There is very little hope for an actual political change in Kashmir

Tapan K. Bose is a noted human rights activist. Based in New Delhi, he is Secretary General Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). Bose has been Chief Executive Officer of the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) in Nepal since 1997. He has built SAFHR into a public forum in South Asia for regional dialogue, advocacy, teaching and research.

Its flagship, the Human Rights and Peace Studies Orientation Course, has been instrumental in developing South Asian perspectives. Its Women, Conflict and Peace-building programme was a pioneer in research on the gender experiences of conflict and peace-building. SAFHR’s dialogue forum on minorities brought out the first ever regional compendium on the status of minorities in the countries of South Asia. While he was in Lahore for a meeting of SAFHR and PIPFPD, he talked on issues relating to Kashmir, democracy, people’s rights, and India Pakistan relations. Excerpts from the Interview:

Zaman Khan: What brought you to Pakistan?

Tapan K. Bose: Besides meeting friends, there was some work of South Asian Forum for Human Right (SAFHR). I had to discuss affairs of Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD).
ZK: Is it easy to bring peace and democracy together?

TKB: Peace is our main objective but one has to understand what peace means. There can be peace, for example, in Sri Lanka. LTTE has been defeated. The country has achieved a military solution but has it actually achieved peace? Now there is more militarisation in Sri Lanka. Peace is linked with democracy. We are told that there is democracy in South Asia. Let us look at the nature and quality of democracy. Is it really a participatory process? Has this democracy empowered people? Yes there is a kind of "democracy", elections are held. But, is it possible for the ordinary people to actually participate in these elections? Is it possible for people from a low caste to defy the directive of the upper caste landlord?

ZK: How do you look at the trade relations between Pakistan and India?

TKB: The capitalist, industrialists and financiers of South Asia are coming together to exploit the masses. To exploit the market, to exploit the workers, exploit the resources in a more profitable manner. What will it give to the poor? On the contrary, there are worries that there would be deeper inroads into the resources of the poor people.
ZK: What is PIPFPD’s single achievement?

TKB: PIPFPD’s biggest achievement is that we have been able, by and large, to reduce the obvious hostility that was inculcated at the people’s level by the state and by the elite. People don’t talk of war now. Even when Kargil happened there was no real call for going to war by the common people. When the unfortunate terrorist attack by a group of people took place in Bombay, even Shiv Sena, the most radical Hindu organisation did not dare go on the streets and say let us attack Karachi. That is because they realized that people would not support them. This is our main achievement – that we have contributed to strengthening anti war perspective at popular level.

ZK: Don’t you think the peace process is hostage to the governments of Pakistan and India?

TKB: We are dependent on the governments for holding people-to-people dialogue for visa. On many occasions our meetings had be cancelled as the governments refused to give visa to our participants. We need to think in terms of how do we overcome this obstacle and take the agenda further.

ZK: PIPFPD was able to bring together Kashmiris from both sides of the border at the Allahabad peace convention. Do you see some hope that the Kashmir issue will be resolved according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir?

TKB: If the government of India and Pakistan don’t care for ordinary people why should one think they will do something different for the people of Kashmir? I don’t believe that the governments of India and Pakistan are ever going to give any kind of special democratic rights (to the Kashmiris) and going to create a different solution which will really empower the people politically, economically and socially. What is more important is that we have to stop the spiraling process of militarisation. We have to stop the violence. We have to stop these attacks on people. It is more visible in the Indian-held Kashmir. It may not be so visible in Azad Kashmir, but it is also happening there.

In Azad Kashmir, it is primarily the army that decides what kind of government will be there. If we look at the Abdullah family in the Indian-held Kashmir, we see they have grown enormously rich and powerful. Similar is the case with the Sardar Qayuum family in Azad Kashmir. Quite a number of political activists have been spirited away. Many people from Mirpur have become migrants and work as factory workers in Bradford and Leeds and other places. They want to return home. But can they really go back? This is the reality that needs to be kept in mind when we are trying to find a solution of Kashmir.
It is the struggle of the people. If we are talking of democracy and empowerment of the people, the whole people of the subcontinent need it and, I believe ultimately the struggles of the people of Kashmir need to be linked with the struggling people of India and Pakistan. By giving them a special status, by making them feel that they can achieve something by remaining isolated is creating a false hope. And, in a way, we are empowering the states because the states can do anything. India keeps the Kashmiris separated. Pakistan keeps the Azad Kashmiris and ordinary Pakistanis separated. There is no political link, there is no solidarity, and there is no struggle together.
So, if tomorrow there is some achievement in the area of federal reconstruction of Pakistan, what is Azad Kashmir going to get? They will get nothing because they do not belong to Pakistan. Similarly, what is this myth of special status of Kashmir in India? The governor is appointed by New Delhi, the High Court is appointed by New Delhi, and Election Commission is appointed by New Delhi. Everything is controlled by New Delhi, so where is the special autonomy? The only thing that is to some extent there is the "state subject law". Non-Kashmiris cannot buy land. But has it actually stopped? In the name of development and creating jobs for Kashmiri youth, the industrialists, hoteliers and other commercial enterprises  are buying land all over Kashmir. Most of these enterprises are owned by Indians. They have found a way to overcome the ban on purchase of landed property by non-Kashmiris. These lands are being given on 99-years lease. In addition, the army has taken over  huge areas of Kashmir. The Srinagar airport and the army cantonment around the airport is built on land belonging to poor Kashmiri peasants. They were never compensated for the loss of land and livelihood. They are paid a paltry amount as "ground rent’ every year.
To expect that the ruling classes of India and Pakistan will give anything special to Kashmir and Kashmiris is a false hope. As long as the Kashmiris on both sides keep believing in that and remain isolated and not try to join the movement for democracy and the rights of the ordinary people on the entire sub-continent, there is very little hope for actual political change in either Kashmir.
ZK: You said at the Allahabad Convention that India has invested billions of rupees in Afghanistan. What do you think India wants to achieve by it?
TKB: It is part of a US policy in this region. India has declared that we are strategic partners of the US. Indian government has apparently invested eight billion dollars in infrastructure development in Afghanistan. A country like India can not just throw away dollars like this. The question is who is benefiting – the people of Afghanistan, the people of India or the Indian elite? As we know, even when banks go bust and industries collapse, the elite benefits. It benefits from use and misuse of people’s money. If we want to know who is benefiting from India’s so-called contribution to Afghanistan we should ask – who is getting the contracts for these jobs, who are building these, roads, hospitals, schools and training centres there? Athe answer is that it is the Indian contractors and Indian businessmen and Indian experts who are doing all these. It is money going from one pocket to the other. And it also serves a  political objectives in this geo-strategic situation. Indians want to remain or to keep their foothold in the area so that Pakistan does not become a more powerful factor in Afghanistan.
ZK: One hoped that the visa regime will be relaxed but it is becoming more and more cumbersome and difficult to get Indian visa?
TKB: That is exactly what we are saying that they will make visa for businessmen easy. They will give them one year visa, three years multiple entry visas. They will not do that for ordinary people. The ordinary people will now have to get character certificate and bank statement. Where the poor peasant is going to get his bank account? Where is he going to get the magistrate’s certificate? The same experience is on the other side of the border. PIPFPD in both countries must take up the struggle and pressurise the governments. The political parties must put it on their manifestos. We must begin to do it.

(Courtesy; The News, Pakistan)