Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kashmir

The Road to Peace 

Road to a peaceful Afghanistan, Pakistan and India goes through Kashmir. We can deny only at our own risk, comments Naseer A Ganai.

The media in India has started a tirade. Everyday, through newspaper editorials, columns the argument that Kashmir dispute has nothing to do with peace in the South Asia and Afghanistan is being parroted. The appointment of Richard Holbrooke as US envoy to South Asia has unnerved media more than the government of India. Holbrooke was a prime mover behind the Dayton Accords that ended the bloodshed in former Yugoslavia. The media describes Obama administration's move-- linking peace in Afghanistan with Kashmir-- as “illogical conclusions.” 

Some even go to an extent of saying that Kashmir is dispute between India and Pakistan and both countries have evolved some mechanism to resolve it. New Delhi always takes refuge in bilateral dialogue when some senior officials in Briton or in US talk about third party intervention in Kashmir. In normal times, New Delhi doesn't consider Kashmir even as bilateral issue.

But New Delhi has every right to respond to any situation in the manner it deems fit and necessary for its national interest. But what shocks one is the response of 'fourth estate' in India. It unfortunately sides with the establishment and toes the line of the State whatever the issue. And in case of Kashmir it always tries to be ten steps ahead of the State.

The State described the recent election as success in Jammu and Kashmir. But at the same time the response of the State was cautious one, and it was not euphoric. But the reaction of media was more than that. It meant that Kashmir issue has been resolved because people of Kashmir have voted. Every TV anchor parroted the same line until the US envoy to UN Susan Rice, and the British Foreign secretary David Miliband, shocked them. Susan, by describing Kashmir as “hot spot” and Miliband linked resolution of Kashmir dispute with the peace in Afghanistan. 

For last one year there has been steep rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and growth of Muslim radicalism and extremism in North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan. It has caught the attention of the America and western countries. And in order to save the region from descending into the chaos, people like Ahmad Rashid through his book Decent into Chaos, and others have rightly analyzed that the resolution of Kashmir issue is must for the peace of the region. It would rightly deny extremists forces in Pakistan an excuse to wage hundred year war with India and at the same time would strengthen establishment in Pakistan to tackle Afghan problem along with the Americans. This thinking is gaining ground with some senior officials of the Obama administration talking on the same lines. The president Obama had expressed these views about Kashmir during his presidential campaign in an interview with the Time magazine.

And perhaps borrowing from the president Obama, the British Foreign Secretary in his article in the Guardian was more than forthright when he wrote, “But on my visit to south Asia this week, I am arguing that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation. Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.”

The statements from the senior British and US officials are nothing but an admission of the fact that Kashmir is disputed territory and it needs resolution. But instead of strengthening the argument and calling for the resolution of Kashmir dispute, the media in India has willingly allowed itself to be extension of the State and continues to be in the State of denial. It is hard to predict whether it would ever come out from this denial mood, but sooner it does better it would be for peace to prevail in the whole region. 

Kashmir is different now. Here everyone has document for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Agreed we had elections and there was huge participation of people in it. But who emerged winner in this election. The National Conference - that believes restoration of 1953 position to Kashmir is the solution. In 1953 Kashmir had prime minister and only foreign affairs, currency and defence was with India. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the second largest party. The party has come up with the self-rule document for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The party was ostensibly so serious about the self-rule document that it made it as part of the election manifesto. In fact the larger part of election manifestoes of the party talks about self rule. 

Then there are separatists or pro-freedom parties. The separatists in Kashmir have no problem with the US or the Western intervention. In fact during uprising and subsequent economic blockade of Kashmir valley in June, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was more than explicit about the resolution in terms of territory as well. And his argument that the two half districts of Jammu division that are being hyphenated with larger Kashmir issue to give it different dimension of Kashmir dispute, can part away. In a way he borrowed a leaf from Sajjad Gani Lone’s “Achievable Nationhood” that calls for Muslim Kashmir.  Even when president Obama talked about appointing envoy to Kashmir, there was no leader who didn't welcome it. Mirwaiz was again forceful when he responded to David Miliband’s comment. He said, "there has been much talking about intervention, now they (West) should act now." This is chief pontiff or religious head of Kashmir talking. Nowhere in the Muslim world there is such a faith and trust on the West as it is in Kashmir. 

Even the chief minister Omer Abdullah welcomed the statement of the Miliband much to the chagrin of the BJP. From Panaji, BJP's national spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy termed newly appointed Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah's statement, that third party intervention in Kashmir was needed to solve the issue, as "disturbing". "The remark made by Omar Abdullah as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, asking for a third party intervention to settle the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is very disturbing," Rudy said. He said that British foreign secretary David Miliband being asked to mediate was unacceptable and the BJP condemned it. BJP asked the Omer Abdullah that he should not comment on the foreign affairs. But the party has forgotten that the chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir State have always acted as extension of the India's foreign ministry until Mufti put this practice to an end by not issuing warnings to Pakistan from Kashmir soil as was the practice of his predecessors. If now the chief minister in Kashmir has realized that there is need to resolve Kashmir, why should it be construed as interference into foreign affairs?

These are best times to settle the Kashmir dispute. And it should be settled for the good of region. India is a confident country and emerging power, and Kashmir is dispute, and the denials from the media fraternity of India would not make it otherwise. There are options to resolve the dispute -- from autonomy to Self-rule to independent, secular democratic Kashmir, all options must be discussed. And atmosphere should be created for the resolution of the dispute.

The denial by the Indian media would not give anything to the region. The region needs peace and stability. Kashmir need more than that. More than healing a touch. Kashmiri soul has been bruised. After nearly one lakh killings, 10,000 disappearances, and innumerable arrests, there is a constant state of siege. But all this has not broken the will of people of Kashmir. The ten elections couldn't change Kashmir and 11th election too, held in November-December in seven phases, didn't change anything in Kashmir.

In June celebrated columnist of the Times of India Sawaminathian Ayer called for independence of Kashmir. He wrote “We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite six decades ago. Let us hold one now, and give them three choices: independence, union with Pakistan, and union with India. Almost certainly the Valley will opt for independence. Jammu will opt to stay with India, and probably Ladakh too. Let Kashmiris decide the outcome, not the politicians and armies of India and Pakistan.”

In these sad times, the intellectuals, journalists and educated and enlightened class of India should rise to the occasion and not dispute the fact that the road to peaceful Afghanistan, Pakistan and India goes through Kashmir. 

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