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'The need for third party intervention in Kashmir'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
July 30, 2009 09:40 IST
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Noted Indian filmmaker and human rights activist Tapan Bose believes the only way there can be some progress towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is through third party intervention.

But, he is not sure if the United States can be the catalyst or appropriate vehicle for this intervention, since the people in South Asia, including those in India, have been put off by Washington's actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the region, and hence may not carry sufficient credibility.

At the outset, Bose, one of the founding members of the India-Pakistan People's Forum for Peace and Forum, launched in 1993, who was among the panellists on the session on India-Pakistan relations: Breaking the Deadlock over Kashmir at the Kashmir conference on Capitol Hill said, "To be very frank, I don't know," how the impasse over Kashmir can be broken.

Bose said, "Both India and Pakistan invoke that they have representatives of the people of Kashmir on their side. But, with due respect to Raja Saheb (president of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir Raja Zulqarnain, who was also seated on the dais), as we know the elections whether in Azad Kashmir or Indian administered Kashmir, are really no elections."

He said these elections were a farce and analogous to the "kind of elections that have been held in the world by many -- let's not forget that election were held in South Vietnam by the Americans and elections were held in occupied Algeria by France."

Bose acknowledged that "people participated, but that does not mean anything."

He said people participate in such elections, even if they are a farce for "many reasons, but do these elections actually represent the people? They don't."

Bose said that "both India and Pakistan talk about -- Pakistan primarily -- representation of Kashmiris participating in the dialogue. India, of course, does not agree to it. That's the problem. And, India says, other than the elected representatives who are in the assembly of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, what other representatives you want?"

He, however, reiterated that "the point is that these elections don't carry conviction and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Kashmir. Therefore, there has to be another way of finding representatives -- another way of ascertaining who are the people who sit at the table with the representatives of India and of Pakistan."

"This is a critical point and until and unless there is some kind of an understanding and agreement, the most, oft-repeated positions from all over the world, including this country (the United States) that the solution to Kashmir has to be with the participation of the people or the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir -- from both sides of the border of the LOC -- is how do we do it."

Bose said that "the Hurriyat (All-Parties Conference) at one point had thought of a device of creating an independent peoples election commission. I was fortunate enough to have been named as a chair. But, I must tell you, it was opposed by the government of India, and the government of Pakistan, which initially welcomed it, when we started getting into the nitty-gritty and we started discussing the possibility of also doing simultaneously in Azad Kashmir, we got no response  -- rather very negative from the government of Pakistan."

"This I am sharing to primarily again raise this practical problem of how do we find -- what is the mechanism that will be acceptable to the two governments who actually are the occupying forces -- who actually control the lives and the destinies of the people of Kashmir over the last 62 years."

Bose asked, "How do we get them to accept that it is not an issue of territory, it is an issue of the rights and aspirations of the peoples who have been divided for 62 years, and who have been denied their right to meet with their family members."

He said even after much struggle the Muzaffarbad-Srinagar bus service has been opened, "even the very objective of its opening has been defeated by the control that has been taken over by the intelligence agencies on both sides. So, everything that has been achieved has been totally alienated from the people."

Thus, Bose said that "as a student of political science, I do believe that when two governments are unable for the last 62 years and have not given us any reason to believe that they are capable of resolving this problem or dispute on their own, I believe there is a need for a facilitation, intervention or mediation. These are the three mechanisms available to diplomacy."

"We need a third party and unless an acceptable third party is available and gets into their act, my fear is that we will not see a solution -- at least, I don't think I'll see the solution in my lifetime."

Bose, who said he has been going to Kashmir since 1970 since the return of Sheikh Abdullah as chief minister to the time his grandson has taken over (now resigned), "I've seen many things happen and not happen in Kashmir."

He exhorted the more than 350 participants at the conference "to apply their minds" to find a resolution to the conflict at these "very difficult days and times because there is a war on terror -- personally I don't like this war on terror."

"It is extremely loaded (term) and what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not something acceptable to the people of Pakistan. I am afraid the role of the United States is not popular. And, it is also not popular in India. And, I don't know of areas, which is the home of the largest number of Muslims in the world and I don't think following that (US) policy or being part of that policy is going to be very helpful for resolving the problem of the subcontinent."

Bose, reiterated that it was imperative that "we need to think very deeply as Indians and Pakistanis and as Kashmiris, how we create that situation, what is the mechanism by which the commitment of the two states and the demands of the international community, that a democratic, honourable solution of the Kashmir issue can be crafted with the participation of the legitimate representatives of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir from both sides of the LOC at the table where governments of India and Pakistan are talking."

He warned that "if we can't find that mechanism, if we can't develop that argument and thought to be able to get the two sides to accept this mechanism and this process, I am afraid the logjam will perhaps continue."

Earlier, Bose in tracing the genesis of the Peace Forum he launched after tensions between India and Pakistan were at its height and war seemed imminent, said, in an experience of a decade-and-a-half, "We have seen and learnt that at the popular level, at the people's level, there is actually no animosity (between Indians and Pakistanis) that we come across."

"We, of course, have animosity from the establishment and sections of the elite, including the media both in Pakistan and in India, and that is understandable because that is the business of the two ruling elites to keep India and Pakistan at war," he said.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC