An independent think-tank

“Freedom movement in Kashmir has taken a new turn”

“The decisions and actions taken by the government, and the statements issued by President Zardari and the Prime Minister, show that the government favors a win-win situation for all of the stake-holders – Pakistan, India, and the Kashmiri people. The most probable outcome of the ongoing efforts on the front of seeking some solution to the Kashmir dispute may be some sort of institutional cooperation and collaboration between the governments of the two Kashmiri parts – Azad and Indian occupied. It is quite possible that the two countries agree on opening up the LoC for the Kashmiri people leading to free movement on both sides of the LoC. It will facilitate people to people contacts and intra-Kashmir trade.” These were the comments made by Mr. Irshad Mehmood who is a well-known expert on the subject. He has been writing on the subject for last fifteen years. He is the first Pakistani analyst who visited Sri Nagar after a long period of time.

Mr. Irshad gave a beautiful account of historical landmark events and policy statements regarding the issue while analyzing the ongoing situation in the disputed territory. “Musharraf’s statement that Pakistan may rethink its stance on the UN resolutions on Kashmir was a landmark policy shift in the history of the Kashmir dispute,” observed Mr. Isrhad Mehmood. A second landmark policy shift during his time was the announcement that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used for carrying out terrorist activities anywhere in the world in including Kashmir.

These steps taken by Pakistan laid the foundation for the ongoing peace-process between Pakistan and India. Bus-service between Indian occupied Kashmir and Azad Kashmir was initiated facilitating the people living on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). People to people contact and dialogue were started. Many delegations consisting of artists, students and other civil society members were exchanged between the two countries.

One has to pay attention to the implications of this all for the future of Kashmir, in particular, and for the region, in general, said Mr. Irshad.

We have to be truthful that, to some extent, India also departed from its stated stance on Kashmir. Now it does not insist on “Kashmir is our integral part (atootang).” And, that it accepts that Kashmir is an unresolved dispute and that some peaceful solution is possible.

Recent conflict of 80 kanal land which was allotted to Amarnath Shrine sparked the Peoples’ aspirations to exercise their right of self-determination. The Kashmiris saw the decision in the mirror of Israeli occupation of Arab lands for Jewish settlements. Almost all of the Muslim community in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir stood up. They came out of homes, organized rallied, staged demonstrations and chanted slogans. The Indian armed forces made a sheer use of brutal force to crush the movement. But, the people were determined. They did not give up. Ultimately, the state had to take the decision back. The allotment of the land to the Hindu shrine was revoked. It caused a strong reaction in Jammu, where Hindus are in majority. The Hindus could not digest it. They stopped the outflow of trade goods from the main valley, the Muslim majority area, to other Indian states by blocking the main roads. It hit the economic interests of the Muslim traders and the business community of Kashmir. It provided an impetus for the Muslim traders and business community to become a part of the freedom movement. They announced a march to Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir, if the roads blocked by the Hindu protesters were not opened letting the trade goods flow out of the valley. And they did it. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims turned up and started their historical march to the Line of Control to cross it on their way to Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir. The Indian Army and Police resorted to use of force. They opened fire on the innocent peaceful demonstrators and also baton-charged them. Resultantly, many lost their lives and hundreds others were seriously injured. During this episode, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, a famous Kashmiri leader became a victim of target killing by Indian forces.

Following these events, slogans of freedom and right of self-determination echoed across the whole valley of Jammu and Kashmir. The rallies and the demonstrations were reminiscent of the 1990s when the freedom-struggle in the Indian occupied Kashmir was at its peak. The government of Indian Occupied Kashmir could not stand the challenge and fell down.

This whole episode gave a new dimension to the freedom movement in Kashmir. Militant freedom-fighters and their organizations have come to realize the significance of peaceful struggle. They seem to be better aware of the pressures on the violent groups exerted by international political system and security environment. And, that the highly sensitized world community in the issue of terrorism may not be willing to pay much heed to any violent militant movement. It also means that the freedom-fighters have recognized that peaceful means have stronger appeal for the international community. They might have been influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of peaceful struggle and its special appeal in Indian political environment dominated by Hindu thought as well as Gandhi’s towering image. Militancy, though historically has helped the freedom movement by bringing the issue into limelight, does not seem to be much helpful in the present circumstances.

As a result, the struggle has turned into a mass movement which is not based on militancy and terrorism rather than on peaceful demonstrations chanting slogans of freedom and right of self-determination. “The Kashmiri movement has lost its jihadi face somewhere in the process,” commented Mr. Irshad.

But one must not conclude that a consensus has been reached at among the Kashmiri leadership. They are not one on each and every point. There is a divide among them. Some of them still tend to think that militancy and violence are still relevant. Hence, the reemergence of militant face of the ongoing freedom movement can not be ruled out.

The speaker was of the view that the US policy on Kashmir seems to be to ensure some sort of autonomy to the Kashmiri people while maintaining Indian sovereignty over the territory. The American do not want to let any movement based on terrorism succeed in any part of the world as it negates their commitment to fight terrorism. So, presumably, the Americans might be willing to appreciate peaceful struggle on part of the Kashmiris.

The talk was followed by a question answer session. An interesting debate took place on the issues of possible solutions of the Kashmir issue, possible bottom-lines of the two countries, and the changed look of the two governments. Responding to a question, Mr. Irshad said, that the Present coalition government led by the PPP has adopted a policy of reconciliation with India and a moderate stance on the Kashmir issue.