“Kashmiris Have Made Their Choice:They Want Azadi”

The title and the subtitle of this editorial were taken from a recent thoughtful article written by Mr. Asif Zedi, a Pakistani political commentator. The full article itself is posted on this website for our readers to read in depth. This editorial is aimed at capturing the consensus that appears to be re-emerging in the debates on Kashmir in conferences and discussions over the last few months.

    This trend in thinking was more than palpable, first, in the 10th International Peace Conference on Kashmir held at the Capitol Hill on 23rd and 24th of July, co-sponsored by KAC, the Kashmir Center and the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers. Then this month in the Roundtable Conference held under the auspices of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement on August 15, in London. Gone seemed to be the cautious and subtle hints at tempering the demands for outright self-determination, that characterized the earlier conferences held during the last few years in Brussels, London, Washington DC, Islamabad, Birmingham and New York City.  I vividly remember the gratuitous advice given at the previous Kashmir conferences by some of the politicians, pundits and ‘sages’ who cautioned against audacity and brazenness of those of us who would not settle for less than outright plebiscite in Kashmir. Times have changed. Ironically and somewhat paradoxically, the original slogan–the right of self-determination has re-gained traction with new reverts, converts and adherents even as Prime minister Singh of India declares that there is no pro-freedom movement in Kashmir. These slogans must be outside the range of audibility of the wishful-thinking Indian leaders. The pendulum has swung again, this time towards the popular demand on which all Kashmiris are agreeable, the UNSC Resolutions authorizing an unfettered plebiscite in the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir.

    Speakers in the conferences from all shades of opinion emphatically endorsed the right of self-determination as the only workable proposition to solve the Kashmir issue. Indian intellectuals echoed Pakistani politicians and Kashmiri Muslim voices mirrored Kashmiri Pundit voices. The veteran Jammu journalist Ved Bhasin’s opinion for a State- wide referendum found reciprocity in similar views expressed by the dynamic duo from the Valley, Zahid G. Muhammad and Professor G. R. Malik, in the Washington Conference.  Angna Chatterji, an Indo-American from California, Gautam Nawlakha from New Delhi and Victoria Schofield from UK– all could not have been more forceful in endorsing the right of self-determination as the only viable option to resolve the Kashmir conflict. To these observers, thinkers and activists the ‘CBMs’ and the ‘Composite Dialogues’ between India and Pakistan have predictably failed in resolving the regional conflict and establishing a durable peace, precisely because they failed to address the demands of the Kashmiris.

 The unanimous resolutions passed in the Washington conference, and subsequently in the London conference, are a proof of this renewed realization of the political reality of Kashmir. The language in the previous declarations used to be somewhat subtle and circumspect, reflecting the prevailing political mood of the conferees. That mood has changed rather dramatically in the last one year. That changed mood is reflected in this year’s declarations, which are unambiguous and not at all circumspect in their tone and tenor. Even those political parties in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, who used to sheepishly treading the fence on the core belief of plebiscite-at-any-cost, have come around to the original reality. Their tone has changed. They now see the mass public discontent with the timid political stand they had taken. They do not even remotely want to identify with the Musharraf formulas of 2004 to 2008.

Last few years were years of absolute political uncertainty for Kashmir and Pakistan. Pakistani leaders felt beleaguered in the post- 9/11 scenario for reasons beyond the scope of this editorial. Unfortunately they made concessions to India at the cost of their own national security, but went far beyond and engaged in deal-making with India on the fate of Kashmir, which was neither their right nor their prerogative. Allowing India to build an electrified barbed wire fence to divide Kashmir was just one example of that terrible deal-making. The politicians being what they usually are, selfish firs and selfish last, jumped ship on Pakistan’s historical policy of on Kashmir as fear gripped them in the 9/11 aftermath. They ran for cover not for the citizens of Kashmir, or for that matter for the people of Pakistan, but rather, they feared for their own safety and for their own political power. They embarked on a reckless course of hasty deal-making, without regard for the consequences for the people of Pakistan and Kashmir. Pakistani rulers as well as some of the Kashmiri leaders betrayed their people. For their part, Kashmiris had already been feeling the brunt of the brutal force used against them in the occupied Kashmir. They had made their choice a long while back and they had resigned themselves to the consequences of their ‘audacity’. They did not ask Musharraf or any of the APHC leaders to beg for leniency or exact concessions from India; no, not at the cost of freedom. Had they wished to make the choice to seek accommodation within Indian Union, they could have done so in the 60 years of hellish Indian rule. They had been suffering Aghni’s wrath for defying India ever since 1947 by demanding azadi.

Clearly, much (mostly damage) was done through the ‘back channel diplomacy’ without taking either the Pakistani or the Kashmiri people in to confidence, by a military dictator and a tamed faction of APHC. Heaven forbid, had the 4-point formula, that ostensibly made the basis of the Musharraf initiative been implemented, Kashmir would have fallen in to a political wilderness of the worst kind. Thanks to the obstinacy of the Indian rulers, who dragged their feet, as they always have done, Kashmir and Pakistan were spared the catastrophe. It would have created a political disaster of seismic proportions for Kashmir and Pakistan; whose ripple effects would have gripped the region for a long time to come.  No politician should be selfish enough, desperate enough and reckless enough to engage in such a political kamikaze venture without consulting his people.

Musharraf presumed his nation’s conscience and self-respect to be dead or dying. That presumption was premature and miscalculated. That proclivity led him to betray the Kashmir cause, just as it led him to sack Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the maveric Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. These misadventures led to his fall from grace and power.

And speaking about penchant for recklessness in dealing with important issues, I very clearly remember the words of caution of the late Agha Shahi, the ex-Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, to us in Islamabad during a private meeting. He had retired from the Foreign Service and was overseeing his research group at an advanced age. His experience, knowledge and wisdom as one of the most distinguished carrier diplomats in the region, was unquestioned and without parallel. Agha Shahi saw a political and diplomatic disaster-in-the-making, if Pakistan were to strike a deal with India at such a time of precariousness and weakness for Pakistan. He could not imagine any possible scenario under which Kashmir and Pakistan could come out as winners under the circumstances prevailing then. He cautioned for patience and perseverance and against impetuousness and haste. He feared for the future of Pakistan and Kashmir, not because Pakistan was intrinsically weak, but because the nerves of the rulers and the elites were frayed with fear. Others too shared Agha Shahi’s concerns. Another carrier diplomat, Mr. Riaz Khokhar, who also retired after an illustrious carrier in Pakistan Foreign Services, bemoaned the recklessness of Musharraf era Kashmir policy. Both men of eminence and intellect echoed the lamentation of yet another distinguished diplomat of high repute, Ambassador Yusuf Buch, a Kashmiri exile who served not only Pakistan, but also as the advisor to the United Nations Secretary General. He repeatedly criticized the Pakistan policy on Kashmir under the military regime, as reckless and impetuous.

Zedi writes ‘Kashmiris have made their choice–they want azadi’. It is that view which is now gaining ground and prevailing over all other views as the new and defining theme of Kashmir struggle. That theme was restated by the conferees in the London Conference, loud and clear. That is the theme to which Gautum Nawlakha was referring to when he was relating an anecdote about his encounter in Kashmir. He told Dr. Fai, the Executive Director of Kashmiri American Council that when he asked a 3 year old boy in Srinagar what he wanted, the boy answered “Geelani wali azadi”, meaning, Syed Ali Geelani’s brand of freedom.

And we all know Syed Ali Geelani wants the right of self-determination, no more no less.