Thursday, May 23, 2002
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By Kuldip Nayar
The assassination of Abdul Gani Lone is a warning this time drenched in the blood of a tall Kashmiri leader that the problem of Kashmir cries for an early solution. When the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, said in his Kerala musings that he would adopt an unbeaten path, it was assumed that he was conscious of the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. K.C. Pant may be a good Planning Minister but when he was the Home Minister in New Delhi, he just followed in the footsteps of his predecessors on Kashmir.
Mr. Vajpayee's predicament is that he does not want to go beyond his esoteric group, which has not been able to bring the issue closer to a solution even an inch. But the main problem is that we have no policy on Kashmir. First when we could have won the plebiscite, Sheikh Abdullah was interned and then when he went to Islamabad to meet Gen. Ayub Khan, his trip was cut short because of the death of Jawaharlal Nehru. The discussion was around a federal structure embracing Kashmir and the rest of the subcontinent but before the Sheikh could mollify the fears of Gen. Ayub in a federal structure the majority ultimately prevails the Kashmiri leader had to return.
A free and fair election, which Mr. Vajpayee has promised to the State, should have contained terrorism. But when the 1988 election was rigged, the attention of the Kashmiris was diverted from the ballot box to the bullet. I met Lone at Srinagar in 1990. The fire of militancy was spreading at that time. He warned me that there would be a lot of bloodshed because the boys, who had gone across the border, had no faith left in New Delhi's way of running things in Kashmir. New Delhi wanted puppets and the Kashmiris did not want to go along with them since they had become a disobedient lot after several rigged elections. Even then he was optimistic about a solution. He asked me again and again: ``How far is India willing to go?'' The same question stares us in the face.
The problem has got more complicated because Pakistan has made the compulsions of the first Kashmiri group that went to collect arms from it into an opportunity to dabble in the affairs of the Valley. It has been unfair to the movement that the Kashmiri youth had initiated (Yasin Malik leading it and Shabir Shah participating in it) because Islamabad inducted foreigners people from Sudan, Algeria and the then Afghanistan into it. But the problem will remain unsolved if Pakistan and the people of Kashmir are not associated with it.
Instead of touching all the three points at the same time New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar we should restrict ourselves to New Delhi and Srinagar. This has become all the more important because the State is going to the polls in late July or in early October. But what can New Delhi really do to win back the alienated Kashmiris? The ruling combination in India is opposed to even going back to 1952, when the State held all subjects except Defence, External Affairs and Communications. These three subjects were specifically mentioned in the Instrument of Accession Act when the Maharaja chose integration with India. In fact, the State joined the Union on that understanding. Now it is for the State to give more subjects and not for the Union to appropriate more. The ruling National Conference in the State antagonised New Delhi when it passed the resolution of autonomy within India. In fact, it is willing to give more subjects than the original Instrument of Accession.
The problem will take time to sort out. But one thing that should be clear both to New Delhi and Islamabad is that any partition of the State on communal lines will rip open the old wounds of Partition. The Muslim majority Valley cannot opt for an arrangement, which is not acceptable to the rest of the State. Too much religion is our problem and nothing should be done to aggravate it.
Maybe, a free and fair election in the State will throw up the real representatives who can then discuss the question of autonomy and such other things with New Delhi. Once that process is completed, Pakistan can be brought into the picture. But Islamabad's problem is that it does not want to wait for the process to begin and would rather have a shotgun nikah instead of allowing the people to express their opinion through the polls.
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