ISLAMABAD — As the young prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met for the first time last week, raising hopes for less bitter dealings between the two Powers of the Indian subcontinent, a small motorcade drove up out of history With a cautionary message: Remember Kashmir.
At the head of the protest was Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, a man devoted to the unfinished business of Kashmir.
Forty one years after independence from Britain, the region’s 217,500 square kilometers of soaring mountains and fertile valleys are still officially in dispute between India and Pakistan.
Prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto apparently did not discuss Kashmir during their three-day meeting, at which they concluded agreements on cultural ties, trade, and safeguarding their nuclear reactors.
Mr. Qayyum takes the view that the leaders can sign all the cultural accords they wish, “but nothing will work unless the Kashmiri issue has been resolved.”
Mr. Qayyum led a Kashmiri guerilla army against Indian troops in 1947. At 64, he is now the elected president of Azad Mashmir, or Free Kashmir. That is the name the Pakistanis have given a portion of the former kingdom that fell on the Pakistani side of the ceasefire line that serves as the de facto Indian Pakistani border. The two countries fought two wars over Kashmir, in 194748 and 1965, and the ceasefire line was last adjusted in 1972. Azad Kashmir is now semiautonomous but an integral part of Pakistan, like Pakistan’s northern territories, which also were part of old Kashmir.
Only Azad Kashmir, however, has its own elected government, with a president and prime minister.
The area that Pakistani Kashmiris want to “liberate” is the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. At partition in 1947, a majority of its population was Moslem and therefore it was regarded by Pakistan as a natural part of the new country being founded for the subcontinent’s MosJems.
But it also was the ancestral home of the Nehru family, and India has successfully prevented the region from voting to join Pakistan. Citing a letter of accession by the last local ruler, New Delhi annexed an area that included the Kashmir Valley (known as the Vale of Kashmir in imperial days) and the Ladakh region, where Buddhists are in a majority.
Many scholars, diplomats and political leaders assume that the present ceasefire line will sooner or later be accepted by Pakistan as a permanent international border, even though the United Nations calls for a plebiscite on the issue among Kashmiris on both sides.
Mr. Qayyum says they are wrong.
“No government in Pakistan can afford to compromise on Kashmir and stay for a day,” he said in an interview Monday.
Mr. Qayyum, who heads the All Jammu and Kashmir Moslem Conference, a political party, said Pakistan’s Kashmiris are prepared to give Ms. Bhutto time to work out her policies on the border dispute, but if these do not meet the aspirations of Kashmiris, there is a good likelihood of violence.
Young Kashmiris on both sides of the ceasefire line are running out of patience. Mr. Qayyum said, adding that he already is being outflanked by hotheads in several self-styled Kashmiri liberation organizations.
Noting that Islamic guerrilla groups have begun recently to attack Indian government targets across the ceasefire line, he added:
“We older leaders, we who are still alive in Kashmir, have been exerting our influence to see that the issue is resolved through peaceful political means. But we don’t know how far we can succeed.”
Mr. Qayyum rejected Indian accusations that Pakistan may have been behind the recent acts of violence in Indian Kashmir. If Pakistan had had a hand in it, he boasted, it would have been his hand.
“T am perhaps the man most capable of taking up arms in Kashmir,” the former guerrilla leader said. “TJ have more people at my command that would lay down their lives. But I have not done it for the very simple reason that I respected the international commitments of the government of Pakistan.”
Mr. Qayyum said that the Moslem Kashmiris’ cause may be helped by a new international climate.
“After the Iran Iraq war has ceased, after Afghanistan, after Palestine, and particularly after the United Nations began trying to assert itself after a long time, I feel the time has come when something meaningful will have to be done about Kashmir,” he said.
Mr. Qayyum demands that a plebiscite be held among Kashmiris, despite the total opposition of India. He would like to see all of Kashmir become an integral part of Pakistan. Few would give his cause much of a chance.
“Before partition there were 560 Indian states,” he said. “All of them have decided their fate except Kashmir.”
“The human aspect is that no matter how secular the Indian government claims to be, it is more religious than any religious Moslem government. No Moslem in Kashmir feels secure for his honor, life and property.”
“Here in Pakistan, we Kashmiris feel equal citizens.”
Mr. Qayyum looks to Moscow for possible assistance in the Kashmiri cause because the Soviet Union has a large influence on India and because, he said, the Soviets have a new outlook on the Islamic world.
“The Russian policy toward the entire Moslem world seems to be changing. Their withdrawal from Afghanistan is not merely because of the fight in Afghanistan. They could have kept on fighting for ages.
“T think they have ultimately seen and realized that to conquer Afghanistan would mean ultimately to conquer all surrounding Moslem countries, fighting the Moslem world at the same time,” he said. “They now understand the Moslem world.”
But the Moslem Kashmiris’ first hope is the United Nations.
“The UN is still seized of the issue, and while attending to other issues, why not the Kashmir issue?” Mr. Qayyum asked. “What are they waiting for? Are they waiting for a lot of blood and fire and destruction, and then they would attend to it?” (Courtesy: Globe and Mail. Toronto.)
Article extracted from this publication >> January 13, 1989