The crisis in Kashmir
By Dr Mubashir Hasan, Dawn, September 2, 2008
THE age-old struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for independence and self-determination has made a great leap forward. The catalyst for massive political reactions proved to be the Srinagar government’s move to donate a piece of land for the convenience of the pilgrims en route to the holy Hindu shrine of Sri Amarnath.
The struggle has achieved a new pitch of intensity and fervour as the leaders of the people are showing unprecedented unity of objective and action. The government of India has acknowledged it by throwing all principal leaders like Ali Gilani, Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah in jail simultaneously. Unprecedented demonstrations all over the state have erupted.
To suppress the demonstrations and rioting, there is curfew everyday.
So dramatic was the political impact of the land donation and the subsequent protests that Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government in Indian Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) fell.
The new governor of J&K had to rescind the order of the transfer of the donated land. That in turn sparked massive protests in the Hindu majority region of Jammu, leading the authorities to decide once more to let the pilgrims use the land.
The Hindu rioters blocked the Jammu-Banihal-Srinagar road cutting the lifeline of the Valley with India. The stoppage of food and other vital supplies revealed to the people of the Valley a hitherto obscure strategic dimension of their geography and their political struggle against New Delhi.
One morning they had the horrible feeling that the people of the Jammu region were capable of controlling their jugular road link with the rest of the world. The Jammu region had demonstrated its power to starve the population of the Valley at will. It could no more be trusted.
Overnight the need for the Valley to have an ever open road link with the world via Muzaffarabad became clear to them. Estimates vary but between 100,000 to 200,000 people marched on the main road from Baramulla to Uri in J&K. They were stopped; many were wounded and killed including Sheikh Abdul Aziz, a prominent Hurriyat leader. That was on Aug 11, 2008.
Since then massive protests have continued. To prevent dharnas and processions curfews are intermittently imposed over large areas of the Valley. The struggle for liberation has acquired unprecedented momentum.
A crisis of gigantic proportion stares the governments of India and Pakistan in the face. The results of the long, painstaking and admirable negotiations between the two governments about a general understanding on the framework of the solution of the Kashmir issue have been washed down the River Jhelum — a great tragedy, indeed.
Like the British in 1946, the governments of India and Pakistan failed to fathom the depth of frustration and anger caused by delaying the solution during the preceding two years. Apparently they paid a heavy price. A little spark proved enough to light a prairie fire.
Our two countries now face a qualitatively new situation. The demand for independence has moved to the top of the Kashmiri agenda.
The governments of India and Pakistan must realise that it will no longer be feasible even with their combined power to impose a solution of the dispute on Kashmir by force.
They must now fully permit the regions of J&K to go the way they want. In the circumstances it is advisable for India and Pakistan to think of negotiating their compacts with the future governments of Kashmir in a new mode.
In yet another way, the situation is not very dissimilar to that of India in 1946. In that fateful year it was the British who were fast losing their grip. The Congress and the League were having a field day working up the emotional aspect of their demands among their followers.
Today in J&K, on one side are the governments of India and Pakistan who have lost moral and political ground. On the other side are the worked-up political forces of Jammu and Srinagar as antagonists. All four parties are highly dissatisfied with the status quo.
India and Pakistan must not repeat the blunder the British committed by relying on elections and referendums to determine the wishes of the people. That is a sure way of widening the distances between communities and nationalities which ultimately result in mass killings and migrations. The 1946 elections in India, 1970 elections in Pakistan, referendum in the former Yugoslavia and elections in Palestine are proofs if any are needed.
The solution lies in arriving at agreements with leaderships and then putting them up to the people through referendum as was done in the case of Ireland.
The writer was the federal finance minister from 1971 to 1974.