Sher-e-Kashmir’s pluralistic heart

As contention over Kashmir rages on between India and Pakistan, Kuldip Nayar recalls a moderate political voice that still resonates today.

Farooq Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, has said in an article in an Urdu journal from Srinagar that his late father, Sheikh Abdullah, would have been happy to know that the youth of Kashmir were picking up the gun to demand their rights. This is nothing but a figment of Farqooq’s imagination.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister from 1963-66, Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto, had a similar approach. He sent infiltrators into Kashmir in the hope that the Kashmiris would rise against India and join him to demand the state’s accession to Pakistan.
Bhutto turned out to be wrong. The Kashmiris, Sufi by nature, were against fanaticism and the criteria of mere religion, that is Islam, to decide accession. The Pakistani infiltrators were detected by the Kashmiris themselves and handed over to the Indian army.
I knew Sheikh Sahib fairly well. He was the first person to come to my hotel as soon as I informed his office about my presence in Srinagar after my three-month detention during the Emergency. I remember his words: ‘Ab tum bhi Haji ho javoge’ (You have also become a Haji), meaning thereby a jail pilgrimage.
The Sheikh was referring to my detention in Tihar jail because I had written strongly against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule. This reminded the Sheikh Sahib of his own detention by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. He was so close to Nehru that he would stay at his house whenever he came to Delhi. Even after the detention, he stayed with him because Nehru admitted his mistake and apologised.
Those who constantly say that Kashmir is an integral part of India are wrong in the sense that the state of Jammu & Kashmir enjoys autonomy as enunciated in Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which says that, except in three areas-foreign affairs, defence and communications-the other articles of the constitution that gave powers to the central government would be applied to Jammu & Kashmir only with the concurrence of the state’s constituent assembly.

INDEPENDENT THINKER: Sheikh Abdullah, three-times the head of government in Kashmir, advocated self-rule for the state
INDEPENDENT THINKER: Sheikh Abdullah, three-times the head of government in Kashmir, advocated self-rule for the state

In other words, because of these constitutional provisions, the state of Jammu & Kashmir enjoyed the type of autonomy which other states do not have. Subsequently, Sheikh Saheb had the state constituent assembly pass a resolution that Jammu & Kashmir had acceded to India irrevocably. Before doing so, he sent Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, then prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir who was later to become the state’s chief minister, to Pakistan to assess what kind of polity Islamabad was going to pursue.
After hearing Sadiq’s view on the policy Rawalpindi wanted to follow, Sheikh Sahib, a product of the national struggle to obtain independence from the maharaja and the British, wasted no time in joining India because his heart was for a pluralistic state. A democratic India, where there would be religious freedom, was the obvious choice for him because Pakistan was wallowing in Islam at that time.
With the passage of time, the Sheikh became the only liberal voice that could be heard clearly in the midst of Hindu and Muslim challenges and counter-challenges. I recall when I was released from Tihar Jail, my co-prisoners asked me to visit Srinagar and request the Sheikh to speak against the Emergency because he was respected all over the country.
When I met him at Sringar, the Sheikh saw the point and issued a statement criticising the Emergency in unequivocal language. Mrs Indira Gandhi traced the statement to my links with the Sheikh. But what mattered was boosting the morale of those detained during the Emergency. The entire nation had fallen silent and was afraid to speak out at that time. It had lost the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, moral and immoral.
Whenever the Sheikh spoke, all of India listened to him because his statements transcended state boundaries and reflected the real sentiments of people. So much so that even the opposition parties lapped up whatever he said. He placed India above the state’s interests and had the aura of a tall leader who did not become mired in pettiness of politics.
Sheikh Abdullah would have admonished New Delhi for creating such conditions in the state that the Kashmiris were forced to resort to violence because New Delhi failed to make good on its promise that the centre would have only three areas of control, defence, foreign affairs and communications, and the rest would be in the domain of Kashmir itself.
Farooq Abdullah has tried to dwarf the Sheikh’s stature by restricting him to Kashmir, yet an earlier statement by Farooq was constructive. He said that India should recognise the line of control as the international border and allow Islamabad to integrate Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), which is at present under the Pakistani army. In fact, with these words Farooq hit the nail on the head because both countries have often clashed with each other over the violation of the LoC.
Whatever their strategies or aspirations, the two sides should face the key fact that the Line of Control is the international border. Both India and Pakistan have fought two wars trying to resolve the border issue on their own. They cannot afford to have another war, particularly when both have nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif has done well in allaying the fears of India over the Pathankot incident. He has asked for more details, probably because he found the leads that have been provided by India inadequate. He has also done well in detaining Masood Azhar, who was behind a string of militant activities, including the Mumbai attacks.
It is a healthy development that the meeting of India and Pakistan’s foreign secretaries was rescheduled and not cancelled altogether, as was feared after the Pathankot attack. New Delhi also seems to appreciate the pressure under which Nawaz Sharif is functioning, given that the last word is still with the army. The Pakistan army chief’s importance can be seen from the fact that Nawaz Sharif took him to Iran and Saudi Arabia for mediation between them.
I feel sad to see Nawaz Sharif giving equal importance to the army chief in every meeting he attends. The tragedy in a developing country is that once the armed forces become a part of the government, they do not go back to the barracks.

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