has been a ‘no go area’ for the Kashmiris since 1947.

It would be interesting to see, who in their opinion represents the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. On both sides of the LOC both governments have groomed their own ‘b teams’, and have been projecting them as leaders of the Kashmiri people. Reality however is that no single leader, party or even alliance represents whole of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

If after agreeing on some kind of solution they plan to invite their chosen few, who are known to feel proud to dance on the tune played from Islamabad and New Delhi, and get their thumbprints, then it might not work. The best thing is to facilitate meetings of people of Jammu and Kashmir, and they can decide who are the best people to defend Kashmiri identity and Kashmiri interest.

The concept of United States of Kashmir is very much talked these days. It is good that different options are discussed, and we are no longer asked to decide between India and Pakistan. However it is strange that it is coming from a man or men who have opposed the concept of united Kashmir in the past, and who do not have ideological clarity.

This United States of Kashmir is different to the concept of an independent Kashmir we have in mind, as this USK might not be s sovereign state. However perhaps it is the best option available on the table at present, and should not be rejected as it provides some way out.

During my last visit to the region in June 2005, this idea of autonomous regions on both sides of the LOC came under discussion with senior Western diplomats and some other people. I said to them that the idea of autonomous states as it is would not work, as people did not pay sacrifices for autonomy. However if it could be improved, for example, by having a Senate consisting of 25 members, (five from each autonomous region) to work out intra region matters and also to deal with matters with others including Indian and Pakistan, then it might be acceptable to the people.

This idea of USK could not have been put forward without a green signal from Islamabad; in fact, it would be quite safe to say that it was discussed between the two in great details. But important question is if this idea has been discussed with the third party or was it broadcasted to score a political point and to cause embarrassment. I hope it was properly discussed at different levels before it went to the press because when the parties to a dispute discuss matters through the media it could create problems and misunderstandings.

Although it appears that progress on Kashmir is being made quite quickly, and some even suggest that we can see some kind of settlement soon; but I tend to disagree with this view. No doubt peace process has been going on for a long time now, and good progress has been made; but all that is to create conducive environment where all parties could comfortably sit down and discuss all disputes with an open heart.

That has been done and different options have been discussed and looked at, and from this stage we need to move to the next stage, which is to work out a mechanism that could be applied to negotiate and implement an agreed formula on Kashmir. In my considered opinion that is not going to happen soon, as both countries, especially India, are not yet ready to make big concessions on Kashmir.

Even after tripartite or triangular negotiations a decision is reached then still it is questionable if democratic government of India would make a final deal on Kashmir with a government which is not recognised as a democratic and does not enjoy a public support, as it is often said that public support is with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

This has to be seen in the context that Kashmir dispute is the biggest dispute between the two countries, and has great emotional, economic and strategic value to them. It is debatable if government of India which claims to be the biggest democracy on earth, would sign an agreement on an issue like Kashmir with a man in uniform, or wait a few more years until more acceptable and popular government is in place.

It is hoped that many big political changes will take place in Pakistan after 2007, and future government will have a popular support, even though it will have the same man as a President without army uniform. It is believed that the Indian government might feel more comfortable in signing a deal on Kashmir with that government then the one in place at present; and hopefully that government will have more credibility and public support as it is expected that it will have some input from Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

This means we are still a few years away from the final settlement on Kashmir, and this should not disappointment people as this is not a long time in life of nations, especially when we expect to get better outcome with a few more years of struggle.

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