February 2003 News

A Great Betrayal

26 February 2003
The Asian Age
Ram Jethmalani

New Delhi: The Kashmir problem had almost reached a solution on two occasions during its long and tragic tenure. Once, when the Australian jurist, Sir Owen Dickson, headed the five-member UN Commission for India and Pakistan, and second, when the Tashkent Declaration was signed. The first was frustrated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the second was set at naught by his daughter, both of whom reached the highest positions in Indian life and politics. As is well known, the Dickson Plan closely resembled the recent trifurcation plan emanating from the RSS. According to it, Ladakh was to wholly become a part of India, Jammu was to be partitioned and a small slice would go to Pakistan. The fate of the Valley was to be decided by a plebiscite. Nehru was never clearly opposed to this partition plus plebiscite plan. In his view, however, the armistice line in Jammu should have been the dividing line and not anything more as contemplated by Dickson should be given away. Unfortunately, the Dickson Plan fizzled out on grounds which were by no means substantial. Later, resolutions by the world body fully accepted the validity of Kashmir's accession to India. Even the plebiscite administrator had to be formally inducted by the state government. Though the failure was regrettable, there is no doubt that India was anxious to settle the Kashmir dispute and to put to an end to the hostility, anger and war. Plebiscite is no longer a viable option and has been rejected by the world body. I have written before about the Tashkent Declaration. It followed Ayub's defeat in the war of aggression which he unleashed in 1965. Both parties accepted the status quo as the final solution, the peace and tranquillity of which were not to be disturbed even by verbal demands for change. The Simla Agreement could have easily and at the minimum affirmed the declaration. Unfortunately, the wily Bhutto got better of our inept leadership and we were obliged to talk to Pakistan according to its provisions. Three decades have since then gone by and the problem continues to be a festering sore. Despite Lahore and Agra, we had the Kargil skirmish which further destroyed mutual confidence and accentuated bitterness and terrorism. But September 11, 2001 and the blood curdling acts of horror which the whole world saw on live television have paradoxically changed the situation for the better so far as India is concerned. A powerful wave of abhorrence against terrorism and the exposure of Pakistan as the country that harbours Al Qaeda jihadis and promotes cross-border terrorism are now matters that shape the attitudes and actions of the international community. The Pakistan government, under the coercive presence of American armed forces on its soil, has been compelled to fight against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and to join in exterminating the Al Qaeda terrorists operating from within its frontiers. General Musharraf had to publicly say harsh things against thousands of madrasas in which terrorists were being trained and indoctrinated about how heavenly can the rewards of jihad and suicide- operations be. On the other hand, India has succeeded in holding elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, elections which have been certified by the whole world as completely free and fair. The voter turn-out was impressive considering the bullets flying around to prevent people from exercising their franchise. Our Election Commission and the forces which it garnered to conduct these elections have won worldwide acclaim and admiration. When elections are rigged and democracy is suppressed, disgruntled elements resorting to violence may with some justification claim to be freedom fighters. In that sense, George Fernandes and his co-accused in the Baroda Dynamite Case were freedom fighters, though the government might have prosecuted them as violent terrorists. With the full restoration of the democratic process nobody can now claim to be a freedom fighter. Every act of political violence deserves to be punished, morally and legally, as terrorism. Pakistan-inspired terrorism has lost even its fig leaf. The civilised world recognises this great change in the Kashmir scenario. India has reason to be pleased. Political maturity and wisdom applied to this new situation dictates the importance of a genuine and focused search for peace and settlement of the sole irritant that has made peace elusive for more than half a century. The immature and the unthinking may be tempted to adopt a posture of arrogance, aggression and aversion to negotiation and dialogue. Such a tragic development will be one more opportunity lost and expose the subcontinent to prolonged and suicidal terrorism and perhaps a nuclear war. Even with optimism, I am not prepared to rule out this tragic possibility. I already see its ominous shadows and portents. Let us examine whether this is just my troubled imagination. It was about the middle of last year when some non-official moves were making considerable headway in persuading militant and separatist elements to return to the democratic method of reasoned discussions leading to an honourable and lasting solution. Some of us could make a strong argument that the bullet had achieved nothing and the ballot was preferred for a change. At the same time, there were indications that the rigging of elections had been perceived to be the evil it really was and that the authorities were planning to make the coming elections free and fair. A sincere dialogue, which by definition involved the abandonment of sterile and extremist positions, was promised on the floor of Parliament. This evoked an immediate and helpful response from Shabir Shah's Peoples Democratic Front and the Hurriyat - entering into a dialogue and an imminent visit to Delhi for that purpose. Unfortunately, the election schedule was announced even before the participation of these elements could be secured. Naturally, the government's sincerity came under a cloud. Fortunately, with the express knowledge and the consent of the government we set about dispelling these legitimate doubts by telling the Kashmiri leaders that the government's doors were open and it would welcome talks with every element of Kashmir's public life. Unfortunately, even this proved to be a false misrepresentation of the government's intentions. Just on the day the leaders were persuaded to come to Delhi, the government insolently and unwisely shut its doors on them. To say the least, this was a deliberate and insulting rebuff. The reason offered for this strange volte face was puerile. The home minister told my colleague Shanti Bhusan that he would not talk to them because they were in touch with Pakistan. Yes! They were, and they made no secret of it. When they offered to participate in the dialogue with Indian leaders, they were doing it with the concurrence of Pakistan. That made the talks all the more significant and eminently desirable. They had eschewed terrorism and committed themselves to finding a solution. They had agreed to jettison extremist positions, one of them being secession and the other abrogation of Article 370. They had agreed to ensure the honourable rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits and they were both conscious and respectful of the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. Frustrating the dialogue was an act of egregious political folly, a crime against peace and tranquillity on the subcontinent and a betrayal of the Indian people and all posterity. A welcome silver lining to this dark cloud was provided by the Prime Minister in his Red Fort speech of August 15, 2002. 'After the state elections, talks will take place about the future of the state with the elected representatives and all other elements,' he promised. This announcement was hailed, and rightly so, as a great act of statesmanship. But statements, unless translated into suitable action, only produce disappointment and distrust. Months have gone by since the elections and yet no movement seems to have taken place in fulfiling the Prime Minister's promise. One suspects that the government fondly imagined that the promise uttered from the heights of the Fort's ramparts would vanish into thin air and the people of the state would not complain of the government's mendacity. Only ten days ago the new chief minister of the state, while speaking to the press in Delhi, bitterly complained that while the government was prepared to talk to the Nagas, it had done nothing to talk to the Kashmiris. Saifuddin Soz, an experienced politician from Kashmir, bitterly complained to the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday last week that the 'Kashmiris were totally disappointed and disillusioned with the dialogue that never started.' Curiously, the very next day, appeared the following starred question on the agenda of the Rajya Sabha in the name of my friend Ghulam Nabi Azad. * 22. SHRI GHULAM NABI AZAD: Will the Minister of Home affairs be pleased to state: a. Whether the Union government is of the view that there is need for a dialogue with the elected representative and the separatist groups to resolve the Kashmir issue? b. If so, whether any steps have been taken or being taken in this regard? And, c. If so, the details thereof. Answer: MINISTER OF STATE IN THE MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS AND MINISTER OF STATE IN THE MINISTRY OF PERSONNEL, PUBLIC GRIEVANCES AND PENSIONS (HARIN PATHAK) (a) to (c) The Prime Minister in his address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2002, had announced the resolve of the present government at the Centre to initiate a dialogue with the elected representatives and other organisations in the state. Besides, as a matter of policy the government continues to keep its doors open for talks with any groups or sections within J&K who eschew the path of violence. It is difficult to imagine of a parliamentary answer more evasive and unhelpful. Poor Azad was not asking for what the Prime Minister had said six months ago but he wanted to find out whether the government currently found a dialogue with the elected representatives as well as separatist groups useful and what concrete steps had been taken for initiating that dialogue. The government neither admitted that there was a need for dialogue nor could it report of any such steps in that direction. When another member persisted on in his curiosity, the home minister proceeded to make a great declaration that an ex- bureaucrat, Mr Vohra, had been appointed by the government to initiate talks. The only further information that was forthcoming was that Mr Vohra was capable enough for the job that was handed over to him, and that even Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was satisfied with the choice. Many more questions arise, questions which are troublesome and call for a frank answer from the government. Some of them are: 1. Did or did not the government think of the Vohra mission only after Mufti's Press Club outburst? 2. What are the exact terms of reference and the parameters of Mr Vohra's job? 3. Who are the persons with whom he is required to confabulate? 4. In what order and when is he to open and continue his dialogue? 5. Is there any fixed time-frame for the completion of the job? 6. What are the options for an honourable solution which are open for discussion and what are those which have been expressly pre-empted? 7. Who will decide whether a particular individual, group or section has eschewed the path of violence? 8. The Peoples Democratic Front and the Hurriyat have publicly eschewed violence. Has Mr Vohra been asked to talk to these two groups? 9. Has the government briefed Mr Vohra on the conflicting statements made from time to time about the desirability of talks with these two groups? 10. Is the government aware of the article written by the Union minister of state for home affairs I.D. Swami in the Hindustan Times of January 19, 2003, with the headline The Hurriyat Missed the Bus? 11. Is the view forcefully propounded in this article a restriction on Mr Vohra's 'still not commenced' dialogue? Many more questions will arise after these have been answered, not in the usual evasive manner of the government's replies to Parliament. The government has to first decide for itself whether it believes that some peaceful solution is better than no solution. This involves a further issue: is the government in a position to stop cross-border infiltration without Pakistan's cooperation? If Pakistan alone can stop it, then a dialogue with Pakistan and more so with Pakistan's friends within Jammu and Kashmir is absolutely imperative. This is a reality which no negotiator can afford to ignore. And lastly, the government has to decide whether solving the Kashmir problem for all times will be considered by the Indian people as a feather in its cap or a ghastly let-down which will ensure their political downfall in 2004.


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