Beyond Stone-Pelters An Irish Formula For Kashmir
The stone-pelters and ‘azadi’ chanters of the vale of Kashmir are in the news for all the inspired reasons, thanks to the personalities and powers behind them. The tragic maelstrom into which the impressionable youth of Srinagar and adjoining areas on the Indian side of the line of control have been drawn has already taken a toll of over 50 lives since early June this year. And every fatal casualty is turned into mourners procession accompanied by yet more fiery speeches in the name of God, religion, ‘azadi’ or ‘freedom’ by the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the leader of the hardline Islamist faction of the separatist Hurriyat conglomeration which has always shied away from fighting elections.
The pictures are dramatic and the television and print media of India is in the forefront for portraying the patently anti-Indian activity, giving the lie to the human rights pundits across the LoC and beyond who accuse India of suppressing facts, perpetuating state terror, curfewed nights, mass murders and worse. Very few bother about revealing the easily visible factors behind the pictures.
The stone-pelters are portrayed as peaceful marchers, forgetting the brutal reality that stones too can maim and kill. The stone-throwers don’t just stop there, they burn buses and police posts and whatever comes their way.
Yet they must be met with the greatest care. However provocative and misguided, they are our brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters. Dialogue which seems to be failing should not be abandoned. Protesters should be cooled down with huge showers of water cannon in the valley which has plenty of water, followed by tear gas rather than bullets. And bullets, if at all needed, should be of the rubber bullet type. Police and other security personnel should be rigorously trained to hit below the knee to disable them, avoiding fatal injury. Live bullets should be the very last resort, only against Klashnikov terrorists and grenade throwers. For in the ultimate analysis every person’s death diminishes all of us.
Tragically, media quite often becomes part of the propaganda in the
name of press freedom. Instead of balancing the story, the pictures are laced with incendiary commentaries and broadcast as the full story which at best is only half the story. The other half of the story, voiced by the anti-azadi and anti-Jihadi population of Kashmir is quietly given the go-by.
The anti-‘azadi’ voices come from large parts of Kashmir, especially from the Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Leh region of Ladakh and the Shia-Muslim majority of Kargil region of Ladakh, as also the Shias of Gilgit Baltistan. And within the paradise valley too there are voices muzzled by foreign-funded and gun-toting Islamist terrorists.
And what does this vuvuzela of ‘azadi’ mean? There is no single meaning or interpretation offered even by its proponents. The literal translation of azadi may mean freedom but in the Kashmir context it means different things to different people. For Hurriyat’s Geelani faction it certainly means a hardline, Sunni Islamist Kashmir as part of Pakistan. For a much greater number of Kashmiri Muslims (43 per cent according to a recent poll), azadi has come to mean an independent Kashmir, independent both of India and Pakistan.
The poll conducted on both sides of Kashmir by British think tank Chatham House found that only two per cent of the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side would like to join Pakistan. In other words 98 per cent of the people of the state are against joining Pakistan. Even in the Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir region only 50 per cent voted in favour of Pakistan. It is reasonable to infer that in a more free climate, considerably less than 50 per cent would plump for Pakistan. Given the history of Pakistan’s performance as a state very few would cast their lot with it.
The demand for azadi or independence is not universal in the whole of Kashmir. Nor is it a practical proposition in view of the long history of the issue and the religious and political ramifications both in India and Pakistan. India cannot agree to a second partition of the country on the disastrous religious grounds. Nor can Pakistan let Kashmir go out of its ‘strategic depth’, to use an alternative word for control. Yet the people of Kashmir, all sections including the quarter million Pandits ethnically cleansed out of the valley by the Islamists and the Sikhs who are currently being threatened to quit the valley not just the ‘azadi’ chanters, must be part of any settlement. The elected representatives of the two sides of Kashmir could join the negotiations between India and Pakistan, making it a four-way search for a settlement.
The ground reality in Kashmir is that there are not just two voices in Kashmir one pro-Pakistani and jihadi, the other pro-India. There are many voices that make up Kashmiryat a historically secular culture which itself is part of the sub-continent’s composite culture that is being sought to be extinguished by religious terrorists.
Given the diversity of participants and regional interests, no solution can be acceptable to all or any single group, just as the 1947 Partition of India was not wholly acceptable to any side. It was unacceptable to Congress-led India to whom division was anathema; it was unacceptable to Muslim League led by Mr Jinnah to whom a country without corridor linking eastern and western parts meant a moth-eaten Pakistan; and it was unacceptable to Britain which wanted to leave a united country and united army. Yet all three sides had to swallow the bitter pill and reach a compromise for a divided India falling massively short of an ideal solution. Similarly for Kashmir all interested parties will have to be satisfied with some compromise.
The search for a compromise solution has been attempted, with political leaders looking amenable to some formula. Back in 1980s, Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto had established a kind of rapport which held promise for the
future. In fact many years after Mr Gandhi’s assassination and during Ms Bhutto’s exile, she told a media gathering in New Delhi that the India-Pakistan entente could be achieved while the Kashmir issue could be left for future resolution. The same kind of solution was voiced by her husband Asif Ali Zardari soon after taking over as President of Pakistan, but had to retract under pressure from the country’s Army.
HURRIYAT SCORES SELF-GOAL!
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has declared that he will invite hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and JKLF leader Yasin Malik for talks over dinner during Eid this week in an effort to unite the divided separatist leaders before talking to the central government. However even before his unity efforts get under way Geelani has scored a self-goal for the Hurriyat by virtually killing the option of seeking independence for the Valley. Geelani gave an interview to the mainstream media which would have sounded like music to New Delhi and to Farooq Abdullah.
The interviewer asked Geelani: “What is the solution to the Kashmir problem? Some demand independence and some a merger with Pakistan.”
Geelani replied: “I think the only democratic solution to the Kashmir dispute is asking people their opinion though the right to self-determination, as per the signed recommendations of the United Nations to which India was also a party. If the majority of people will vote for India, I may not like it and it might be painful but I will accept it. Similarly, if the people of Kashmir reject India, it should also accept the people’s verdict.”
Surely Geelani would know that according to the UN Resolution on Kashmir all Pakistani citizens and troops must quit the state before any vote for self-determination; that only Indian troops might remain in undivided Kashmir till peace is established; that after peace is established only a token Indian force considered sufficient to maintain peace might remain in undivided Kashmir; that the territorial status of undivided Kashmir must be restored to what obtained under Maharaja Hari Singh; and that only then might a free and fair plebiscite be held giving the people of undivided Kashmir the choice to join India or Pakistan.
The above UN Resolution advocated by Geelani precludes the choice of independence for any part of Kashmir. It precludes any division of Kashmir. It makes implicit the removal of Chinese presence in Kashmir either by way of men or material. In other words it cannot be implemented. It is therefore a dead letter. So what does Geelani want?
Obviously he does not want an independent Kashmir, not even an independent Valley. He has consistently sought Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Unlike his former Hurriyat colleagues he considers independence impractical. That was the clear impression this scribe got when he met Geelani with other Kashmir separatist leaders more than a decade ago. That he has held to that position becomes clear from his latest remark: “If the majority of people will vote for India, I may not like it and it might be painful but I will accept it.”
If Geelani holds to this view it seems most unlikely that a consensus favouring independence for the Valley could emerge among the separatist leaders. With prevalent conditions in Pakistan, and with recent developments in PoK, it would be prudent for the Mirwaiz and others to become realistic and bargain for a kind of autonomy within the Indian Constitution that delivers them genuine self rule.
Indian opposition parties should not oppose more autonomy for Kashmir. Instead they should insist on ending Kashmir’s special status. Farooq Abdullah in his recent Lok Sabha speech was spot on when he advocated this and urged India to become a genuine federal democracy. Farooq said that all states of the Union should get the same kind of autonomy as Kashmir. Strong states, he rightly said, would help create a strong India.
Critics who fear that more autonomy for the states would weaken the centre might reflect on how weak the central government is in the prevalent system. There is no escaping the fact that to strengthen the centre and to create an executive that can provide effective governance a large nation like India deserves an executive leader, whether prime minister or president, who is elected directly by the people for a fixed term. Our leaders should dare to think out of the box. Time is running out.
By Rajinder Puri
Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had also established a very promising rapport which was disrupted by the Kargil (Kashmir) war between the two countries. Fortunately, the dialogue was resumed during the rule of General Musharraf despite his Kargil role. Gen Musharraf’s dealings with Vajpayee’s successor Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signalled even greater promise of a compromise solution on Kashmir when Pakistan’s political developments overtook, resulting in his loss of power and office. According to Pakistan’s then foreign minister, a Kashmir deal between India and Pakistan was only ‘a signature away’.
Whatever the strength of that optimistic assessment, Gen Musharraf’s ‘out of box’ search for solution had raised the hopes for a sort of compromise envisaging retention of line of control and de facto sovereign control across that line by each side but making borders irrelevant. The 1947-49 United Nations resolutions , he accepted, had become outdated, implying an end to the idea of a plebiscite for Kashmir joining either India or Pakistan. Gradual co-operation, consultation and eventual demilitarisation by the two sides of Kashmir was to be explored and trade and free movement of people allowed to flourish. A kind of Northern Ireland solution looked feasible on the horizon, though nobody used that terminology.
The 1998 Good Friday, Anglo-Irish Agreement essentially left the boundary between the British-ruled North (Ulster) and the southern Irish Republic unchanged without asking the two sides to change or renounce their respective stands. Both sides promised to build on the desire for peace and to work for cooperation in the interim period till a final settlement on an unspecified date in the future. There was also the double stipulation of ‘peaceful means’ and ‘consent of majority’ in both jurisdictions.
Obviously in the far more complex Kashmir context, the formula needs fine tuning as the consent of majority has to be obtained not just in the Valley but also in the sub-regions of Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan and other areas. The insistence on ‘peaceful means’ is a pre-requisite for any change. Any formula also needs patience on both sides. The Good Friday agreement has been in observance for over 12 years now and things are still being sorted out. But peace has been achieved, border has been made irrelevant, dual currency (Euro and British pound) and movement of goods and people are in free flow. A kind of de facto situation has been accepted.
Also with Britain and the Irish Republic both operating in the European Union ambit, Northern Ireland’s internal rough edges will be increasingly smoothened by the European Union machinery. Given peace a chance, Kashmir too could benefit from the rise of SAARC, which must one day flourish if South Asia is to enter an era of prosperity and end the scourge of poverty.
The encouraging feature of this history of the Kashmir issue is that all major political power centres in Pakistan, including Pakistan Peoples Party, Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif) and even the military in Musharraf days have at one time or other moved toward a compromise solution on Kashmir. There is still hope for such a way out of the imbroglio, only if ‘azadi’ and ‘human rights’ promoters and instigators behind the misguided stone-pelters can be held back.
By Subhash Chopra