Jammu & Kashmir
By Imtiaz Alam
18 October, 2004
The News International
Higher expectations, deeper suspicions,
conflicting demands and overwhelming welcome underlined the first-ever
visit of independent Pakistani journalists to Indian-administered Jammu
and Kashmir. For reporters in search of the other side of the story,
to behave like diplomats while keeping in mind disparate positions of
the antagonists was a journey through a minefield. Yet, the members
of the delegation kept their cool and behaved the way they should have
on a good will-cum-reportingmission to ensure that the window to access
no-go areas, in this case across the LoC, is wide opened and not shut
on their colleagues from both countries. Though South Asian Free Media
Association (SAFMA) broke the barrier, has it helped the ongoing processes
or became a victim of paranoia?
This was made clearer
by the organisers (SAFMA chapters of Pakistan and India) that the journalists'
exchange across the LoC was a part of their effort to allowing media
persons freely move across frontiers and accessing information in South
Asia. Carrying no briefs from anybody or any party nor becoming instrument
of this or that partisan divide, SAFMA had set certain limits while
knowing well that the journalists' delegation will come under tremendous
pressure from all and too demanding sides, since it was to a territory
under a bloody dispute between India and Pakistan and zealously possessed
and, variously, claimed by the inhabitants of J&K. It became 'historic'
since what should have been a very normal visit became 'abnormal' due
to the fact that this was the first-ever journey
undertaken by the Pakistani scribes in the last 57 years and against
the backdrop of ongoing composite dialogue process.
No doubt, the visit
would not have taken place without, thankfully, the clearance from India
and Pakistan at the highest level and, indeed, this is what made the
visit suspicious in the eyes of some conspiracy theorists or certain
sick minds, who in fact suspect every move towards confidence
building between India and Pakistan. The kind of reception and affection
the delegation received from across all divides and regions was in fact
a reflection of the longing the people feel for each other in the subcontinent,
especially in J&K for Pakistan. Except for a very small section
among the displaced Pandits, living in most miserable conditions in
refugee camps in Jammu, accusing Pakistan of displacing them and those
elements in Kashmir who consider negotiations between India and Pakistan
as a death knell to their 'cause', the fraternity shown for the Pakistani
delegation from Jammu to Kashmir was beyond our and their imagination.
Even those who expressed reservations, for reasons SAFMA or the delegation
could not be held responsible, in fact wanted the delegation to visit
whole of Kashmir valley to assess the situation. Those who had decided
not to receive the delegation also lined up behind the long queue.
Although there were
no restraints on the media team to meet anybody anywhere, the visit
was constrained by time and too tight a schedule prepared by SAFMA India
and the coordinator, Editor Kashmir Times Mr Bhasin. The latter came
under tremendous pressure for allowing the delegation to meet everybody
from the local media and all sections of society. Stay in Jammu, although
without doubts and acrimony except seen at the Pandits' camps, was too
ceremonious. What was quite disturbing to find was that after being
displaced from the valley many among them had abandoned their secular
paradigm of Kashmiriat and some among them have become communalised
to the extent that they now demand carving a Pandit state out of the
valley not many among the community agree with. The criticism about
the neglect of their plight by the media in Pakistan was right to a
point since it is focused on the valley and looked at Pandits with tinted
glasses. Yet, there are nationalists, also among the Pandits, who differ
with the tendency to treat the Kashmir question as a communal issue
and insist on finding a way out of the quagmire of a cyclical violence.
view among the middle classes in Jammu takes 'accession to India' as
a fait accompli, while the Punjabis and Dogras underline the need for
greater room to allow reunion of the divided communities and are much
more flexible on resolving the dispute. In fact their political, intellectual
and business representatives show certain degrees of flexibility to
bring peace to their troubled region and for greater gains the former
J&K state can reap from a rapprochement between India and Pakistan.
Their major demand was to open Jammu-Sialkot route and allow free movement
of people. The secular view dominant among the urban people of Jammu,
many among them don't like to be called Kashmiris, preclude any division
on the basis of religion and feel at greater ease with Indian secular
ethos. The nationalists, however, demand a untied and secular J&K
that will be relatively independent of both India and Pakistan without
being fully sovereign. And there are those 'nationalists' who would
want a reunited J&K integrated with India, given the level of assimilation
that has already taken place.
By contrast, the
journey to and through Srinagar brought too much pressure on the delegation
due to an awesome deployment of security forces, inflated demands of
the Kashmiris and high passions of a people under siege for too long.
The two meetings that we had on our way to Srinagar showed an area overburdened
with the crossfire of security agencies and the militants. The people
were living under visible harassment and intimidation. Srinagar wore
the look of a capital scrawling on its knees under the burden of both
insurgency and counter-insurgency, especially the heavy boots of security
agencies, while giving the false image of the summer capital of a state
that is supposed to 'enjoy' a special status - in fact in reverse. The
passions, expectations and demands were too high, as we met a large
number of leaders, students, lawyers, journalists, shopkeepers, men
on the street, political activists, wailing women searching for their
sons and rank and file of most of the parties.
Regardless of what
the parties from the opposite or the same camps say, and there are too
many, the people of Srinagar from almost all walks of life know to spell
one word with close to total unanimity and that is: Azadi (freedom/independence).
The alienation from New Delhi is complete and, perhaps, irreversible.
More than 90 per cent of the public opinion is tilted towards independence.
Even those who raise the slogan of accession to Pakistan and also Nizam-e-Mustafa,
although declining in numbers, subscribe to the idea of independence.
Alienation from India does not mean that the Kashmiris want to join
Pakistan. Yet the expectations from Pakistan are so high that even a
non-official and private visit by the Pakistani journalists on Indian
visa came under critical scrutiny, including those who practice Indian
law or demand Indian passport to travel abroad. Suspicions about and
complaints against Islamabad are on the rise after the division of All
Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). On the issue of opening Srinagar-Muzaffarabad
route, even those who oppose it cannot afford the reaction from the
people who are craving to meet their own on the other side.
The target of resentment
are the Indian security forces against whose excesses and human rights
violations the system of justice has failed to provide any relief. Even
the most moderate daughter of Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, Mehbooba
Mufti, who has come to the rescue of many
aggrieved families, feel helpless and seeks refuge behind the excuses
a heartless administration provides to hide its crimes. It does not
mean that the people are not getting irritated with the excesses committed
by the militants. So overwhelming is the support for Azadi that even
the senior rank and file of National Conference of Abdullah, People's
Democratic Party of Mufti and the Kashmir unit of Congress feel sympathetic
to the aspirations of their Kashmiri brethren. The leadership of these
parties exhibits a lot of flexibility, despite their capitulation, on
possible peaceful solutions while supporting softening of the LoC and
opposing militancy. Although Hurriyat is divided, and the Ansari faction
accuses Islamabad for the division and Geelani faction blames them of
hobnobbing with New Delhi, it can still play a crucial role if reunited
and the militant groups took the back seat.
There are two broad
views on the course to resolve the conflict: The one who believes that
Indo-Pak dialogue will damage the Kashmir cause and any kind of confidence
building between the two will be at the cost of Kashmiris. The other
view considers Indo-Pak reconciliation process suitable to Kashmiris,
if their representatives are engaged to decide their destiny. Almost
every section of opinion in Srinagar emphasised the urgency to include
Kashmiri representatives in the talks and want the composite dialogue
to succeed. About representation the Kashmiri leadership has no problem
in showing magnanimity or presenting a foolproof electoral course. The
real issue is that both Islamabad and New Delhi stop treating the Kashmir
issue as a territorial dispute and, instead, address together the aspirations
of the people of the valley in some appropriate form that is to the
satisfaction of the two big brothers. The solution lies in the process,
not in any pre-determined formula. Can New Delhi and Islamabad dare
to get out of their straitjackets and free the Indian and Pakistani
minds from remaining a hostage to annexationist or irredentist view
over Kashmir and take this hurdle out of the way of greater cooperation?
The problem is not with the Kashmiris, it is with us. Who are we, the
Indians and Pakistanis, to decide their destiny?