Of Dialogue Under Duress

By Kashinath Pandit

States are run by statesmanship not war. Dialogue is an essential attribute of statesmanship: it has to be welcomed as effective and viable instrument of resolving conflicts.

As a sequel to 26/11, India rightly discontinued bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. That country’s involvement in Mumbai attacks has been comprehensively documented. Pakistan disowns her involvement precisely the way she disowns terrorist attacks in Kashmir.

Pressure is mounting on the US-NATO forces in their fight against Al-Qaeda-Taliban combine in Afghanistan and NWFP.  

Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf agreed to fight America’s war in NWFP. In return, with each passing day, she raises the price of her military involvement.

Billions of dollars have begun to pour into Pakistan’s coffers from Washington and Riyadh. Whatever name is given to the assistance, it is the price she receives for killing her own nationals on the behest of a third party.  

Additionally, Pakistan wants to use Kashmir issue as a lever while extracting indemnity from the US. The US would go to any length to grant Pakistan her wish list, be it bagfuls of dollars, sophisticated weaponry including F-16 and drone aircraft technology and Kashmir. The US finds sense in Pakistan’s argument that resolution of Kashmir issue is vital to neutralizing Islamic radicals in her region. To recompense Pakistan’s loss of face, the US finds it easier to manipulate the Indians. After months of relentless pressure, Manmohan Singh government acquiesced rather awkwardly. Parleys between Indian and Pakistani prime ministers on the sidelines of NAM conference in Sharmu’l-Shaykh followed by a non-statesmanlike joint communiqué speaks a lot about an invisible hand moving behind the curtain.

Indo-Pak comprehensive dialogue hitherto conducted under various nomenclatures like Track II diplomacy, silent diplomacy and third party mediation etc., may have helped resolve peripheral and rather insignificant irritants but never proved effective in addressing core issues. The reason is Pakistan’s iron-cast exclusivist ideology.

As the dialogue is to be resumed in the background of Pakistan’s no commitment of dismantling anti-India terrorist structures on her soil, the content of the dialogue from Indian side should be objective and pragmatic. This refers to Kashmir in particular.

In the past, Pakistan has tried all possible means to grab Kashmir like open, proxy and low-intensity wars, propaganda blitzkrieg, subversion, inciting Islamic religious emotions and blackmail. These tricks did not bring her success. What next, is the new question, and dialogue under duress is the answer.

Taking into account how acquiescingly New Delhi has been conducting itself on Kashmir issue on international fora, apprehension is that corollaries, which have to be at the core of a dialogue, could be willy-nilly dodged.

Foremost of all is the matter of ethnic cleansing of Srinagar valley of an ancient indigenous religious minority called Kashmiri Pandits. With the eruption of externally sponsored and internally abetted armed insurgency in early 1990 in Kashmir, Theo-fascists gunned down about a thousand innocent and defenceless members of this community, and  forced three hundred thousand of them to leave their homes and hearths at gun point. Ever since, they are living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in various camps in Jammu region and outside the state.

Ethnic cleansing of this harmless indigenous and ancient Hindu minority community from predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley puts a big question mark on feigned spirit of communal harmony in Srinagar valley and secular credentials of the Indian State both. Indian State failed in its responsibility of protecting life, culture and property of a weak section of its society. This is a grave dereliction of duty and one fails to understand why the affected minority community did not approach the highest source of justice in the country to ask for defining their status and safeguarding their rights in the secular democratic Indian state.

For the Indian State, remaining complacent for last two decades on the threat of annihilation of an indigenous group, its millennia old civilization and its studiously built social structure is tantamount to compromising with insurgency. Is this kind of political expediency acceptable to any civilized society in the world?

And in spite of this reckless failure on legal, administrative and moral levels, if the Indian State relegates the issue of these victims to benign negligence – just because they do not constitute a vote bank for any political party- while dialoging with her adversary on the future of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, it will be negation of the constitution supposed to govern the course of events in the state. Future generations will never forgive them.

Their return and relocation with honour and dignity in their homeland being integral to the bilateral or trilateral talks, has to be in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission’s Working Group on IDPs. India is a signatory to the UN Charter on Human Rights.  As indigenous people of the valley, they have the right to rehabilitation in their land of origin, and as a religious minority, they have the right to live in clusters surely for security reasons.

As members of “reverse minority”, categorized by the UN Working Group on Minorities, the Pandits have the right to political empowerment and sharing the decision making process in their home state. In other words, they have the right to be equal participants in all organs of the state and its all round developmental concepts. These crucial matters cannot be brushed aside and a slice of a deal cut either with Pakistan or the separatists in Kashmir without the participation of Kashmiri Pandits minority, the indigenous and historical group.

Return and rehabilitation of the exiled community has to be a comprehensive deal taking all aspects of the situation into account. No return and rehabilitation is possible in absence of preliminary requirements like goodwill of majority community, security of life, assured livelihood, restoration of confiscated properties, protection of faith and religious symbols wherever these be,. Non-discrimination in all walks of life, equality before law, and above all their genuine, just and tangible political empowerment.

The return and rehabilitation formula has to be provided teeth through constitutional and institutional guarantees. It should be possible to bring about amendments in the Union and State constitutions whereby exclusivist character of the State is diluted and guarantees for the protection of interests of all groups provided. With hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri students receiving higher, technical and professional education in Indian universities and institutions, with hundreds of Kashmiris acquiring landed and residential properties in various parts of India, and with large number of Muslims from Bihar, UP and even Bangladesh manipulating residential status in the valley, the sanctity of Article 370 stands eroded. It is doing more harm than good by being exploited by vested interests for political and sectarian aggrandizement.

Secondly, as the dialogue will proceed, it is of much importance that aspirations of the people of Ladakh and Jammu region are kept in mind. It may be reminded that much before Nehru government dismissed and arrested Sheikh Abdullah on 9 August 1953, the outstanding Praja Parishad leader of Jammu and a great nationalist, Pandit Prem Nath Dogra had launched his nationalist movement challenging arbitrary administration of the Sheikh as the Chief Administrator of the State after Congress leadership under Nehru hatched the conspiracy of removing Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the State. This movement spread all over Jammu region as reverberation of the voice of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, the founder of Jana Sangh. Ever since, despite suppression and oppression unleashed by the sectarian Srinagar raegimes, the spirit of Praja Parishad movement survives in Jammu under one banner or the other. Discrimination against Jammu and a step-motherly treatment meted out to its people have concretized in the demand of trifurcation of the state with Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir valley as the three autonomous confederating units. Ever since the launch of Praja Parishad movement in 1948, Jammu has seen strikes, hartals, demonstrations, tear gases, firing, lathi charge, as its destiny for insisting on the separation of Jammu region. The 58-days-strike under the Sangharsh Smiti banner in summer 2008, which exposed communal proclivities of Srinagar regime, is the extension of Jammu’s struggle for self-rule. By tying up Jammu with exclusivist Srinagar administration, the spirit of Indian nationalism, hitherto very strong in Jammu, is likely to get diluted.

Additionally, we find that thousands of Kashmiris from the valley have, during past two decades, bought properties and built houses and shops in Jammu proper. They have the right to do so. But against it, not a single person from Jammu has been able to buy even an inch of property in the valley or raise a shed on it just because the threats handed out by separatist leaders and their cronies of seeing to it that ethnic cleansing process is not reversed in the valley.

This is a dangerous and volatile situation. It is unjust and un-democratic. Jammu cannot be tied down to suffer discrimination on the basis of faith, culture and ideology. Any dialogue on Kashmir has to take due cognizance of these harsh realities.

Thirdly, Ladakh cannot be left out of the entire gamut of talks and negotiations. Ladakh has tremendous strategic importance for the security of India. It stands as watershed between China and Pakistan, both of them being our adversaries. Ladakh gives us access to strategic and crucial Siachin, from which we control our northern frontier. Ladakh is a historical centre of Buddhist teachings and an important icon and landmark on our country’s civilizational map. Ladakh is rich in mineral resources though still unexploited. Ladakh is the region from where the Indus originates and inspires us to be conscious of our heritage resource for use by our future generations.

Quite early, when the Ladakhis realized that they were being discriminated by the Srinagar regimes, they rose to demand union territory status. Alas, the Union was sleeping all the time oblivious of strategic, psychological, economic and political implications of far-reaching consequences that lay in the womb of the demand for union territory. Alert Srinagar regimes on getting the wind of it, hastened the bifurcation of the region into two, in which a Muslim majority region of Kargil came into existence. The Union government had neither the vision nor the will to ask how come that Kargil region could be carved out even without a serious demand from the local people but the demand of Jammu people for an autonomous region was turned down as communally oriented. Ever since the creation of Kargil region, interaction between its Shia majority and their co-religionist Khumeinites of Iran, increased hundredfold. Theocratic Iran was able to establish its cultural and a clandestine political foothold in the heart of the Himalayas. China could not have expected anything better.

Even the Ladakh Hill Council, a political mechanism, which the Congress regimes in New Delhi granted to Ladakhis, albeit grudgingly and half-heartedly, has been incapacitated by joint connivance of Congress and NC. By way of eyewash, Congress fielded its candidate in Ladakh for 2009 parliamentary elections but covertly encouraged NC to field its party candidate and thus manipulated the failure of its own nominee. Congress High Command had no regrets and no word of comment on their own manipulation.

Beijing is steadily encroaching on the existing Sino-Indian borders in Ladakh almost imperceptibly. New Delhi has turned a blind eye to the threatening Chinese posture developing on Ladakh-Tibet and Ladakh-Xingjian borders. A 90-mile stretch is already under their occupation. This is in addition to 5000 square kilometers of Aksaichin ceded to her by Pakistan. No wonder that in her recent maps China shows its western territories up to Zoji La pass.

In the back ground of this scenario, if New Delhi regime conducts a dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists without including representatives of other two regions and without taking into account the sensitivities of the people of other two regions, namely Jammu and Ladakh, besides the IDPs from the valley, the result will be a disaster of immense magnitude. That is why we say that the dialogue has to be comprehensive, detailed, and adequately represented. New Delhi should realize that it will be dealing with a very sensitive subject when talking about Kashmir. The talks are good but these have to be held in a statesmanlike attitude and calm atmosphere. Talks held under duress will be a structure raised on a sand dune.

The fourth dimension of the proposed dialogue in the context of Kashmir is the status of 1947 refugees from PoK who are concentrated in Jammu region. They have-not been given state subject- hood for last six decades on the plea that they are from the Pakistani Punjab and not from the PoK. These refugees had to leave their homes and hearths under the threat of sword in October 1949. They are unable to produce documentary evidence of their origination in PoK. But that is not to be made a pretext for not extending them the right to residence as envisaged in the UN Charter on Human Rights. Even in most of the western countries where immigration laws are very strict, an émigré is given the rights of citizenship after a specific period of residence at a certain place. Hundreds of thousands of Bengali Muslims, who crossed over to Indian Territory illegally, have been registered as voters and provided with voting cards by their beneficiaries because they help them to swell their constituency votes. Three hundred thousand people dislocated from PoK/Punjab owing to the partition of the country in 1947 cannot be left to remain stateless for all the time. Denying them the right to own landed properties or construct houses and business centres, dis-empower them politically, and treat them as aliens for sixty years is blatant violation of their human rights. No civilized society in the world will accept it.

Therefore, in the contemplated dialogue, this item has also to be of core importance and needs a resolution.

(The author is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University).

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