It seems we in Kashmir are in for a new political scenario. It is not a conjecture- not a parti pris. There are indications to that effect. If newspapers are an indicator the changes have already set in.
Kashmir issue no more hogs the international headlines. It is now no more discussed as a nuclear flashpoint at international level. It no more dominates discussions on international satellite television channels as a potent threat to peace in South Asia. Unlike nineties it no more echoes at international forums. It no more finds a mention in speeches of international leaders like Bill Clinton who had described it in 2002 as world’s most ‘dangerous place”.
On occasions it does find space in international media but not as an important political issue that needs to be addressed for ensuring global peace but for wrong reasons. Past week after a gap of almost two years it again found a place in the international media, not for political cause but for having emerged as great health hazard. Some important international newspapers and television channels carried reports about the city of Srinagar city once known as the Venice of East for having qualified as fourth dirtiest city in India. The Iranian Television Channel Press TV beamed in about a hundred countries carried a ten minute special report about the stinking city of Srinagar. The television channel had filmed every garbage dump even outside public gaze in an around the city. The changed priorities in the international media like that of Iranian television channel indicate that the Kashmir issue has been relegated to the backyard at the international level.
Looking at it in retrospect during nineties and early part of the twentieth century the issue after 1947-55 had reengaged the attention of not only international media but also most important political scientist and intellectuals in the world. The Kashmir question was not only talked about in external affairs ministries or in diplomatic circles but was being debated by scholars in all leading universities along with the Palestine and other important global issues. Majority of eminent scholars of international reputation more particularly those working on Asia Pacific and South Asia described Kashmir as problem with “tortured history” that calls for ‘bold and dispassionate vision.’ Some scholars had called upon India and Pakistan to rise above the idea of sovereignty in finding a solution of the sixty three old dispute that had held hostage more than 1.5 billion people living in two countries. Prof. Ayesha Jalal, an eminent American historian and an expert on South Asia some ten years back at an important seminar had asked India and Pakistan, “If we want peace, not simply peace of graveyard, the obsessive dimension in state sponsored nationalism, whether of India or the Pakistani variety needs to be exorcised in accordance with known principles of self-determination.” She had asked the two countries to rise above their idea of sovereignty in resolving the issue. “Any idea of sovereignty which gives short shrift to the will of people”, she had said, “is a sheer travesty.” She had called the two countries to “re-conceptualize and reformulate” the idea of sovereignty and had dismissed it as ‘a legitimate mode of internal and social and political control.’ She was not alone in asking the two countries to rise above their preconceived notions but there were many others in many international universities who subscribed to the idea of acknowledging the human dimension of the problem and resolving it. Eqbal Ahmed an internationally acclaimed scholar and respected voice devoted last years of his life for looking into various dimensions of Kashmir problem. He wrote a number of articles those if compiled can make a good book on Kashmir. He not only dealt with the history of the dispute but also looked at the negative implication of the perpetuation of the dispute for teeming millions living a famished life in India and Pakistan. Comparing Kashmir with that of Palestine issue he had written “for its persistence as an unresolved international conflict, the question of Kashmir resembles the question of Palestine. For two decades, beginning in 1947, it occupied world attention. India and Pakistan fought two inconclusive wars over it – in 1948, and 1965. Then, after India defeated Pakistan in 1971 during the Bangladesh crisis, the issue was shelved at the United Nations and forgotten by the world. The outbreak in 1990 Kashmir has again focused international attention on the Jammu and Kashmir.” Seeing centrality of issue to the peace in the region he came up with many suggestions and proposal for peace resolution of the dispute.” It has not only been these scholars of South Asian origin living in the West that got involved for ending of uncertainty in Kashmir but there have been many a think tanks in the West that got devoted their time for finding a solution to the problem. In 2008, during the land agitation many intellectual and credible voices called for ending of political uncertainty in the state. True, there are still some scholars engaged in Kashmir studies at many universities in the world but for the political developments in the state Kashmir during past two years a as subject of study it has lost its importance for think tanks in USA, European countries and even in Islamabad and New Delhi.
If newspapers in the sub-continent and even Jammu and Kashmir are taken as an indicator these also suggest a change that could be compared to the changes on the political scene in 1968 that reached to their logical conclusion between 1975- 1977. Kashmir problem is no more in the headlines in India and Pakistan; it only finds a mention as a footnote whenever there is news about resumption of dialogue between the two countries. The dissenting Kashmir leaders that often dominated the media in the sub-continent or attracted cover stories of most prestigious news magazine have been off the headlines and in fact don’t merit even a single column at innocuous places in the news papers of the region. Given to the mistrust and distrust against each other the top leadership suffers from, the dissent within their ranks, situation within their organizations and the confusion that has beset them it seems that that many of them will never make it again to headlines and some of them even will be relegated to the backyard of Kashmir politics- perhaps never to emerge again as front runners. It may not be possible to debate and discuss within this column how and why many of the leaders are stealthily becoming irrelevant and seem doomed to suffer political obliviousness like that of many leaders of the past. Many important leaders of the Political Conference, the Muslim Conference and even the Plebiscite Front who had dominated headlines at many stages of our contemporary history died in anonymity and did not find a place even end notes of our history.
I don’t find an exact parallel in our contemporary political history to the situation in which the present dissenting leadership is caught up- perhaps there is no comparison so far diversity in their outlooks and conflict in their approach is concerned. Given to disenchantment that has overwhelmed many of them within the Hurriyat Conference and outside it could be compared to an extent to the post 1968 scenario, when the Plebiscite Front started drifting from laid down objectives in its constitution. The Front leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah instead of revitalizing the movement for plebiscite that had suffered some reversal after the Tashkent declaration pushed his entire rank and file in collecting donations for the construction of new Hazratbal shrine and involved entire Kashmir leadership in the State Peoples Convention for identifying alternative solution for settling of Kashmir problem outside the UN Resolutions. True, many well thought out papers were present in the conference by the Awami Action Committee President Molvi Muhammad Farooq, Mubark Shah, G.M. Mir and others but as very right pointed by Qari Saif-u-Din (who had emerged as powerful dissenting voice in the convention and had walked out in protest against the resolution that was adopted on 3rd day) in his biography this convention was first step towards ending of organization’s struggle for right to self-determination. The post-convention years of the Front that manifested fatigue in its leadership and thick clouds of haze blurring the goal could be compared to the post-Musharraf syndrome that has beset directly and indirectly entire Kashmir leaders thus blurred their goal that makes me envision a change – rather a switch over to post-1977 political scenario.
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