Saturday, June 11, 2005A couple of days ago, I received an invitation from the Dawn Group of Newspapers to attend a symposium on Kashmir. Leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) are on their first, "historic" visit to Pakistan and were to address Karachi's "intellectuals" within the confines of the Sheraton Hotel.
I used to be one of those "25 year olds" that Hameed Haroon, CEO of the Dawn Group of Newspapers, referred to yesterday. I looked at the invitation and thought "what a waste - why bother with this on a working day". References to our "Kashmiri brothers" and yearly holidays to celebrate "solidarity" with the disputed territory, have caused exasparation and I used to wonder why we expend so much energy on the Kashmir issue.
Yesterday, all that changed. I ended up going to the symposium and it was one of the better decisions I've made in my life. Kashmir, for the first time, became real. It was the same old story but it was told by the actual protagonists - the people who have watched Kashmir shed red hot blood for decades. Dr. Eqbal Ahmad's article, Kashmir - India's Nemesis, is a good 101 on the history of the conflict.
Yasin Malik was the hero of the day. A victim of years of brutality and torture, deaf in one ear, and barely able to walk, he stood proud, dignified and defiant. Yasin said, "when two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets crumpled. When two elephants make love, it is still the grass that gets crumpled". He urged us, for once, to get off our intellectual high ground and be "stupid" for it is the stupid who go against the current.
Yasin began his freedom struggle in 1984 at the age of 18. Having been beaten mercilessly, intensely interrogated and thrown into every jail in the valley, he took up the gun. In his defense, he says, "I came to the conclusion that there was no space for a non-violent political movement." Yasin is now the Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and an Executive Member of the APHC. The JKLF is a nonviolent movement struggling for the independence of Jammu & Kashmir and a just and sustainable peace in South Asia. In 2002, in a bid to silence the voice of Yasin, the government of India accused him of blatantly false charges and put in place a new draconian law - POTA. The law allowed the Indian government to hold Yasin Malik without trial or hearing. Over 100 Indian police officers used naked force to arrest Yasin Malik while he was addressing a press conference in Srinagar, Kashmir. Yasin Malik now suffers from chronic health conditions as a result of previous torture and imprisonment.
It's easy for us, who watch from the sidelines, to condemn Yasin Malik and his colleagues for losing faith in peaceful resistance. Nothing is so black and white and convenient.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of APHC's moderate faction is merely 28 years old and has a magical aura about him. WOW!! He said "we desire to be citizens of the United States of Kashmir and we want India and Pakistan to give a free hand to the Kashmiri leadership to come up with new proposals". It is the first time that the Indian government has allowed Kashmiri leaders to visit Pakistan. The Mirwaiz also stated that he did not want to take the bus 20 years down the line and wanted to fly to New Delhi, Islamabad or Tashkent, clearly hinting at the future status of Kashmir. Apparently, the Internet is his hobby and he wanted to become a software engineer but the assassination of his father threw him, prematurely, into politics and religious leadership.
An extract from a Rediff interview:
Coming back to your combined role as the Mirwaiz and the Hurriyat chairman, has there been any conflict between the two?
No, not at all. Our politics, like I said, is not the politics which extremists or other political parties practice. It is not a politics of vote. It is the politics of the destiny of a nation. And as such, my politics and religion are one and the same. What I preach as the Mirwaiz is what I practice as a politician. Our struggle is based on justice, we are on a righteous path. So there is no conflict.
There was one major problem with yesterday's symposium. There were very few young people there. Kashmir is inextricably linked with the history and future of the sub-continent and Yasin Malik's and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's appeals were addressed to an insignificant group. The jaded, "me-too" activists, politicians, and elite of our society don't give a rat's ass about the people of Kashmir, or about anything for that matter. All they are interested in is global acknowledgement that Pakistan has suffered along with the Kashmiris, that Pakistan has fought wars in the name of freedom for Kashmir, and that the collective Pakistani heart beats in the same rhythm as those nameless, faceless sufferers in the valley. Where were the students, the youth, the "20 somethings" who could have been inspired into action by Yasin and the Mirwaiz? We have no heroes to look up to and dusty volumes chronicling the exploits of Jinnah just don't cut it for us. Fiery speakers like Tariq Ali are not welcome or safe here and Dr. Eqbal Ahmad is dead. The organizers may have been concerned about safety - but how could a bunch of kids have posed a threat to people who have experienced nothing but oppression, violence and destruction from the time they were born?