– Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat
The first thing I would say is that a mysterious commotion has emanated from Kashmir many times in the last 70 years. Whence does it arise, and what mistakes have been made? To my eyes, the fault lies with India. Despite Kashmir’s cold climate, a hot fervour runs through people here.
India arrived here with much democratic fanfare. A fundamental question for us, if we wish to understand the issue, is how we might have responded to that fanfare. India makes a lot of noise about its democracy. Thus, it was said [in 1947] that as soon as the situation normalised and the tribesmen were driven out, India would carryout a plebiscite and that people would be free to decide whether to go with India or Pakistan. This was the first instance of Indian noise.
The second instance was one that played out on paper. The day the Indian union became a reality, India’s governor-general announced a policy to resolve any disputes over the future of princely states. He said such disputes would be settled according to the wishes of the people concerned.
Then there was more noise which came from the very influential Jawaharlal Nehru. He was a Kashmiri who, speaking in Lal Chowk which is the heart of Kashmir, promised that if the people of Jammu and Kashmir chose to join Pakistan,he would not stand in the way even though it would cause him pain.He said this was his promise to the Kashmiri people and international community.
But the commotion I spoke of started when Kashmir is began to feel that the promise had been broken. India broke its promise in the clear light of day. I don’t wish to go into the details, but Kashmir’s collective soul has been deeply wounded and the onus is on you to heal it.
Need for understanding
Rather than focus on Gulmarg, Pahalgam or any particular place, India needs to make a journey into Kashmir’s wounded heart. India has brought grief to Kashmir’s heart and pain to its soul. But any medicine it has administered so far has been for the body of Kashmir alone. Therefore, our distances have grown.
Things need not have become so bad. We need to understand matters. How can we achieve understanding, and thereafter what is to be done? It is my view that the Kashmir issue is out of everyone’s control now. It is no more in Indian hands or Pakistani hands or indeed the hands of Kashmiris. And speaking emotionally, it is not even in China’s hands.
Someone asked me why Chinese flags were being displayed. What is the age of the child who unfurled that flag in the street? I am sure he is older and more seasoned than I am. For India, Kashmir is a drop in the ocean. India is vast, but Kashmir is small and divided into several parts. Jammu, Ladakh, National Conference, Congress, People’s Democratic Party, Hurriyat – one group after another.There is no comparison between India and Kashmir. But what do you achieve by dividing us? India is a huge country, and Kashmir is insignificant by comparison. How could Kashmiris ever fight India? Kashmiris only want to tell India that despite what you have reduced us to, we are stronger than you. We can answer your crimes. Kashmir is to India as a mosquito is to an elephant. If the mosquito bites, the elephant will not feel anything. But the Kashmiri mosquito doesn’t bite in the usual way – it enters the nostrils and delivers its bite there.
Talks the only way
I believe that talks are the only way forward. If we start talking, you will sense a change in Kashmir right from tomorrow. Specifically, I have three questions.
Firstly, can we not convert this noise-making into regular dialogue? Can we not rely on talks to resolve the issue of Kashmir, which is causing turmoil in South Asia?
Secondly, can we not reattempt old routes which were abandoned due to some mistakes? Can we not try to re-take the route chosen by Atal ji, which Manmohan Singh also tried to follow?
Thirdly, we have seen India and Pakistan get close and then diverge on several occasions. They come together for talks and then go their separate ways. Can we not induce a thaw? The Kashmir conflict is steadily turning into the defining South Asian conflict. It is acquiring a frightening dimension. India and Pakistan will not actually go to war as they are both nuclear powers, but it is far more dangerous if a war-type situation prevails permanently.
We do not believe in the [current] electoral process. Even the UN agrees that elections are not a solution for Kashmir though they are required to ensure the presence of an administration. Personally, I believe that while there is no harm in having elections, the real question is what purpose they might serve.You may say they are needed to get an administration in place, but who is to administer? You may then say the administration should comprise the poll winners who go on to serve as members of the state assembly. But don’t forget that the Bharatiya Janata Party gets elected from Jammu.
I believe that we should encourage a subcontinental relationship between India and Pakistan, as part of which they agree to seek the Kashmiri people’s mandate. Whoever wins can move forward on this issue. But the initiative must come from India and Pakistan. We need to take a fresh approach, and for that we must put aside our old methods – including elections. Elections may be part of the future of the Kashmiri people, but they are not relevant now. If we wish to improve the future, we need to bring India and Pakistan together on the issue and make Kashmir the starting point of all efforts.
I’m not unaware that such efforts have been made earlier. I had the chance to speak to Atalji and General Musharraf. They had tried. “Professor, we need to untangle this problem,” they had told me, adding that an amicable approach was preferable. Atal ji was a poet, while General Musharraf was a straight-talking soldier. Musharraf told me that there should be no fighting, as neither side can defeat the other. Neither can India defeat us, he said, nor can we defeat India, and therefore we need to find a modus vivendi. After Kargil, anyone who comments on the issue says that India and Pakistan must find a way to live together. A third thing they said with respect to the peace process is that we must not forget that you, the Kashmiris, have suffered greatly, and so have India and Pakistan. There have been three wars over Kashmir alone. So we have both decided that your interests must be protected. We may not be able to do this perfectly, but we will certainly do our best to take care of you.
So this is how it could succeed, isn’t it? Not how Ram Madhav approaches the matter.
Sticks cannot supply peace
New Delhi’s assessment that peace and normality have returned to Kashmir is completely wrong. There is neither peace nor normality here. I would say that Kashmir’s commotion remains – yesterday it was above the surface, today it has slipped underneath.
There is a story in Kashmir: a dog fell into a well and it became impossible for the villagers to draw water as the well was dirty now. The villagers went to the local Maulvi, who told them to draw 40 buckets of water and drink that. The villagers did as they were advised, but the next day they again proceeded to the Maulvi’s for help. The Maulvi thought that perhaps 40 buckets weren’t sufficient for the villagers, so he asked them to draw another 40 buckets. Thereafter, he gave the same advice to them on the third day. It was only on the fourth day that it finally dawned on the Maulvi that he should ask the villagers to take the dog out of the well. He advised the villagers to do so. Do you follow? The dog must be removed from the well, and only then will the water become clean again. Right now, you are simply removing the water while the dog remains inside.
I have spoken of Kashmir’s commotion. This may be on the surface or below it. Sometimes it is so deep down that you may think peace prevails. Then you suddenly notice the commotion and are struck by what a storm is being raised. But that means there never was any peace. This flame which keeps burning inside is dangerous. In my view, if you think peace and normality prevail, you are wrong – never make that mistake. We want peace in our hearts and our homes, and peace can only prevail when that is ensured. Peace does not come about by wielding a stick. What India’s civil society –people like you – can do is to apply pressure on India and Pakistan to hold talks, and only then can we proceed further. Just try to do this once.
-The writer is the former Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference and the current President of the Muslim Conference.