Of Failed Negotiators

Of Failed Negotiators
Why we failed to make a headway?

Ours is a sad saga of failures; a horrid story of slip-ups, and not doing the right thing at the right moment. Should I say, it is horrible story of political blunder that have often landed us from a ravine into an abyss and yet another abysmal misery? I will not shy away from saying that we have earned dubious distinction of being bad political negotiators rather what Americans call as grand fiascoes.  

I was reminded of this grim reality past Friday during prayers at a historic hospice. The day marked the four hundred and ninetieth birth anniversary of Sheikh Baba Da’ud-e-Khaki- a scholar-saint of his times. The Khateeb of the mosque spoke about the genealogy of this top disciple  Hazrat Sheikh Hamaza Makdoomi. He very briefly touched about scholarship of this great man who has written ‘quite a number of books including Vird-ul-Muridin.’  Then he briefly touched life of Sheikh Yaqoob Sarafi:  “A saint ‘not only most learned of his contemporaries in Kashmir, but one of the most learned men of his age, a man of international reputation for his learning and scholarship and piety.”

In his sermon laced with some Persian couplets the Khateeb talked about sectarian politics during the times of these two scholars. Then he talked about the two leaving for Hindustan and inviting Akbar to invade Kashmir. His sermon was mainly focused on the sectarian politics that had infected our society at that point of time and how Mogul invasion and occupation redeemed majority of people from cruelty of the sectarian-bigoted ruler.

His full-throated sermon reminded me of a full paragraph from G.M.D. Sufi’s book Kasheer that had left an indelible imprint on my mind. Talking about vicissitudes of Kashmir he writes:

‘At one time, it gave shelter to one emperor of Hindustan, Ibrahim Lodi. At another, another emperor of Hindustan Akbar reduced the Padshah of Kashmir Yusuf Shah Chak to the status of a refugee in a far-off corner in Patana of his kingdom. Again, one time Raja of Jammu ran to Kashmir and implored for help. The wheel has turned the Raja of Jammu is now Maharaja of Kashmir…”

I don’t know how history will record this decision of inviting an invasion for a fighting bigoted ruler by an alien ruler to a country that enjoyed sovereignty. Most of us have been indulging in self-glorification and out of chauvinism saying that we fought heroic battles against Moguls and it was by deceit that the Mogul emperor conquered our land. History does testify that the plebeians and proletariats never reconciled to the alien rule Moguls or others but same does not hold true of the then rulers. I am not the right person to say that if there was need of inviting the Moguls to fight an aboriginal brutish ruler or if the two scholars should had have negotiated differently. I don’t want to dip my feet the pond of blasphemy and land in troubled waters. It is a subject for the historians of the medieval period.

But as a student of contemporary history, whenever I try to understand the causes for the perpetuation of political uncertainty in the state and misery and sufferings it has cost to generations, I see history having thrown up many an opportunities to us to end it. But our leadership having failed to grapple these and turn them to their advantage. It would be too harsh to say that our leaders lacked political foresight or were carried away by personal likes and dislikes in decisions concerning   the future of the people. However, I do see two important factors contributing to the continuation of political uncertainty in the state, one, lack of understanding of the situations, knack of dealing a complex situation with astuteness, getting overawed by personalities in perplexing situations and second, lacking skills were negotiating future of the state. In our past sixty three year history there are umpteen examples to illustrate that our tragedy is more of these two causes   than history conspiring against us.

It is historical reality we messed up in 1947.  Many historians including Lamb attribute birth of “Kashmir Tragedy to 1947. The year is punctured with many if its buts and volumes have been written about it. I for one see the year as of ‘faulty understanding and indiscreet decisions’ by the leadership. To quote one instance would perhaps sufficiently amplify my point of view:  

After June 23, 1947, when partition plan of the sub-continent as agreed upon by the All India Congress and the Muslim League was announced a bee line of Congress leadership made to Kashmir. These leaders pleaded Maharaja Hari Singh to join India. Using all cards from religion to inculcating a sense of insecurity in him they failed to convince him.  Jawaharlal believed that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was trump card up his sleeves. “Before Mountbatten left for Kashmir,” Writes Bhattacharjea, ‘Nehru sent a note to him emphasizing the need for Abdullah to be freed and for him to form a government replacing Kak.” Ram Chand Kak was seen as the person who had convinced Maharaja against joining India. It was Sardar Patil who got Sheikh Abdullah released on 29 September about a month before armed rebellion in Poonch and tribesmen joining them.
 It was not Jawaharlal’s infatuation for Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah that had made him restless but in the emerging scenario he had cast role for him. There is a lot of literature on this subject. It will not be possible to recount in this column the whole drama that was enacted between September 29 to October 27.  Munshi Ghulam Hassan’s article in this paper on Friday undoubtedly was an additional information that has been already been written about it.  Whether Sheikh knew about the role cast for him or not is an important question but he did suffer a dilemma that became obvious during his meetings with his old friends from Dr. M.D. Taseer and Mian Iftikhar-u-Din. He suffered from the guilt that he had not been fair to Quaid-e-Azam during his visit to Kashmir.  He shared this with Mian Iftikhar-u-Din a veteran Congressman till 1946. Iftikhar-u-Din told him:
“You have become friendly with Nehru but I was more friendly with him for longer periods than you have been. But, when I joined the Muslim League Quad-e-Azam treated me as if I had been in the League and with him for years together.  You have fear that Quad-e-Azam will slight you for your association with Nehru but he will not.”

Sheikh had promised him visiting Lahore after his return from New Delhi and accompanying him to Karachi for discussing status of Kashmir with Pakistan with Quaid.   But, Sheikh stayed in New Delhi in Nehru’s house as his “personal guest” and played a role as had been cast for him. He stayed there till October 27 when troops from Delhi were airlifted to Srinagar. Not visiting Karachi was one in the chain of faux pas’ that followed adding complexity to the issue and making it world’s most intractable problem.

It did not end here. Then leadership   thought of wriggling out of the arrangement of its own making.  Took one faulty step after another bringing whole of the sub-continent to precipice- where it continues to remain more dangerously than ever before.
In my previous column I wrote that we need a skilled negotiators and not “intellectuals”, there was history behind making such an assertion. Since 1950 Kashmir leaders have been holding talks with New Delhi. It was National Conference and New Delhi that resulted in the fiasco of Delhi agreement. Then it was Plebiscite Front leadership and New Delhi in 1973-1975 that resulted in Six Point Indira-Sheikh agreement bringing Sheikh back to power. The outcome of two year’s negotiations between envoys of Mrs. Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah was nothing but a six page document on glossy paper – telling a tale of failure of the Plebiscite Front’s top lawyer   on the negotiating table. It was a document of surrender of twenty two years political struggle of thousands of leaders. If not privy but I have been a very close watcher of the dialogue between the Front leadership and New Delhi, I can very safely vouch that Mrs. Gandhi’s envoy had exhausted our best mind on table and turned him blank…ending his forty years political career in wilderness after a year only.

It is not the Front leaders that failed on the negotiating table but so far tract record of the Hurriyat Conference in all its confabulations with New Delhi has not been encouraging. The Hurriyat Conference has been talking to New Delhi behind the scene through intermediaries or envoys and directly for past over fifteen years with some punctuation.
The talks through intermediaries started when the conglomerate had not suffered a vivisection and graduated to direct talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during 2005. There is a big question why no headway was made?

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)