Open trade route to Pakistan to heal Kashmiri wounds: Sajjad Lone (Interview)

August 18th, 2008 - 12:15 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, Aug 18 (IANS) The “economic blockade” forced by Hindus in Jammu in the wake of the Amarnath land row has left a “deep psychological imprint on Kashmiris” and the subsequent agitation in the Kashmir Valley has re-ignited “irreversible separatist sentiment” among the people, says a Kashmiri leader. Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Lone, a moderate voice among separatists who joined the movement after his father Abdul Ghani Lone was shot dead in 2002 by militants, wants New Delhi to have a “considerate policy” on Kashmir.

“The way out of the crisis is to open up cross-border trade links and announce a time-bound structured dialogue with Kashmiris to resolve the 60-year-old dispute, which once pushed India and Pakistan close to a nuclear war,” Lone told IANS at his well-appointed Sanat Nagar residence here.

Lone feels the threat of starvation and disruption of economic activities due to the strikes and curfews was now “deeply embedded in the Kashmiri psyche”.

With a pile of books, mostly about conflicts of the world, on his table, the young separatist leader said: “The Kashmiri mindset has transcended into a state of irreversibility. Nothing short of opening up an alternative trade route can heal the wounds.”

To his credit, Lone is the only Kashmiri leader to have come out with a comprehensive document, “Achievable Nationhood” that discusses various dynamics of the Kashmir problem. The document was presented to New Delhi when Lone held a round of dialogue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006.

He says people from Jammu, either Hindus or Muslims, had no role in the land dispute.

“It is an agitation against interference in the relationship of Hindu guests and Muslim hosts and Jammu figures nowhere,” he said.

“The Amarnath pilgrimage has been conducted by Kashmiri Muslims since 1850. For generations, people of Kashmir have hosted Hindus and treated them as their revered guests.

“The concept of the shrine and the pilgrimage,” he says, “is a matter of faith for Hindus, while for the Muslim hosts it is a spiritual exercise.”

The creation of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, which now manages the pilgrimages, according to Lone, was institutionalisation of the concept of faith and spirituality. “A hindrance in the beautiful and divine relationship.”

The land transfer, Lone said, was a dispute between Kashmiris, the state government and the Amarnath trust.

“Where does Jammu come into the picture? The people in Jammu were not a part of the dispute; they never conducted the pilgrimage. Hardly one or two percent of the pilgrims are from Jammu,” said Lone.

“The alibi being put forward is that Amarnath is a Hindu shrine and Hindus of Jammu feel hurt. If Kashmiris have hurt the sentiments of Hindus - why are Hindus across the world not agitating? Is Hinduism confined to Jammu only?” he said.

The agitation, he said, “typifies the symptom not the disease”.

“An ethnic mismatch (of Kashmiris and Jammuites), carved out during the colonial era to suit the interests of the then rulers, has been allowed to continue post-1947. The small area spread over two and a half districts with no visible social or cultural overlap with the rest of the state has been clubbed with Kashmir,” Lone said.

“An identity crisis seems to have developed over time with Jammuites. In the pre-colonial era the state rulers were from Jammu. Their identity got eroded post-1947 with an end to autocratic rule. They are still nursing the delusions of the lost ruler community status,” said Lone.

“The nature of the conflict bestowed on them an identity which was anti-Kashmiri rather than pro-Jammu.

“They fit the stereotype of going against anything that the Kashmiris aspire for,” he said.

The solution to the internal dimension, he said, “lies in not impeding the evolution”.

“Allow ethnic reorganisation of the state and confine the disputed area to one area where ethnic homogeneity is high. Open up the Muzaffarabad route for civilized traffic, i.e., flow of goods, services and people.

“New Delhi should also announce a structured time- bound dialogue to end the Kashmir conflict - a nuclear flash point between India and Pakistan.”

A dispute over a piece of land for a Hindu temple trust and the death of at least 22 Kashmiri Muslim protesters in police firing last week have electrified separatist sentiments after years of relative peace and stability in the valley - something that Pakistan-sponsored militancy almost failed to do in two decades.

With conflicting claims over the land, Hindus in Jammu and Muslims in Kashmir are ranged against each other, almost pushing the only Muslim majority Indian state to the brink of division on religious lines.

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