Sunday, 8 November 2009

New dimensions of the Kashmiri struggle.

New dimensions of the Kashmiri struggle.
Dr Shabir Choudhry 8 November 2009

Yes, it is time for a change. We have always opposed the status quo in hope that change will bring better results - it will bring freedom, peace and prosperity; and now that change is in the offing I am apprehensive as to what it might bring. I don’t know what this change will bring to us. Will we, as a nation forcibly divided be any better off or worse?

At one time it was only the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir that was viewed as disputed; and more or less everyone from the Pakistani side of the divide wanted to liberate that side which had better living standard, better infrastructure and more political, economic and social rights.

Although Pakistan, their agencies, political parties pro Pakistan Kashmiris on both sides of the divide and some ‘nationalist parties’ who are considered ‘B’ team of Pakistan wanted to ensure that attention is focussed only on the Indian side of the divide and only those areas should be seen as disputed; but hard work of true nationalists have paid off, and now areas of Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir are also deemed as disputed.

Those who were living on the Indian side also thought the grass was greener on the Pakistani side of the divide; and they might get better rights and better future once they join Pakistan. Now all that has changed, as people come to know that there is no grass on the other side at all; and whatever little grass is there is rotten.

Furthermore they think if Pakistan had any love for the people of Jammu and Kashmir then they could have given fundamental human rights to the people who were living in the areas under their control. Denial of basic human rights to these people shows what care the Pakistani officials have for the people of the State. With time people have come to know Pakistani designs on Kashmir – they are only interested in the territory and the resources the State can offer to them.

People had to pay big sacrifices and suffer for many decades in order to reach this stage. They are not happy with India, but they no longer wish to join Pakistan either. They no longer trust those leaders who led them on this path where they suffered while the leadership enjoyed their lives and built their economic empires.

A big change has taken place and people have realised that if violence is ‘haram’ (religiously not permitted) in Pakistan or inside Pakistani Administered Jammu and Kashmir then how could it be ‘halal’ (religiously permitted) on the Indian side of the divide.

Support for democratic process

Yes, more changes are taking place. People have greater awareness and they no longer wish to follow their leaders blindly. They want to hold their leaders accountable for what they do. Did anyone visualise that the people of Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir will defy repeated requests of APHC leaders to boycott the elections; and despite threats of militants, they refused to boycott the elections and voted for their candidates.

People of Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir voted with their feet; they came out in very large numbers to cast their votes and stunned everyone. Some Kashmiris voters said, we hate India, but our hate is stronger for those who tell us to boycott elections, as this helps them financially and politically, and we have decided to defy their call and come out to vote in large numbers.

At one time to support an election on the Indian side of the divide was a serious crime. People were beaten up and killed for supporting the elections or for expressing their desire to be part of the democratic process. When my colleagues and I supported the electoral process, anti elections or anti democratic forces fully supported by Pakistani agencies came for us. We were declared anti Kashmir, anti Movement, anti Islam and pro Indian.

Despite this nefarious campaign against us we continued with our jihad of speaking truth and educating people about their rights and obligations; and opposing terrorism, violence, extremism, communalism and hatred. Many thought we will not be able to withstand this onslaught and propaganda, and will perish under this tremendous pressure; but we stood our ground and, if anything, the forces that opposed us are on the run and are busy realigning themselves.

Changing attitude

Another big change has taken place on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir. According to a report of English daily Kashmir Observer of 18 February 2009, nearly 14,000 youths took part on the Indian army’s recruitment drive which began in the district of Baramulla.

This has made people think why such a large number of people have turned out to join the Indian Army, especially if they thought it was an army of occupation that committed serious crimes against innocent people of Kashmir. Some people say it is the poverty and unemployment which is forcing people to join the army; however others have different explanations for this.

People of Palestine dislike and hate the Israeli army; and there is more poverty and unemployment there than what there is in Jammu and Kashmir. Then why is that the struggling people of Palestine do not join that army which they regard as killer army and army of occupation?

Small people big roles

People of the Valley, by and large, have developed superiority complex that everything should revolve around them; and that people of the other regions of the State should follow them. They wrongly think that every one should speak about them and support them, and they don’t have to even mention about miseries of the people belonging to other regions of the State.

This complex or ego of the ‘Valley leaders’ is regularly massaged by both India and Pakistan by giving them more attention than they deserve. Both governments have worked hard to promote those people as leaders of the Kashmiri Movement who were uneducated, uncommitted and lacked vision and directions. Aim of both governments and their agencies was to promote those who did not know what requirements of a genuine independence movement were.

Plan was to keep genuine freedom fighters under shadow and away from the lime light. Small people were assigned big roles – roles which they did not deserve; and had no clue how to perform them. The result was chaos and destruction. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives, thousands were tortured, imprisoned and raped; and we still have not moved a step forward, if anything the independence struggle was associated with Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

Despite all the above sacrifices our struggle is still not considered as an indigenous Kashmiri struggle, where people of the State could decide their future. Still it is Indian and Pakistani bureaucrats and politicians who will decide what is good for us. India and Pakistan were considered to be the main players in the Kashmir dispute, even though we are the principal party.

Emerging role of China

However the above scenario is changing now. Role of China in Kashmir dispute is becoming more visible and stronger; and this gives totally new dimension to the Kashmir dispute and how it might be resolved. China’s interest is not only confined to the territory of the State, but it goes well beyond the boundary of the State. In order to fulfil their future aspirations, China needs to ensure that they maintain what the State territory they already have, but also ensure that they have greater influence and hold in the territory of Gilgit Baltistan. For this they have chalked out a programme and they are increasing their influence and hold over the areas of Gilgit Baltistan.

It is believed that they have leased various areas of Gilgit Baltistan from government of Pakistan, who are willing to sell anything and everything as long as they get cash for that. More than ten thousand Chinese, majority of them army men, are actively working in the area under different pretexts or under different development and exploration projects.

In the past they used to come to Gilgit Baltistan, stay in temporary shelters and go back after completing the project. This time the Chinese have come to stay, as they have started building permanent residential houses and have started taking keen interest in local matters, including local politics.

Unlike leaders of Pakistan, Chinese leaders are patriotic people. To them national interest is more important than the personal interest and self aggrandisement. They are not sure if Pakistan will survive as a nation state or will be able to hold on to the territory they have currently under their control. If Pakistan fails to protect its own borders and areas of the State under their illegal control, then China will not remain spectator and let others take over these strategically important territories which are extremely important to the Chinese future plans.

In this scenario they will take over these areas and protect their investment and interests directly linked to Gawader sea port and beyond. One can see how new developments and new dimensions in the Kashmiri struggle are taking place; and what impact they can have on unification and independence of former State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Asserting youths and Safr e Azadi

It is pleasing to note that Kashmiri youths on both sides of the divide have decided to be more assertive. They have decided to play an active role, and advance the cause of Jammu and Kashmir. The emerging role of the Kashmiri youths has forced the leadership of various Parties to be more careful in what they do and what they say.

Another important change is that for the first time initiative led by youths of the Valley, have forced the leaders to follow the theme; and even speak for the rights of the people of Gilgit Baltistan. Although not too strongly but it is pleasing to note that for the first time some leaders of the Valley have criticised action of the government of Pakistan regarding their new package on Gilgit Baltistan. This means for the first time they have realised that vast areas of Gilgit Baltistan are part of the State.

Because of more awareness and realisation of their strength and role, people have started questioning role of their leaders. Many ask why leaders have remained tight lipped regarding the plight of people of Gilgit Baltistan for the past sixty two years. Were they afraid that by speaking for rights of these people the leaders (who claim to represent whole of Jammu and Kashmir but in reality represent themselves and few localities of the Valley) could have lost their perks and other rewards.

Kashmiri youths also ask what was the purpose of collecting signatures in so called Safr – e Azadi - meaning journey for independence, if they were to be handed over to Prime Minister of a country which occupies two areas of the State, namely Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan and deprive them of basic human rights.

How interesting Yasin Malik got a gun and training from Pakistan and made use of that in the Valley and later on surrendered the gun to Delhi. He got new training and a new weapon – peace offensive during detention in a farm house in New Delhi, used it in the Valley, collected signatures and surrendered them in Islamabad.

Was this campaign taken - on to help government of India to get this message across to the Western capitals that right of movement of people is not restricted provided they abandon violence and move around without a gun? Message was clear: look a former militant who has surrendered his gun is allowed to walk with his friends freely from village to village, from town to town, at day and night to spread his message to hundreds of people in public meetings.

Message was that restriction of movement was only for those who use violence to promote their politics and intimidate local people. This message was projected through appropriate channels and helped India to ease pressure of the Western countries. Indian planners of this strategy were pleased with the outcome. Apart from other rewards, they allowed Yasin Malik to go to Pakistan with all the signatures that he can present them to Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan.

But question is why Shaukat Aziz – he was a person on loan to Pakistan and his job was to ‘screw up’ economy and the country to the best of his ability and leave, which he did very effectively. Why Yasin Malik didn’t give these signatures to some international body like the UN, which now says the UN has no role in the Kashmir dispute. Wouldn’t this have helped to strengthen the Kashmiri cause that people are not happy with the status quo; and that something must be done to improve the conditions of Kashmiris.

Furthermore, wouldn’t it have been better to present these signatures to the European Parliament which has started taking more active role in the Kashmir dispute; and have passed a resolution on Kashmir, which is the first of its kind and which is the first international initiative on Kashmir after the UN resolutions?

The European Parliament Resolution on Kashmir has also brought new a dimension to the Kashmir dispute. EU parliament, in its Resolution authored by highly respected and talented Baroness Emma Nicholson, differentiated between a right of self determination and a right of accession. It was a right of accession which the people of Jammu and Kashmir were offered by the UN, and which Pakistan has been supporting, and not a right of self determination.

Furthermore the EU Parliament in its Resolution has rightly focussed attention on the neglected people of Gilgit Baltistan, and demanded that people of this region should get their political and democratic rights. May be it was this pressure that has resulted in Pakistan granting some rights to the people of Gilgit Baltistan

New Package on Gilgit Baltistan and border crossing

At last government of Pakistan has acknowledged that this territory has a name – Gilgit Baltistan; and that they are not Northern Areas. Furthermore, people of this area could not be neglected anymore. They deserve to have their political and democratic rights, just like people of any other nation.

What Pakistan has given in this new package is not enough; and it shows Pakistan’s real designs related to the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This new package and Pakistan’s endeavour to change the status of Gilgit Baltistan has removed the thin veil which hid the real designs of Pakistan.

This was welcomed by collaborators and opposed by people of the area and Pakistani Administered Kashmir. Nearly all nationalist parties openly spoke out against the new package and held rallies and public meetings against it. Pakistani establishment was not expecting so strong response from the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Under pressure from the youths of his party even Amanullah Khan had to speak out against the new package. In the past, like Molana Fazal Rehman provided a friendly opposition to government of General Musharaf, Amanullah Khan successfully provided a ‘friendly opposition’ to policies of Pakistani governments. His real opposition was against India and not Pakistan; and many nationalist parties DONOT regard his group of JKLF as a nationalist party.

It was because of his friendly and very often ‘negotiated opposition’, as stated by Nawaz Malik, Senior Minister of Azad Kashmir in a public meeting in Luton, England, that people called him ‘B’ team of Pakistan. Of course ‘A’ team consist of those who openly speak of accession to Pakistan and say they are soldiers of Pakistan and fighting Pakistan’s war.

Amanullah Khan is a shrewd politician, he realised he could not satisfy his rebellious youths and other parties by cosmetic changes or activities. He normally feels comfortable in the company of pro Pakistan parties, but this time he had to woo some nationalist parties to reassert his claim to nationalism. He, therefore, desperately needed a face saving activity.

There was a lot of international pressure on Pakistan that Kashmiri militants were getting training and arms from Pakistan; and Pakistan was on a verge of being declared a terrorist state in 1992. Amanullah Khan’s services were hired to take off this international pressure by staging highly propagated activity of ‘border crossing’ drama of February 1992, where he was fully helped and supported to muster people but told not to go beyond a certain point that it could be demonstrated to the international community that people of Azad Kashmir were supporting militancy; and Pakistan was having difficulty in controlling these people.

Influenced by a large number of people, and especially youngsters, he ignored the agreement with the establishment and tried to go beyond the agreed point, which resulted in shooting by the Pakistan army and killing of eight innocent Kashmiri youths.

Amanullah Khan decided to have another border crossing show. This time he was to ‘run over’ the border between Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. While he himself was comforted in safety of his office in Rawalpindi, he wanted his protestors to reach Pakistani Parliament in Islamabad at a time when there was high alert everywhere. Because of the war on terrorism or more appropriately a civil war, no part of Pakistan, especially in Rawalpindi and in Islamabad was considered safe, genius Amanullah Khan wanted to raid the Pakistani Parliament under this situation.

Like in 1992, he was told that he would not be allowed to proceed beyond a certain point; and that point was Azad Patan Bridge. But question is if the protestors had to come back from that Bridge then why take them there. Perhaps it would have been better to protest outside the AJK Assembly, like NAP, NSF and JKNLF have done.

Like the border crossing of February 1992, this time again, Amanullah Khan’s real agenda, like the last time is not what he claims. It is too early to say what terms of the deal were agreed this time, but surely one day in future it will be known.

Increased role of Kashmiri nationalists

Another new dimension is the confidence of nationalist parties in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir. They have all of sudden become very active and persuasive. JKNLF had an impressive show in Muzaffarabad, and demonstrated its power and influence. Also NAP and NSF had some activities in various towns which were good shows and resulted in arrests and injury of their leaders. Similarly JKPNP after a long time had a good show in Mirpur.

Newly established Kashmir National Party gave a new twist to Kashmiri politics and history by deciding to hold a Black Day on 22 October. In the past Black Day was held on 27 October to coincide with landing of the Indian Army in Srinagar. But KNP claimed that it was the Tribal Invasion which violated the Standstill Agreement and undermined the sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir State. They said it was the Tribal Invasion supported by Pakistani officials that resulted in our suffering and division of the State, therefore, the Black Day should be held on this day.

Furthermore UKPNP also flexed its muscle and had an impressive show in Rawalakot. It showed its strength and openly spoke against oppressive policies of Pakistani rulers. Apart from that All Parties National Alliance is also getting its act together and playing its part in promoting the cause of united and independent Jammu and Kashmir.

All these activities were in one way against the Kashmir policy of Islamabad. This sudden upsurge of Kashmiri nationalists unnerved the ruling elite, especially the rulers of Islamabad who have interest in keeping these areas under their control and exploiting natural resources.

JKLF Yasin group in Pakistani Administered Kashmir is virtually on death bed, and are not in a position to put up any show apart from issuing a paper statement from time to time. So only party the Pakistani establishment could rely on is the JKLF Amanullah Khan Group. It is possible that they requested the old, tried and trusted ally to come out and show that he is still alive and kicking. They knew if logistic support is provided and a task of apparently against Pakistani policy is given it will suit both: Amanullah Khan and his party will get a new lease of life and it will help Pakistani establishment to marginalise the other parties who are genuinely working in the field.

Role of MQM and other Pakistani parties in Gilgit Baltistan

Entry of MQM in the Kashsmiri politics is certainly a new dimension. Some years ago when the MQM was not involved in the Kashmir politics and was not even that influential in the politics of Pakistan, a Pakistani friend from Islamabad came to visit me. This friend has good interaction with foreign diplomats in Islamabad and also has ear of the Pakistani establishment. He also has good knowledge of Pakistani politics and India Pakistan relations. During our conversation he suggested that I should join MQM. With amazement I asked reason for this. He said:

‘MQM is going to play a leading role in politics of Pakistan; and they will also have a big say in politics of Kashmir as well’. He smiled at me and said, ‘You have given enough time and suffered enough, and in my opinion you should get some rewards now and MQM can help you with that.’

I said to him, ‘Like any other political activist I also want rewards, but I would not accept any rewards at the cost of my ideology. I don’t want Pakistani parties to operate inside Kashmiri territory’. Also I told him what I thought of MQM and refused to take that path. I thought may be on suggestion of Pakistani agencies he was trying to woo me and distract me from my mission. Anyhow what he said became true.

Now when I see MQM marching right from Karachi to Azad Kashmir and to Gilgit Baltistan and holding big public meetings, his words echo my memory. Gilgit Baltistan is part of State of Jammu and Kashmir; and Pakistani presence there is illegal and unwarranted. They have injected millions in the polity of the area and are busy corrupting people with their ill gotten money.

These Pakistani parties with help of their money and huge propaganda machinery and media will defeat most of local parties and especially nationalist candidates. They have already violated State Subject Laws, control local economy and now with help of election drama they will hijack and ‘legally’ dominate polity of the area as well. To fool people and the world at large, they will call this ‘granting independence and empowering people’.

Yet another dimension

India claims the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, and furthermore Kashmir is part of their constitution; but we challenge this contention because the accession was ‘provisional’ and had to be ratified by the people of the State in free and an impartial plebiscite.

In any case for all practical purposes India settled for what they had. India was more than happy to have a treaty on basis of the cease fire line or the present LOC. However, it was Pakistan which wanted more territory of the State to satisfy their imperial and economic designs; and for that they started direct and indirect wars.

What this indicates is that India did not believe that the accession was final; and that it was for the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, otherwise they would not have settled for the status quo or remained silent on the plight of people in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir if they had thought these people were ‘Indian’ like people of other Indian states.

But after sixty two years of silence all of sudden India has changed its stand or strategy. They have not only raised objections to the Chinese intentions to build dams in Gilgit Baltistan, they have also asserted their claim that these areas belong to India.

This dimension of the Kashmir dispute will change the scenario and will have great impact on politics of the region and that of South Asia. So in presence of all these dimensions discussed above, what is there for us? Are we going to be any better off, or we will be a battleground for a new conflict and new tension, which may attract other players in the conflict?

Writer is a Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:
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