The November 7, 2009 Dialogue on the Future of Jammu & Kashmir, organized by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in collaboration with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, has evoked a great deal of debate and discussion. Most of those who attended considered it a historic breakthrough because we managed to bring together mainstream and separatist leaders on a common platform to explore solutions to the Kashmir problem.
We also made sure that there was adequate representation from diverse regions of J&K--Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Ladakh, as well as representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community--those still living in the Valley as well as those who have migrated to other parts of India. Several people commented that separatist leaders had so far refused even the Prime Minister's offer of talks on the ground that they did not want to participate in a dialogue on Kashmir which included the mainstream parties of the state. Therefore, the presence of Hurriyat spokesperson Prof Abdul Gani Butt, and JKLF President Yasin Malik in a dialogue which had representatives from PDP, National Conference, Congress Party, BJP and others was seen as a major achievement.
A notable feature of this Dialogue was that we made it clear that we would like each representative to speak of solutions in concrete detail, rather than reiterate their demands through vague slogans like "azadi”. We made a special appeal at the outset that people should focus on solutions—no matter how controversial--and spell those out in concrete detail, rather than in vague emotional terms.
The reason for the insistence on spelling out a some concrete proposals for solution was that over the years numerous meetings have been organized on Kashmir in which one only heard a litany of grievances without any road map for how to fix things in a manner that takes into account the legitimate needs and demands of all the diverse peoples of J& K. By now the grievances are fairly well known. We saw no point in having yet another session repeating the stories of persecution of Kashmiri Muslims, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus and systematic neglect and marginalization of other regions and ethnic communities—Dogras, Gujjars, Punjabis of Jammu and Uri, Buddhists of Leh, Shia Muslims of Kargil, and several other smaller minorities.
Key speakers included the following:
a) Mohammad Shafi Uri, (M.P Rajya Sabha the National Conference),
b) Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Former Deputy chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, President of the People’s Democratic Party,
c) Abdul Gani Butt: All Party Hurriyat conference:
d) Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front;
e) Mani Shankar Aiyar , former Minister of Panchayati Raj, Congress Party:; Saifuddin Soz, Former minister iof Panchayati Raj and present Chief of J& K State Congress Committee. Mehmood Pracha; Former Secretary of Youth Congress and Congress Party,
f) Balbir Punj and Tarun Vijay of BJP;
g) Nancy Kaul (Daughters of Vitista), Ramesh Manwati (Panun Kashmir), Sanjay Tikoo: Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (Sringar),
h) Ellora Puri (University). of Jammu
i) Sonam Wangchuk Narboo (Laddakh Union Territory Front), Kargil: Siddiq Wahid ( Vice Chancellor, Islamic University of Science and Technology), Mehmood Karbalai ( Former CEO and present Councilor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council)
j) Ram Jethmalani, Former Minister of Law in NDA Government chaired the meeting.
The biggest achievement of the Dialogue was that for the first time separatist leaders publicly agreed to make a proposal for the solution of the Kashmir problem made by the mainstream political party, namely PDP, as the basis of working out a mutually acceptable political settlement.
NC leader Mohammad Shafi Uri who initiated the discussion set the tone for the Dialogue by going beyond his Party's thus far stated official position concluding his speech by saying that the Autonomy Report presented by his party in July 2000 was not the final word. “If anybody has a better solution, our party is willing to discuss and adopt it,” and that his party was willing to work with the opposition PDP as well as with the Hurriyat Conference and other separatists groups to evolve a common solution. It took many of us by surprise when he declared: “We are ready to sit with the PDP to formulate a joint draft.”
Sofuddin Soz of the All India Congress Party publicly stated that his Party would gladly be a facilitator for such a consensus. Such flexibility came as a welcome surprise since PDP, Congress and NC have had very tumultuous relations.
Prof Butt of the All Party Hurriyat Conference was at his inspirational and poetic best in appealing to us not to be hostages to our past, insisting that we must seek "togetherness", "oneness" and that he himself did not think it was useful at this point to discuss past mistakes or hark back to UN Resolutions regarding a plebiscite in Kashmir. Hurriyat, he indicated, was ready to move forward for a peaceful settlement that would help the Indian subcontinent occupy its rightful place as a major global player. The text of his speech is available at www.manushi-india.org.
Yasin Malik got derailed for a while because of personal attacks on him by Kashmiri Pandits but he too ended on a positive note saying he was committed to the return of Pandits to the Valley and that the JKLF was willing to make the PDP formula for Self Rule as a starting point for evolving a common formula. Sofuddin Soz of the All India Congress Party publicly stated that his Party would gladly be a facilitator for such a consensus. Such flexibility came as a welcome surprise since PDP, Congress and NC have had very tumultuous relations.
Mehbooba Mufti also focused her presentation on the need to build mutual trust between the powers at the Centre and people of Kashmir. Anti-national people don't yearn for trust. They believe in destroying it.
PDP’s Self Rule Formula as the Starting Point for Evolving Consensus
All this was perhaps made possible because the well thought out concrete proposals made in the PDP's Self Rule document are indeed visionary and represent the most cutting edge political wisdom of our time. Muzaffar Hussain Baig who presented the Self Rule formula spoke not like a politician but as a visionary statesman--a rare combination of sharp intellect and a compassionate heart. He spoke not just for Kashmiri Muslims but argued the case of Buddhists of Ladakh, Shias of Kargil, Gujjars, Punjabis of Jammu and other regional minorities, especially the uprooted Kashmiri Pandits far more ably than ever heard so far. To quote Mr Baig from his introductory remarks:
"Kashmir problem involves many dimensions and does not only involve state-centre relationships. It involves internal dimensions and external dimensions. The external dimension involves:
a) Settling issues with Pakistan; b) Evolving a working relationship with Kashmir Administered by Pakistan.
The internal dimensions are also two:
a) Working out a realistic, workable, federal relationship with the Union of India for the present Indian administered Kashmir or the Indian Kashmir, Working out a better federal relationship between the three region of Kashmir, i.e, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir in which the different religious and ethnic communities have equal sense of empowerment not only economic sharing of resources but equal political empowerment, which includes the empowerment of the displaced Pandit community--without which talking of Kashmiriyat or Kashmir identify is a meaningless slogan if we exclude from it the most original, most authentic Kashmiri community of the Pandits, or if we exclude the people living in Ladakh or Kargil, or if we continue with the political policies that gives the the Dogras of Jammu a sense of being second class citizens within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a Kashmir centric polity. We have to evolve a mechanism that gives an equal sense of political empowerment and a fair share of economic opportunities to these various communities and ethnicities within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. One of the most critical drawbacks in the policies by the union government and the policies pursued by the leadership of Kashmir has been the fact that in the last sixty years, whenever they have worked out any mechanism, they have not been able to take along the Hindu public opinion of Jammu, the Dogra public opinion or the Buddhist public opinion of Ladakh. It has always been as if the grievances between the Kashmiri speaking people of Kashmir and the Union government, is all that matters. The political deals between these two has been presented as a fait accompli which the minorities, the Hindus and the Dogras, the Buddhists have to accept. That impression is to be dispelled and in any working solution, federal principles or redefining the relationship with the Union or redefining the relationships between the three regions or communities within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, there must be an equal participation in terms of input and the results by these regions and communities."
The sensitive manner in which he handled aggressive questioning by Kashmiri Pandits was so moving that he actually received loud applause on at least two occasions from people who had mainly come to heckle him. He spoke with such passion about the rights and wrongs of the Pandit community and his own family's response to their forced exodus that several people told me that they goose pimples listening to him.
Disruption and Discord
One would have imagined that after such categorical and forceful statements and unconditional commitment emphasising the need to restore the rightful place of Kashmiri Pandits under the Self Rule proposal, Kashmiri Pandit representatives would be willing to move on to chalking out a road map for a commonly agreed upon solution. Instead what we witnessed was needless disruptions of the Dialogue process by none other than Nancy Kaul, a Delhi based self styled representative of Kashmiri Pandits. She was an invited speaker and therefore had been informed in advance that this Dialogue was not meant for charges and counter charges, yelling and screaming. Instead we wanted constructive suggestions for solving the problems. Instead she led a hecklers brigade. When she began reading out her paper, which was nothing but a litany of well known grievances and allegations, it was clear that she had not heard a word of what Mr Baig or Prof Butt had said. Therefore, I gently reminded her to come up with concrete solutions, instead of her pre set speech which did not take into account a word of what had already been said and committed. Except a small group of her followers, all others present wanted to carry forward with the positive note that had already been set by the earlier speeches. She took great offence at this even though I had made similar requests to previous speakers without any one taking offence.
By her own admission, she phoned and asked a large number of Kashmiri Pandits to come and disturb the post lunch session since she did not find a very appreciative audience for her heckling and harangues.
The post lunch session had Yasin Malik as the first speaker. Even before he opened his mouth, a group of Pandits started shouting slogans against him, calling him a murderer and rapist. It was fortunate that Yasin kept his cool and went so far as to say that he was ready for an instant trial and if they could prove him guilty of rape, he was willing to be hanged right there. The video tapes will show how tough it became to calm Nancy Kaul's slogan shouting brigade. Many suggested they be thrown out for such unseemly behaviour. But I insisted they stay on and have their say--but in a dignified manner.
Far from being insensitive to the fate of Kashmiri Pandits, I understand and share that pain very deeply. I myself come from a family of refugees of the 1947 Partition. My mother’s family had their summer home in Srinagar and some of my grand uncles were settled in Kashmir. Soon after losing everything he owned in Peshawar, my grandfather lost all his landed property in Kashmir during the land reforms of Sheikh Abdullah in 1950’s. One of my uncles married into a Kashmiri Pandit family. I have witnessed the emotional pain, disorientation, sense of despair and financial hardship my relatives suffered when they were uprooted from Kashmir during the years when terrorism was at its peak. My uncle never recovered from that shock and sank into a deep depression. Doctors told him he could not be cured by medicines because his grief was due to his yearning for his homeland. His wife and children were unwilling to go back to that unsafe and hostile environment. So he went back to Srinagar all alone and died all alone.
Those who want to find solutions can’t afford to allow their pain to take the form of permanent hysteria and blind hostility to attempts at bridging divides. If Pandits are serious about returning to Kashmir, they have to press their case in a manner that those among Kashmiri Muslim leaders who recognize their grievances become their allies. The disruptive behaviour of some of the Pandit leaders, which has become a hallmark of their participation, not only alienated a section of Kashmiri Muslims who had observed remarkable restraint in avoiding mention of the what they perceive to be their grievances but it also alienated majority of eminent Hindu citizens who had come to participate in this Dialogue.
Demand for Truth and Justice Commission by Kashmiri Pandits
Fortunately, Mr Sanjay Tikkoo, who spoke on behalf of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, representing Kashmiri Hindus still living in the Valley, did a dignified job of presenting their case. He reminded everyone present of the precarious status of the few remaining Pandits in the Valley whose predicament deserved far greater attention than that of those who had settled well in other parts of India and had no intention of going back. He reiterated his organization's demand for a Truth and Justice Commission to redress the grievances of the endangered Hindu community in Kashmir to be set up by the Indian Parliament. I offered to launch a signature campaign in support of that demand. All present at the meeting agreed to support the demand.
Similarly, when he complained about the 160 odd Hindu temples that have been vandalized or taken over in Kashmir, I suggested that instead of making rhetorical complaints, they should give a list of those temples to NC, PDP and Congress party leaders and demand that they join together in helping restore the sanctity of those temples.
A Missed Opportunity
By deflecting attention from the very constructive discussion of the morning session, Kashmiri Pandit leaders made us miss out on an important opportunity. The enormous mental energy it took in managing the hysterical outburst and disruptive behaviour made it difficult for me to focus on the momentous happenings of the day—with separatist and mainstream Kashmiri leaders committing their willingness to work on a common draft for moving ahead towards a solution, that would include redressing the grievances of Kashmiri Pandits as well. As Iftikhar Gilani of Kashmir Times pointed out in his report of the meeting, we missed out on the opportunity to set up a multi party drafting committee, including representatives of Kashmiri Pandits to prepare a consensual draft.
The Way Ahead
It is very heartening that the PDP do not assume they have all the answers. Their Self Rule document says it clearly that they want others to hone it further:
“The Peoples Democratic Party is not presenting a solution; nor does it pretend to have one. Indeed, it is our belief that... readymade solutions make the problem a distorted image of what it actually is; and models make a mockery of specificity of the issue. As such, what we have attempted in this document is an internally consistent framework and indicative direction for resolution. We have tried to contextualise the issue at various levels and drawn the contours of a process for building sustainable peace in the State and the region. The essence of this document lies in trying to suggest a creative framework for resolution of the issue without compromising the sovereignty of the two nation states involved...Our effort has been to root these in the ideals of justice and empowerment for all the people of the State. We see our recommendations, as catalysts for change and instruments for fulfilling the aspirations of all the peoples of J&K, and regions and sub-regions of the State.
We have not looked for solutions in the past, but we have made an effort find a way in the future. A return to the past may not be possible - indeed, if may not even be desirable. The past offers no hope. Our party recognises that we are living through a period where definitions of cultures, societies, sovereignty, and nationality are changing very rapidly and radically. All these issues have gone through a large number of transformations and sometimes, dramatic shifts. The world has undergone a change and we have to be a part of that changed system.”
The PDP Self Rule formula is a leap into the future without the negative and divisive baggage of the subcontinent’s past.
It proposes a combination of combination of intra-state measures with inter-state and supra-state measures. The Party is right in suggesting that the approach, underlying the concept of self-rule, is a practical way that would eliminate the sources of ethno-territorial conflicts, entrenched in the traditional notions of sovereignty, self-determination, national and ethnic borders. These have been broadly summarized as follows:
1. A new political superstructure that integrates the region and empowers sub-regions by far reaching devolution of powers to various regions and sub regions of the state so that Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Leh, Kargil etc acquire decision making powers for managing their civic affairs. Currently, these regions feel severely neglected and marginalized and resent the dominance of Srinagar no less than Srinagar resents the needless encroachments of the Central government in domains it considers as belonging to the State. In order to empower various sub-regions within the J&K state, a tier of sub-regional councils, will be added to the domestic legislative structure. While the national Parliament will have representations to the sovereign, the state assembly will continue to be a sub-national institution, the sub-regional councils will complete representative character of governance by bringing in the territorial representation in the state.
2. A phased economic integration that transcends borders: This would involve restoring the severed historical connections of J&K with neighbouring countries by opening trade routes to China and Pakistan, especially with the Pakistani administered Kashmir. It doesn’t impair the significance of the Line of Control as territorial divisions but negates its negative acquired and imputed manifestations of state competition for power, prestige, or an imagined historical identity.
3. Constitutional restructuring that ensures sharing of sovereignty without comprising political sovereignty of either nation state: It proposes that concrete arrangements for joint management and shared sovereignty of the two divided parts of the State, without need or commitment to political merging or being subordinated to one another. A cross border institution of Regional Council of Greater Jammu and Kashmir will replace the existing Upper House of state assembly, and will be a kind of a regional senate. Members of the Regional Council will be from J&K as well as from Pakistan administered Kashmir. At present the state assembly of J&K holds 20 seats for representatives from across the line of control. These will be given up and replaced by the same number of seats in the Regional Council of Greater Jammu and Kashmir. This will serve as a major cross-border institution, which will ensure long-term coordination of matters and interest relating to the state, as for example sharing of rive r waters, building hydro electric projects.
4. Economic Integration of divided Kashmirs: A critical element of self-rule is the economic integration across the line of control. This integration can be pursued in different degrees, deepening the process as we go along and as the system and society adapts to change. The process can be started by declaring the intention to establish common economic space and sign an agreement with a roadmap which envisages:
i. Establishing a common economic space;
ii. Instituting a dual currency system
iii. Coordinating economic policy, harmonization economic legislation and synergising regulations
PDP offers a step by step plan of action for the process of economic integration of the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir. It can “start with the easiest form of economic integration, a Preferential Trade Agreement. In the PTA the two countries, India and Pakistan would offer tariff reductions, or eliminations confined to the geographical boundaries of “Greater Jammu and Kashmir” and restrict it to some product categories. Stage II would be to make GJAK a regional free trade area, with no tariffs or barriers between with GJAK, while maintaining their own external tariff on imports from the rest of the world, including India and Pakistan. GJAK will set a common external tariff on imports from India and Pakistan.
Further, instead of looking for a monetary union, a new system of “Dual Currency” will be created, where the Indian and Pakistani rupees are both made legitimate legal tenders in the geographical areas of GJAK. A better description of this system is a “co-circulation of two currencies” in J&K. It is being proposed that Indian and Pakistani rupees should be the medium of exchange in J&K. “
Conspiracy Theories and Phobic Fantasies
I was amused to read an internet posting by Sandhya Jain, a leading ideologue of Sangh Parivar suggesting that the Dialogue was a mischievous exercise at the behest of the Home Ministry. She and some others have demanded an investigation into how such an “anti national meeting” could be organized by me as a faculty of CSDS—an institution funded by the ICSSR.
I wish the Home Ministry would place enough confidence in me and assign me the job of facilitating such Dialogues for working out a consensual solution for J&K. But the truth is I have no such clout with the Home Ministry. I got inspired to organize this when PDP invited me to attend a seminar on this issue they had organized in Anantnag on October......At this well attended meeting of eminent citizens of Anantnag, I heard Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti and Muzaffar Hussain Baig explain and discuss the Self rule proposal. I have no hesitation in saying that I found it to be the most sophisticated and visionary political document I have ever read in my living memory—far more innovative and radical than the concept of European Union. It seemed to provide a creative way out of the six decade long stalemate over Kashmir without comprising India’s sovereignty in any way, while offering Pakistan a realistic option. It has the potential to unleash unprecedented forces of enterprise and economic prosperity in the region. Therefore, right there and then I offered to host a Dialogue in Delhi to discuss PDP’s proposals. My colleagues at CSDS and the Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library saw value in it and lent it full support.
I am even more honoured by the fact that senior leaders of all major parties—mainstream as well as separatists—accepted my invitation at very short notice. However, since I had very few days in which to put it all together, a few important people like Sayeed Gilani, Shabir Shah, Sajad Lone could not be made part of this Dialogue.
I am hopeful that this was just a start of a new process and that the next round will not only be still more representative but also more constructive.
November, 21, 2009
Transcripts of the speeches at the J&K Dialogue and responses of participants are available under the theme Jammu and Kashmir on this website.