Kashmir: A New Perspective
27 June 2005
Karachi: Despite the unfortunate controversy between New Delhi and Islamabad regarding the travel of Hurriyat leaders beyond Azad Kashmir, the two-week visit of the nine-member Hurriyat delegation has been a positive development for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The mere fact that India allowed the Hurriyat delegation to visit Azad Kashmir and hold intra-Kashmir discussion was reflective of the Indian desire to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The Kashmiri leaders were thus afforded an opportunity, the first of its kind in five decades, to have an exchange of views, in a free environment, with their counter parts on the Pakistan side of the LoC. The visit brought into focus the need to include the Kashmiris in future talks on the core dispute between India and Pakistan. The on-going peace process between the two countries seems to have somewhat perturbed the Kashmiris who justifiably feel left out of the negotiations on their future. The Dawn group of newspapers organized two well- conducted symposiums on Kashmir, in Karachi and Islamabad, in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Pakistan Peace Coalition and the Islamabad Council for World Affairs, addressed by the visiting Kashmiri leaders. The symposiums afforded an excellent opportunity to the Hurriyat leaders to do some straight talking, giving vent to their inner feelings and thoughts, which was not possible to do at public gatherings. The Hurriyat viewpoint was forcefully presented by its Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who impressed his listeners by his clarity of thought, articulation and concern for the sufferings of his people. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq resembles his late father, Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, in outward physical features and appearance but has a sharper mind and a broader vision, despite his young age. I met the late Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq at Deobund in 1980, where I had gone to represent the embassy of Pakistan at the centenary celebrations of the Dar-ul- Uloom and had an opportunity for an exchange of views with him on the Kashmir dispute. Some of the important observations of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at the Karachi symposium were as follows: * From Tashkent in 1966 to Delhi declaration of April 2005, the people of Kashmir have never been thought of or mentioned. * The people who can really help in finding a Kashmir solution are brushed aside by both New Delhi and Islamabad. * Being in Pakistan does not mean there is unanimity of views on the solution of Kashmir. * The youth of Kashmir wants to think what is practicable as a solution. Let us talk about what is possible. * I do not care what the UN did in 1948; the basic issue is the pain and suffering of the people of Kashmir. * There is a desire for a United States of Kashmir. The chief grievance of the Hurriyat leaders is that since Tashkent up to the present time, Kashmir has been discussed as a territorial dispute between the two countries. What the people of Kashmir want has never been discussed or mentioned in their bilateral talks. Also, there seems to be justification in the grievance of the Hurriyat leaders that the people of Kashmir are being left out of bilateral talks on the Kashmir dispute. Historically, there would have been no Kashmir problem if the rulers of the princely states had not been given the right to decide about the accession issue. The June 6 plan of the British government, accepted by the Congress and the Muslim League, related only to British India under which the Muslim majority areas were to join Pakistan and Hindu majority areas were to join India. But this plan did not apply to more than 500 princely states, which constituted twofifths of India. Consequently, there was a serious controversy over the question whether the rulers or the people of the states should have the right to decide about accession. The Congress, through a resolution passed at its AICC Delhi session of June 14-15, declared that 'the people of the states must have a dominating voice in any decisions regarding [their future]. Sovereignty, it is admitted, resides in the people, and if paramountcy lapses, resulting in the ending of the relationship of the states to the Crown, the inherent rights of the people are not affected thereby for the worse.' The Muslim League, however, supported the right of the rulers of the states to decide about accession. The Quaid-i-Azam, in his statement of June 18, 1947, clarifying the Muslim League policy towards states, said that rulers were free to join Hindustan Constituent Assembly or Pakistan Constituent Assembly or remain independent (Dawn, June 19, 1947). The British Government went along with the Muslim League view and laid down that the rulers of the states would determine whether to join India or Pakistan or remain independent. Under this plan, the people of princely states were given no say in deciding about their future. It is widely believed that the stand taken by the Quaid-i- Azam, supporting the right of the rulers to decide about accession, was meant to enable the Nizam of Hyderabad to make his state independent. The Quaid seemed to be confident that the Maharaja of Kashmir, because of geographical, logistical and economic reasons, would have no option but to join Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Chaudhri Muhammad Ali in his book 'The Emergence of Pakistan', says that at the time of partition the Quaid-i-Azam used to say: 'Kashmir will fall into our lap like a ripe fruit'. The unpropitious turn of events in Kashmir had an adverse effect on the Quaid's health. It is true that we have been supporting the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Did we support this right as a means to an end (territory) or as an end in itself? Are we prepared to accept the Hurriyat demand that the people of the territory should have a free hand in seeking a solution of the Kashmir dispute as they are the 'principal stakeholders'?. There has, no doubt, been a change in Pakistan's Kashmir policy as it no longer supports the views of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and seems to be now backing up the moderate faction of the Hurriyat. But is Islamabad prepared to accept the suggestion of a writer in Dawn that 'Pakistan will have to step back and allow the Kashmiris to take the front seat'? The above discussion does not mean that whatever the Hurriyat leaders said was unimpeachable. Some of their demands are impracticable or unreasonable. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says that he would like to be a citizen of the United States of Kashmir. The Azad Kashmir is a Punjabi-speaking area and has no linguistic or cultural affinity with the Valley which speaks Kashmiri. Can the two be welded into a common state on purely religious grounds? Such a union is not likely to be lasting or workable. The same is true of Gilgit-Baltistan (Northern Areas). They have no affinity either with the Valley or with Azad Kashmir. They would like to be a part of Pakistan, with an autonomous provincial status. From the practical point of view, the concept of independence for the state of Jammu and Kashmir also does not seem to be workable. Neither India nor Pakistan can accept the creation of an independent state in the north-west part of the subcontinent. Also, an independent state of Kashmir, a landlocked territory, will not be able to sustain its sovereign status, deficient as it is in power, food and the potential for development. It may be pointed out that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has given a new meaning to 'Azadi'by hinting that the Kashmiris would settle for less than independence if they were given maximum autonomy that only excluded defence and foreign affairs. While the Hurriyat leaders see no light at the end of the tunnel, President Musharraf is quite optimistic about the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. He is satisfied with the progress of the peace process and his conviction seems to be rooted in the trust and confidence built between him and the Indian prime minister. It is significant that even disagreements between the two countries over issues like Baglihar dam or the Kishenganga project or Siachen or Sir Creek have not disturbed the mutual confidence of the two leaders. President Musharraf has emphasized the need to listen to the voice of the Kashmiris. Sooner or later, Pakistan and India will have to find some honourable way of associating the people of Kashmir with the peace process. Until they do so, the focus of their attention will continue to be on the question of territory rather than the people of Kashmir.