By G Parthasarathy
There has been a basic flaw in New Delhi’s approach to an ‘internal dialogue’ with people in the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious State of Jammu & Kashmir. This ‘internal dialogue’ has been almost exclusively with the leadership of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference based in the Kashmir Valley. This, despite the fact that roughly 45 per cent of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are not ‘Kashmiris’ who live in the Kashmir Valley, but are Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Bakarwals, Gujjars, Buddhist Ladakhis and Balti Shias in Kargil.
Paradoxically, the Kashmir Valley where one now hears calls for ‘azadi’ was ruled ruthlessly for over 700 years by Mongols, Afghans, Mughals, Sikhs and Dogras before people experienced democracy and freedom under India’s Constitution. Moreover, while communal harmony has prevailed in the multi-religious Jammu and Ladakh regions, it is in the Kashmir Valley alone, which boasts of a proud history of secular ‘Kashmiriyat’, that 4,00,000 members of the minority community of Pandits have been forced to flee their homes by a Pakistan-sponsored jihad backed indirectly by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference.
The Charter of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference explicitly proclaims its aim as “the build-up of a society based on Islamic values” in keeping with “the Muslim majority character of the State”. The Hurriyat’s primary objective is described as a “struggle to secure for the people of Jammu & Kashmir the exercise of the right of self determination in accordance with the UN Charter and the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. However, the exercise of the right of self-determination shall also include the right to independence.”
Every major outfit in the Hurriyat, which has splintered and split periodically, is associated with terrorist groups across the Line of Control, ranging from Al Umar Mujahideen, which backs the ‘moderate’ Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, to Hizb-ul Mujahideen of the ‘radical’ Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Pakistan’s military leadership in Rawalpindi decides who leads the Hurriyat Conference. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq took on the leadership when President Pervez Musharraf was daggers drawn with Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s mentor, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the Amir of Pakistan’s Jamat-e-Islami. Now that Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is at peace with the Jamat-e-Islami, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq plays second fiddle to Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The puppets may be in the Valley, but the puppeteers are in Rawalpindi.
With the PDP emerging as a viable alternative to the National Conference as a mainstream party, both organisations have sought to match the rhetoric of the Pakistan-backed separatists by demanding a return to the position that prevailed in 1953 before the provisions of the Constitution of India were made applicable to the State. Some of our misguided ‘liberals’ advocate the conceding of ‘maximum autonomy’.
They forget that what is being asked for by a section of the people of the State, exclusively from the Valley, with little or no support from people in the Jammu and Ladakh regions, is a framework wherein the permit system for the entry of people from other parts of India into Jammu & Kashmir could be revived, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Election Commission and the Auditor and Comptroller-General of India will no longer extend to the State and duties could be imposed on goods imported into Jammu & Kashmir from the rest of the country.
If ‘maximum autonomy’ were to be granted, Jammu & Kashmir would become the only part of the country where the provisions of Articles 356 and 357 of the Constitution would not be applicable. The Governor would be appointed not by the Union Government but by the State Legislature. Just before the Mirza Afzal Beg-G Parthasarathi Accord was signed on November 13, 1974, Sheikh Abdullah told Mrs Indira Gandhi’s representative: “I hope I have made it clear to you that I can assume office only on the basis of the position as it existed in 1953.” Mrs Gandhi merely agreed to discuss this with Sheikh Abdullah, who assumed office soon thereafter.
The recent demonstrations in parts of the Kashmir Valley have had no resonance elsewhere in the State. They are being orchestrated to pick up momentum and reach full throttle when US President Barack Obama is in India. The salient demand has been the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, strangely espoused vigorously at a time when the Army is no longer deployed for internal security anywhere in the Valley.
The Hurriyat leaders and their mentors across the LoC know that with the Army out of the security equation, the writ of the Indian state can be challenged with impunity. The sort of autonomy being demanded by the Hurriyat is seen in Jammu and Ladakh as an instrument to achieve permanent hegemony of the Valley population and fulfil the Hurriyat’s aspirations for a “society based on Islamic values”. Any initiative to reach out to people across Jammu & Kashmir has to be based on securing a consensus in all regions of the State.
While demanding ‘azadi’ for ‘Kashmiris’, the Hurriyat has been remarkably reticent of what is happening in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Surely those demanding ‘azadi’ should be asked whether their espousal of ‘azadi’ also covers the people of Gilgit and Baltistan. The Resolution passed by the European Parliament on May 24, 2007, slams the domination of officials appointed by Islamabad in the affairs of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and notes that the 1974 PoK Constitution “forbids any political activity that is not in accordance with the doctrine of Jammu & Kashmir as part of Pakistan”.
The European Parliament Resolution further notes that while the “Gilgit- Baltistan region enjoys no form of democratic representation whatsoever”, the State of “Jammu & Kashmir (administered by India) enjoys a unique status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, granting it greater autonomy than other States of the Indian Union”. India needs to drive home these facts aggressively to people in the Kashmir Valley and to the international community, rather than being continually defensive about deliberately engineered violence.
The broad understanding reached in ‘back channel’ discussions between India and Pakistan between 2005 and 2007 reportedly envisaged an end to cross-border terrorism and involved equivalent autonomy on both sides of the LoC with it no longer being a barrier for the free movement of goods, services, investment and people. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should inform Parliament and the people of India about the contours of what transpired in these back channel discussions. Excessive secrecy on such a sensitive issue rarely serves the national interest.
Source: The Pioneer