Interview with Senior Kashmiri Leader Raja Muzaffar
By Qaisar Abbas
Against the backdrop of recently renewed talks between India and Pakistan and the historical baggage it carries with a series of failed negotiations in the last 60 years, it is hard to know how long the current round of congeniality would last.
If the dialogue continues this time, for sure Kashmir will be on top of the discussion agenda, besides other issues of terrorism, border security, trade and cultural relations.
To Raja Muzaffar, a veteran Kashmiri leader who resides in California these days, the new level of trust between the prime ministers of both countries is a good omen and the people of Kashmir welcome these developments.
In his childhood Muzaffer witnessed bifurcation of his homeland into two parts dividing his family on each side of the Line of Control (LOC) in the aftermath of the 1947 partition of the subcontinent.
In his view, however, the political landscape has drastically changed since then and people of Kashmir now overwhelmingly support the third option of independence from India and Pakistan.
“Unfortunately,” he says, “There are some elements in New Delhi and Islamabad with a mentality of expansionism, extremism and narrowmindedness,” and they are creating roadblocks in establishing a durable peace in the region.
The following interview with Raja Muzaffar reveals his candid analysis of the dispute with bold proposals to resolve it. Read on:
You have been part of the freedom movement in Kashmir throughout your life. How did you involve in this movement and why?
My family was influential in Uri, Baramulla District of Kashmir, which falls on the LOC and my uncle Pir Maqbool Gilani had a big role in my political training which led to my participation in the freedom struggle as a member of the Plebiscite Front. I moved to the Middle East in 1975 and returned back to Pakistan to be active as one of the founding leaders of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
I held several offices in JKLF as its Secretary General, Senior Vice Chairman and Acting Chairman. When political differences between the two party leaders-Yasin Malik and Amanullah Khan-intensified, I resigned from the party. Struggling through the thick and thin of local and transnational dynamics of the time, we continued working for the freedom of our homeland. I have no regrets over my role in the political struggle, the psychological trauma we went through, the fights we won and the mistakes we made.
Kashmir has become a tug-of-war between the two nuclear powers in South Asia: India and Pakistan. But people of Kashmir-the real stakeholders-are taken for granted, rarely considered as part of the dispute. What are the reasons behind this attitude?
Unfortunately there are some elements in New Delhi and Islamabad with a mentality of expansionism, extremism and narrowmindedness and they are creating roadblocks in establishing durable peace in the region.
UN resolutions after the partition also transformed the Kashmir dispute into a regional conflict between India and Pakistan. Humanistic issues of Jammu and Kashmir have never been considered important for policy makers of India and Pakistan. They have always curbed our right of self-determination which exposes their colonial and expansionist designs.
As it appears, there are three types of political forces in the contemporary Kashmir: Pro India, pro Pakistan and those who seek independence from both. Which of these lines of thought are popular among the people of Kashmir?
Yes, it’s true there are three political camps in Kashmir. The number of people, however, who support independence from India and Pakistan is growing every day and they have become a huge political force on both sides of Kashmir today.
Of all the solutions proposed so far, the former president of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula has been very popular. How do you analyze this formula as a Kashmiri?
The Indian government-according to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, Mahmood Qasuri-was ready to negotiate the four-point formula. Msharraf’s plan, although it was not a new idea, proposed to keep the current partition of Kashmir, make the LOC a soft border and allow human exchange and trade on a limited basis. But no one consulted people of Kashmir and accepted them as party to the dispute. In my view both Pakistan and India have to find an out-of-the-box solution which is acceptable to the people of Kashmir who support independence.
The ever-changing wave of peace talks between Pakistan and India is once again on its peak. Prime Minister Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore in December seems to be opening new doors of negotiations. If talks resume, what should be the strategy to resolve the Kashmir dispute this time?
As you know, Kashmir is on the agenda of the expected talks and we think this is a positive step for finding a solution to the dispute. Political leadership in Kashmir has welcomed it while they think they should also be an integral part of the discussion. I think both countries by now have realized that no solution is possible without participation of Kashmir’s political leadership. So far, both sides seem to be serious this time and there is no reason to doubt it.
Within the context of historical baggage and the current environment in South Asia, do your foresee an agreeable solution to the Kashmir dispute in the near future?
Terrorism is no more confined to a single nation as it has become a global threat. The rhetoric of religious and communal hatred in India and Pakistan has to be diminished by the leadership of both countries. Forming a contact group comprising India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders could be a viable option for developing an innovative resolution to the dispute.
After suffering for so long, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are hungry for peace, freedom and development and they will support a durable solution agreeable to all. I am hopeful that Kashmir will become Switzerland of Asia and an adorable garden of peace in the near future.
(Published in Srinagar Times, Kashmir Times and Pakistan Link).