Playing With A Straight Bat
3 April 2004
Karachi: Yasin Malik, a youthful Kashmiri leader, was the first militant in the valley. He raised the gun because he lost faith in the ballot box. The state election in 1987 were 'rigged' in his eyes. In fact, the entire uprising by the Kashmiris is said to have taken shape because of their conviction that they would not come to power through elections. The late Abdul Ghani Lone told me that the youth went across the border to get training and weapons when they came to believe that the bullet was the only alternative to the ballot. Still, the same Yasin Malik wants the Kashmiris to boycott the polls when the sanctity of the ballot box has been restored considerably. The last election held here two years ago was free and fair. Many foreign observers testified to this in their reports. True, the majority of Kashmiris boycotted it on the call of the Hurriyat but the polls were not manipulated as they had been for the past 50 years, except the ones held in 1977. The valley may face a piquant situation if Yasin Malik, the Hurriyat's key member, insists on going from door to door asking people to stay away from voting. The Hurriyat has told Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani during talks last week that it would not give any call for a boycott. Its reasoning that its hands are full may not convince Yasin Malik. But the Hurriyat's decision not to do anything to disturb the process is correct. The talks, according to the organization, have been 'positive and constructive.' Yet, it is a pity that the Hurriyat is not participating in the coming Lok Sabha elections. Had it done so and won at the polls, its representative character would have been established. At present, most of the known Kashmiri leaders have come together to constitute the Hurriyat. They are popular. But they have never proved their popularity in terms of votes. That shopkeepers go on a 'hartal' at their asking suggests more of alienation with New Delhi than support in their favour. Not long ago, the Hurriyat said that it was willing to take part in elections provided they were held under the supervision of the UN. Knowing well that no sovereign country could agree to such a demand, the Hurriyat's was an impossible condition. Probably, it wanted to be everything to everybody lest it should lose its following. In elections a party has to take a stand on certain issues. The Hurriyat cannot do so because of the disparate forces it represents. Shabir Shah, also a youthful Kashmiri leader who spent many years in detention, had once made a more acceptable proposal. He wanted elections to be held under the aegis of human rights activists from India. Were the Hurriyat to support this and drop its demand for UN supervision, the Indian government would be put in a spot. However, I find him also talking in terms of boycotting the polls. 'Taking part in the polls will tantamount to betraying the blood of the martyrs,' he says. In fact, he and others should contest so that they can tell parliament of their sufferings and sacrifices. Both New Delhi and the Hurriyat will, however, realize sooner than later that the elected representatives, both in the state assembly and the Lok Sabha, want a place at the negotiating table. The demand will become louder as and when 'substantive issues' are taken up at the meetings from June onwards. It is a legitimate demand because those who win at the polls come through a process. They have every right to know what is going on with regard to their state. The Hurriyat may run them down. But they have gone to the people and faced their questions as well as the militants' wrath. Look at the attack by the militants on Mehbooba Mufti's poll convoy. Yasin Malik, who swears by Gandhi, should have condemned the incident. A boycott does not mean creating an atmosphere of terror where people are afraid of going to the polling booths. The situation will become more bizarre when India and Pakistan begin talks on Kashmir. The next meeting of the Hurriyat with the home minister may well be at a time when Islamabad and New Delhi take up the Kashmir issue. The big challenge will be how to reconcile the discussions taking place at two separate venues. I hope India has a roadmap. Will Islamabad feel mollified by what New Delhi may concede to the Hurriyat? Is there a concrete formula which can be placed before both the meetings? At present it appears that New Delhi wants to keep the talks going while it gropes for a viable solution. This is clear from the statement by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asking for some innovative ideas on Kashmir. It means that the think-tank of retired officers of the government is traversing the same beaten path. President Pervez Musharraf's advice to drop all such proposals that are not acceptable to one side or the other is a sound one. But impetuous as he is in utterances on Kashmir, he can spoil the situation by speaking unnecessarily. His statement that Kashmir was the core issue was not called for. It only stoked the fires of differences. The reaction of foreign offices on both sides showed that. In his latest statement, Musharraf has made it clear in a threatening tone that there must be what he called 'forward movement' on Kashmir by July or August. A military general does not know that solutions cannot be sought at gunpoint. For the first time, New Delhi has used in the joint statement such words as 'to the satisfaction of both countries.' It indicates that India wants a settlement to the 'satisfaction' of Pakistan as well. Musharraf should not ask for more. The new government at Delhi will assume office by the end of May. Musharraf wants progress in six to eight weeks. He does not know how a democratic process moves because it is based on consensus. His threat is, however, a challenge to the Pakistani people wanting to normalize relations. It is understandable that Musharraf wants to show at home something on Kashmir. Yet he cannot push things beyond a point. It will be unproductive and may stir opposition in India. What distresses me is the scenario where the solution of Kashmir is deadlocked. Will India and Pakistan go back to square one because of lack of agreement? At a time when people-to-people contact is increasing and when cricket diplomacy is making a dent in the wall of mistrust, any wrong observation from official quarters can slow down the process of understanding. True, the solution of Kashmir is not maintaining the status quo. Nor is it the valley's integration with Pakistan. Still New Delhi should give all the guarantees Islamabad wants on river waters. The Indus water treaty has held the undertakings together. One unfortunate fallout from New Delhi's talks with the Hurriyat is that the divide between the valley and the two other parts of the state, Jammu and Ladakh, are getting firmly delineated. Trifurcation of Kashmir is the RSS agenda, not that of the country. The writer is a leading free-lance columnist based in New Delhi.