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Jammu and Kashmir: Is Democracy a Panacea?

by Nyla Ali Khan, 4 January 2017

print version of this article print version - 5 January 2017

At this time there is a genuine fear that the lack of leadership in J & K has created an abyss that has caused an unredeemable political bankruptcy in the State, and regional aspirations continue to be asphyxiated by the politics of the Indian and Pakistani nation-states. I am distressingly aware of the atrocities inevitably inflicted on idealism, particularly by nation-states that, by their nature, do not brook opposition. Structures of governance might change, legal discourse might change but it is armed might that bestows authority on nation-states, giving them the legitimacy to wage wars and to annihilate peoples in the wake of those wars.

In the guileful and wily world of subcontinental politics, Tariq Abdullah became just another pawn who was chosen to accompany the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1965, which was supposedly committed to pleading the Kashmir cause. After much probing and digging, I found the text of Prime Minister Bhutto’s speech that had led the Government of India to label Tariq Abdullah as persona non grata:

“The representative of India has referred to a so-called acknowledged leader of Kashmir and a co-worker of Sheikh Abdullah, who took the floor a few days ago from this rostrum—a man called Mir Qasim. He has been described as a co-worker of Sheikh Abdullah. But who is Sheikh Abdullah? Sheikh Abdullah is the Lion of Kashmir; the man who has waged a heroic struggle for the people of Jammu and Kashmir from 1931 onwards; the man who has been prepared to make any sacrifice for a righteous cause; the man who was regarded by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the champion of the people of Kashmir, as a legend whose fame and glory knew no dimensions of territory, as a person who was a hero and a symbol of his people, as a person who symbolized freedom and the struggle for emancipation. These are not my words. These are the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, paraphrased by me which are in the records of the United Nations. Yet that great hero, who symbolized freedom, is today in an Indian gaol [sic]. By proxy we are told what Sheikh Abdullah said, what Sheikh Abdullah meant; and the Indian representative has the audacity to quote a man who, in the eighteen years of our independence, has been incarcerated for eleven years or more by India. After the independence of India, this great comrade of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, this great symbol of the freedom movement, has been rotting in Indian gaols [sic] for more than a decade. When his son, the young Tariq Abdullah, who is a chip of the old block and a valiant fighter who has inherited the great tradition of his father and his people, takes this rostrum, he is ridiculed. In ridiculing Tariq Abdullah, the Indian representative is actually ridiculing Sheikh Abdullah. They have cause for ridiculing him, because it is that same Sheikh Abdullah who now languishes and rots in Indian gaols [sic]. We say: Release Sheikh Abdullah, the acknowledged leader of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and let the world hear what he has to say about the future of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.”
“Yesterday, when Tariq Abdullah took the floor, he did say that, originally, Sheikh Abdullah, who had been given solemn pledges and assurances by the Government of India and by the Prime Minister of India that a plebiscite would be held in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, took those assurances at their face value. He believed them because they came from a Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world—from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In view of those solemn and categorical assurances, he did cooperate with the Indian Government, but on condition that a plebiscite would be held in the State of Jammu and Kashmir to determine the future of the people of that state. However, when time and experience showed that all the Indian Government meant was to perpetrate a fraud on the people of Jammu and Kashmir, he was disillusioned. This was not the first time in history that leaders of a people have been ensnared, entrapped and deluded. Thus, when Tariq Abdullah took the floor, he said:
‘This will give the Assembly some idea of the causes of my father’s disillusionment with India. For a man who had been a staunch nationalist all his life, a personal friend of Pandit Nehru, who condemned bigotry and fanaticism, and under whose leadership Kashmir remained untainted with any religious strife, it could not be but a wrench and a deep crisis to raise the banner of revolt against Indian occupation of Kashmir. Much though he loved the principles of secularism, he could not tolerate that, under their cloak, India should throttle the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, separate them from their brethren in Pakistan and hold them in bondage. He warned Mr. Nehru from 1952 onwards that India was following a disastrous policy in Kashmir, and that, if she reneged on the promise of a fair and impartial plebiscite, she would forfeit all claims to the respect and sympathy of the people of Kashmir as well as the people of the world. When in 1953 he publicly stated his view that the future of India, Pakistan and Kashmir could not be secure without an honorable settlement of the Kashmir dispute, he was deposed and put in gaol [sic]. For a long time no legal proceedings were brought against him. When a case was filed, it dragged on for several years. Finally, Sheikh Abdullah was acquitted in 1964, but his freedom was short-lived. Since early this year he has been kept in detention without trial.’
So this is the truth about Sheikh Abdullah who now languishes in an Indian gaol, and who is being authoritatively quoted as representing the Kashmir position in so far as India is concerned. Yet when the authentic voice of the people of Kashmir, represented by Tariq Abdullah, takes this rostrum we are told by the Indian representative that what he utters is not true.” (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Speech, United Nations General Assembly, October 15, 1965)

Ironically, the seemingly interminable incarceration of the Sheikh by the Government of India had allayed the hostility of the Pakistani establishment toward him, and the Pakistani premier in 1965, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, took it upon himself to extol the virtues and services of the Sheikh at the United Nations General Assembly, with Tariq Abdullah in tow.

A few years later the Simla Agreement, ratified in 1972 by then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi soon after the 1971 war, underlined the bilateral nature of the Kashmir issue; entrenched the cease-fire line, thereafter referred to the Line of Control (LOC); reinforced the validity of the UN charter as governing relations between the two countries; and agreed to reaching a final settlement of the disputed area in the former princely state of J & K. The common perception in India was that the Simla Agreement was a tacit acknowledgment of the Indian Union’s claim over the state. This perception in politically influential circles in India and Pakistan seemed to give a much yearned after legitimacy to India’s centrist policies. Democracy, however, is not a panacea, but promises self-determination, rule of law, a return to the process of internal political dialogue, negotiations, and, in this day and age, political accommodation.