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Sardar Qayyum with AB Vajpayee and LK Advani in New Delhi

Is There a Change of Heart in Kashmiri Politics

Dr Shabir Choudhry

LONDON, September 27: Kashmiri politics has seen many changes since 1947. Some of these changes only added to the misery of the people, and resulted in the stalemate; but changes of recent past and its pace have surprised many Kashmir watchers.

Who could have imagined that one day Sardar Qayyum Khan who was at one time regarded as ‘undesirable person’, because of his anti India past and pro Pakistan politics, would be allowed to visit India. He was not only allowed to visit India but was accorded ‘hero’s welcome’; and generously projected in print and electronic media.

Similarly no one could have envisaged any Pakistani ruler having a soft corner for rulers of Jammu and Kashmir, never mind acknowledging some kind of representative character for them, as they have always encouraged opposition and disruption of elections on that side of the divide. All Kashmiri leaders, if they disobeyed ‘orders’ of Pakistani governments, were projected negatively as ‘puppets of India’ and ‘traitors’; and even great Sheikh Abdullah had to swallow this bitter pill and was only projected as ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ after his fallout with India.

Sardar Qayyum Khan is among those who have practically fought for the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir and wanted to ‘liberate’ the remaining Kashmir by use of gun. Some even say that he wanted to hoist a flag on the Red Fort, and he must have been disappointed as he could only see the Red Fort with an Indian flag flying on it.

That aside, his interaction with the Kashmiri leaders on the Indian side of the divide must have influenced him as reports suggest that he is not in hurry to see solution of the Kashmir dispute; and have very firmly supported the peace process and a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He is also reported to have taken the same strategy which IKA leadership has been projecting for some years- and that is a process of dialogue among all the concerned parties, and opening of routes that people can interact, socialize and trade with each other.

For projecting this policy we experienced full brunt of the Pakistani establishment; and now that Sardar Qayyum Khan has also adopted the same policy, suggests that there has been a change of heart in Islamabad, as Sardar Sahib would not have traveled without a green signal from some powerful quarters there. And moreover he would not have given the statements, which he has given during his visit to New Delhi.

According to one news item Sardar has said that militants were ‘maligning’ Islam in the name of ‘jihad’; and that ‘the weapons of mass destruction might fall into their hands and completely derail the ongoing peace process’. Very bravely and forcefully he said the following, according to the UNI report of 23 September 2005: "There is no jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorists are tools in the hands of vested interests. Jihad is waged to protect destitutes and the downtrodden and not to kill women and children. The purpose of jihad in Jammu and Kashmir has been defeated," Mr Khan told media persons at a reception hosted by the Kashmiri community here last night.

He said violence will not resolve the complex Kashmir issue and the terrorists were a threat to peace in South Asia. "Guns have no place in Jammu and Kashmir. And the blood of innocent people must not be spilled," he added. The PoK leader said the worst impact of the violence in the State was the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits which severely damaged the secular fabric of the Kashmiri society. "The gun spared nobody. It has killed people from all communities," Mr Khan, who was here to attend an Intra Kashmir conference, said.

This reception was attended by cross section of the Kashmiri leaders which included Yousuf Trigami, Professor Ghani Bhat, Sajjad Lone, Bhim Singh, Ashoke Bhan, Riaz Punjabi, Mian Altaf, Abdul Rashid Shaheen etc. It is ironic that if IKA leaders meet some of these leaders or share platform with them then they are criticized for this, but it is just appropriate for Sardar Qayyum Khan to do so because he has the blessing of some powerful quarters in Islamabad.

Despite all this, it is a welcome development, and we will not oppose it just because we were criticized for doing this. We welcome this, and request all relevant people to face the ground reality – Kashmir dispute cannot be resolved by force, and peace and stability of the region demands change of heart and change of strategy.

As a guest of honor in IKA organized International conference on Kashmir National reconciliation, Liz Lynn Member of European Parliament, while supporting the Kashmiri peoples right of self determination, criticized disunity among the Kashmiri leadership. She said Kashmiri leaders are reluctant to even shake hand with their fellow leaders just because they hold different opinion, but at the same time demand inclusion of the Kashmiris in the dialogue process.

Her point was that these Kashmiri leaders are divisive and have no strategy for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. In other words they seek help and beg everyone to ‘arrange’ a meeting with leaders of India and Pakistan, who have deprived the Kashmiris of independence, and caused suffering and misery to thousands of innocent Kashmiris, but they are not prepared to meet or even to share a platform with fellow Kashmiri leaders.

How true is this? We have ‘leaders’ and ‘champions’ of human rights who would not sit and talk with their fellow Kashmiri leaders to formulate a strategy for resolution of the Kashmir dispute, or even to agree on a minimum common strategy, but they are more than willing to flatter and become a tool in the hands of either Indian or Pakistani agencies.

If IKA, which has established its credentials as a pro peace and pro people Alliance, arranges a conference alarm bells ring in many capitals of the world including Islamabad, to unleash a propaganda campaign against such conference, and people are threatened with consequences if they don’t boycott it. But if Bhim Singh arranges a conference, they not only remain silent but actively encourage people to take part in it; yet not long ago it was considered as a ‘crime’ to meet him, and some people in some parties had to give explanations for meeting Bhim Singh.

I have quoted the above only to refresh the memories of some concerned people, because when we adopted liberal and positive attitude we were criticized from left, right and center. Meeting with non Muslim Kashmiris and to speak for their rights was considered as a ‘crime’, even within the ranks of the JKLF, and I had to suffer because of my ‘disobedience’ and rebellious attitude.

I hope that this trend of tolerance and reconciliation, which IKA can proudly claim to have pioneered, would continue and that more and more conferences will take place where people from all regions of Jammu and Kashmir could sit down and open their hearts to each other. I also hope that there will be a change of heart in Islamabad and New Delhi, and that they would facilitate such moots rather than imposing rule 144 as it was the case with the JKLF International Conference in Mirpur which was banned by the authorities.

The writer is Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books. He is a Director of the Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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