Interview with JKLF leader Raja Muzaffar, Head of the foreign relations committee of J.K.L.F

Interview with JKLF leader Raja Muzaffar, Head of the foreign relations committee of J.K.L.F

A Story by New Age Islam

This columnist got an opportunity to talk to him at length in New York recently. He is based there since 1998. Though he has just suffered bereavement, with another of his nephews having been martyred


Head of the foreign relations committee of the JKLF, Raja Muzaffar is a rare Kashmiri leader who has the necessary historical perspective and understanding to analyse events related to Kashmir with objectivity despite his partisan commitments. His columns published mostly in the Urdu Press reveal his insights and are therefore widely read.

This columnist got an opportunity to talk to him at length in New York recently. He is based there since 1998. Though he has just suffered bereavement, with another of his nephews having been martyred for the cause of Kashmir, clearly on account of a callous attitude adopted by the Pakistan army towards the Kashmiri youth that demand the independence and reunification of divided parts of Kashmir, Raja Saheb, as this 56-year-old leader is affectionately called, has not lost his sense of balance.

S.S.: Raja Saheb, let me first offer my heart-felt condolences for the loss of another of your nephews in the cause of Kashmir. The role of the Pakistan army in the events leading to his martyrdom appears quite murky. Painful as this must be to you, could you please give me the details as you know them.

R.M.: Far from the scene as I am now, it is difficult for me to know the full details. According to reports in the Kashmir Press, however, it seems the hundred or so youth who were marching to Gilgit demanding complete independence for Kashmir were misled by the Pakistan Army into taking a more dangerous route than they should have and then when five of them fell down, asphyxiated, no quick arrangements were made to take them to hospital or provide them relief in any way. This, however, is not unusual for Pakistan authorities as they are as inimical to the idea of Kashmiri independence as is the government of India. This bereavement is, however, not new to me. As you probably know, I lost another nephew in similar circumstances, when JKLF youth were trying to cross the LOC on February 11, 1992. Anyway, life in Kashmir is so full of tragedies and so many Kashmiris have suffered so much and are continuing to suffer that I do not much like talking about personal tragedies in my life.

S.S.: The question uppermost in the Kashmiri mind right now is why has the fast-paced India-Pakistan peace process of the last couple of years suddenly halted. There seems to be no more urgency in either of the two capitals anymore. Why? Has the peace process ended and should we now expect the two countries to go back to their merry sabre-rattling as before?

R.M.: No. I think the peace process is still intact. In fact there has been a foreign-secretary level meeting too recently. Both Islamabad and New Delhi, however, appear consumed by other major pre-occupations at the moment. Pakistan is fighting home-grown Islamic fundamentalists who seem determined to attack the heart of Pakistan army itself. President Musharraf’s hold on power too is weakening and we can’t be sure if he will be able to weather the storm he has himself caused by the sacking of the Chief Justice who is now back in office and hell-bent on giving historic judgments not quite to the liking of the military-backed regime. Indian leadership too is pre-occupied, with the collation government’s ability to complete its full term having recently come into doubt. Also, Indian leaders have good reason to wait and watch if it would even be worthwhile for them to do a deal with the present regime in Pakistan. Several previous agreements came to naught because of the chronic political instability in Pakistan.

S.S. There are rumours attributed to senior Pakistani civil servants and military officers that India and Pakistan have already arrived at a solution of the Kashmir dispute which will be announced at an appropriate time and that they are just going through the motions of dialogue and negotiations to show to their respective people that they are engaged in an intricate and delicate peace process and thus prepare the ground for an eventual agreement that may not be so easy for some people to accept. Could President Musharraf’s tentative proposals be based on some sort of understanding with the government of India?

R.M.: It is possible that between 2004 when President Musharraf surprised everyone in an Iftar party by presenting a peace proposal resembling the historic Dixon Plan and 2006 when he repeated these proposals, with slight changes, the government of India gave some thought to these proposals and perhaps engaged in track two negotiations, because on the second occasion these proposals evoked quite an enthusiastic response from New Delhi. On his return from Japan, for instance, talking to media persons on his plane, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that "he was open to all ideas to resolve the outstanding Kashmir issue, including Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point proposal aired in a recent interview to NDTV". Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said recently; "If you look at what we have achieved and how far we have come, that actually gives me great confidence in future."

The atmosphere of bonhomie between the two countries despite the recently slowed-down peace process does point to the possibility that they have worked out a solution of the Kashmir dispute that safeguards their interests in order to remove the bottlenecks in the economic relations and progress of the two countries to fulfil the aims and objectives of the World trade Organisation and SAARC. Indian authorities’ statements also lend credence to media reports based on leaks from unnamed officials that the agreement between the two countries was to be officially unveiled during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s planned visit to Islamabad in January 2007, but political uncertainly in Pakistan has forced India to postpone this trip for the moment. But I must tell you that if India and Pakistan think that they can solve the Kashmir problem without engaging the Kashmiri people, they are both mistaken.

S.S.: Could Musharraf’s four-point proposals form the basis for a durable settlement of the problem?

R.M.: At first glance Musharraf proposals amount to an attempt to turn the clock back by 55 years, but if you look not only at the failed Dixon Plan but also at the aftermath of the failure of Nehru-Liaquat Dialogue in July 1950 in which Dixon played the role of a coordinator, things start making some kind of sense. Let me quote from an article by then Indian Attorney General A. G. Noorani: "After the collapse of the summit, Dixon received from Nehru a tentative proposal: In Jammu the ceasefire line would become the boundary, Azad Kashmir going to Pakistan, the remainder to India. Since the latter included territory north of the Chenab River, India would also agree not to reduce ‘sensibly, substantially or materially’ its flow. The Northern Areas would be conceded but Buddhist Ladakh in the east would remain with India. As to the Valley, which Nehru defined generously,… he agreed that prima facie it was in doubt and that a plebiscite must be taken.…This would, inter alia, minimise refugee movement while simplifying demilitarisation and administrative arrangements. The Valley, overwhelmingly Muslim but also Sheikh Abdullah’s power base, would be subject to a vote. The major difference that arose was about the territory that India claimed automatically. "

If you notice the similarities between Nehru and Musharraf’s tentative proposals, you will understand why there is a possibility that Islamabad and New Delhi have already reached a tacit agreement.

S.S.: How do you view President Musharraf’s approach to the Kashmir problem and his proposals?

R.M.: President Musharraf has done more than any other recent Pakistani leader to bring the idea of a permanent negotiated settlement of the Kashmir problem in the forefront of public discourse. This is constructive. His approach is that of a Pakistani patriot, true to his Pakistan First slogan, who doesn’t seem to have much regard for Kashmiri sensitivities. In fact he had given early notice of his intentions on Kashmir at a time when no one took much notice, as he was a mere Brigadier then and nobody could have imagined him acquiring supreme executive power in Pakistan. During his training in London’s Royal College of Defence in September 1990, Musharraf had written a research paper, rather lengthily titled: "The Arms Race in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, Conflicts with the Pressing Requirements of Socio-Economic Development. What are its Causes and Implications? Is there a Remedy?" The then Brigadier Musharraf argued that the basic problem in the region was the divide between the Hindu and Muslim mindset. Since it was a psychological problem, nothing much could be done about it. Interestingly, he also argued that there were two other core problems and since they were of practical nature it should be possible to resolve them. One of them was the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. The other was about the distribution of the Indus Rivers between India and Pakistan. According to the then Brigadier, the two issues were interdependent and if one were resolved the other would also cease to exist. In fact, Brigadier Musharraf asserted that if there were to be any permanent solution to the Kashmir problem, it was necessary to ensure fair distribution of river waters from the Pakistani perspective. Clearly Musharraf’s view was contrary to the official Pakistani view that had been peddled for decades. Kashmir for this practical military strategist was not an unfinished business of Partition. From his perspective equitable distribution of water resources between India and Pakistan, particularly the waters of Sindh River, was more important than solving the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiris people.

S.S. Do you think General Musharraf’s views on Kashmir have become more acceptable to the permanent establishment of Pakistan, consisting of its military-bureaucrat ic-feudal complex than were the views of Brigadier Musharraf expressed in early 1990s?

R.M. A lot of water has flown down the rivers Sindh and Chenab in the last decade and a half. The situation today is materially different. Pakistan is under a lot of pressure from all sides. India is emerging as a major economic power, while Pakistan despite recent high growth rates is still in dire straits. While Indian profile has gone up substantially in the international community and the US is even willing to treat it as an exception to sell its nuclear technology despite its non-proliferation commitments, Pakistan, officially a major non-NATO ally is in practice treated as nothing more than a major hub of Islamic terrorism, the West’s enemy number on at this point. You may have noticed that at least two credible American Presidential candidates are wiling to publicly call for the US even invading Pakistan in the pursuit of militants, even though clearly Pakistan is doing a lot to fight militancy and has indeed itself become a victim of Islamic terrorism. Even the President of the country and chief of its army as well as officers of the ISI (Army’s Inter-State Intelligence) , which had created Islamic extremism in the first place at the behest of the United States to fight Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, are no longer safe even in Islamabad, the political capital, and Rawalpindi, the base of their GHQ (General Head Quarters). Even the continuation of Army’s hold over power is no longer a certainly. No wonder Pakistan’s Permanent Establishment is softening up in its view and is trying to minimise its headaches by settling the Kashmir dispute with India.

Also, Musharraf’s main point of departure from then accepted wisdom �" water- has indeed gained great prominence in regional and word affairs. Pakistan is one of the world’s most arid countries, India is known to be losing its fresh water supplies and its scarcity is going to reach a critical level within a decade. India-Pakistan’s Baglihar dam dispute over Kashmiri waters has been settled by a World Bank’s neutral expert in favour of India. So Pakistan’s permanent establishment may have reason to be thankful for Musharraf’s insight and indeed foresight.

An indication of the acceptance of Musharraf’s thesis by the Permanent Establishment started coming in 2002 when all of a sudden several Pakistan-based Kashmiri leaders as well as Pakistani leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rahman started emphasising the importance of Kashmiri water for Pakistan. Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin has been continually stressing in his speeches since June 2002 that Kashmiri freedom fighters are actually fighting for Pakistan to enable it to gain control over Kashmir's rivers. Sardar Mohammad Anwar Khan, the then President of Pakistan-controlled "Azad" Kashmir, said on October 21, 2002, that "Kashmiris are fighting for the security, strength and prosperity of Pakistan. Building dams in Kashmir can irrigate Punjab and Sindh. Kashmir is important as Pakistan's water resources originate in Kashmir. Even peace between Punjab and Sindh depends on water, and therefore on Kashmir."

But the Kashmiris who are struggling for a united and free Kashmir cannot possibly hold this view. As far as we Kashmiris are concerned, we were not consulted about our preferences in the matter at the time of Indus Water Treaty of 1960 being drafted and as Professor Robert G. Wirsing of Honolulu, Hawaii, pointed out in his research paper presented in the recent Washington conference (July 2007), we Kashmiris have not been "significant beneficiaries of Kashmir’s unquestioned richness in water resources, whether hydroelectric power or irrigation." Hence, as Wirsing also notes, Kashmiri patriots cannot possibly show any enthusiasm for continued sacrifice to ensure water supply for Pakistan. The idea of Kashmiris sacrificing their lives and livelihoods, their very honour and dignity as human beings, in order to provide water security to Pakistan seems to make no sense to me at all.

S.S.: Do you consider President Musharraf sincere in his offer of self-rule to Kashmiris of both sides of the Line of Control?

R.M.: I don’t quite understand what he means by the term "self-rule." This is one thing Kashmiri leadership should focus on. We should demand a precise definition of the words "self-rule’ and "self-governance" and ask if this formula will be helpful as a first step towards the fulfilment of their desire for complete freedom. For Pakistan has not given more powers to the so-called ‘Azad" Kashmir government despite the high sounding titles of its functionaries and the 1974 Act than you normally give to a municipal committee and India has reduced the status of its part of Kashmir to even less than its other states despite the special autonomous status given to Kashmir in the Indian Constitution through the well-known Article 370. A constitutional expert in international affairs defines self-governance in the following words: "Generally when self-governance of nation-states is discussed, it is called national sovereignty �" a concept important in international law. Self-rule is associated then in contexts where there is the end of colonial rule, absolute government or monarchy, as well as demands for autonomy by religious, ethnic or geographic regions which perceive themselves as being unrepresented or underrepresented in a national government…It is therefore a fundamental tenet of republican government and democracy as well as nationalism… The word "autonomy" according to the Random House Dictionary, is defined as independence, freedom and as the right to self-government. " Kashmiris will need to know how powers will be divided between them and India and Pakistan in the self-governance and joint Indo-Pakistan management mechanism proposed by President Musharraf in the following subjects: 1.Cultural affairs. 2. Transportation. 3. Education. 4. Postal and Telecommunication systems. 5. Official Language 6. Law and Order. 7. National Symbols. 8. Administration of Justice. 9. Health and Social Services. 10. Currency and Monetary Policies. 11. Economy. 12. Determination of Citizenship. 13. Taxation. 14. Foreign Policy. 15. Natural Resources. 16. Defence. 17. Environmental Policy 18. Customs, Border control, Immigration.

S.S. In recent years as India and Pakistan have come closer and a number of confidence building measures have been adopted the Kashmiri separatist leadership appears to have become more and more marginalised. Is it gradually becoming irrelevant? What role do you think it should or it can play in the present context?

R. M. I think that the Kashmiri leadership is not irrelevant and cannot be marginalised, as ultimately it is the Kashmiri people who have to and will decide their fate. However, I would say that our leadership should seek to benefit from the somewhat positive atmosphere between India and Pakistan at the moment and seek to provide a practical road map to peace in the region taking into account our people’s wishes and needs, the ground realities in the South Asian and international arena, and the legitimate interests of India and Pakistan in Kashmir.

S.S. Even if India and Pakistan have already arrived at a basic understanding, clearly a lot of details have still to be worked out and that is going to e a long drawn-out process while the governments in both countries, based as they are on different kinds of coalition arrangements, are quite shaky. In any case India is a democracy and power keeps changing hands. How can the peace process be made more durable and effective in the long run?

R.M. You are right. In fact it is not only a question of governments falling and changing hands, but even within a government there are soft-liners and hard-liners and vested interests of all kind that periodically gain or lose power, sometimes one faction becoming more powerful and assertive and at other times another. So this is a genuine worry. In fact there are reports that opposition to President Musharraf’s policies is growing within the Pakistan Army and intelligence services themselves, so much so that he appears quite rattled by them.

On the other hand, as a senior former Indian civil servant Wajahat Habibullah known to be close to the Gandhi family told me in a telephonic conversation that while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a very compassionate person and wants to expedite the peace process and give various sorts of relief to Kashmiri people, some hardliners in his own administration oppose some of his efforts. I told Mr. Habibullah that the slow-down of the process can prove very costly, for in the case of Musharraf falling from power, the flexibility in the Pakistani approach may also become a thing of the past.

As the recently published new chapter in Benazir Bhutto’s book ‘Daughter of the East" and statements of former Indian Law Minister and chairman of Kashmir Committee Ram Jethmalani in a press conference in Jammu testify, there are indeed hardliners and vested interests on both sides who are doing their best to scuttle the process. This is why I had proposed three years ago in a Washington conference on Kashmir that the peace process be institutionalised through a mechanism that includes opposition leaders in India and Pakistan as well as the Kashmiri leadership who participate as basic permanent members. Along with this whatever progress is made be registered with the United Nations so that changes in government in either country do not affect the ground that has already been covered and we don’t have to start from zilch every time a new government comes in either country.

© 2019 New Age Islam

Author's Note

New Age Islam
The Author hasbeen write in the field of Islam and Human Rights and Islamic Sharia Laws

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Added on November 26, 2019
Last Updated on November 26, 2019
Tags: islamic world news, new age islam