A Common Kashmiri Tragedy
5 July 2005
Lahore: The recent Indian denial to Pakistani-Kashmiri leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmad to visit his family on the Indian side of Kashmir has once again highlighted the tragedy of Kashmir and its inhabitants - the continuous denial of their basic human right of free and unfettered access to all parts of the divided region. It has also highlighted yet again the complex nature of the Kashmir problem and need to proceed with caution while continuously cultivating new and relative ideas for permanent settlement. Although both the Indian and Pakistani governments have been 'busy' in raising the hope for a solution, the Indian reluctance in allowing a purely personal visit to happen shows that the attitude and mindset in New Delhi has not shifted much and that Kashmir as 'laboratory of Indian secularism' continues to inflict consistent suffering on the Kashmiri masses. This is indeed saddening particularly at a time, when Kashmiris and more than a billion people of both countries are hoping for an end to the eternal and mutual bickering. There is no doubt that latest Indo-Pak bonhomie is different from the previous ones as it has at least resulted in one Kashmir specific confidence building measure in half a century - intra Kashmir bus service. The service had given much needed hope to the brutalised Kashmiris in decades, but the latest Indian refusal has once again brought India's lack of sympathy for the Kashmiri's suffering to the fore. The argument that Indian government's denial was caused by JKLF leader Yasin Malik's 'revelation' about the minister providing succor to the Kashmiri militants seems absurd. India who openly accused Pervez Musharraf of instigating Kargil war is proactively engaging with him to de- escalate the situation that nearly created a war thanks to previous Indian government of Vajpayee. Similarly Pakistan allowed ultra- fundamentalist Hindu leader Lal Krishan Advani to visit Pakistan despite him being one of the accused in an attack on M.A. Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. At a time when old hostilities are melting, denying permit to a Pakistani minister for allegations of training militants seems to be unfortunate and tragic, for it could easily return the climate of mistrust and accusations. This is certainly a bad omen for the whole peace process. If we look closely, Sheikh Rashid's story is that of every Kashmiri. His family is divided because of the politics of hate prevailing in the region. He has never been able to see the land of his father and not seen his family for decades. First he has suffered because all the Kashmiris suffer and now when the good sense has prevailed between the two warring countries in allowing contact between the peoples of two sides of divided state, Sheikh Rashid is still not afforded the privilege, because now that his crime is being a prominent politician of Pakistan, a 'charge' well played up by the Indian hate mongers through the media that is hostile to both Pakistan and enslaved Kashmiris. Although a personal visit, it would have helped the peace process in very many ways. The proposed visit was welcomed not only by the separatist Hurriyat, but also by Kashmir's pro- Indian Chief Minister Mufti Saeed. As such, this would have been a first personal contact between a Pakistani minister and Indian Kashmir Chief Minister, thereby further softening the divide. Allowing the visit would have strengthened the chord of understanding between the two countries as well as enhancing the atmosphere in favour of the peace process. It would have also created goodwill among hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kashmiris now living in length and breadth of Pakistan and who have been supporting the Kashmiri freedom struggle akin to Irish-Americans' support for the IRA in Ireland. Apart from causing great distress to Sheikh Rashid and his family in Srinagar who were looking forward to see their son after decades, it has also caused disappointment among general Kashmiris on the Indian side and the hopes that Indian leadership has started to recognise the importance of solving Kashmir have somewhat frozen for a while. It has certainly strengthened the fundamentalist forces from both the sides that see a full-blown confrontation and extermination of each other as only solution. This is a strange coincidence that fundamentalist forces from both the sides who opposed the peace process at the first place did not wanted Sheikh Rashid's visit to the Indian side of Kashmir to happen at all. Unfortunately, Indian secular groups including ruling Congress also joined in thus playing on the side of its Hindu fundamentalist cousins. In the present process of reaching out for a solution, the Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been brave in cultivating creating approaches that have allowed a movement in forward direction. But the Indian leadership has failed to respond in measure. It must realise that by invoking the ghosts of past, it will not help the situation in any way. New Delhi needs to recognise that Kashmiris come in different shapes and sizes - apart from a handful of pro-Indian ones, there are hundreds of the thousands of them either pro-Independent or pro-Pakistanis and they all need to be recognised and accepted. Sheikh Rashid is one of them, but very important one, of course. Then only can the present atmosphere of friendship usher in peace that is justified and permanent.