The legitimate representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, not the current fake leaders ensconced in Srinagar in cahoots with the Hindu fascists, should decide the future of the state.
With India and Pakistan engaging in small talk, holding hands and contemplating (maybe) a discussion of their differences over Kashmir, there is an exigent need for Kashmiris to weigh in carefully and review again any opportunities to participate in such discussions as proprietors of their own nation. Most importantly, who will represent them at the negotiating table?
There is an urgent need now for Kashmiris to press upon India and Pakistan the importance of approaching this issue constructively rather than like some game of chess at a local parlor. The foolhardiness of repeating the same gambit over and over again eventually becomes costly as well as counterproductive. The opportunity for real change is at hand.
The first challenge is for Kashmir to get to the table. The second and equally important challenge is the ability of any agreement on Kashmir to be acceptable to the broad spectrum of the people of Jammu and Kashmir whether in the Valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
Kashmir was at the table, at least in name, when late Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had an agreement with Sheikh Abdullah known as the “1952 Delhi Agreement.” One may disagree with the political philosophy of Sheikh Abdullah but the fact remains that he was the most charismatic leader that Kashmir has ever produced. But even that powerful leader could not sell this agreement to the people of Kashmir. In fact Sheikh Abdullah later tried to distance himself from it and eventually was arrested. Kashmiris are still fighting for their rights.
India and Pakistan have had many agreements, like Tashkent, Simla, Lahore, etc. They failed because they didn’t offer a seat at the table to the primary party, that is, the Kashmiri leadership. Likewise, India and the mainstream Kashmiri leadership have had multiple accords, like the Abdullah-Nehru Agreement of 1952; the Indira [Gandhi]-Sheikh [Abdullah] Accord of 1974; the Farooq [Abdullah]-Rajiv [Gandhi] Accord; the Mufti Sayyid and [Narendra] Modi Agreement, etc. They also failed because they sought to bypass another party: Pakistan. Therefore, it is quite logical that the talks must be tripartite with India, Pakistan, and those who represent the true voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Real negotiations, not parlor games, are the key to resolving the conflict. The logistics of tripartite talks can be open to discussion but the principle cannot.
The demand of the people of Kashmir that the Kashmiri leadership be included in the talks is not based on passion alone but on important principles long acknowledged by the international community. Yet they have been contaminated with this long history of failed talks and agreements that have not resolved the issue and that do not meet even the minimum requirement of those principles. There is much political posturing but absent of real intent.
It is interesting how problematic it is for the parties to agree that the Kashmiris themselves have a stake in any talks about their future. In what kind of democratic process would this not be of prime consideration? The moral, legal and historical foundations for such a principle have been frequently raised by not only the Kashmiris but the world community, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, and these still stand. Yet they are continually ignored.
Aside from the matter of being included in the talks, the question of who represents the people of Jammu and Kashmir, what voice is heard, takes on great significance. India and Pakistan should realize that they can impose any solution upon the people of Kashmir; the Kashmiri mainstream leadership can sign any accord with India; but the question arises, are they going to be able to sell these agreements to the people as was attempted by Sheikh Abdullah? The answer is a big “NO.”
The fact is that the relationship between India and the mainstream so-called Kashmir government, the principal negotiator in all previous attempts, is wrought with obstacles. The interests of the people are not represented. Financial links, political pressures, the undue political influence certain figures enjoy within the current and past Kashmir administrations who regurgitate New Delhi policies and ambitions, the ever-present and intimidating military presence and what is threatened if you don’t go along, and the careers at stake all inevitably taint the process. Decisions are being made on the basis of politics and power by remote control and unattached absentee landlords instead of by real Kashmiris involved in real issues that have long been fundamental to the whole question. There is no denying this fact. When you can’t speak out about the desire for freedom or independence, that is like a boil that just keeps getting bigger. Perhaps history itself speaks the loudest. What has Kashmir been saying for all these years?
Those who have held privileged positions in Kashmir’s “official” leadership while all this has been going on have at best been muted in their response, have not demanded that India be held accountable, and have not demanded an authentic negotiation process that resolves real problems. They are like mothers who, when their babies cry, do not try to understand why they are crying. They simply shove a pacifier in their mouths. They have not stood up for their compatriots in their hour of need. They have not stood up for Kashmir. They lack sufficient credibility and trust to shoulder the task of representing Kashmir’s true interests.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir have their own leaders who do not participate in government decision-making. They are on the streets struggling for the cause, under house arrest, or in jail, because they have had the courage to speak out for basic human and civil rights that are recognized globally. After almost 70 years of attempts by India to silence that collective voice, what has that accomplished?
India’s policy to assume proprietary rights over Kashmir and treat it as a disobedient stepchild who must be whipped into submission has characterized its relationship with Kashmir, through the presence of hundreds of thousands of troops and paramilitary forces on Kashmiri soil, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the suppression and prosecution of those who talk about “azadi,” and a constant reign of terror in which tens of thousands of innocents have been imprisoned, tortured, raped, and disappeared in secret mass graves.
The repression of Kashmir’s soul has not diminished the pain or the need for India to meet those face to face who have had nothing but a boot to the belly and a cane to the back. The voice of Kashmir not only remains as vibrant and loud as in the very beginning, it is even stronger today. It is time that India showed some honesty and forthrightness in its dealings with Kashmir. It is time to end the violence. It is time to end the charade. It is time for Kashmiris to sort out their own affairs and determine their own future.
It is not about jobs or education or even money; it is about freedom and respect for the sovereign right of a people to choose their own way of life, their own leaders, and their own politics without interference from outsiders. In short, it is their right to choose their own destiny.
The right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their future, irrespective of their religious background and regional affiliation, was recognized by the United Nations. That is a principle that was agreed by both India and Pakistan and endorsed by the world community. India may pretend that it can preempt that option unilaterally, but the people have not forgotten and refuse to accept such unilateralism.
In late-1993, Dianne Feinstein was a first-term senator from California. We met her in her office in Washington, DC and told her that the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan would meet in January 1994. They would talk about Kashmir. We told the senator that the United States should impress upon both India and Pakistan the need to include the Kashmiri leadership in talks when they discuss the Kashmir dispute. Her response was, “You are not asking much.”
Shouldn’t the incoming Trump administration take a leaf from the judicious and sensible response of Senator Feinstein? Even President Obama spoke his mind about Kashmir during his presidential campaign in 2008, believing, one hopes sincerely, that India and Pakistan should come together to resolve the Kashmir issue. Since then he has wavered. He has stopped talking about Kashmir, believing perhaps that US business ties with India have greater priority than ruffling any feathers.
In 2014, the US edged out Russia as India’s largest arms supplier. Between 2011 and 2014, India imported $13.9 billion in weapons from the US. President-elect Trump voiced his opinion on October 17, 2016 that he would be honored to mediate between India and Pakistan to address the “very, very hot tinderbox” of Kashmir. The president-elect has an opportunity to walk and talk straight to India and Pakistan to help set the stage for the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The priorities of world peace are much greater than selling a few more missiles to some country, which threatens international peace and security.
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness. He can be reached at 1-202-607-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.