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Come back, Yasin Malik tells Kashmiri Pandits

By Kalpana Sharma

The chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, at the World Social Forum in Mumbai on Tuesday. — Photo: Vivek Bendre

MUMBAI, JAN. 20. Even at the World Social Forum, the "K" word produces fireworks. At one of the stormiest meetings in the last four days that has seen thousands of people debating issues ranging from displacement and debt to sexuality and child rights, a session titled "Moving towards peace in Kashmir" was far from peaceful.

The speakers were from India and Pakistan. They presented their perspectives on the history of the dispute and how they thought it could be resolved. The views ranged from demands for self-determination, converting the Line of Control into a permanent border to a call to develop a South Asian perspective.

"Kashmir is ours" shouted a participant even as Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), got up to speak. Half-way through his speech, another man began shouting and had to be quietened by the audience.

But none of this deterred Mr. Malik. He quietly explained the genesis of the armed struggle in Kashmir, his experiences in jails and interrogation centres, of the impact of years of incarceration on his health and of his vision for Kashmir.

"The foundation of Kashmiryat is not politics. It is based on the spirituality on the philosophy of one Hindu woman saint and a Muslim male saint.

Explaining his decision to launch a non-violent movement in Kashmir after his release from jail in 1999, Mr. Malik challenged the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Independence Day statement from the Red Fort last year that the State Assembly elections had proved that the majority of Kashmiris were happy to be with India. Mr. Malik said he had collected 800,000 signatures from people in just two districts in Kashmir demanding that Kashmiris participate in any talks on its future. In comparison, even according to the Election Commission, a total of 2,81,000 votes were cast for the ruling People's Democratic Party.

Mr. Malik appealed to the Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley. "We want our Kashmiri Pandit mothers, sisters and brothers to come back. It is their land. They have every right to live in it as we do. This is the time that Kashmiri Muslims must play a constructive role so that we can restore the culture for which we are famous all over the world."

`Need for soft border'

Equally passionate was the appeal of Pervez Hoodhbhoy, professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and a leading peace activist. "Let there not be a possibility of war between India and Pakistan because that will ruin both of us," he urged.

Putting forward a perspective from Pakistan on Kashmir, he said the emotions of Kashmir needed to cool down. "Let's settle on the Line of Control. It pains me to say that Kashmir has to be divided. But can we afford another war? Let us have a soft border. Let us learn to live as people. The only way is for us to recognise our humanity."

Such a suggestion did not find support among the Kashmiris as articulated by chairman of the Kashmir Times, Ved Bhasin. He said that above all the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed to dialogue among themselves. "We have a genuine apprehension that India is trying to make the LoC into a permanent border. Our people want the whole state to be united," he said.

Karmat Ali, Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, struck a different note. He urged the Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiris to move beyond notions of the nation state and look to a future as South Asians. "Both concepts of nation and religion are dangerous. They have brought us nothing but destruction. We have to reject them and come out of the straitjacket."

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