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Sardar Qayyum Khan (C) with Farooq Abdullah during his Indian visit

Sardar Qayyum Should Go Back to Secularism for a Solution of Kashmir

By Samuel Baid
Special to the South Asia Tribune

NEW DELHI, October 1: Last week Delhi had visitors from the part of Kashmir which is under Pakistan’s control. The star attraction for media among them was Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan who has been in the center of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)’s politics since 1947 as the President or Prime Minister and the unchallenged leader of the Muslim Conference.

The secret of his political survival has been the patronage he has received from the Army/ISI in exchange for his loyalty to Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir. He has given the slogan ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan” or Kashmir will become Pakistan. He calls it the ideology of PoK.

The PoK visitors also included two Kashmiris who represented the section of people who are engaged in an unpublicized struggle for freedom from Pakistan’s control. Both Arif Shahid, the leader of Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF) and Professor M.A.R.K. Khaleeque, President of the Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party were all but ignored by the Delhi media. Arif Shahid also heads a conglomerate of a dozen nationalist parties named All Party National Alliance (APNA) formed on July 5, 2001.

As against the politics of Sardar Qayyum, this Alliance stands for secularism and rejects Sardar Qayyum’s slogan of ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’. In a recent pamphlet “Why Accession? Why not Independence? Arif Shahid ridicules the oft-repeated argument in Pakistan that this country has a claim on Kashmir because its letter “K” stands for Kashmir. By this logic, Pakistan should lay claim to all those countries whose names begin or end with letters which figure in the name Pakistan, he wrote.

Kashmiri nationalists don’t believe that Sardar Qayyum is really serious about commitment to his slogan (Kashmir Banega Pakistan). Arif writes in his pamphlet that Qayyum, when out of power and when funds are stopped, becomes a votary of independence and talks of converting the LoC into a permanent border.

He at once reverts to singing a different tune when patronage and funds are restored to him. There are numerous instances in PoK history of Qayyum threatening to play Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (who liberated Bangladesh) when out of power. In 1975, he had appealed to Sheikh Abdullah to help liberate PoK from Pakistan when he was thrown out from power by the Pakistan People’s Party.

But just about a year back, he had helped Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto frame the 1974 Provisional Constitution that strengthened Islamabad’s hold over PoK. The Article 56 empowers Islamabad to sack any elected Government in PoK. “It (Article 56) was included at my behest to guard against political or administrative turmoil,” he told a newspaper during his stay in Delhi.

It is true Qayyum’s Muslim Conference is the oldest and the largest party in PoK but its electoral victories and defeats do not necessarily reflect its popularity or otherwise with the people. It all depends on the wishes of the Establishment in Islamabad.

Therefore, when an elected Government is sacked by Islamabad there are no public protests nor are there genuine jubilations when the Muslim Conference or any other party wins. In either case it is the victory of the Establishment in Islamabad.

After Sardar Ibrahim, who was made the first President of PoK by the Pakistan Government in 1947, Qayyum is the oldest politician in the territory. But because of his ever shifting stances on Kashmir, frequent charges of corruption against him and his son Sardar Attique and transparent Army patronage, he cannot claim much credibility in PoK.

But there is another side to Qayyum and his Muslim Conference which can make them relevant to the current peace efforts in Kashmir. If we do not see his occasional open or implied revolts against the Pakistani control of PoK merely as a tactic to blackmail Islamabad, we may find a psychological explanation for it.

He belongs to a party right from his youth that stood for independent Kashmir until July 1947. In July that year, the party passed a resolution in favor of Kashmir accession to Pakistan ignoring its supremo Choudhry Ghulam Abbas’ draft resolution sent from jail for independence.

Sardar Ibrahim Khan in whose house this meeting took place, shot down this resolution and was suitably rewarded for it by the Pakistani Government with the post of President of PoK. This brought about a serious rift in the Muslim Conference. Pro-independence Abbas patronized young Qayyum to take active part in the party. From here started the rise of Qayyum.

Another notable fact about the Muslim Conference is that after it formed a provisional Government in PoK on October 24, 1947, it made a declaration committing it to secularism. The declaration said the Provisional Azad Government was set up with the object of securing to the people of the State including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs the right of self-Government.

However, one may justifiably argue that this declaration was never seen in practice. Yet one may not fail to see in this declaration a challenge to Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir on the basis of Islam.

Also, the Muslim Conference persistently rejected Pakistani leaders’ frequent pressures – beginning with Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Mr. Nawaz Sharif – to merge itself into the Muslim League. Before independence, Mr. Jinnah was after Sheikh Abdullah to convert the National Conference into Muslim League. The Sheikh’s reply was that the people of Kashmir did not accept Muslim League’s two-nation theory.

That this theory has not been acceptable to the people of PoK till today despite all the brainwashing of young children through school syllabi prepared in Pakistan is proved by the Muslim Conference’s refusal to become the Muslim League. In fact for long, Qayyum didn’t allow the Muslim League to open its branch in PoK. The present Muslim League branch in PoK exists only in name.

The purpose in giving this long history of the Muslim Conference is that despite all the negative points attributed to the Muslim Conference and Sardar Qayyum, they have a positive side too, which can be useful for peace in Kashmir. Speaking at the New Delhi gathering, Sardar Qayyum said that violence will not resolve the complex Kashmir issue and terrorists were a threat to peace in South Asia and were ‘maligning’ Islam in the name of ‘jihad’.

The PPP in PoK follows a secular ideology. The APNA is secular with a missionary zeal. If the Muslim Conference re-dedicates itself for secularism these three organizations, if invited or not or even mutually hostile as they are today, can be a serious challenge to those who are destroying peace on both sides of the LoC, India and Pakistan in the name of Islamic militancy

Both APNA Chairman Arif Shahid and Professor Khaleeque were apparently convinced of the usefulness of the recent interaction within Kashmiris from both sides of the State. Arif Shahid told this writer such meetings should go on as the “guns have no place in Jammu & Kashmir and the blood of innocent people must not be spilled.” They were a good beginning.

The writer is Director, Institute for Media Studies & Information Technology, YMCA, New Delhi and a former Editor of UNI

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