Dr. Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai
The Kashmir issue is simply this: the people of a large territory which is not part of any existing sovereign state were assured by the entire international community represented by the United States that they would be enabled to decide their future by a free vote. Until now, this assurance has not been honoured.
I, as an American of Kashmiri origin, am profoundly grateful to the Administration for upholding the position of principle which the United States has sustained throughout the existence of the contentious issue relating to the status of Kashmir. When the Kashmir dispute erupted in 1947-1948, the United States championed the stand that the future status of Kashmir must be determined by the will of the people of the territory and that their wishes must be ascertained through an impartial plebiscite under the supervision and control of the United Nations. The U.S. was a principle sponsor of the resolution # 47 which was adopted by the Security Council on April 21, 1948 and which was based on that unchallenged principle. It was also upheld equally by both India and Pakistan when the Kashmir dispute was brought before the Security Council in 1948. The commitment of the U.S. was indicated by a personal appeal made by President Harry Truman that differences over demilitarization be submitted to arbitration by the Plebiscite Administrator, a distinguished American war hero: Admiral Chester Nimitz.
It was most gratifying for the Kashmiri American community when President George W. Bush (Republican) said on February 22, 2006 that the United States supports a solution of the Kashmir dispute acceptable not only to India and Pakistan, but also to “citizens of Kashmir.” It was equally gratifying for us when President Barack Obama said on October 30, 2008, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.’
Today, Kashmir is a living proof that it is not going to compromise, far less abandon, its demand for Azaadi (independence) which is its birthright and for which it has paid a price in blood and suffering which has not been exacted from any other people of the South Asian subcontinent. Compared to the sacrifice Kashmir has had to endure, India and Pakistan themselves gained their freedom through a highly civilized process.
The scale of the popular backing for Kashmiri resistance can be judged from the established fact that virtually all the citizenry of Srinagar (the capital city of Kashmir) – men, women and children – came out multiple times onto the streets to lodge a non-violent protest against the continuance of alien occupation. The fact that they presented petitions at the office of the United Nations Military Observers Group shows the essentially peaceful nature of the aims of the uprising and its trust in justice under international law. At times the number of people in these peaceful processions exceeded 1 million. India has tried to portray the uprising as the work of terrorists or fanatics. Terrorists do not compose an entire population, including women and children; fanatics do not look to the United Nations to achieve a pacific and rational settlement.
That is a most poignant truth. But even more bitterly ironical is the contrast between the complex and decades-long agony the Kashmir issue has caused to Kashmiris, to Pakistan and to India itself and the simple, rational measures that would be needed for its solution. No sleight of hand is required, no subtle concepts are to be deployed, and no ingenious deal needs to be struck between an Indian and a Pakistani leader with the endorsement of the more pliable Kashmiri figures. The time for subterfuges is gone. All that is needed is going back — yes, going back — to the point of agreement which historically existed beyond doubt between India and Pakistan and jointly resolving to retrieve it with such modifications as are necessitated by the passage of time.
That point of agreement was one of inescapable principle — that the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be decided by the will of the people of the State as impartially ascertained in conditions free from coercion. The two elements of a peaceful settlement thus were, first, the demilitarization of the State (i.e. the withdrawal of the forces of both India and Pakistan) and a plebiscite supervised by the United Nations.
Between India’s insistence that a settlement must be “within the four corners of the Indian constitution” and Pakistan’s demand that it must be based on the international agreement embodied in the UN Security Council resolutions, there cannot be a meeting point which the two governments can find by themselves. Neither can disentangle itself from the massive undergrowth of the dispute. There needs to be a third way which neither admits nor challenges any claim or proposition on the question of sovereignty over Kashmir, nor on the desirability or otherwise of the partition or reunification of the State. Both these questions need to be set aside if the dispute is to be put on the road to a settlement.
There is nothing in the United Nations plan that is incompatible with pluralism. We do not wish to foreclose any of the three possible options for the people: independence, accession to Pakistan or accession to India. We refuse to believe that fairness is an impractical proposition.
Its object should be not to answer what is the correct or best solution of the Kashmir problem, but how that solution can be arrived at. In other words, it should by itself neither promote nor preclude any rational settlement of the dispute, be it accession to India or Pakistan or independence. Rather than seek to impose a settlement on Kashmir, it should engage the peoples of each region of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir to work out a settlement on their own without any external constraint.
I am equally proud of Kashmiri pluralism. The term fundamentalism is quite inapplicable to Kashmiri society. One of the proud distinctions of Kashmir has been the sustained tradition of tolerance, amity, good will and friendship between the members of different religious and cultural communities. It has a long tradition of moderation and non-violence. Its culture does not generate extremism and fundamentalism. The Kashmir conflict was never a fight between Hindus and Muslims. It was never a struggle between theocracy and secularism. It has always been about the destiny and future of 17 million people of Kashmir, be they Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists.
The Policy of the Kashmiri American Council
After the uprising in Kashmir in 1989, a group of Kashmiri Americans established the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) in Washington in 1990. The primary objective of KAC was simply to raise the consciousness of the international community about the issue of Kashmir; and to seek the understanding of the United States to help achieve the right of self-determination which was guaranteed to the people of Kashmir under the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The U.S. has, since the adoption of the UN resolutions in 1948, always held the position that Kashmir is a disputed territory; that it is not an integral part of either India or Pakistan; and that India and Pakistan should resolve the issue, taking into account the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Therefore, there was no need to influence U.S. foreign policy which has always been consistent with the goals of the Kashmiri people. However, we felt that there was a need to educate and encourage policy makers to take concrete steps to help achieve this goal.
Who I Represent
The Kashmiri American Council and I have always tried to represent the sentiments of the people of Kashmir, irrespective of their religious background and cultural affiliations. Sometimes it meant stating the hard facts which people in the halls of power in New Delhi or Islamabad might not always find agreeable. But unfortunately facts are facts and ignoring them would not have done justice, not only to the people of Kashmir, but also to the people of both India and Pakistan. This fact can be understood from an article of mine which was published in the Washington Times on January 18, 2004, when I was analyzing various possibilities that could lead us to a just settlement of the Kashmiri issue. I wrote, under the title, “The taproot of South Asian turbulence,” (an article particularly harsh to the sensitivities of both the Indian government and the government of Pakistan), “Finding a solution to the stalemate over self-determination in Kashmir, however, is vastly more complex than articulating the problem. Some in India profit from Kashmir’s tumults. They appeal to extreme Hindu nationalists who insist on Muslim inferiority and envision India as an expanding sun in the South Asian universe. Likewise, some in Pakistan gain by keeping Kashmir unresolved. It distracts attention from Pakistan’s enormous domestic faults, and provides indigenous militants with an outlet unthreatening to [its own] government.”
Had it been true that I was being dictated to by someone from New Delhi or Islamabad, then it would not have been easy for me to publish my article in the Boston Globe on January 5, 2002, “Kashmir Rights Cannot Be Denied“. I wrote, “There are suggestions in some quarters that the United Nations should broker a deal on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Kashmiris wish to stress that their land is not real estate that can be parcelled out between two [non-resident] disputants, but the home of a nation with a history far more compact and coherent than India’s and far longer than Pakistan’s. No settlement of their status will hold unless it is explicitly based on the principles of self-determination and erases the so-called line of control, which is in reality the line of conflict. ”
Likewise it would not have been easy to question the involvement of India and Pakistan in the talks to resolve the Kashmir issue. I wrote in The Quarterly Magazine about the Developing World published by the National Peace Corps Association in its August through October 1998 issue, Volume 11, number 4, entitled “Colony Kashmir, a Voice for independence.” I said, “I wish to emphasize the point that as the dispute involves three parties — India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir — who are the most directly affected, any attempt to strike a deal between two without the association of the third, will fail to yield a credible settlement. The contemporary history of South Asia is abundantly clear that bilateral efforts have never met with success.”
In that same article, I also stated, “but we believe that India and Pakistan cannot by themselves reach a settlement over Kashmir without associating the genuine Kashmiri leadership – the All Parties Hurriyet Conference — with the negotiations. It would be like performing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.”
My approach has been consistent, and there was absolutely no reason for me to do otherwise, and that was to inform the world powers that India and Pakistan by themselves are not able to resolve the issue of Kashmir. They have tried over decades, but failed. That’s why in an article called “The New Clinton Doctrine” which I published in July 1997, I wrote: “But the Kashmir problem should not be viewed as a territorial dispute between these two countries. The reality is that it is first and foremost a problem that involves the life and future of the thirteen million people of Kashmir– a people with a historical identity, a distinct individuality and the same aspirations for freedom as that of any other people on earth.”
The most important constituency which we have to address is not the United States, not Pakistan, not another country, but India itself. Meeting with Indian officials was fundamental to my strategy in communicating with New Delhi to find the means by which we as Kashmiri Americans could contribute to peace in that part of the world and to resolving the crisis in Kashmir. During the past twenty years, I along with Ambassador Yusuf Buch, former Senior Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General and the late Dr. Ayub Thuker, President, World Kashmir Freedom Movement, have met with various Indian cabinet ministers, belonging to the administrations of Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, Prime Minister Atel Behari Vajpayee and the current Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. And during the past eleven years, I have also met with four different officials at the Indian embassy who succeeded each other, each introducing me to the new incoming official before leaving for a new post.
It has always been my habit to keep the channels of communication open with the Indian embassy. I have met with the officials of the Indian embassy in Washington since 1999, sometimes monthly, sometimes bi-monthly. From March 2006 onwards we met monthly and at times twice a month. Whenever we had a seminar or a conference on Kashmir I would invite the Indian ambassador to speak. I had a habit of exchanging information and establishing the details in advance with an official of the embassy, and then a final copy of the invitation for the ambassador would be given to the official, whom I usually met at a public cafeteria. An Indian official called me either on July 18 or July 19, 2011, the day I was arrested. He left a voicemail that we must meet, which I heard ten days later after my release.
I have made personal mistakes that I deeply regret and I feel great sorrow for that, but I have never compromised our goals of independence and self-determination for the Kashmiri people and our commitment to peaceful negotiations between India, Pakistan and the leadership of the Kashmiri people. My own passion for the plight of Kashmir is clearly nothing unique. As a child of Kashmir, born and raised in that environment myself, I am just one of the hundreds of thousands of youth who, through no fault or choice of their own, have become directly or indirectly involved and deeply and passionately motivated to do something positive for their country, however insignificant in the context of global affairs, to make a difference. A country can be destroyed, but a nation cannot be defeated. Our own independence from this tyranny is the song in our heart, the poetry on our lips, and the vision that solidly unites us. It is the bedrock of our determination to continue unrelentingly to seek justice and truth for the people of Kashmir, despite our seeming powerlessness in the face of this occupation. Our hope is in our unity, in our love for one another as a people, as a nation, and as a divine spirit that pervades our history as a people with a unique cultural identity regardless of race, religion or creed, and our lasting belief that we cannot be denied our birthright to self-determination.
Win-win solutions are of great importance because they safeguard against prospective bitterness or humiliation that are the fuel of new conflict. If one party to a solution feels exploited or unfairly treated, then national sentiments to undo the settlement will naturally swell. We must not belittle, embarrass, or humiliate any party. Every participant should be treated with dignity and humanity. Charity, not the triumphal, should be the earmark of the negotiating enterprise. Also, we should not sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect. Compromises are the staple of conflict resolution. To achieve some good is worthwhile even though not all good is achieved.