Need of a New initiative on Kashmir

By Shabir Choudhry

With the change of government in India there are fresh hopes, that there would be some progress in solving the Kashmir Dispute which has been a source of destruction, misery and unnecessary tension in region.

But the question is how to make this much desired progress. Both protagonists - India and Pakistan - have very entrenched positions on the issue. Both countries have sentimental value to Kashmir, and as a result both take an emotional and illogical approach when solving the dispute. And that has been the main hindrance in making any positive progress in solving the Kashmir dispute.

Apart from the above factors the other important factor is the 'vested interest' on the both sides of the border which is detrimental to any progress on Kashmir. There are powerful and influential people in India, Pakistan and in both parts of Kashmir who want the status - quo to continue because it serves their purpose. They are benefiting from the present struggle. They DO NOT want the Kashmir issue to be solved, hence peace between India - and Pakistan.

It is in the interest of all those who want peace and stability in the region to make sure that these groups with 'vested interests' do not get their way any more. For the sake of their personal and petty gains we cannot sacrifice the peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Sub Continent, which has been held back mainly because of the Kashmir dispute. The people are suffering, they are deprived of basic human needs, even millions of people in the region are without clean water and yet some people are determined that this destruction, suffering and misery continues, because it benefits them.

We have to put a stop to all this. We have to solve the Kashmir dispute so that we can make progress and enter the new century with new vigour and determination. The million dollar question is how to solve the Kashmir dispute? Is continued use of the gun the answer? Is dialogue the way forward? Dialogue between who? Do we need some kind of mediation or arbitration'?

There is no easy answer, but if a solution is to be found for the sake of peace and stability and our future generations, then we need to analyse our hitherto approaches on the Kashmir dispute and see why we have been unsuccessful.

We have seen destructive wars, we have seen a use of gun and we have seen bilateral talks. The past experience shows that another war between India and Pakistan, and the use of gun is not going to help the matter, if anything, it will further complicate and exacerbate the situation. The only way forward is negotiation. This leads to the next question - negotiation with who.

In the past both India and Pakistan have negotiated and made agreements, but they could not find a lasting solution that could satisfy all the parties to the dispute. India has negotiated with Kashmiri leaders and made agreements, and we know that did not work either. Because there are three parties to the dispute (Kashmiri people are the main party), therefore, it is only sensible that the Kashmiris are part of these negotiations. In other words there should be tripartite talks on Kashmir to work out a mechanism to find out a solution which is acceptable to all.

It is unfortunate that both India and Pakistan, because of their interests, agreed on one thing that the Kashmiri leaders must be kept out of all the negotiations on Kashmir. Despite their differences on virtually everything else, both countries agreed to continue with this policy of keeping the Kashmiris out of negotiations. That has been one of the, main reasons why we could not find a solution on Kashmir. Both countries, practically treat Kashmir as a territorial dispute and behave like neo-colonialists.

Some people, would be upset and claim that I have put both countries at par. This is not my intention. There is some difference in the stand of both countries, and their treatment is also not same. The point I want to make is that both countries have a Kashmir policy which is determined by their territorial interests. Both want to get Kashmir with very little regard to interests of the Kashmiri people.

If there are going to be tripartite negotiations then the question is who is qualified to speak on the behalf of the Kashmiri people. The State of Kashmir is forcefully divided, and the people of Kashmir are not allowed to meet each other. The Hurriet Conference claims to be the representative of the Kashmiri people. One can question the validity of this claim. At best we can say it is representative of the Muslims of the Valley. There is no representation from Jammu and Ladakh, and there is no representation from the Pandits. From the Pakistani side of Kashmir there is no representation from Gilgit and Baltistan. Even Azad Kashmir has not got proper representation, because the same organisations do not exist on both sides of the border. One can say there is `Shadow Hurriet Conference' in Azad Kashmir, but if one looks at the constitution of the Hurriet Conference there is no such thing as 'Shadow Hurriet Conference' and both organisations have very little contact with each other.

In the light of the above facts how could Hurriet Conference speak for all the Kashmiris. I, together with my colleagues, have asked the Hurriet Conference leaders on a number of occasions to re-organise this platform and make it representative of all the Kashmiris. Only than you can speak with position of power and authority.

India is responsible for a lot of wrong doings in Kashmir, including human rights violation on a wide scale, but I am not convinced if we would be right in blaming India for not recognising Hurriet Conference as a representative of all Kashmiris. India has her own agenda on Kashmir, and that is to crush the present freedom struggle at all costs and keep Kashmir part of the Indian Union.

If India obdurately follows her agenda on Kashmir and Pakistan follows her agenda, then there is no hope for peace. Pakistan would continue to insist on the implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir, which would not happen until Doomsday; and India would continue to call Kashmir as her 'integral' part. We all have to make sacrifices for the sake of peace. India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris have to give some concessions to each other in order to get the ball of negotiations rolling.

We have fought with each other for nearly a half century. We have not achieved much. Peace in the Indian Sub Continent is not impossible. We can achieve it if we are sincere in achieving it. A possible way forward is:

I believe that if some kind of consensus could be reached on the above method than the process of negotiations could be started. It looks that all parties to the dispute would have to make some sacrifices and start negotiations without setting-any pre conditions.

I know there would be many people out there who would be too ready to pounce on me because of this article and the suggestions I have made. Some of them would not hesitate to put labels on me I but it does not deter me. I have long association with the freedom struggle, and after analysing the whole situation very carefully I have come to the above conclusion. My party policy could well be different to what I have put down in this article.

Shabir Choudhry
Director, Institute of Kashmir Affairs

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