Groups differ on Kashmir future
27 November 2004
Muzaffarabad: Rival views about the future of Kashmir, ranging from merger with Pakistan to independence, were voiced by some of the region's political groups in meetings on Saturday with visiting journalists from India and held Kashmir. The leader of a Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front faction, Amanullah Khan, said his group was seeking to reunite the region into an independent state but would accept any solution reached through a five-phased roadmap proposed by him. But the Azad Kashmir chapter of the Jamaat-i-Islami said it wanted the settlement of the dispute by the implementation of the United Nations resolutions, under which the region must decide to accede to Pakistan or India. Student supporters of the state's accession to Pakistan and independence burst into rival slogan-shouting at the end of a heated interactive meeting with the journalists in a packed hall at the Azad Jammu and Kashmir University. The rival groups repeatedly chanted 'Kashmir banega Pakistan' and 'Kashmir banega khudmukhtar' before the authorities drove them from the hall to be able to tea to the visitors. Before the conclusion of the meeting, a majority of the students in the hall seemed to support the planned bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar as well as the representation of Kashmiri parties of all shades of opinion in Pakistan-India dialogue over Kashmir, as they said 'yes' in response to questions put to them about the two matters. But some students said the bus travel by Kashmiris across the Line of Control should be without the condition of carrying passports or visas of any country. Mr Khan said his formula provided for an international committee named by the UN secretary-general to govern a demilitarized and independent Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years before holding a UN-supervised referendum to let the people decide whether they wanted to remain independent or join Pakistan or India. Answering a question, he said if Kashmiris concluded after the 15- year cooling-off period that 'God forbid' all regions of the state could not live together for certain reasons, then 'we must depart like friends'. But he said he was sure that after 15 years, expected foreign aid and domestic resources could make an independent and secular Jammu and Kashmir the most prosperous state in South Asia. Mr Khan called for a united approach of the parties in the region about finding a solution to the Kashmir problem and said he too was seeking reconciliation with Srinagar-based leader Yasin Malik's faction of the JKLF over differences about territorial limits of an independent Kashmir. 'I think his concept of an independent Kashmir is not for the whole state,' he said when pressed to explain his differences with Mr Malik. Azad Kashmir Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sardar Ejaz Afzal Khan told the journalists at a luncheon meeting that he welcomed the peace process between Pakistan and India and confidence- building measures such as the one-year-old ceasefire and the planned bus service, but called for a timeframe to settle the dispute. However he said that despite the CBMs so far, 'we don't see any relief to people in the occupied Kashmir (as) there is no reduction in custodial killings and human rights violations' by the Indian forces. He asked the journalists to convey his party's assurance to people in held Kashmir that 'we stand for justice, we will not leave you alone and we will stand by you with words and deeds'. Asked how the two concepts of self-determination voiced in Azad Kashmir - choice of accession either to Pakistan or India and independence - could be reconciled, he said the Jamaat wanted the two countries to withdraw their forces from the region and then a UN-mandated plebiscite to be held for people to choose which of the two countries they would accede to. He said if India, which was the first to take the Kashmir issue to the UN after the start of the first Kashmir war in 1947, wanted a third option, it must approach the world body to change its resolutions on the matter. The journalists' group, whose trip has been sponsored by the South Asian Free Media Association, is due to leave for Gilgit on Sunday for a day's visit.