13 June 2005
Karachi: It may not have been a path-breaking speech. But most certainly, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq's ideas spelled out at a symposium in Karachi on Friday must be recognized as being the most potent he has so far come out with. The ideas are pregnant with possibilities, and though he left some aspects of the Kashmir question deliberately vague, he still managed to drive home the point. A consistent theme throughout Friday's speech, and remarks made by him earlier in Islamabad, has been the Kashmiri leaders' impatience with the status quo and their understandable desire to end the agony of their people. He made it clear that converting the Line of Control into a permanent border was no solution and that since the UN had failed to resolve the issue it was the Kashmiri people who must now take the initiative and hold the centre-stage for a solution. More important - and this is something Pakistan and India should take note of - the Mirwaiz said the people of Kashmir could not wait for Islamabad and New Delhi to agree to a solution and that it was time the Kashmiris themselves came out with new options. The reference to a united states of Kashmir and to Tashkent gives us an inkling of the Kashmiri leader's thinking born of frustration, for as he declared at the symposium, he saw no light at the end of the tunnel. On the question of 'other options', Pakistan has demonstrated extraordinary flexibility, the most important example being President Pervez Musharraf's seven-region formula, besides gradual demilitarization. It is also in the spirit of exploring new possibilities that Pakistan has been urging India to talk to the Kashmiri leaders. As for Islamabad, the Kashmiri leaders' current visit demonstrates its readiness to listen to the people of Kashmir and accept them as an equal partner in any dialogue on the future of Kashmir. Regrettably, India has not yet found it necessary to do so. Of the triangular talks proposed by the visiting Kashmiri leader, two sets are already in progress. Pakistan and India are pursuing a 'composite dialogue' while the Kashmiri leaders have already had meetings with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. It is time India realized that it could push the peace process forward and make a major contribution towards finding a solution to the nearly six-decade-old problem by talking to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. As witnessed during the Afro-Asian peoples' liberation struggles in the last century, all freedom movements often differ on tactics while sharing a common goal. This is true of the Kashmiri leadership too. Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who represents a section of the APHC, has not come to Pakistan on this journey. This speaks of some fissures in the APHC ranks which may interfere with the search for a solution. It is not clear also when India will begin talking to the mainstream Kashmiri leadership. But the coming of that hour is inevitable. All colonial powers sooner or later talked to freedom fighters - the French in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam and the Israelis in Palestine - and for that reason one can foresee a day when New Delhi will begin talking to the Kashmiri leaders. Before that hour comes, the Kashmiris should close ranks. All Kashmiris united on a common platform with a common goal are likely to achieve their aim sooner than a leadership that is divided. And everyone should leave them alone to come to a decision without pressure.