JKLF played into ISI hands
Kashmir was never a Muslim struggle, Dr Shabir Choudhry
Born in Nakker Shamali in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Dr Shabir Choudhry has been in the UK since 1966 and holds dual nationality. He regularly takes part in the UN Human Rights (Commission) and has addressed many conferences and seminars opposing violence and highlighting the Kashmir cause. He has 40 books and booklets on various aspects of the Kashmiri struggle to his credit. Throughout his life he has worked for the cause of Kashmir as a JKLF founder-member since its inception in 1977. Due to differences with top leaders of the JKLF he parted ways and formed the Kashmir National Party (KNP). He spoke with RC GANJOO on a host of issues:
Current News: You were an active member of JKLF but what forced you to launch the KNP in London.
Shabir Choudhry: JKLF was formed in Birmingham, England in 1977, and I was among its founders. The JKLF believed in a united and independent Jammu and Kashmir free from both countries, and of course from China as well. The JKLF head office was shifted from Britain to Muzaffrabad when Amanullah Khan was expelled from Britain in 1987. Perhaps that was the first serious tactical mistake we made, and I take responsibility for that as I forcefully advocated this change. The late Afzal Jatalvi and I were senior office bearers at that time and we both agreed that it was in the best interest of the party because we feared action against the JKLF in Britain as a result of Rawinder Mahtare’s (Indian diplomat in Britain) kidnapping and subsequent killing.
The JKLF believed in non communal politics — religion to us was a personal matter. We strongly believed in equality for all citizens, rule of law, democracy and liberal ideals; and to us both India and Pakistan were occupiers, hence equally bad as far as imperialism and occupation was concerned. Our struggle was against both.
But when Amanullah Khan was expelled from Britain he decided to take help from one occupier (Pakistan) to fight against the other occupier (India). With that secret deal of Amanullah Khan and the ISI began a gradual shift in JKLF policy as the party was used as a vehicle to promote a proxy war. The struggle for independence or right of self determination was transformed into a ‘Jihad’ against Hindu rule or Hindus in which minorities were targeted. Cinemas, beauty parlours, tourists, religious festivals (Amarnath Yatra) were targeted. All this was against Islamic teaching, but unfortunately it happened, and the JKLF leadership unfortunately either remained quiet or became part of this communal game.
From then onwards it became a Muslim struggle and not a Kashmiri struggle and the JKLF group while still wearing a secular hat became part of this game.
Amanullah Khan also realised that he was used to advance a Pakistani interest, but he is a stubborn man with dictatorial attitude. He with the support of the ISI managed to keep his stature and his JKLF group functioning. Anyone who dared to challenge him was expelled from the party on charges of working for either the ISI or R&AW. The reality, however, is that he is the one who closely worked with the ISI and continues to do so. My friends and I have been fighting establishment policies on Kashmir and their stooges since 1992. We sincerely worked hard to unite the factions of the JKLF and correct the wrongs. I have no hesitation in acknowledging our failure; the JKLF senior leadership with the help of the ISI won and we lost in our attempt to unite the JKLF.
In 1995 when Yasin Malik and Amanullah Khan fell out we thought maybe Yasin Malik will be better than Amanullah Khan and supported him. But he proved to be worse. When we realised that the top leadership of JKLF had abandoned the ideology of Maqbool Butt, we decided to say good bye to the JKLF and formed Kashmir National Party to advance the cause of a united and independent Jammu and Kashmir.
CN: Now the two factions of JKLF, one headed by Ammanullah Khan and the other by Yaseen Malik have joined hands. What could be the politics behind their merger?
Shabir Choudhry: Unity of like minded people with a common agenda is must to advance a common agenda; but that unity must be based on certain principles and there must be sincerity. In my opinion it is not unity of JKLF groups, as two individuals met and without taking any senior leaders in to confidence announced this unity.
Still people are questioning the real motives behind this unity. If it was a JKLF unity then the question is why other JKLF groups were left out. Even in the final declaration prepared by the working group of both Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik, only urged Rauf Kashmiri to abandon his group and join them; but they completely ignored the Aftab Group and Bitta Karate or Farooq Dar Group.
CN: What prompted you to observe 22 October as a black day in London?
Shabir Choudhry: Pakistan and pro-Pakistan political parties want people of Jammu and Kashmir to observe 27 October as a Black Day because it was on this date Indian troops landed in Kashmir. Under the influence of Pakistani propaganda and wrong history that has been taught to people, we all observed 27 October as a Black Day, and some still do. However, with time we realised that Black Day should be observed on 22 October, because it was on this date Pakistani sponsored tribesmen attacked the sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir and killed, raped and looted innocent people of Kashmir, especially non Muslims.
It must be noted that Indian troops came to Kashmir on a request of the Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir and after a treaty (provisional accession); but Pakistan sent in their warriors to capture Kashmir by violating a treaty (Standstill Agreement) with the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir after lapse of paramountcy became an independent ruler; it was Pakistan which unleashed an unprovoked attack on Jammu and Kashmir. The Maharaja requested help from India when he realised that his forces were unable to save his country and his subjects from this savage attack and subsequent killing, raping, kidnapping and looting. In other words, if there was no tribal attack we could still have been an independent country and what happened on 27 October is a by product of events that started on 22 October and which have changed the course of our history. So to us the root cause to our past and present problems is 22 October and we should all observe this as a Black Day.
CN: POK and Gilgit-Baltistan are reeling under the authoritarian rule of Pakistan. How long will the people of these areas have to suffer?
Shabir Choudhry: It is true the people of POK and Gilgit Baltistan are manipulated intimidated, oppressed and deprived of their fundamental rights. It is unfortunate that I don’t have any good news for the people of these regions.
However, the facts are totally different and the people on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir have better living standards and economic development. Unless people of PoK and Gilgit Baltistan realise that they are occupied and denied of fundamental rights there can never be change on this side of the divide. Furthermore, they need to understand that our struggle is on the Pakistani side of the divide; and those who tell us to fight against Indian occupation only want to focus attention on the Valley. We are occupied by Pakistan and our struggle should be against the country that occupies us; and those who are occupied by India they can struggle over there according to their situation. However, we must not become tools in hands of agencies who want to advance their own agenda.
CN: Do you foresee a sinister game being hatched for Pok-GB regions where China’s presence is there in guise of development activity with the permission of Pakistan?
Shabir Choudhry: I have said this many times that policy makers of Pakistan want to make China part of the Kashmir dispute and in this regard some so-called Kashmiri leaders and political activists are also working hard. Till very recently China was not a party to this dispute even though China also occupies some territory of Jammu and Kashmir – some of this territory was occupied in 1962 Sino-India war; and some territory was gifted to China by Pakistan in 1963 to link both parts.
However, as Pakistan is getting weaker and more unstable and occupied in the civil war and war on terrorism, policy makers of Islamabad feel they need extra help on the issue of Kashmir to counter Indian hegemony.
Whereas I have no problem with China helping Pakistan with different development projects in Pakistan, I have serious concern with the presence of the Chinese army and other civilian and technical staff on my territory – Gilgit Baltistan and PoK. Both Pakistan and China under cover of different projects are looting and plundering our resources, as contracts and large areas are leased out to China for exploration without any knowledge and agreement of local administration and to the detriment of our interest. Furthermore, the presence of the Chinese army on our territory will only exacerbate the situation and attract challenges from those who also have interest in the region. What that means is that our territory could become a battle ground for competing military strategic and economic interests of very powerful countries of the world.
It must be understood that China is not part of South Asia and it will be wrong to drag China into the affairs of South Asia as it could prove disastrous for Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and the entire region.
CN: Will Taliban ever get neutralized by Pakistan in a joint operation with Afghanistan?
Shabir Choudhry: The issue of Taliban and their politics is directly related to the mindset of the Pakistani establishment. In my opinion, those forces which promote communalism and regard these “jihadi” outfits and Taliban as strategic assets are very powerful in Pakistan and as long as they call the shots and determine foreign policy and other issues related to security and stability of Pakistan, I am afraid not much is going to change. Pakistan has to go through a transition – rather a blood bath, if ever it is going to put things right and live in peace and harmony with itself and with its neighbours.