Month: November 2009

Call for Dialogue

If you want to make a change in the world, look into the mirror!

Now that the Kashmir pot is boiling again, let’s keep the flames alive before we lose yet another opportunity. After reading some responses to my recently published (and perhaps hastily written) article “To our leaders and politicians: A Lesson to Learn” in the daily Kashmir Observer, I guess I have a moral responsibility to expand on my position, which I am glad is shared by many others. There are a few things that I must clarify without any intentions to offend anyone. I have divided them into three sections although they are all interconnected:

 

I: The leadership issue

One of my readers Mr. N. A. Qureshi wrote: “The willingness to reconcile, skills to negotiate, and eagerness to solve the issue through a dialogue is not the only personality we must look for in a leader……. This should be time we recognize the real honest leadership….” Absolutely! Leaders must have some other important qualities as well. For example, they ought to be charismatic, bold, broad-minded, and far-sighted. In addition, they ought to be far-reaching with a strong public following that cuts across divisions on religious, regional, ethnic, and socio-economical and political lines. Unfortunately, no single leader in APHC meets all these qualities.

If All Party Hurriyat Conference is simply an “amalgamation” of separatist groups” based on different ideological principles, which cannot come up with a unified agenda nor succeed in reigning in the support of the intellectual class, they need not claim to be the torch-bearers of the Kashmir cause. The state of the pro-freedom Kashmiris is like a dog with two masters dies of hunger. With the two factions singing to two different tunes simultaneously, and ironically claiming to be “unified”, the result is DISCORD – an incomprehensible noise. Given such a situation, the fate of the people of Kashmir is very grim, unless there is a revolutionary change in the leadership and their attitude. And the change is needed NOW.

As far as the question of who is “the most suitable” person for guiding “pro-freedom Kashmiris” in the ongoing movement, I must say, with all due respect: not Mr. Ali Shah Geelani or anyoen sharing his school of thought. This is because the APHC-G ideology is based on a fundamentalist religious foundation – a serious problem in relation to the Kashmir movement which is argued to be politically motivated rather than religion-based. Their perspective is very narrowly placed given the broad scenario of the state of J & K. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that in such very sensitive times, Mr. Geelani has resorted to advocating Jihad to the Kashmiri youth and advising the younger generation to stick to ages old principles. This kind of mind-set smacks of the disdainful approach adopted by Taliban. Kashmir is not Afghanistan and cannot afford to be one (And by the way, Urdu is not our heritage language, and Kashmir is not Bangladesh either). I wonder how long can we guard and isolate Kashmir from the “influence” of the rest of the world! At some point we have to make up our mind to live with the world or we will perish (Even Islam does not advise us in this direction and preaches change in the form of ijtehad). No matter how honest and strongly committed he is to the Kashmir cause, Mr Geelani needs to understand that yesterday is not tomorrow. It is time that, Mr Geelani and other senior APHC leadership, including Shabir Shah, should stand behind the Mirwaiz in giving peace yet another chance as discord – either personal or ideological – among the APHC leadership at this critical juncture is absolutely suicidal for the conglomerate.

There is another important thing that weakens the position of the separatist leadership, viz., their approach to the Kashmiri problem. When they talk about the “Kashmir issue”, it is generally presented (percieved) as ‘the issue of the Kashmiri Muslims’. However, while beating the drums for a “(re)solution”, many entities are dragged in, which include: Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan, PoK, etc. etc. That is where the complication arises from. Why and how is it that the struggle has (more or less) only involved people from Kashmir and that too, only from certain classes? And remember that the problem of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits is not simply an addendum or a footnote to a rally or a congregation just for the heck of it. It is a share mistake to talk about the problem with Kasmiri Muslims at the center stage while expecting a solution which will include the entire J & K. A few symbolic verbal expressions of “unity” here and there do not really mean anything unless you demonstrate that in practice. Whether we admit it or not, Kashmiri Pandits, Jammuiites, Ladakhis, as well as people from the Gilgit-Baltistan region are as aloof from this “struggle” now as ever before. Ironically, while people of G-B are celebrating their first ever elections, Kashmiris are agitated. What hypocrycy! Of course, we will say, “Well, what about the 1947 state of J & K”, “A, B, C, and D….were part of J & K in this and that year”, “Kashmir was never a part of India”, so on and so forth. Yes, of course! In fact, no state of India was a “part of India” at some point or the other.

 

II: The dilemma of the intellectuals

In reference to the role of our intellectuals in the Kashmir context one of my readers, Mr. Tariq Bandey, argued about the loss of our “brainy stalwarts to the Indian occupational designs” and India’s all out hunt to “rope in our intellectual stuff” and hiring our “competent, politically mature and intellectually sound” people. Such statements amount to branding the entire intellectual class not only as weak and cowardly but also as absolutely dishonest and immoral. Perhaps that is not entirely true. The fact is that something is wrong at the very bottom of the approach to solving the Kashmir crisis. Something important is dividing the Kashmiri society into different opinions, which needs to be addressed before we even talk about a solution.

The vexing problem of Kashmir has been a topic of great intellectual debate discussed on various fora, not to mention almost every academic conference on South Asia in many countries, particularly the United States for the past several years. The crisis has been discussed at innumerable occasions by great many political scientists, Kashmir experts and think-tanks, students and research scholars, at academic conferences, seminars, talks, meetings, colloquia, one-to-one discussions, etc., and yet the problem is seemingly unresolvable. Dignitaries, diplomats and politicians from India and Pakistan have been invited to present their views at these occasions, and, yet at the end of the day everyone asks: what is the solution – a question that often remains unanswered and unresolved.

Kashmir problem is, in some respects, more complicated than the Palestinian and Irish issues. It is not a struggle between the people of Jammu & Kashmir against an external or foreign oppressor (India, or against Pakistan for that matter). One of the major stumbling blocks in finding a viable solution to the soaring problem – Kashmir – is the ethno-politico-religious make-up of Jammu & Kashmir which is by no means homogenous. This entity called “J & K” cannot be simply cut off from the Indian and Pakistani territory and made into a stable new independent state, the people of which will live happily ever after. Of course it is a very romantic idea with much historical background but not even close to being politically feasible given the make-up of J & K in its broader socio-political context. Given the history of India and Pakistan, many people have a totally different take on the “freedom struggle” of “Jammu & Kashmir”. Whether Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah did the right thing or wrong in respect to Kashmir is a legible question but perhaps one which cannot be answered. No doubt the problem of Kashmir is the British Empire’s unfinished business of the Partition. However, it is hard to understand what the completion of the partition process would have looked like had Kashmir been a part of it. Looking at what Mohammad Ali Jinnah asked for, or, in fact, was forced to ask for, in the form of “Pakistan” and the result of that decision given the current state of affairs in the country (Pakistan), the idea of using religious sentiments for political mobilization will be disastrous. Here is a simple analogy: Jammu is to J & K what Kashmir is to India. We cannot afford another moth-eaten nation based on the weak foundations of religion.

 

III. Call for Dialogue

A blatant truth, which a majority of the pro-freedom Kashmiri leadership shies away from, is that there are divisions of opinion, ideology, socio-economic and class differences in Kashmir which cut through the entire social fabric reaching as deep as families, individuals and neighborhoods. As long as people of different opinions and ideologies do not engage in a dialogue, Kashmir can never rid itself of the problem which has been killing its people physically, mentally, economically, educationally as well as morally. Therefore, a viable solution to the problem of Kashmir can only be achieved through an understanding between the various different stake-holders, through dialogue and negotiation. By “dialogue” we mean ‘exchange of thought’, and by “negotiation” we do not mean ‘compromising’ with one’s dignity. We have seen that a solution has not been achieved by the armed struggle, nor by bandhs and hadtaals, or stone-pelting and agitational politics on the streets of the Jam’a Masjid (Srinagar).

Kashmiris should cash in this golden opportunity when the Government of India finally accepts (under international pressure or otherwise) that Kashmir is a problem which needs to be addressed, and understands that it cannot be resolved through coercion any longer. Therefore, it is time to bring together and engage people of different ideologies to present proposals for a lasting solution and defend them on a common public platform. In this exercise there is no question of whether you join me or I join you, nor can any preconditions be made for/from anyone in order to enter the dialogue process other than that people will enter the dialogue with an open mind (Note: It makes no sense to ask Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference to first step down and join APHC and then talk; after all we must realize they have a different opinion and represent a major section of the population). The proposals will have to be evaluated in terms of their feasibility not by politicians or separatists but by political scientists, historians, intellectuals and think tanks specializing on the Kashmir issue. These intellectuals and think tanks can work as a liaison between various stake-holders of the Kashmir issue, viz. the separatist leadership, mainstream political parties, representatives of the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community, and representatives of other regions of the state on the one hand and the governments of India and Pakistan on the other. In the final resolution making process a great deal of negotiations will have to be made to which all concerned parties must agree shunning their ideological biases and arrogance.

Let us stand united in closing this chapter and open a new one for the sake of posterity!

Dr Sadaf Munshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas in the United States. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(Note: This article appeared in November 16, 2009 issue of the daily Kashmir Observer.  URL: http://www.kashmirobserver.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3722:call-for-dialogue-&catid=8:opinion&Itemid=9 )

To our leaders and politicians: a lesson to learn

As an academician and a mother of a four-year old, I discovered that children learn things better if you provide them with illustrations. The same principle applies to adults as well. But in being able to learn things, adults have an advantage, and that is their experience. However, there are some “adults” who simply refuse to learn anything no matter what. That seems to be the case with our leaders and politicians who have proved absolutely incapable of learning this simple lesson – that of “strength in unity”. Therefore, I would like to read them this story today which I had learnt several years ago when I was a child:

Once upon a time, a flock of doves was trapped in a net by a hunter. The doves desperately fluttered their wings for a while in order to escape but to no avail. Fortunately, the doves had a wise leader who told them that there was strength in unity and advised them to fly up together holding on to the net. The doves followed the advice and were able to carry the net along with them. While the doves were flying in the sky carrying the net, the hunter looked in astonishment.    

A very simple story with a wonderful lesson to learn! I wonder how long it will take for our leaders to learn this lesson.

Granted that in an era of (so-called) “democracy”, every opinion has a right and potential to express itself. We (Kashmiris) have heard a number of voices over the past six decades, and, more so, over the past twenty years. The numbers are so overwhelmingly large that perhaps our auditory system is desensitized by now, which is probably why we do not care as much anymore. Or, perhaps, since there are too many things to worry about, we have chosen to be deaf, dumb, and blind.

After a handful of two decades of continued political unrest and the persisting deadlock on the issue of Kashmir, instead of extending its credentials with sincerity and responsibility, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), like our political parties, has all but tangled itself in its war of ideologies and opinions. I remember, in 2003, many people were taken aback when APHC had officially split into the so-called “M” and “A” (and now “G”) denominations. The conflict had been simmering within the conglomerate for quite a while and even reached a stage where the members of the two factions crossed all limits of political etiquette and indulged in personal abuse and mud-slinging, let alone emerging with a unified agenda. Time and again, we have hoped for a long awaited compromise between the two, just as we have prayed for a negotiated settlement on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. It is the year 2009 now and we have seen several ups and downs with regard to the issue of Kashmir; yet owing to the factional politics of our leadership, we have failed to achieve any consensus on a political agenda.

It seems that the Hurriyat leaders may end up continuing their ding-dong agitation for the rest of their lives without a fruitful outcome; let us hope it is not true, but that is what can be inferred and anticipated given our past and recent experience. Amidst this conflict of ideas and the ever-widening rift between the G’s and the M’s, the extremists and the moderates, the hawks and the doves, complemented by the individual ego clashes between the various self-proclaimed leaders, the fate of a common Kashmiri is lingering in a dark tunnel of hopelessness and helplessness.

In response to the latest “talks” (“quiet talks”) offer, while People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference expressed a desire to cooperate on (re-)framing the proposal for a solution – for a change (although it is yet too soon to comment on their sincerity and commitment on this), the APHC factions are yet to disengage themselves of the personal and ideological problems. At this critical juncture, when the people of Kashmir are desperately longing for a new ray of hope, this ideological fighting is again proving a stumbling block in the way of peace and progress.

While it (APHC) continues to oscillate between the rigidities of the past and the realities of the present, it won’t be quite over the board to say that perhaps time is near when the irresponsible attitude of the senior leadership will invite great public wrath as we have seen during the last assembly elections when people came out in overwhelming numbers despite the strong “boycott” calls.

There is an old English adage which says: wise men change, fools never do. We cannot deny the fact that the equation has changed at the state, national and international level. The world is not the same as it was sixty or twenty or ten years ago. Out there in the developed world borders are becoming irrelevant and people are coming closer and closer everyday; at the same time a large part of the world (read “Muslim world”) is leading backwards to the dark ages, partly because of the vicious world politics but largely because of their own weaknesses and internal problems. Here in Kashmir too, the “Pakistan” bubble has burst for quite a while (call of “tripartite” talks at this point, therefore, makes no sense to me), and people are looking forward to a new world of progress and prosperity. Despite being aware of these changing ground realities, our separatist leaders are stuck to a hardline attitude, fighting an ill-defined fight equipped with the weaponry of stone-pelting and sloganeering which has become such a routine now that it does not seem something unusual any more. In fact, there is a widespread view that a special “workforce” is receiving proper wages for creating disorder and mayhem and would like to carry on with it as long as they receive perks. Unfortunately, the people who have to sustain the brunt of all this destruction are poor daily-wagers, laborers, small business owners, and school-going children and youth. The priciest of the prices that we are paying for this “struggle” is the future of our next generation. And whether we admit it or not, the fact of the matter is that this fight is gradually robbing our society of its civility, sensibility and morality.

It is not that a struggle for independence, nationhood or any political cause can never be won, but until and unless people stand unified behind a well-defined cause, an agitation such as the one we are conducting is a totally futile exercise. Perhaps a general public debate is long awaited, which brings to table both the mainstream political parties of the state as well as the separatist leadership who must unveil their political agendas and proposals for the resolution of Kashmir issue keeping in view the long-term interest of the people of the state. There has to be a monumental change not just in the political rhetoric, but also on the political platform – a major overhaul of the parties and partisanships that will need to shed their malignant components and their unrelenting ideologies in the wake of a unified cause. As part of a political entity, Jammu & Kashmir, which is defined by divisions at regional, ethnolinguistic, religious, as well as ideological levels, this “sacrifice” (if that is what it can be called) has to be made if our “leaders” are true to their commitment in serving, as opposed to leading, or MISLEADING, their people. There is no way we can come up with a feasible solution to the problem of Kashmir except by cooperating and compromising by way of finding a common and consolidated ground on which all factions can and MUST agree. It is high time that this be done!

 

About the author: Dr Sadaf Munshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas in the United States. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.

(This article appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Daily Kashmir Observer. URL:
http://kashmirobserver.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3621%3Ato-our-leaders-and-politicians-a-lesson-to-learn&catid=8%3Aopinion&Itemid=9 )