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 )

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