How to help embattled Kashmir


We have a Kashmir joke in the form of Maulana Fazlur Rehman as head of the National Assembly’s Kashmir Committee – anything to keep the Maulana happy. But we have no Kashmir policy, at least none that does any good to the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir who have left the world in no doubt how sick and tired they are of Indian rule.

Kashmiris don’t want to be part of India, Indian democracy holding no appeal for them, for what is practised in Occupied Kashmir is anything but democracy. Let us not forget that Kashmiri nationalism which first reared its head against Dogra rule was tilted in favour of the Congress, not the Muslim League. It is a measure of India’s failure in Kashmir that that once pro-Indian sentiment is now viscerally anti-Indian.

But what should Pakistan do? Whenever Occupied Kashmir is on the boil, as it so often is, we trot out the usual clichés which are so much water off a duck’s back as far as India is concerned. When the tumult subsides the clichés are put back in their folders, to be pulled out and aired when the next occasion arises.

The militant route was also tried after the Kashmir uprising of 1989. It tied down Indian divisions in Kashmir but that was it. The Jamaat-ud-Dawah, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, the Hizbul Mujahideen, etc, were good at harrying Indian forces and keeping them distracted. But they also provided an excuse for Indian security forces to unleash the worst form of repression – killings and rape included – against the Kashmiri people, and they brought Kashmir no closer to liberation that it is today.

Be it remembered, those militant outfits were never the Viet Cong and Pakistan for its part was never Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam. Indeed, if we care to look at the 1989 uprising carefully, its death knell was sounded when Pakistan tried to take it over. Whenever our agencies have tried such stunts – whether in Kashmir or Afghanistan – they have usually ended in abject failure.

The current unrest in Kashmir following the death of Burhan Wani is an entirely indigenous happening. India is finding it difficult to suppress it but any clumsy attempt at interference from this side and we can be sure that will be the end of it. Revolutionaries and militants are best left to do their own thing.

But we have a moral obligation to the Kashmiris. No amount of détente or rapprochement with India should make us lose sight of this fact. So what should we do? The old clichés are useless. It’s time for fresh thinking.

The people of Occupied Kashmir detest India but they are not enamoured of Pakistan. They are not braving Indian bullets to become extensions of Pakistan policy. They want to take their destiny into their own hands. The UN resolutions talk of a plebiscite to decide joining India or Pakistan. But Kashmiri sentiment has gone far beyond those resolutions. The people of Kashmir want to be on their own.

Does Pakistan – its ‘establishment’ really – have the sense and vision to recognise this circumstance? Have we looked at the matter closely? Do we care about Kashmiri sentiments or are our generals and diplomats fixated on the old dogmas and can think of nothing fresh? When our leaders say that a time will come when Occupied Kashmir will be a part of Pakistan we are insulting Kashmiri opinion because Kashmiri youth, to repeat the obvious, are not facing Indian bullets to join Pakistan.

The time has therefore come for Pakistan’s bonzes – immersed as they are in their own troubles, and incapable as they are of looking beyond their noses – to display boldness and declare that Pakistan’s basic position is tied to the UN resolutions but that if the Kashmiris so desire, and they want to be on their own, then so be it. Pakistan will respect their wishes, even if it means Azad Kashmir becoming part of an independent Kashmir.

Imagine the impact of this. The Kashmiri struggle will be galvanised, infused with a new spirit. And India will be left with no answer. What will it say? If the people of Kashmir have not bought the charms of Indian democracy and secularism for the last 60 years, they are not going to do so now.

India has ruled Kashmir with force. Given Kashmiri alienation that is the only option it can exercise. It will build more ships to patrol the Indian Ocean and send satellites into space, and its scientists will say how good they are. But Kashmir will remain on the boil. For not just Indian democracy but what there is of Indian civilisation has come to a dead end in Kashmir. Kashmiris have not been won over and they are refusing to be cowed down.

In legend and folklore it was said of Kashmiris that they were a spineless people. Their spirit now is setting the mountains on fire. So much for the power of handed down wisdom. It is time we caught up with this new reality. The old clichés just will not do. We have to come up with something else.

But first things first: we can’t have a mess in Pakistan and expect that to be an inspiration to the Kashmiri people. We have to put our house in order. Our leaders – civil and military – are embroiled in battles of survival and succession and so on. Victims of beleaguered circumstances, they have not the luxury of coming up with bold ideas.

Secondly, the Kashmir cause would be helped immensely if we brought genuine ‘azadi’ to Azad Kashmir. How can we talk liberation for Occupied Kashmir, when our Kashmir is an appendage of Pakistan? Shouldn’t Azad Kashmir be run by the Kashmiris themselves instead of the nominated Kashmir Council or the Minister for Kashmir Affair? The basic law of Azad Kashmir is still the ‘interim’ constitution given to it by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto way back in 1974. The Kashmir Council and similar absurdities flow from this document. Doesn’t Azad Kashmir deserve a permanent constitution?

We should respect the difference between the constitutional positions of the two Kashmirs. India claims Occupied Kashmir as its integral territory even if there is a clause in the Indian constitution conferring a special status on the state. Constitutionally, Azad Kashmir is not a part of Pakistan. It is a separate entity. This may be a fiction but it is in Pakistan’s interest, and the interests of the Kashmiri people, if meaning and substance is put into this fiction – if Azad Kashmir is turned into a showcase of development and progress and if in the running of its affairs Kashmiris call the shots and not imported bureaucrats or the GOC 12 Division sitting in Murree.

Pakistan should learn to trust the people of Azad Kashmir. The recent elections have thrown up a tried and tested leader in the person of Raja Farooq Haider. This is a good opportunity to begin the process of devolving real power to the Azad Kashmir assembly. It is the AJK prime minister who should be addressing the world on behalf of the Kashmiri people. If he is a person of authority and standing the world will listen more carefully to him than to the jokers usually sent out to speak on behalf of the Kashmiri people.