Dialogue is the only instrument that civilisations have used to settle disputes. The success of any dialogue depends on the principle of equity and good faith and the time factor is determined by the ability of the parties involved in the dialogue.
Kashmiri leadership was first invited publicly in early 1964 by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Foreign Minister. It was for the first time after 17 years since 1948 when India and Pakistan faced each other at the United Nations that a Kashmiri leader met Arshad Hussain, the Pakistan High Commissioner in India. The invitation and the Kashmiri contact with the Government of Pakistan seemed rare and dignified on both sides. The manner of such invitations and contacts today is far opposite.
Our first Kashmiri delegation visiting Pakistan in May 1964 comprised of 9 members and the one that recently visited Pakistan comprised of 7 members. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was accompanied by Mirza Afzal Beg, Maulana Masudi, Dr. Farooq, Khawaja Mubarak Shah, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Comrade Muhammad Shafi, Pir Abdul Ghani and Mr. Naqshbandi. The merits of each member in these two delegations seem to be placed differently in their understanding of the case and public image.
There are some marked differences between the Kashmiri wisdom in May 1964 and that of December 2012. The 1964 delegation brought with them flowers and strawberry from Srinagar for President Ayub Khan. The first meeting of Sheikh Abdullah with the president lasted for 20 minutes and the second one on the morning of 26 May 1964 lasted for 3 ½ hours. On 27 May President Ayub Khan summoned a special meeting of his cabinet and briefed his ministers about the nature of talks. The talks were tape recorded.
On the evening of 26 May 1964 Sheikh Abdullah addressed a crowded press conference at the President’s Guest House and made an important announcement that the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India had agreed to meet in New Delhi in the middle of June to discuss the Kashmir question in the light of his talks with the two leaders. Interestingly he said that he had brought no formula but various ways and means were under discussion and he expressed the hope that a solution satisfactory to all would emerge.
He also announced that he found sympathy in both the Capitals about facilitating free movement of trade and people across the Cease-fire-line. It has taken 42 years for a beginning of a bus service for the movement of people and 44 years for the movement of trade, with an only difference that it is across the LoC today (not Cease-fire-line as announced by Sheikh Abdullah).
The other striking feature of the first Kashmiri leaders visit has been the various constituents that made it quite different in popularity and authority. The visit carried with it a serious input gathered by it from its meetings with Prime Minister of India, other shades of opinion, in particular Jay Prakash Narain, Rajgopal Acharya and others. It was on this count that a special PIA aircraft flew the Kashmiri leaders to Rawalpindi to a welcome, unprecedented in the history of the city.
Justice M Y Saraf records in his book “Kashmiris Fight for Freedom” that “On entry into Rawalpindi space, the plane was escorted by red painted heli-copter. Another heli-copter hovered the airport, filming the crowd; as the procession wended the nine-mile route, it circled over the route taking photographs. It was for the first time that filming was done by heli-copter on the visit of a dignitary”.
The principles of a dialogue were honoured in equity and in good faith and the best interests of the people of Kashmir were tossed as a priority by the 1964 delegation. It was fairly all inclusive and carried the popular sentiment and approbation from Kashmir. As a common rule, it did not hesitate to engage the Indian leadership prior to its first contact in 17 years with a Pakistani official in New Delhi and then boarding the special flight for Pakistan.
The question of being guardians of Kashmiri peoples interests is recorded by Justice M Y Saraf as, “According to Mr. Yusuf Qureshi, in his long meeting with President Ayub, Sheikh Abdullah told him that Pandit Nehru had told his Cabinet in his presence that it was necessary that the Kashmir issue be resolved in his life time; that he had told Sheikh Abdullah that whatever solution he may propose, consistent with the larger interests of India, it would be acceptable to him, provided it was first accepted by President Ayub. He also told President Ayub that he should be trusted as a Muslim to which the President replied that there was no question of not trusting him but stressed that the interests of Pakistan should be kept in mind. To this Sheikh Abdullah was reported to have said that it was strange that both India and Pakistan wanted him to keep their interests in view but both forgot that the basic question was the interest of the people of Kashmir”.
The first Kashmiri delegation of 1964 left examples that it remained conscious of its higher burden of national responsibility. It set distinguished examples of self-lessness, which embedded a tremendous symbolic merit in the discharge of a trust. On 25 May 1964 Sheikh Abdullah addressed a huge public gathering at Liaquat Garden. According to Pakistan Times, it was attended by over 2 lac people including a large number of burqa-clad women. On behalf of the people of Rawalpindi, Sheikh Abdullah was presented a cheque for one lac rupees by Raja Hassan Akhtar, President of the West Pakistan Muslim League. The money (cheque) was immediately handed back to Hassan Akhtar, as Sheikh Abdullah announced the creation of a Refugees’ Trust for the welfare of poor children of Jammu and Kashmir nationals spread all over Pakistan.
Another example of a due sense of national duty came when Sheikh Abdullah met Mir Waiz Yusuf Shah at his residence in Pindi. The meeting lasted for 45 minutes and Mir Waiz in regard to this meeting stated that his meeting “with the Sher-i-Kashmir” was “the happiest occasion for him during the past 17 years of exile” and described his mission “both important and delicate which concerned millions of lives”. He called for “whole-hearted co-operation of every right-thinking person”.
The 1964 delegation knew about its duties at home, its duties to Kashmiri leadership and people on this side of cease-fire-line, about the principles of dialogue and about the best interests of their own people. It is yet to be established as to whether the Kashmiri delegation visiting Pakistan in December 2012 has in any manner moved in time from the first wisdom of 1964 or not.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani has stayed away from his Pakistan visit. In principle he has a point today. But he can’t be exempt from a respectful criticism, if he does not find a way around the Pakistani tactics to take sides in Kashmir and profit from the division in Kashmiri leadership. Pakistan is guilty of supplanting its choice in leadership and in other spheres of opinion in Kashmir. Its establishment has used Kashmir as a commercial enterprise and a laboratory to test its indulgence with no holds barred. Syed Ali Shah Geelani would be seriously criticised, if he fails to accept the usefulness of a dialogue and engage the Indian Government and the Indian leadership, for which he does not need any travel document. He has to go beyond India and Pakistan, to seek the universal character embedded in Kashmir case. And unless he makes a known differentiation between his grievance against the system in Kashmir and the people of India, his opposition, will carry the day. In this regard he may need to undo the manner of acting alone and should enlist Shabir Ahmad Shah, Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan, many others outside Hurriyat fold and make a serious move to benefit from the civil society leadership in Kashmir. A reach out to Hurriyat (M) should remain on the agenda.
Hurriyat (M) has accrued a further responsibility after this visit of Pakistan. Mir Waiz in particular and his colleague in general who visited Pakistan should not forget that polarisation in Kashmir would not help the process. If it would have helped, then Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and his late father Maulvi Muhammad Farooq would not have shared a public platform on 15 January 1965 when the two leaders pledged to work together to secure the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. A protest meeting held against the application of Articles 356 and 357 of the Indian Constitution was addressed by both the leaders.
Hurriyat (M) delegation has a duty to explain itself on its discussions, achievements and examine itself against the criterion set by first Kashmiri delegation of May 1964. The visit in itself is a proper move but the principles of a dialogue have to be in equity and in good faith. Otherwise adding one more visit to previous number and meeting the same contacts does not help.
(Author is London based Secretary General of JKCHR – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.)