SIGNS OF THE TIMES
By Humra Quraishi
IT SEEMS a bizarre U-turn or term it as another of those political moves! The same group of the Kashmiri political figures who were not just labelled “the Gupkar gang” and were also kept under detention and house arrest for several months at a stretch, are now invited to hold talks with the establishment on 24 June, in New Delhi.
As I’m filing this column on Wednesday, 23 June, that is one day before the talks so one can only come up with this basic: Will dialogues and discussions lead to some level of relief-peace-normalcy returning to the Kashmir region which lies bruised and battered in every sense of the term?
In fact, the Kashmiris have seen so many upheavals and tragedies and sorrows in the past that now it’s only sheer helplessness that holds sway. For them, this entire stretch seems riddled with ironies and strange turns and twists! They have also been witness to that phase when the Hurriyat leaders were summoned to New Delhi for talks but then nothing really emerged from those rounds and rounds of discussions and talks.
And in recent years the speeches of the political Who’s Who in New Delhi have got only too layered with all sorts of promises and packages, but the ground realities in the Kashmir region have been turning darker by the day. Leaving the Kashmiris upset and angry and disillusioned.
I recall when I had interviewed Abdul Ghani Lone Sahib in Srinagar, way back in 2001, he’d stressed, “We want peace, every Kashmiri wants peace …But as I earlier said, there can be no peace with broken promises and the Government of India’s track record has been full of deceit. We just can’t trust them. Hurriyat is absolutely against any bifurcation talks. We Kashmiris are all one people. We want no division of the State on any lines. This State has to remain intact.”
I’m also reminded how in the past, the Hurriyat members were openly and blatantly criticized by the Centre, yet they were invited to New Delhi for those talks!
I had met the then chairman of the Hurriyat, Maulana Abbas Ansari, when he had flown down to New Delhi for the much publicised 2004 talks between the Centre and five Hurriyat leaders – Maulana Abbas Ansari, Abdul Gani Bhat, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Fazul Haq Qureshi and Bilal Lone. He gave the interview the day after meeting L K Advani and just a couple of hours before his meeting with the then prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee…I recall asking him why particular Hurriyat leaders – Syed Ali Shah Geelani, JKLF’s Yasin Malik and Democratic Freedom Party’s Shabir Shah – had boycotted that meet but he’d given no clear answer to that; instead he gave his views for a lasting solution for Kashmir: “No solution will be possible till the Kashmiri is not heard and not asked what they want. It’s in the interest of both the countries – India and Pakistan – that a solution is worked on as soon as possible, for God forbid if war erupts then the whole of South Asia tabah ho jaega… don’t ask me what will happen to us Kashmiris, for hum toh waise hi mar gaye hain. We Kashmiris are almost dead but I’m worried about this entire region. I’m repeating that if war erupts this entire region tabah ho jaega.”
Detailing why he and his team landed in New Delhi, he had gone on to say, “What’s wrong with our talking with the Centre! After all, even Mahatma Gandhi had talked to the British. And there was Nelson Mandela who did the same. And we agreed for these talks with the Centre after they came around to our basic condition that these talks would be held without any conditions and in total sincerity. Right now we want the Kashmiri to be heard, to be allowed to live and live in dignity. Has anyone bothered to find out what the Kashmiri wants! He has to be heard, as he is the one who is suffering from all possible sides.”
And in 2009, during a major meet organised in New Delhi – ‘Multi Party Dialogue on the Political Future of Jammu and Kashmir’, by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, I had interviewed Hurriyat’s Professor Abdul Gani Bhat. He was loud and clear: “Paradise is lost not to Milton but to the people of Kashmir. Now how do we regain the Paradise lost? I can make no big claims, I’m no politician but yes, I am an eye witness and seek a settlement. I want to call a spade a spade There ought to be de-militarization in the region. India can’t withdraw its troops from Ladakh and Pakistan can’t withdraw from Gilgit but why can’t troops be withdrawn from towns and from villages!”
And during my interviews with Yasin Malik for a national daily, he had detailed, “I’ve always believed in a non-violent struggle. In 1983, I first jumped into this struggle for self-determination. It was only much later in 1988 that I took up an arms struggle under the banner of the JKLF but six years later, in 1994, we again opted for a unilateral ceasefire, gave up the arms struggle and wanted a peaceful settlement of this problem. The Government of India has to decide what it wants because it has adopted a different yardstick for the peace process in Nagaland and it is treating us on a different level. I believe that India and Pakistan can’t hold any talks without involving representatives of the Kashmiri people. Kashmiris have to be involved in these talks and cannot be bypassed.”
Interestingly, around 2004, Yasin Malik had undertaken a signature campaign, in and around the Kashmir Valley, with this backgrounder, “The people of Kashmir are the principal party and they need to be made active partners in the decision making. Thousands of the ordinary Kashmiris have communicated through their signatures that they want to be included in the dialogue process.” After the completion of this signature campaign, in March 2005, Malik had also put up an exhibition ‘Voices of Peace’ at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi. He had stressed that he had opted for this venue to get his message of non-violence across.
What happens on the 24 June 2021 meeting in New Delhi, between the Centre and the Kashmiri political leaders? Will it be a day of elaborate speeches and more speeches? Will the Kashmiri political leaders be loud and clear and assertive in their rightful demands and assert their democratic rights? Will the meet address any of the stark and grim ground realities which the Kashmiris have been witnessing for years and decades…mind you, the situation has only been deteriorating in recent years.