Seek Interim, Not Permanent Solutions: Former PoK PM
1 December 2004
Muzaffarabad: Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, former Prime Minister of 'Azad' Kashmir and perhaps the tallest leader in this part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), believes that it is futile to search for a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue.Talking to a group of Indian journalists visiting PoK under the aegis of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), Sardar Qayyum said, 'Given the ground realities, there doesn't appear to be a permanent solution to the Kashmir dispute in sight. May be we should only look for a series of interim solutions'. He said that under the present circumstances, the very concept of a permanent solution will be unacceptable and added: 'soft borders will be acceptable only as an interim solution'. He also called for a 'demilitarised zone' so that people from the two parts of Kashmir can meet freely. Out of all the political leaders in 'Azad' Kashmir who met Indian journalists over three days in Muzaffarabad, Sardar Qayyum appears to be the most realistic and practical. He is of the opinion that a series of interim solutions - for instance opening of traditional routes, allowing people-to-people contacts and permitting divided families to meet and removing all restrictions on the interaction between politicians from the two sides will ultimately lead to a soft 'de facto' border and that is all that's realistically achievable. Compared to Sardar Qayyum's problem-solving approach, other leaders in 'Azad' Kashmir seem to be caught either in a time wrap, or are a victim of their own rhetoric. Perhaps the worst experience we had was listening to the abrasive and obnoxious 'Sadr-e-Riyasat', Maj Gen (retd) Sardar Anwar, who seemed to be exerting to destroy any chance of rapprochement between India and Pakistan. What was worse than his rhetoric was his insecurity - he continued to harp that he is the only 'Sadr-e-Riyasat' - which led many to wonder whether he actually has any doubts about his position. The 'Prime Minister' of 'Azad' Kashmir, Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, was an affable host, who stuck to his guns without offending his guests. Sikandar reiterated the traditional stand that plebiscite is the only real solution to the problem of Kashmir. At the same time, he said that if there is any other solution it can be considered. Paying compliments to Gen Musharraf, he reiterated that unless the opinion of all the Kashmiris is taken into account, a stable solution to the Kashmir problem would not be possible. Asked what he expected from the current dialogue between India and Pakistan, he said he doesn't expect anything to come out of it, at least not immediately. In a significant concession to those who demand 'independence' from both India and Pakistan, Sardar Sikandar said that the ruling party in 'Azad' Kashmir, Muslim Conference, was considering removing the restriction that allowed only those who pledged support to the accession of the state to Pakistan to contest elections. He claimed that the 'independence' lobby had no support and was using this restriction as an excuse to not fight elections. However, journalists from Pakistan and 'Azad' Kashmir were skeptical about this restriction ever being removed. The most poisonous leader we met was the emir of the Jamaat Islami in 'Azad' Kashmir, Ejaz Afzal Khan. His defence of the barbarism of the jihadis who butchered women and children in the Kaluchak incident was shocking. According to this character, the murder of women and children was in order because they had no business being in a 'war-zone'. If one were to go by his logic, all non-combatants in Jammu and Kashmir are fair targets because they happen to be living in a 'war-zone'. The leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Amanullah Khan, once again flogged his plan for placing Kashmir under UN trusteeship for 15 years and then giving people a choice of deciding between India, Pakistan or independence. Khan continues to be in favour of an independent Kashmir, an idea that enjoys a degree of support in PoK. The pro-independence lobby is well aware that while Pakistan accepts the plebiscite principle, there is no question of Pakistan ever allowing control over 'Azad' Kashmir or Northern Areas (Gilgit- Baltistan) to slip out of its hands. Some go to the extent of asking why India doesn't bell the Pakistani cat by conceding the plebiscite principle. According to local journalists, the mindset in 'Azad' Kashmir appears to be changing in favour of independence. This they say is primarily because of the way they are being treated by the Pakistani establishment. They also said that the Pakistani establishment is so insecure that it suppresses any dissent against accession to Pakistan. But in all fairness to the authorities, it must be said that the Indian journalists came across enough dissenting voices to be able to understand that there is no one monolithic view in 'Azad' Kashmir as far as the future of the state is concerned. In fact, the local authorities had a tough time keeping the pro-Pakistan and pro-independence students from coming to blows during the visit of the Indian journalists to the local university. The visit to the local refugee camp, Manak Payain, which houses refugees mostly from Keran, gave the Indian journalists a view of the human tragedy of the conflict in Kashmir. But the official briefing inflicted on the Indian journalists made the whole thing appear orchestrated. Nevertheless, a few of us got the chance to interact with some refugees away from the prying eyes and ears of the 'agencies'. The yearning among the refugees to return to their homes was clearly visible and notwithstanding their rhetoric in front of the officials of not returning home until they got 'freedom from Indian occupation', it appeared that they would jump at the chance of returning home if they were ever given the chance. Another very disillusioned group of people are the Kashmiri militants. Many of them are desperate to return home, provided they are not harassed. A senior JKLF leader told this correspondent that nearly 300 Kashmiri youth are currently in jails in 'Azad' Kashmir. He said that if the Government of India announced a general amnesty, almost all the Kashmiri militants would return home. Despite the diversity of opinion among people, politicians, civil society representatives and local civil servants about the future of the state, there are a few things on which there is across the board agreement: One, there should be no partition of the state; Two, open all tradition routes - Kargil-Skardu, Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, Jammu-Mirpur; Three, don't impose visa and passport restrictions on the Kashmiris travelling across the LoC.