Kashmiri dispute and issue of identity
Dr Shabir Choudhry


June 14, 2006

During and after the Delhi Conference on future of Jammu and Kashmir, issue of identity came under discussion. It was agreed that Jammu and Kashmir was multi religious and multi ethnic state, where people had more than one identity. People of the State were proud to have multiple identities, and in some cases their political allegiance was determined by tribal and ethnicity affinity rather than their religion.

This discussion about pluralism and multiple identities led some people to assume that perhaps the Kashmiri struggle is only about recognition of these multiple identities.

After the conference we were invited to address a selected audience of intellectuals from different walks of life. The gathering was organised by Dr Riyaz Punjabi who is a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University; and the venue was Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.

I was really impressed to see the size and facilities provided by this educational institution. The meeting was chaired by Dr Radha Kumar, Director Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Apart from me Dr. Nazir Gilani, Abbas Butt, Riaz Khan, Zafar Manhas and Professor Rafaiq Bhatti were among the speakers. Respected audience included professors from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, retired senior army officers, senior journalists, diplomats and other people from civil society.

I thought it was a good opportunity to explain contours of our struggle. Salient points of my presentation there are as follows:

In life we all have different identities, and I also have more than one identity. For example, I am a Muslim and within that I am a Sunni Muslim. I am also an Asian and a Kashmiri. My other identities are that I am a male, I am a writer, I am a Jat Choudhry and unlike many other people I am an educated man.

All these identities discussed above are very important to me, as they play very crucial role in my everyday life; and I cannot think for a moment to abandon anyone of them. But when we started our struggle from the platform of JKLF in 1977, our aim was not to fight for any of the above or to strengthen my sense of belonging with them.

Despite my strong loyalty to all of the above identities I felt I was missing something and that was a national identity. I was not a Pakistani or an Indian, as Jammu and Kashmir was not legally part of any country. A question to me was who am I? This sense of not belonging to a nation state, and attitude of many Pakistanis who always looked down at me and others from area of 'Azad Kashmir', forced me to start my search for a national identity.

We started our search in 1973 which culminated in to the formation of JKLF in England. Our struggle was for unification and independence of our divided homeland, and to get our national identity - identity of people Jammu and Kashmir as a nation state recognised.

Apart from that I said, when justice is denied and genuine political process is strangulated this breeds resentment and frustration which sometimes lead to violence and 'terrorism'. Some of the Valley based leaders who are now projected as leaders of entire Jammu and Kashmir have blood on their hands. They were either directly involved in militancy or they supported and promoted culture of gun and violence.

For this 'service' to the Kashmiri movement they are respected and appropriately 'rewarded' by both countries. If President Musharraf gives them a red carpet welcome, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also feels obliged to welcome them with both arms open.

And those who have been opposing violence and promote peace are alienated - they are left out of the peace process just because promoters of violence don't want to share a platform with them. Their 'crime', as it seems, is that they belong to the pro peace lobby, and it is assumed that why worry about them and waste 'resources' for them because they are already on the 'board'.

Thinking of the people who matter is to lure in those individuals and groups which are not on 'board', and which are irksome. History is witness to this fact that policy of appeasement has not worked in the past and it will never work now. You meet their one demand, it will give boost their morale and they will change the goal post to make new demands.

The government of India has called another 'round table' conference, and because of wrong strategy and unclear objectives it is doomed to failure. This 'failure', as I see it, is a major set back to the Indian government's recent attempts to make some headway on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Some of these 'projected' leaders are more than happy to meet the Prime Minister of India and other officials in 'private' in the shadow of darkness, but they are too afraid to meet in an open meeting. People have a right to ask 'what is it all about'? Are these leaders trying to get some kind of 'deal' or some 'rewards' in private meetings? And moreover, why both governments are seen to be in competition to 'win over' these leaders?

My request to governments of India and Pakistan is that, please don't impose leadership on us, and don't impose any decision on us. Let us decide, who are the best people to represent our aspirations; and safeguard interests of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

I am among those who strongly believe that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute, and dialogue is the only way forward. I have suffered for holding pro peace views. When I see life -style of these 'projected leaders', and undue importance extended to them; some times I wonder if it is still worth beating the peace drum.

Is it not appropriate to hire some people and commit some acts of violence? By being pro violence and intransigent there is every chance of winning a seat on the round table conference or any future conference.

The Indian government still claims that the 'accession' is 'final' and that it was for the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet when it invites 'leaders' to discuss future of Jammu and Kashmir, it only invites people from the Indian side of the LOC, practically contradicting its claim. This shows that its primary interest is limited to this side of the LOC, and welfare and future of people on the other side of the LOC is a 'Pakistani matter'.

Even if one defends this act on the logic that leaders from across the LOC could not practically take part in such conference, so why invite them. In my opinion if the government of India had full faith in its conviction that the State was an 'Indian territory' as a result of that 'accession', then they should have invited leaders from all the five regions of the State. It was problem of the invitees to decide whether to go there in person, send a representative or even to send an apology.

Especially now when leaders from Kashmiri Diaspora, Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan were already present in Delhi to take part in the ICM Conference, there was no obstacle in their attending the 'Round table conference'. The only 'obstacle' was government's lack of clarity and proper home work for this conference.

The government of India missed this opportunity to assert its claim on the entire state. I can see three possible reasons for this:

1. The Government of India does not really believe that its claim to the entire state or to the areas under its control is justified;
2. It didn't want to upset Pakistan and other Jihadi forces by inviting these leaders for the 'fear' of reprisals;
3. The Government of India had worked hard to win over APHC and some other leaders, and didn't want to upset them for the fear that they might boycott the conference.

One thing that is clear to us Kashmir is that both governments formulate their policies in line with their national interest; and we Kashmiris need to formulate our policies which suit our national character and which can help us get unity and independence of the State.


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