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Why peace process is Valley-centric?

I fully support the peace process but the question is why it has to be Valley-centric, questions Dr Shabir Choudhry.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2006 19:00 IST

Mohammed Hussnain is from Gilgit and Baltistan and currently he lives in United States. He wrote to me about four weeks ago about Gilgit and Baltistan, as his letter contained some important issues I personally wanted to comment on these, but due to my other commitments I could not reply to him. His letter is rather long and if I produce that in full, then my article will become too long, therefore I will only produce some excerpts from his letter. He wrote:

I also appreciate that you spoke for Baltistan for several times and promoted our case of independence from Pakistan. Baltistan is around 30,000 square km of land (three times bigger than the Kashmir valley) and is in the clutches of ISI for the last 60 years. We are struggling hard to regain our autonomy, promote our language and culture and restore the genuine identity of the region and its people.'In his view majority of the people are against the Pakistani rule and want reunification that they can enjoy 'autonomy, State Subject Rule and cultural identity' which was there before 'Pakistan occupied our land'.

I would request you to support our movement of reunification of Ladakh and Baltistan and speak about it when and where you get a chance. We need more voices in this regard. Ladakh and Baltistan are naturally part and parcel of one region divided by LOC and we want the road between Kargil Skardo to open again as soon as possible. Pakistan is not willing to do it despite the fact that five roads have been opened to facilitate the people of Kashmir and Poonch regions. The discrimination is hurting our identity, culture, economy and above all the right to choose our political destiny.

Baltistan has more than five natural trade routes opening in the east and since 1948; we are deprived of these connections, hurting commerce of the region. Towards Pakistan, we have only one road that was constructed in 1980, which is not predictable at all.'Mohammed Hussnain has highlighted issues which are very important to us Kashmiris, especially nationalist Kashmiris, but at the same time they are important to India and Pakistan as well, in fact, for Pakistan it is a sensitive issue and authorities don't want it to be projected at all. But does it mean that we don't discuss it and high light it because Islamabad feels uneasy about it? In my view we need to speak more about it that everyone concerned with stability and future of this region also know how important it is to us.

Mohammed Hussnain Sahib, thank you for your kind words and for holding this view that I could be of some help in highlighting the plight of people of Gilgit and Baltistan. Brother, this is not only your struggle it is also my struggle; and also struggle of all those who believe that State of Jammu and Kashmir is one political entity "struggle of all those who believe that India and Pakistan are our neighbours and that we love our lovely homeland more than land of our neighbours. Over the past years I have established friendly relationship with some people from Gilgit and Baltistan, but even before we knew anyone from this region we spoke for rights of these people and consequently paid a big price for this.

And we don't have any regrets for this, if anything, we are proud that we are among those stalwarts who have wholeheartedly and without any reservations supported and continue to support rights of the people of this region. I totally agree with him that social, cultural, political and economic rights of these people must be protected and enhanced. There is no reason why people of these areas should not meet, interact and trade with each other.

If people of Azad Kashmir and people of Jammu and the Valley could interact with each other then what crime people of Gilgit and Baltistan have committed that they should be deprived of this right. There is no reason why more meeting points could not be opened to support the peace process, and facilitate social and cultural interaction between people of Gilgit and Baltistan and Jammu and Mipur/Bhimber. The Valley, no doubt is very important region of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, but it does not represent the State. Why is it that when visits are planned, some leaders from the Valley are encouraged and financed to go across the LOC, and given full media coverage as if they represent the entire nation?

I fully support the peace process as there is no other route to follow to resolve the Kashmir dispute; but question is why even the peace process has to be the Valley-centric? I can understand this policy of divide and rule suit those who occupy us, but the question is does it suit the Kashmiri struggle. Anyone with a common sense will say that it does not suit us. Then why, one wonder, can't these leaders, who claim to represent the Kashmiri people, demand that there should be some representation from Ladakh and Jammu when they visit Pakistani leaders and travel across the LOC. It is time that the leadership in the valley realise that they have duty to fairness and justice, and must bring an immediate end to politics of regionalism and communalism.

And if they failed to change their attitude towards Kashmiri minorities and other regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, then history will hold them responsible for dividing the State. As for our JKLF is concerned (some JKLF groups have unfortunately compromised their ideology, and prefer not to raise issue which disturb agencies) we have been fighting for united and independent Jammu and Kashmir which includes all the areas which were part of the State on 15th August 1947. No matter what is the outcome of this peace process or the present struggle, our struggle will continue for rights of all Kashmiri regions, especially most deprived and underdeveloped region of Gilgit.

It is unfortunate that those who are at the helm of affairs in governments and even in Kashmiri political parties have this allusion that they are infallible, and that they have monopoly over wisdom and common sense. When someone endeavours to show them alternative perspective or criticise their policies they take it as an attack on their faith, and construe it as subversive act. This thinking has to change if we are to make any progress in uniting people and resolving the most complex issue of Kashmir. This policy and thinking has resulted in blame game, and even Kashmiri leaders have been very 'generous' in labelling each other as 'agents', traitors etc.

This mind set has only helped those who occupy us and want us to remain divided. Any attempt by nationalist Kashmiris to counter this move, or to speak against subterfuge of forces of occupation is propagated as subversive act. Am American writer and author, Henry Steele Commager, succinctly explains the above thinking: "Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive."

(The writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir.)