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Kashmir solution lies in economic wisdom

13 November, 2006

By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu


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Colonel (retired) Naqvi's warm and joyous visit to my place on Eid day has been a routine for many years. He is a childhood friend. The army did not help him in building a career that he deserved, but it did transform him into a man with lot of momentum. Even in rainstorms, ice-chilled winters and hell-hot summers, he never missed his Eid itinerary. His recent visit, however, was void of action. He looked as grave and grey as most of us have become. After a formal hello, he sat, and sat quiet. Then, all of a sudden, he broke the silence. "Do you think things will change here? You are wasting time."

The events that led to the overthrow of a democratic-turned-family-government by another family (army) on October 12, 1999, compelled me to devote myself to writing. It was a spontaneous act triggered by political emotionalism. I began writing after April 19, 1999, the day COAS Pervez Musharraf, while addressing a gathering of 'English Speaking Pakistanis' in Karachi, said, "Low intensity conflicts with India will continue, even if the Kashmir problem is resolved, and Pakistan will continue to maintain a 1:2 deterrent in defence vis-à-vis India." The statement was enough to conclude that we will continue to live in a constant state of emergency and poverty. It was a policy statement and that too about the future course of the state of Pakistan. Given the peace initiatives of then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee through the bus diplomacy, the statement was a signal that diplomacy would be abandoned by us, and if not, martial law was bound to come.

The next day, in a state of panic, I wrote a composition in Urdu and sent it to all the newspapers turn-by-turn, keeping a gap of a week in between. One newspaper published it after two months and with ruthless but justified editing. It was an 'open letter to the COAS'. I had appealed therein that martial law was no solution and our problems could be resolved provided we turned to a wise fiscal management and revised our internal and external policies. The editor omitted the caption and the appeal. It was justified, because expression of emotions, no matter how relevant, too have a constitutional bar about which I was not aware. Whether the Constitution allows any authority other than the executive head of state to issue policy statements is also a question.

The cool response of the Urdu press left me with no other option but to turn to English newspapers. Meanwhile, we surrendered again before the Indians. To the people, the magnitude of shock due to the defeat in the Kargil war was bigger than the one resulting from the surrender in Dhaka. The military defeat was also a political disaster. It destroyed the trust that had begun to take root between the two countries through bus diplomacy. The shock and the environment of distrust opened the floodgates to suggestion of different solutions to the Kashmir problem. Most writers suggested an independent Kashmir as the way out. It was an attempt to vent anger rather than to seek an achievable solution. On September 12, 1999, an English daily published my first article. It was on Kashmir. The solution suggested was time-related autonomy/self-rule — within the existing political geography — for the Kashmiris of the Valley.

President General Musharraf after remaining adamant for many years on the principled stance on Kashmir through implementation of the UN resolutions has, like all of his predecessors, shown flexibility, but with many conditions attached. Though making the Line of Control a permanent border and self-rule for the Kashmiris may be the only solution, the establishment in Pakistan is not ready to accept it, nor are the religious militants and a large number of Kashmiris willing to shed their undefined ideals.

The Kashmiris of the Valley are uncertain about the solution, but not about their fate. Most of them think that they have been perhaps destined to live in darkness, the darkness that started with the Mughal occupation of Kashmir and deepened during the Afghan, Pathan and Dogra rules, and solidified after the start of the militant struggle. India did try to lessen the centuries-old miseries of the Kashmiris through genuine land reforms and development work, but did not succeed in winning over the hearts of the majority of Kashmiris.

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Islamic revolution in Iran, the support from Pakistan, corruption of the rulers and job opportunities not matching the level of education turned the peaceful struggle of Kashmiris into a militant one, but without results. It rather refreshed the fading darkness and solidified it during the last 17 years. The time has come to take the Kashmir tangle as it should have been taken long ago, a disturbed situation rather than a conflict. The disturbed situation can be settled. The conflict needs a solution and the one that is in the mind of the Pakistani establishment and a large section of Kashmiris is not achievable, neither through war nor through diplomacy.

The recent suggestion of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the best option. He says that boundaries need to be made immaterial. If wisdom means anything, then to resolve their conflicts or settle the disturbed situations, the easiest route for nations is through conversion of the geographical trust (boundaries) into economic trust. However, our psychological and real concerns are a barrier to this conversion. Psychological, because we fear India will dominate us economically. Real, because we want to keep our oversize defence machine intact for the reasons that are not only India-centric but also internal. So the Kashmir situation turning to normal in the near future is a difficult proposition. Perhaps some of the peoples of the world due to the circumstances around them will not come out of the darkness that easily. The Afghans, the Kashmiris, the Kurds, the Palestinians, and most of the Africans make up this unfortunate lot. The people of many Third World countries, including Pakistan, are also heading towards a similar condition.

Yet, given the changed scenario due to globalisation, 9/11, the India-China reconciliation, their growing interdependence and sustainable economic development of India, the Kashmiris are likely to see some light, if not in the near future, after three or four decades certainly. The Afghans too have a future. Once the Chinese and the Russians become economic powers, the region west of Pakistan will witness a magnificent change in relationships. Likewise, the moment fossil fuel loses its worth due to depletion or availability of alternative energy, the Palestinians too will turn to wiser options. The African problem, however, will continue, because no one is interested in the miserable people living in a geographical location of no interest. Things are not that clear about the endangered Third World people. Whether they will improve or regress further, will depend on how their elites behave.

How our elites are likely to act, how they should act, the economic dominance of India, our internal and real concerns and why did the army come even after the damage done to the bus diplomacy, these are the subjects that demand extensive discussion. Before concluding, I may mention the gentleman colonel again. Till the early 60s, army officers were wonderful individuals. They would spend their salaries halfway through the month, yet they would remain cheerful. Greed had not crept into the barracks by then, nor had the orthodoxy, nor self-righteousness. Frequent visits of the army to the power corridors changed everything, even the joyous and evergreen Colonel Naqvi.

 

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