Thursday, November 13, 2008

Solve Kashmir, Save Afghanistan


The West has more takers in Kashmir than in any other part of the Muslim world. Naseer A Ganai comments on the real challenges ahead for the pro-freedom leadership.

The US President-elect Barak Obama statement that the United States should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants in Afghanistan, has surprised both Indian diplomats and politicians. They were not the only surprised lot though. In Kashmir also no one expected that such a statement could come from the presidential candidate days ahead of elections. But it evoked a positive response, and the pro-freedom leadership described it as a welcome development. 
The very idea of American intervention in any other Muslim conflict in the world evokes nothing except contempt. But Kashmir presents a total contrast. People here would shout pro-freedom slogans, pro-Islam slogans, and carry green flags, and then call for the US or the Western intervention to resolve the dispute. The West and the US has more takers in Kashmir than any other part of the Muslim world. It seems people in Kashmir genuinely believe that it is only the Western countries or the United States that could resolve Kashmir dispute and resolve it for the betterment of the people. That is why the statement from the US presidential candidate caused a sort of euphoria in Kashmir and separatist pro-freedom leadership welcomed the statement and hoped for the US intervention on Kashmir dispute. In fact, on the day Obama won the elections, the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani said that the US should keep Kashmir on priority.
But why should the United States give priority to Kashmir? Even if you may dismiss this off hand, Kashmir continues to be a major dispute between India and Pakistan. The separatists it seems are right when they argue talks, dialogue, backdoor parlays between the two countries have failed so far to resolve Kashmir issue. And Kashmir itself is on the boil again. So far 70 unarmed protesters demanding freedom have been killed since June this year. There is anger on the streets and anger among the young and the old of Kashmir. The State brush aside million marches of unarmed protesters in Kashmir in July and August this year. The State can’t take refuge in the elections and describe them as referendum. The argument is not even supported by the pro-India parties. In his first meeting with his workers, the mainstream National Conference party president Omer Abdullah said the elections for the State Assembly has nothing to do with the resolution of Kashmir dispute. He said the elections for the State Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir were for governance. He even said if the pro-freedom leaders promise him that they can construct schools and roads, he would not participate in the elections. It indicates that there is an urge for the solution of Kashmir dispute among all sections of Kashmir, and the world has to respond to this non-violent urge now. The solution to Kashmir dispute would secure peace for strategically vital area of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan Administered Kashmir. But if left unattended, any development in Afghanistan could affect Kashmir. Kashmir dispute has the potential to escalate into a bigger conflict. 1999 Kargil war between Indian and Pakistan could be cited as an example of what Kashmir dispute can do. 
Present times are most appropriate for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. These are times when everyone in Kashmir has hope. Hope that something, some solution, is in the offing. This hope should not fade away once again. If this happens, it could be most dangerous—for Kashmir, and for the world. Today, despite anger, there is hope. And if this hope fades away and Taliban takes over Afghanistan, then no one can save Kashmir. 

Tussle for future Kashmir: 
Last month two important developments took place. First: the pro-freedom Peoples Conference Chairman Sajjad Gani Lone announced his election boycott, saying his party would take out long marches across the Valley to urge people to boycott the polls. Besides this, the Peoples Democratic Party accused the National Conference of hurting the interests of majority Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. It said it would fight for the rights of Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir.
Sajjad’s boycott call is significant in many respects. It seems there is realization among young separatist leaders that there is space for them in Kashmir. But then realization only would not do anything good for them in these times when people know everything about the leaders. 
Moreover, the day Syed Ali Shah Geelani would not be in the scene, the scenario in Kashmir would be far different from today. It remains to be seen whether any of the young separatist leader could be able to fill the void, which would be created after Geelani.
Like Sheikh Abdullah, Geelani would continue to influence Kashmir polity for generations together. But unlike Sheikh, Geelani’s influence would be far different and far wide. Sheikh succumbed. But Geelani symbolizes resistance. Geelani rose to the present position by dint of his conviction. He practiced whatever he believed in. And above all, people believe him, and trust him. They trust him even though he recently committed a faux pass of describing himself as the only leader of Kashmir. 
In this respect, Sajjad Gani Lone’s call for poll boycott and march on the Election Day, subsequently endorsed by Mirwaiz and Coordination committee as well, is a serious attempt by young separatist leaders to come to fore and make people believe that they could deliver even after Geelani. 
The Peoples Democratic Party, it seems, has also an eye on the situation. The State Government’s active support to the Sangrash Samithi in Jammu agitation has polarized the State completely. The PDP understands it better than anyone. PDP raised the slogan of majority victim-hood at the hands of minority and called for an end to the minority appeasement. And one should know that there is over 75 percent Muslim population in the State. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, while releasing the party manifesto in Kashmir, said that the PDP has nothing to do with the secularism as practiced by the National Conference. And shortly after releasing the manifesto, the PDP president went to Muslim dominated areas of Jammu including Rajouri and Poonch. Imagine the affect of the PDP’s polity in the State where Muslim representation in the Government services is decreasing with every passing day. Imagine its effects in the State, where despite having 75 percent population, Muslim don’t figure anywhere at the top decision making level in police and civil services. 
But whatever the reason, the battle has begun. The Peoples Conference of Sajjad Lone and the PDP are fighting to fill the vacuum.
But can the young separatist leaders do it. That remains to be seen. PDP continues to be the real challenge to the separatists. Unlike the National Conference, PDP deftly plays both games of being in mainstream and at the same time close to the separatists. The PDP slogan of Muslim Kashmir, first uttered by Sajjad Lone in recent years, has many takers in the State. Muslims, who after recent agitation by Sangarsh Samithi, feel besieged and would not ignore the slogans of the PDP: That the majority is facing discrimination, their genuine interests are not being respected. That the local officers have no place in the administration. And that the Muslim character is missing in the administration. 
Unlike NC, which apparently seems more concerned about power, PDP is responsive to the situations on the ground. And here is the real challenge for the separatists or pro-freedom leadership.
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