Focus on Pakistan,don't forget Kashmir

The pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman, Yasin Malik, talks to Dawn.com about the elections in Pakistan.


Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), says that his party has no favourites, neither in Pakistan nor India – but at the same time he feels disappointed that this time around there is hardly any mention of Kashmir in Pakistan’s various parties’ election campaigns.

The JKLF chief warns that if the Kashmir issue is not addressed as a priority, the conflict will be transferred to another generation. He is also apprehensive that the new generation in the disputed Himalayan region might choose going the Taliban way, as India, according to Mr. Malik, has closed all democratic options and sent a clear message to the Kashmiris that “they have been defeated”.

Malik, a former guerilla commander and now a Gandhian ideologue, refers to members of Indian civil society as ‘firefighters in Kashmir to manage the conflict’. As an ordinary citizen, he misses his 13-month old daughter who is yet to visit Kashmir.

In an exclusive interview with Gowhar Geelani for Dawn.com, Kashmir’s important leader expresses hope that the new democratically-elected government in Pakistan will not put the Kashmir issue on backburner. His message to Pakistan: “Take care of Pakistan, but don’t forget Kashmir!”

Below are excerpts from the interview:

How closely are you monitoring Pakistan elections 2013?

YM: As a Kashmiri and a ‘political animal’ I always keenly monitor elections in both Pakistan as well as India.

GGDo you have any favourites in this election? Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan seems to be promising a lot. But this time not much has been said on the Kashmir issue in the election campaign. H hopeful are you about Pakistan’s “Mission Kashmir?”

YM: We don’t have our favourites, neither in India nor Pakistan. Whenever I met the Prime Minister and President of Pakistan, our effort was to convince all political shades to have one voice on Kashmir to find a solution.

When Mr. Pervez Musharraf (the former president of Pakistan) started a political process with respect to Kashmir; I suggested to him that before starting any dialogue with India there is a need to institutionalise the dialogue process in Pakistan. There were five or six parties on board, including the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI).

Once the Pakistan Foreign Office used to be Kashmir-centric, but unfortunately Kashmir is missing from this election campaign. Let me give a message to the Pakistani leadership – if they want to put Kashmir on the backburner, the Kashmiri people have a right to ask them a question: Do you want the people of Kashmir to suffer? The more we are putting this issue on the backburner, Kashmir is losing another generation. Kashmiris want to convey to both India and Pakistan that this conflict should not be transferred to another generation.

There is a strong feeling in Pakistan that country’s stability is the main priority, one of their main focuses. Pakistan’s economy is in the doldrums. There is a thinking class in Pakistan which says if we focus too much on Pakistan, we lose focus on the country. How do you view this?

It is not that we want them to focus solely on Kashmir. Don’t you think we have a right to ask Pakistani leadership when you are engaging with India on different issues, where is Kashmir? We don’t want them to forget Pakistan. We are not saying focus only on Kashmir. That is not the point.

As we are aware, this is the first time any democratically elected government in Pakistan has completed its full tenure. How hopeful are you about this transition from one democratic set-up to another?

YM: It is my political belief is that ‘any bad democracy is better than an able dictatorship’. If we allow the democratic system to continue and flourish, we will end up as a mature democracy. Even 66 years after its independence, Indian democracy still remains fragile. One can’t call it a hundred per cent democracy. But when we give democracy a chance, the temperament of the people starts changing for good. So, it is indeed a healthy sign that the government in Pakistan completed its full term. Now, it is the right of the Pakistani people to decide who has performed or not.

With respect to Kashmir, you have been saying all along that India has choked all democratic options for the Kashmiris. Do you see any chances that Kashmiri youth might be contemplating going the ‘Taliban way?’ Are there any such fears in your mind as a political leader?

YM: It is not only my fear. I have a reasonable question, which I have posed to the Indian elite in Delhi in a conference. I told them that the entire diplomatic community — American, British, European — and Indian civil society came to us and persuaded us to go political. Now, when we given up our armed struggle and started a democratic non-violent movement, it was a collective decision for transition, millions of people came on the streets chanting pro-freedom slogans. You have seen the Arab Spring which also took inspiration from the Kashmiris, but what do Kashmiris get in return? We got 70 body bags in 2008, 42 in 2009 and 124 in 2010! Now there is no space for peaceful protest in Kashmir. There is no space where one could organise a public meeting. All space has been choked completely.

Recently you were in New Delhi to organise a protest but were denied permission. What happened there?

YM: I went there to meet Indian members of the Indian civil society. See, in 1995 … Mr. IK Gujral (who later became India’s Prime Minister), inaugurated the New Delhi office of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Today when you go there with victims, see how I am treated, I was manhandled. Many countries have used their military power in Afghanistan; they exhausted all options against the Taliban. Ultimately, they have concluded that military power is not the solution. They are taking the Taliban on board and have started talking to them. A peace process has been initiated. Next year we are expecting the withdrawal of American-led allied forces from Afghanistan.

How worried are you about the fallout of Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan on Kashmir?

YM: There are two categories of movements: one, people who fight with the gun. Another class of people had picked up the gun but were persuaded by the diplomatic community to give up arms and then promised the issue will be resolved through negotiations. Now, the Kashmiri people have been given a clear message that ‘you have been defeated’. On one side, there is the Taliban against whom the world exhausted their ammunition but ultimately the world community is pursuing a peace process. What message are you giving to future generations, are you telling them until and unless you become Taliban your issue will not be addressed?

You, Yasin Malik, once the militant commander who later followed Gandhian philosophy and became a political leader, how do you view the withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan?. There have been some reports in the USA that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) might find Kashmir as its new battle-field.

YM: Whatever the reports from the US, they can’t bail themselves out. I have a right to ask them a question. Today, where are they? If they feel accountable for their words and actions, they lecture people about peace and stability in the world, are they contributing towards Kashmir in any way? How to get the issue resolved and bring back stability and peace in the region? So, you are giving a very bad message to the youth of Kashmir –that their issue will not get resolved through peaceful means. Already, the youth are talking about Taliban.

How worried is Yasin Malik?

YM: It is not about me getting worried. It is a very serious concern. Our new generation will get completely disheartened with the slogan of democratic non-violent movement. You know, in 1994 when we in JKLF decided to give up arms – it was such an unpopular decision in Kashmir, even I was accused of being a sell-out by my own people! But we kept this movement alive. Today, when we were expecting that our transition from violent to non-violent movement will be respected by the international community as well as Indian civil society, a message is given to the Kashmiris that they have been defeated.

How important it is for Kashmir and its youth to have a stable government in Pakistan, which can be in a position to bring India on the negotiating table on Kashmir? How important is a stable Pakistan for the Kashmir cause?

YM: We want a stable government in Pakistan. We also want a stable government in India. Honestly, the present Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh got too many opportunities, but he did nothing. I don’t think Mr. A B Vajpayee got as many opportunities as Mr. Manmohan Singh did. Mr. Vajpayee extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan. He started the peace process despite challenges posed by deadly militant attacks. On the contrary, Mr. Singh got a smooth ground but he has failed to deliver.

You have the distinction of being in constant touch with Indian civil society. You have been talking to them on a regular basis. How disappointed are you with its role in relation to Kashmir?

YM: Having 25-year long close association with them, I have come to a discomforting co0nclusion, and it is my honest belief now, that the Indian state uses members of civil society as ‘firefighters in Kashmir’. It has become an unfortunate routine that in crisis time they (civil society members) come to Kashmir, accuse their own government, sell big dreams to the people of Kashmir; but as soon as the crisis is over they pack their bags.

Do you think there is a lack of will in New Delhi to resolve Kashmir and that there are only attempts being made to manage the conflict?

YM: They manage the conflict through two C’s: Corruption and Coercion. These are the two weapons which India has used in Kashmir constantly since 1947.   

Do you think this policy is not going to bring rewarding dividends in the end for India, Pakistan and Kashmir?

YM: In the past 66 years, India has used corruption as a tool in Kashmir. You will see Jammu and Kashmir more developed than some other states of India. We have good houses here. Money is sent to Kashmir to corrupt. I have a question for India: Why has the corruption through six decades failed to buy deep-rooted sentiment for freedom in Kashmir? Secondly, India used all its military might to suppress dissent, we have 100,000 people dead, whether some of them were involved with the movement or not, every civilian has faced humiliation at the hands of Indian forces, but both these weapons have ultimately failed.

The Indian media recently targeted you when you were on a visit to Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed, India’s most wanted man, had participated in your protest strike there. There were apprehensions that your passport will be impounded and you will be arrested. How were you treated in New Delhi on your return, any word on that?

YM: When I arrived in New Delhi, I was, as usual, manhandled by Hindu extremist forces. I have a 13-month old daughter; she has not visited Kashmir until now. My wife and family are not granted a visa to come to Kashmir. I have not been given the passport. When I went to Delhi recently for a hunger strike, you can see for yourself (alluding to the neck-collar), how I was treated there by police officers, not ordinary soldiers!

What will be your message to the people of Pakistan who are going to choose their next government on May 11?

YM: I have visited many cities, universities and colleges in Pakistan. I have interacted with the cross-section of people there. My belief is that Pakistani people have a romantic attachment with the Kashmir cause and our people. Political leaders have their views. But when I talk to the common Pakistanis on the streets, I find their love for Kashmir unconditional. I have a request to them that they must not forget that Kashmiris are suffering. We do not want them to forget Pakistan, but Kashmiris also have a right to shape their destiny.    

GG: What you are saying is, as I could perceive it, is this: focus on Pakistan but don’t forget Kashmir?

YM: Yes, exactly.

Last question, we too have assembly elections in Indian-held Kashmir in 2014. What will be JKLF’s strategy, keeping in view the fact that a faction of APHC led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has already called for a boycott?

YM: As far as the elections under the Indian Constitution are concerned, the JKLF has never participated in them. Neither here nor in ‘Azad Kashmir’. We don’t have any idea of changing our strategy. Regarding the boycott strategy, the JKLF will discuss that matter in its executive meeting at the right time.

Gowhar Geelani is a writer/journalist with international experience. He has served as Editor at Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has contributed features for the BBC. Feedback at gowhargeelani@gmail.com
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