He wanted to interview me on a tape on current situation of Jammu and Kashmir. I agreed without hesitation as I had nothing to fear. I am not among those who change their views and ideology according to situation and audience. I told him that I will use parts of the conversation for my next article, he reluctantly agreed but requested me not to disclose his name or even disclose name of his university.
All I can say is that he is a Professor of Social Sciences in Germany; and very knowledgeable man. Perhaps it is appropriate to acknowledge that I was impressed with his knowledge on Kashmir, as he was familiar with most leaders and political activists on both sides of the LOC. He was also familiar with names of political activists of Kashmiri Diaspora and current trends on Kashmir.
We talked about all aspects of the Kashmiri struggle. We talked about situation in Jammu, Valley, Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. I expressed my views about the struggle and strategies adopted by India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership or more precisely different political parties and their political and personal agendas. We also talked about dangers of communalisation and extremism and how this extremism was imported to hijack the Kashmiri struggle.
This interview or conversation continued for nearly three hours, but after lunch I decided to ask him some questions. He said if the Kashmir dispute is not resolved it could lead to more instability in the region and possible disaster. It can also affect the war on terrorism. I think the international community needs to pay more attention to this matter.
He was critical of the Kashmiri leadership. He thought there were far too many parties and groups. Sometimes it is unavoidable, he said, as people come from different social and cultural backgrounds. They have different views on the Kashmiri struggle; and feel more at ease to continue that from their own platform and according to their own programmes. Regional and ethnic issues coupled with desire to make a political space for potential leaders and political aspirants are also a reason for so many parties.
In his view best way forward was the merger of like minded groups. He agreed that the APCH was not representative of the Kashmiri people although it had its value; and could still make some positive contribution. In his view the dispute was very complex and some people do not fully understand complexities of the dispute. They only want to see it in Muslim and non Muslim context, which sometimes creates problems and aggravates the situation.
He said generally the word Kashmir represents the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but at times people of other regions don’t want to be known as Kashmiris. We have to appreciate that the State is a multi religious and multi ethnic, and people have strong religious and ethnic ties; so we cannot impose any decision on them. We have to respect their sensitivities with regard to their religion, culture and region.
This well informed Professor was of the view that the Kashmiri struggle was not properly organised; and was out of step with modern day independence movements. He said forced division of the State resulted in lack of understanding among different ethnic groups of Jammu and Kashmir and they could not develop national identity. In his view among people of Jammu and Kashmir, regional and religious identities were stronger than the national identity.
Most people of Ladakh and Gilgit and Baltistan want autonomy for their regions and don’t even want to be called Kashmiris. Same could also be said about some people in Jammu who don’t want to be called Kashmiris, and they take pride in their identity as Jammuite. I don’t want to discourage you, as you people have worked very hard for United and independent Jammu and Kashmir, and continue to do so, but to me in view of the prevailing situation this it is just a beautiful dream.
He didn’t like my facial expressions, and he soon realised that. ‘I appreciate what you are doing’, he said. I acknowledge your sincerity and dedication. I know thousands of people have lost their lives, but be honest was that for united and independent Jammu and Kashmir? Or was it to join Pakistan; or was it resentment against India which resulted in death of so many lives.
I don’t want to discourage you. We all have right to see dreams and hope for better future; but remember my friend, not all dreams come true. He said, ‘I cannot see unification and independence of Jammu and Kashmir taking place in near future’. He said this is not to suggest that you should abandon your struggle. You are dedicated people and I know you will continue with what you have done for 2/3 decades; but you have to tune your struggle with modern day methods and strategies.
If Maqbool Butt’s struggle was for united and independent Jammu and Kashmir then the JKLF groups which claim to promote his struggle are out of step with the present day trends and working strategies. He had similar views about the strategies and policies of the APHC. In his view they lacked ideological clarity. Their policies are designed to please one section of the Kashmiri community, and the impression is that they want to promote a Muslim cause rather than a Kashmiri cause.
He said Baroness Emma Nicholson report was a good start, although he did not agree with everything. However it provided an alternative view of the problem and has helped to promote a Kashmiri cause in the European Parliament.
He said many young Kashmiris he has met have assumed their first identity as Pakistanis, and that should be a cause of concern to all those who espouse nationalist politics. He said he was not interested in blame game and who was right or wrong; you should all work together and coordinate your activities to get your ethnic identity recognised in Britain and Europe.
‘This recognition alone will go a long way in helping your movement’, he said. Once you people are part of the state system – you are recognised as an ethnic group then you can make many other demands which will help you immensely. You can get history and culture of Jammu and Kashmir introduced as part of School Curriculum. If this could be achieved then children will learn in schools about history and culture of their parents and this will strengthen their sense of belonging and will give them an ethnic identity.
You have a large Kashmiri community settled here in Britain, but they are known as Pakistanis or Indians. Due to hard work of Kashmir National Identity Campaign some British local authorities have recognised Kashmiris as a separate ethnic group. This is right step in right direction, but it is not enough. All Kashmiri parties, if they really want to promote the cause of Jammu and Kashmir then they should fully support this campaign. They should write to local councils and lobby other relevant departments that people of Jammu and Kashmir must be included in 2011 census.
He agreed with the view that people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan had grievances with the government of Pakistan; and it was only appropriate that they raise these issues here and try to resolve them. And similarly people of Jammu, Valley and Ladakh have issues with government of India and they should take those issues with the government over there. But Kashmiris on both sides need to work out a mechanism to support each other and coordinate their activities.