Autonomy For Kashmir
30 December 2005
Lahore: While there is no official word about the options regarding Kashmir currently under discussion between those engaged in back-channel diplomacy, a newspaper report tells of New Delhi being unwilling to concede anything beyond the autonomy enjoyed by Held Kashmir till 1953. This is highly unrealistic. What is the guarantee that the arrangement which failed earlier would work satisfactorily now? The bone of contention in the pre -1953 arrangement was Article 1 of the Indian Constitution, drafted in 1951, which declared Kashmir an integral part of the Indian Union. Whatever Sheikh Abdullah and other National Conference leaders publicly said, it soon became clear to those in control of New Delhi that the maximum autonomy which limited the powers of the Indian government to three subjects i.e. communications, defence and external affairs was not acceptable to the Kashmiri people. Assurances given in the Delhi agreement of 24 July 1952 that a state of emergency could be declared by the President of India only at the request of, or in concurrence with, the legislature of occupied Kashmir and the head of the state would be nominated by the President on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly failed to satisfy Kashmiris. Despite all these 'concessions' dissatisfaction continued to spread in the state. Apprehending that even a loyalist like Sheikh Abdullah might succumb to popular pressure for freedom from Indian occupation, New Delhi placed him under arrest, appointing his deputy Bukhshi Ghulam Mohammad as the prime minister. Held Jammu and Kashmir were henceforth treated like any other state in the Union, albeit with autonomy preserved under Article 370. The subsequent history of Held Kashmir comprises blatant interference by the Centre, leading to rigged elections, arbitrary dismissals of government, long spells of Governor's rule, and denial of civil liberties. New Delhi tried one loyalist after another as chief minister only to discard him as he failed to contain public unrest. Held Kashmir tuned into a police-cum- army state. This forced what was a peaceful movement for civil rights in general and the right of self determination in particular to develop into a militant struggle. Most of those who subsequently took up arms comprised political activists who had to again and again undergo persecution for peaceful protests. Islamabad would do well to remember that the Kashmiri struggle, in which nearly 100,000 lives have been sacrificed, has centered around the question of self- determination. Had maximum provincial autonomy been their goal, so many Kashmiris would not have sacrificed their lives during more than half a century. Any understanding with India that ignores this would not last long.