Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, Chairman of one faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference was in Geneva to address a seminar on Kashmir arranged by pro Pakistan Kashmiris during the UN Human Rights 18th Session. It was not his first visit to this prestigious place and I am sure it won’t be the last; because the powers that be think still his services could be utilised to promote a particular agenda.
I first met Mirwaiz in early 1990s when he visited Britain as a Chairman of united APHC. He was probably in his late teens at that time and was elected the Chairman after his father was shot down and killed in Srinagar. At that time India was accused for this murder, but this year another APHC senior leader Professor Abdul Ghani revealed that he was not killed by India, but was killed by ‘our own people’.
At that time young and smart Mirwaiz looked immature and vulnerable. Now he is physically a grown up man who has been carefully groomed as a Kashmiri leader, perhaps to fulfil a certain task. He is a confident man with good presentation skills; however it is difficult to say if he has matured politically. Seminar moderator, Barrister Majid Tramboo opined the audience that Mirwaiz has also achieved his Doctorate; but some Kashmir watchers question if he understands all aspects of Kashmir dispute.
His speech was not among the best of his speeches. Either he does not know jurisprudence of the Kashmir dispute or he was too afraid to speak out his mind; as he did not want to annoy those who sponsored his trip. Some people think it is not prudent to be on the wrong side of those who ruthlessly call shots in the polity of Jammu and Kashmir; as they have power and know how to eliminate all voices of dissent. However, some others think it is absolutely vital that one must uphold principles, and call spade and spade irrespective of reprisals.
When we say the Kashmir dispute we refer to the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir that existed on 15th August 1947; and in our considered opinion the entire state is disputed. The fact that in some parts there is more trouble than others does not mean that those areas with less visible trouble and dissent are not disputed.
Both groups of APHC, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and their supporters and mentors claim that they represent people of Jammu and Kashmir. Actions of Mirwaiz and the APHC groups do not support that claim. Reality is that they do not even represent majority of Muslims of the Valley, where the both groups and their leadership is based.
This fact was once more confirmed by the speech of Miwaiz. His entire speech was about the problems of the Valley and his criticism was against only India. The State of Jammu and Kashmir is forcibly divided between India, Pakistan and China; and consists of the Valley, Jammu, Ladakh (Aksai Chin – under China), Gilgit Baltistan (Shaksgam Valley –under China) and Azad Kashmir.
Mirwaiz Omer Farooq did not speak a single word about other areas of the State, or said anything against other countries which occupy the territory of State of Jammu and Kashmir. It is clear that his Kashmir starts from the Valley and ends in the Valley. He didn’t look concerned about areas of the Valley which are under control of Pakistan, as he did not mention them or their problems. What does this prove?
Many people who reside on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control decided to stay away from the event where Miwaiz was to speak, as they had good idea what he would say. Furthermore, they knew there would be no opportunity of asking any question, as organisers despite calling it ‘interactive dialogue’ leave no time for any questions. Because of this, Azad Kashmiri people wanted to use their time more positively. However, Abbas Butt and I decided to attend the seminar, as we wanted to know if he had anything new to say.
In line with their past practise they left no time for any questions; and soon after the seminar I approached Mirwaiz for some chat. I said to him that you claim to represent people of Jammu and Kashmir and yet you only spoke about problems of people the Valley. Why you did not say anything about Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. With a friendly smile he said, “Why don’t you speak about problems of those areas?”
Before I could reply to him I heard some loud voices coming from the seminar hall, among them was a loud voice of my friend and Chairman of Kashmir National Party Abbas Butt. As I looked towards that corner, I saw Abbas Butt surrounded by three Pakistanis and there were some other pro Pakistan Kashmiris standing by. I excused Mirwaiz and rushed to help Abbas Butt. Verbal arguments could have transformed in to a physical exchange if Barrister Majid Tramboo and I were not there to keep them apart.
I learnt that one of the Pakistani who were especially ‘imported’ from Belgium to help and support the seminar and other activities, asked Abbas Butt where he was from. Without any hesitation Abbas Butt said: “I am from Pakistani occupied Kashmir.”
After hearing this, one man with anger and hatred said: “Kashmiri Pakistan ka Khatey hain aur Pakistan kay Khilaf baat kartey hain” – which means – ‘Pakistan feed Kashmiris and they talk against Pakistan.’
Abbas Butt said, “Pakistan does not feed me. I am a qualified Charted Accountant and I earn my own living.” Before he could say anything else all three Pakistanis aggressively surrounded him and started shouting at him. They belonged to Muslim League N, Muslim League Q and Peoples Party. As for politics of Pakistan is concerned they hate each other and openly speak against each other; but here all three of them were united to harass and intimidate a Kashmiri who spoke his mind.
These people were ordinary people with no qualifications. One of them survive on social security given by the government, and others are manual labourers in Belgium. They have no knowledge of politics and human rights, and were brought here to clap after every speech and perhaps harass true Kashmiris. Abbas Butt cannot be easily harassed; when they raised their voice he raised his voice as well because he was not going to let them harass him.
If a Kashmiri from Pakistani Occupied Kashmir cannot say that he is a ghulam or occupied in a place like Geneva, inside the UN building during the Human Rights Session without being intimidated then one can imagine how people of so called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan are oppressed and intimidated.
After this incident Abbas Butt and I walked back to cafeteria. I said to Mirwaiz: ‘You people have ten times more rights on the Indian side of the divide than what we have. You people shout anti Indian slogans, use foul language against Indian government, Indian leaders and forefathers of Indian nation, even burn Indian flag and no one says anything to you until people break law or use gun. Whereas we people on the Pakistani side of the divide cannot even call ourselves ghulam or occupied. We cannot even think of shouting anti State of Pakistan slogans or burn a Pakistani flag because we know we will be killed.’
Mirwaiz was listening to this tentatively. I further said: Extent of our azadi or independence could be seen from this incident. I gave him details of what happened to Abbas Butt. I said if we people cannot say that we are ghulam or occupied in a place like Geneva, then you can imagine how difficult it would be to say this in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.
But before Mirwaiz could reply to anything what I said, his friends who sponsored his visit called him. Perhaps they didn’t want me to influence him or provide him any information that might change his thinking process.
It must be pointed out here that Pakistani man did not say anything against Abbas Butt. He spoke against people of Kashmir. Abbas Butt is conscious of being ghulam or occupied, and he spoke out to defend his right to express his views; and that people of Jammu and Kashmir do not rely on Pakistan. There were some other Kashmiris who decided to remain quiet. Either they don’t have ability to differentiate between independence and occupation or they take pride in their status in order to be in good books of their political masters.
To conclude, if Mirwaiz Omer Farooq wants to be considered as a leader of people of Jammu and Kashmir and be taken seriously by people of the State and other Kashmir watchers then he has to do better than that. He has to speak for rights of all people of Jammu and Kashmir and must not limit himself to the borders of the Valley. He is still young, intelligent and has good presentation skills; but if he doesn’t change his ideological stand and encompass aspirations of all citizens of Jammu and Kashmir he will be considered as a leader promoting a non Kashmiri agenda.
Writer is a leader of Kashmir National Party. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org