The moment for imagining the possibility of Yasin Malik and his like-minded political jail mates playing a larger role in resolving the Kashmir dispute is now, writes Sandeep Pandey for South Asia Monitor
Days after the Supreme Court of India released A.G. Perarivalan, convicted for the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, a special court in Delhi sentenced Kashmiri separatist-militant-turned-Gandhian Yasin Malik to two life terms.
The release of Perarivalan has been widely hailed as upholding the human rights of prisoners but there is hardly any talk about Malik.
It is important to remember that Yasin Malik did not start out as a separatist. It was after his bitter experience during the rigged elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 1987 when he was a polling agent that he took up arms. His guilty plea displays his commitment to Gandhian values.
On the other hand, New Delhi is engaged in a dialogue with the leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), an insurgent group fighting for an autonomous state for Nagaland in northeast India. The NSCN wants to co-exist with New Delhi without subjecting itself to the Indian Constitution.
The Nagas believe that historically they were never part of India. They also note that they never signed any Instrument of Accession to India as the Hindu ruler of the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir did in 1947.
To suppress the Naga insurgency, New Delhi deployed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which gives immunity to the Indian Army in Nagaland. This was much before the AFPSA was deployed in Kashmir. The justification is that they are “disturbed areas”.
Why is one disturbed area being treated differently from another?
Yasin Malik was one of the founding members of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF); he later collaborated with Kashmir separatist leaders, including the late Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Shabir Shah. All gained credibility with a substantially larger following than the mainstream Kashmiri political leadership.
How many Kashmiri separatist leaders have publicly turned Gandhian after pursuing a path of militancy? Yet the Indian government failed to engage with Yasin Malik as they did the NSCN leadership. They allowed Yasin to drift out of their orbit.
Naga issue different?
Nagaland has witnessed the longest running insurgency movement in South and Southeast Asia. In 1997, the NSCN entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government.
All allegations that have been made against Yasin Malik —seeking foreign funding for fomenting trouble in India, striking at the heart of the idea of India, intending to forcefully secede from the Union of India -- can be levelled as well against Naga leadership, if India chooses to do so.
Yet, New Delhi treats the Naga leadership differently, perhaps even with some respect. In 2015, it entered into a Framework Agreement with them, in the presence of Narendra Modi, “…respecting people’s wishes for sharing the sovereign power…” and hoping for “…an enduring inclusive new relationship of peaceful co-existence of the two entities”.
In stark contrast, New Delhi is trampling upon the aspirations of the people in Kashmir. Why is that? New Delhi seemingly doesn’t recognize that there is any entity other than itself that it should talk with to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Rights advocates like the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy have long held that the Kashmir dispute must not be treated as a piece of real estate between India and Pakistan but as a matter of the “lives and aspirations of the Kashmir people” – whose aspirations must be taken into account in any dialogue about their future.
In August 2019, when the Modi regime abrogated Article 370 and 35A, it removed the separate flag as well as the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, which was older than the Constitution of India.
NSCN, yes, JKLF, no
Meanwhile, it continues to negotiate with NSCN about their demand for a separate flag and Constitution, without which, says the Naga leadership, there can be no political solution. Popular Naga sentiment supports this idea. New Delhi has come around to accepting the Naga flag as a “Cultural Flag”. The Nagas insist that it is their political flag.
Why is New Delhi treating Jammu and Kashmir as a shut case while concurrently exploring possibilities with the Naga leadership? Is it because Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state, demoted in 2019 to a Union Territory, that strikes at the heart of Greater India (Akhund Bharat) that in some maps, seemingly approved by the RSS, stretches from Afghanistan all the way to Southeast Asia?
While it is appreciable that the Indian government is willing to hear the voice of the people in Nagaland, it is regrettable that it is not willing to even recognize the mainstream political leadership in Kashmir.
How does New Delhi hope to achieve anything by ignoring, on the one hand, Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, all former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, and, on the other, term Yasin Malik a terrorist? How can there be any political solution to the Kashmir dispute without engaging the political as well as the popular leadership?
Yasin is Gandhian
Yasin Malik is a human rights activist like A.G. Perarivalan. He deserves to be treated with the same respect as Thuingaleng Muivah, the ’prime minister’ of the ‘parallel government’ run by the NSCN in Nagaland.
Just as New Delhi sees hope in resolving the Naga political issue by engaging in dialogue with NSCN leadership, it needs to rethink its strategy in Kashmir and engage the leadership there to resolve the political challenges. An avowed Gandhian, Yasin Malik is a symbol of hope for the people of Kashmir.
When Nelson Mandela, founder of the militant wing of the African National Congress (uMkhonto we Sizwe), was sent to jail in South Africa in 1962, he too was considered a militant.
After his release, he formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to grant amnesty to the functionaries who committed crimes during the apartheid rule. It was primarily because of his principled character that a peaceful transition of power took place from the apartheid era to the first representative government of South Africa.
In 2007, Malik toured the length and breadth of the Kashmir Valley on foot, calling it a Safar-e-Azadi padayatra (Journey on Foot to Freedom) to mobilize a signature campaign demanding that both New Delhi and Islamabad include the people of Kashmir in a trilateral dialogue process.
Yasin and peace
In doing so, Yasin Malik increased his popularity immensely. That is the likely reason why subsequent Indian Prime Ministers engaged with him, just as they had engaged with the NSCN leadership, even talking to them on foreign soil.
Sadly, the present regime in New Delhi chose to imprison Malik, and he has now been sentenced for militant actions that are decades old.
The moment for imagining the possibility of Yasin Malik and his like-minded political jail mates playing a larger role in resolving the Kashmir dispute is now.
(The author is a Lucknow-based educator and peace activist who is recipient of the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay award. Views are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com. By special arrangement with Sapan)