Talking to Kashmir separatists
by K N Pandit on 10 Sep 2008 1 Comment

The recent turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir State saw some harsh comments from sections of the national press. This has hurt Kashmiri separatists. It should not have happened. Some positive steps to normalize trilateral relations were in the process. An understanding on this complicated issue has to be brought about only through dialogue.


The act of large groups trying to cross the line of control was not a wise decision. People should not have succumbed to irresponsible noise meant to raise public sentiments. The expulsion of the entire Hindu minority from the valley in 1990, another mistake, is inexcusable; in fact a festering sore. There is a feeling that in the light of the recent history of the sub-continent, the common Kashmiri is not educated objectively on his pro-Pak leaning.


Perhaps Kashmiris are looking at everything from the point of view of Islam and India vs. Pakistan. Nobody denies the importance of religion, but there are other important aspects, too. The Islamic link has its shortcomings. The East Bengal Muslim-majority region separated from the Pakistani main body, and the Pakhtoon, Baluch and Sindhi ethnic groups of Pakistan are at loggerheads with Punjabi hegemony. Younger generations of Mohajirs question the wisdom of dividing India in 1947. The raging fury of Sunni-Shia sectarian strife has brought Pakistani society into disrepute. 17 lakh Shia’ of the State will not feel happy with any change in the present status. And the unending struggle for dominance between the orthodox and reformist segments in Pakistan has made the nation shaky. Kashmir Muslim society left that stage behind in its march towards progress under a democratic dispensation.


Kashmiris need a cool assessment of their gains during six decades of Indian secular democratic dispensation. It should take into account all aspects of a vibrant society - political, social and economic. They need to volunteer to break the cobwebs of suspicion and misunderstanding and join the national and international democratic mainstream. It is important to come out of one’s shell.


I once jokingly told a Pro-Pak Kashmiri friend in a briefing in Geneva that if the separatists demanded secession from India and accession to the US, UK or France, it did make sense – from a developing secular democracy to a developed secular democracy. But accession to Pakistan makes no sense!


Trade and commerce drive today’s world. Information technology and communication are vital to the growth of trade. Trade routes to and from the State of Jammu and Kashmir should be opened. Movement of people should be facilitated. Interaction among people should be encouraged.  If started today, the process will get stabilized in due course of time. It will straighten angularities.


Secession from India is a negation of Kashmir’s struggle for freedom from autocratic rule. After thousands of years, Kashmiris got the right to self-rule in 1947. Kashmir is part of a large secular democracy. Kashmiris have the right to voice their grievances, seek redressal of their problems, or demonstrate against what they think deprives them of their rights. The Indian political system allows and has been allowing all this, but beyond that is not realism. States do not go beyond constitutional limits. Accession cannot become an issue anymore.


Kashmiris will feel oppressed and stifled in a non-democratic environment. In 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah refused to grant safeguards to their identity. How is it possible that after doubting the sincerity of the Kashmiris’ sincerity for so long, Pakistan’s Punjabi oligarchy will concede Kashmiri identity once it has Kashmir in its iron fist?


By boycotting elections, separatists and the All Party Hurriyat Conference send a message to the world that they are diffident of their popularity with the masses; that they are only rabble-rousers, not constructive politicians. Non-participation in elections deprives them of the right to contest policies and decisions of the state and correct aberrations. It is a loss inflicted on the people of Kashmir; the onus rests on them.


The people have to be educated. It is the responsibility of all right-thinking people in Kashmir to disentangle themselves from lies and falsehoods, dogmatism and the fear psychosis. One harsh reality is that most nations in the world today are generally opposed to redrawing boundaries and relocating populations.


The writer is former director, Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar

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