Speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in a conference in Geneva 23 September 2008.
Mr President, friends and colleagues aslamo alaykam
I am grateful to Dr Charles Graves and Interfaith International for organising this important conference at a time when a lot is happening in South Asia. Terrorist activities in both India and Pakistan are on increase with alarm bells ringing in many quarters around the world. The Kashmiri struggle which many thought had seen its peak and was now seen under control has once again made headlines, and people call this new wave of protest a Kashmiri intifada.
The topic of this conference is “Kashmir Issue, Terrorism and Human Rights”; and some speakers have spoken on the topic before me. Violence and terrorism are not new to human society; in fact, they are as old as human civilisation. But it is only after 9/11 that world opinion has dramatically changed against terrorism. If there was no 9/11 we might have seen Pakistan, the US and some other countries, in one way or the other still supporting terrorist groups in various parts of the world.
Today people associate terrorism with Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, in other words Alqaeeda and Taliban. One wonders who are God fathers of Osama and Mullah Omar and their groups. Who supported and promoted Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. When it suited both America and Pakistan they presented them as heroes and real mujahideen fighting the Russians. But when these Mujaheedens trained and armed by these countries decided not to play their game any more and wished to promote more jihad and militancy they were branded as bad boys.
Taliban is taken as a fundamentalist or a terrorist, but at one time it meant students who studied Islamic studies in religious schools. No religious school in Pakistan had skills and weapons to teach students in modern warfare or how to use tanks and heavy military equipment. Of course this was done by the Pakistan army and that is why a Pakistani Home Minister of the People Party government once said, ‘Taliban are our boys’.
These ‘boys’ were trained to accomplish a mission in Afghanistan and that was to control the volatile region that Pakistan can have a ‘strategic depth’- a name given to the policy of westward expansion by the Pakistan army in order to counter India. This could have given Pakistan a significant influence over Afghanistan and central Asia (not to mention Kashmir).
America also had interest in this if the Taliban were to provide stability in Afghanistan. Central Asian countries of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan natural gas reserves of more than 236 trillion cubic feet. American oil companies wanted to build a pipeline that would transport oil from Central Asia through Afghanistan and ending at the Makran coast in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal of 23 May 1997 declared and I quote: "the main interests of American and other economic elites is making Afghanistan a prime trans- shipment route for the exporting of Central Asia's vast oil, gas and other natural resources……like them or not….the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history". Unquote
Taliban could not bring about much needed stability in Afghanistan, but Pakistan and the US succeeded in creating their own Frankenstein which did not hesitate to attack its creators. Pakistan with help and support of the US created a terrorist infrastructure to fight the Russians; and after their withdrawal from Afghanistan the US walked away as for them mission was accomplished. But ambitious and religiously motivated Pakistani agencies continued to use these ‘terrorist nurseries’ to support and promote violence to advance what they conceived as a Pakistani interest with the US turning their eyes other way.
This policy might have helped Pakistani agencies to advance their political and strategic agenda for some time but they didn’t realise that one day it will back fire. I personally spoke to senior Pakistani officials in mid 1990s, and requested them to abandon their policy of bringing jihadi warriors from other countries in Kashmir, as their presence was damaging our cause and changing the fundamental character of Kashmiri struggle. I also told them that one day they will have to pay heavy price for promoting politics of communalism, extremism and hatred, but they did not listen, and accused me of being anti Pakistan, anti jihad, anti Islam and pro India.
Where ever there is terrorism or armed struggle it surely has more than one impact on society: it seriously damages local economy and frightens investors and tourists. Victims are generally ordinary people and it gives excuse to both militants and armed forces to violate human rights; and above all it creates a class of people who make this has a business. These merchants of blood ensure that violence and terrorism continue and that they keep on getting rewards from this human tragedy.
General Musharaf is rightly accused of many wrong doings. His policies like policies of General Zia ul Haq will prove to be disastrous for Pakistan. He is also accused of playing double in the war on terrorism. His proposals on Kashmir were designed to divide Kashmir on religious lines, but the peace process, confidence building measure, and cease fire along the LOC have provided some relief to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially those living near the line of control.
His proposals on Kashmir were disliked and opposed by true nationalists and by all those who regarded the state as one political entity; but those who have commercialised the Kashmiri struggle saw an opportunity to make some more money and tried to sell this idea to the people, hence stand exposed in front of people. I hope that after general Musharaf his proposals on division of the State will be discarded and people of Kashmir will not allow these merchants to use the Kashmir dispute to further their commercial interests.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is forcibly divided since 1947, and human rights violations take place on both sides of the divide. It is natural wherever there is armed rebellion human rights abuse takes place; hence we witnessed human rights abuse on the Indian side of the divide committed by both state and non state actors. Whether human rights abuse is committed by militants or the people in uniform, generally victims are innocent people.
Every state has main responsibility of protecting life, honour and property of citizens, and the Maharaja of Kashmir’s provisional accession was based on this assumption that once he accedes to India the above pledge would be honoured. But what we see is that life, honour and property is not safe in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact in many cases they were targeted to punish people who had opposing political views. If the State actors are not personally responsible for these acts of violence perpetrated against civilians the state is still accountable as it is endowed with duty to protect life, liberty, honour and property of the people.
It must be pointed out here that State of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India was provisional and had to be ratified by the people. It is unfortunate that people of Jammu and Kashmir never had an opportunity to exercise their right to determine future of the State; and this is mainly because of competing interests of both India and Pakistan. However over the past years there have been some positive steps taken by both India and Pakistan to ease tension on borders and to create conducive environment to strengthen social, cultural and economic ties.
While appreciating these confidence building measures, I emphasis that more needs to be done and both countries need to take more Kashmir specific measures. They need to understand that war, militancy or proxy war is not sensible or viable option, and past experience and history is witness to this. Also it must be understood that politics of communalism, extremism and hatred might help their policy to make some immediate gains but in long run it will back fire and result in more violence and terrorism, so forces which preach violence and communalism must be controlled.
Apart from that it must be understood that Status quo is not an option either. Status quo means not only denial of right of self determination to the Kashmiri people which is the root cause of the problem, but also it means the continuation of the problem with commercial, political and strategic interest of many groups, which often result in killings, torture and violations of the fundamental human rights. Furthermore it means that both countries remain hostage to the Kashmir dispute and hold their progress and continue to spend huge resources to compete with each other, hence depriving their people of social advancement.
Also status quo means that because of acrimony, animosity and unending conflict between Pakistan and India, the region will remain unstable and world will remain under the threat of nuclear horror. Therefore a peaceful settlement of the dispute is the only option. Dialogue is the only way forward, but in this dialogue the main party to the dispute people of Jammu and Kashmir must also be present.
It must not be the case that India and Pakistan decide something on Kashmir and then impose that on us, as people will not accept it. This was even voiced by President of Pakistani Administered Kashmir Raja Zulqarnain Khan when he was asked on18 June 2007, about a claim of Pakistani foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri that Pakistan and India have almost reached an accord over the Kashmir dispute. Raja Zulqarnain Khan said and I quote: ‘Pakistan’s Foreign Office had neither taken him into confidence nor briefed him about negotiations with India since his assuming office last year. AJK president warned the Pakistani leadership that any agreement with India without the involvement of the Kashmiri people would not be acceptable.’ Unquote. If pro Pakistan leaders are not prepared to accept this kind of attitude and solution then one can imagine the response of other Kashmiris.
A survey was conducted both in India and Pakistan by WorldPublicOpinion.org during October and November of 2007, in which it was revealed and I quote: ‘that half or more are open to a range of possible outcomes for Kashmir other than it being part of their respective countries. On neither side is there strong majority opposition to Kashmir becoming an independent country or dividing Kashmir between Pakistan and India. Indians and Pakistanis show a readiness to have the Kashmiri people decide their fate. If a majority of all Kashmiris were to choose independence, a majority of Indians and Pakistanis would find such independence at least tolerable.’ unquote
This shows a change of attitude among people of India and Pakistan on the controversial issue of Kashmir. This flexibility was not there some years ago. It means people on both sides feel that continued hostility over Kashmir is not in the best interest of their countries and in the best interest of the region. We need to build on this and build constituency of peace, harmony and tolerance. If we want to make progress and compete with challenges of the 21st century then we must learn to live side by side, and think of region of South Asia as whole. This is the only way to defeat forces of communalism, terrorism and hatred.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Dr Shabir Choudhry
Spokesman, Kashmir National Party
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