Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) writes an open letter to former President A P J Abdul Kalam to intervene in Kashmir and start a dialogue with the people.
One is aware that you are away and above politics but the nation needs your sage advice and intervention. It is not an exaggeration to say that you are possibly the only leader in the country to be universally admired and respected. Your commitment to the nation and its people is beyond doubt. The country needs your help.
The problem in Kashmir valley today is that a large part of the population do not accept that they are Indians and thus want to secede. Economic packages and employment promises are not going to solve the basic issue.
In last 63 years we have as a nation failed to bring about emotional integration of the Kashmir valley with the rest of the country. Cross border manipulation has played its role, but the basic fault still lies with us. It is too much to expect to the political establishment to accept this hence the civil society must play its role.
Kashmir valley, the name that goes back to ancient past and is related to Kashyap Rishi. In the later period the valley played a major role under King Lalitaditya and Avantivarman (the ruins at Avanipura are a testimony to it. The Buddhist ruins at Harwan are another historical evidence of the past. Under Sultan Zain ul Abadin, Kashmir saw its golden age. In the later period it successively came under Mughals, Afghans and Sikhs. Kashmir's history, ethinicity, language and religion were always linked to the rest of India. But due to the peculiar circumstances of 1947 we successfully created a myth of Kashmir's uniqueness and separate identity. While talking of diversity all the time we forgot the 'unity' part.
Today the political class, the administration and armed forces are clueless about how to go about ending the impasse that has led to death of young people in violence, a blot on any civilised society and a democratic country.
Kashmir has seen similar angry moments in past as well. In 1947 it was against the invaders from Pakistan, there are many soldiers alive today who remember how they were welcomed with rose petals! In 1953, the pendulum had swung the other way after Sheikh Abdullah's arrest. In 1964 there was turmoil when the Prophet's relic went missing. In 1979 when ZA Bhutto was hanged, the valley saw anti-Pakistan sentiment at its peak with a huge congregation at Hazratbal (on April 4, 1979) thanking the almighty that Kashmir chose to remain with India rather than going to Pakistan. The upsurge of 1989-90 that saw exodus of 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, is another benchmark in the chequered history of Kashmir.
The one conclusion that one draw from these events is that Indians have failed to understand what the Kashmiris want? 'Azadi' is fine as a slogan but what does it actually mean to a stone-pelting woman in the Valley? All the talk about 'solution' et al is barren and futile without clearly understanding the 'real' demands of Kashmir citizens. Today the communication is broken down and even the so called separatist leaders are really not in connect with the people.
The first step to begin solving the problem is to establish a dialogue. There is no one else more suited to do this than you.
In addition you may like to co-opt Aamir Khan (the thinking artist and social activist though cinema), human rights champion like Swami Agnivesh, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar, chief Mufti of Deoband seminary, Maulana Wanjiduddin, and an activist like Sanjay Nahar of Sarhad (a Pune-based NGO that has been active in helping Kashmiri students).
This group should go and establish contact with the people of valley to find out what they want and what their grievances are. It should be made very clear that your mission is merely of fact finding and not towards finding any solution as such.
Only once we establish communication with the people can we begin to formulate a way out of this present cycle of violence.
I am sure sir you will rise to the occasion and help out the people in this difficult situation. I apologise in advance for being presumptuous, but as one of your many admirers I think I have a right to make this public appeal.
Colonel (Dr) Anil Athale (retd)
The author is co-ordinator of Pune based think tank Initiative for Peace and disarmament. The author has been active in Kashmir since 1991 and had launched Project Hope in 1994 by inducting computers in schools in Kupwara, introducing modern horticulture in Rajouri Punch area as a pre-cursor to Operation Sadbhavana.