Kashmiris and Tamils: Violence will get them nowhere

Violence will get them nowhere

By Kuldip Nayar

IN a way, what has happened to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka is similar to what has happened to the Hurriyat in Kashmir. Both of them, ‘freedom fighters’, have ceased to be relevant in their respective places.

This does not mean that the alienation of the people they represent, either the Tamils or the Kashmiris has ended. But it does mean that the fight to project their stance has not met with success. In any case, the violence, which has no place in the settlement of political problems, is practically over, more in Kashmir than in Sri Lanka.

This is the only conclusion which can be drawn. Anything beyond that may be wishful thinking on the part of the LTTE and the Hurriyat on one hand and the governments in Sri Lanka and India on the other. What we see is a military victory. Moral victory is still distant. Tamil Nadu cannot force its will on Sri Lanka through bandhs and hartals.

I do not want to belittle the two struggles. The LTTE has fought for eelam (independence) and the Hurriyat for azadi (independence) for many years. Both have sacrificed thousands of their adherents. Yet, they did not realise in the midst of their fight for their ‘cause’ that the gun would never give them victory. They pitted themselves against states which had more guns.

Even the general opinion was against them. In the long run, the governments were bound to get the better of the ‘freedom fighters’. Neither the LTTE nor the Hurriyat has ever faced the fact that no nation would allow any part of its territory to break away, however emotional the call for self-determination or autonomy may be. Had the two asked for a status within their respective countries, the sky would have been the limit.

Some countries like China are unfortunate examples. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibet, has said more than once that he was prepared to accept an autonomous state within China, leaving defence and foreign affairs to Beijing. India would give its right arm if the Kashmiris were to accept that.

Maybe the solution to Kashmir lies in a similar formula whereby people of the state enjoy power over all subjects except foreign affairs and defence. Islamabad could do likewise, transferring all power, except foreign affairs and defence to the elected government in Azad Kashmir. Both New Delhi and Islamabad can give the Kashmiris a sense of coherence and integrity by making the border between Kashmir and Azad Kashmir soft. This will make the borders irrelevant. Pakistan has already said that it would agree to an arrangement which the Kashmiris accept.

Jammu will still need to be tackled. If it is assured of its identity, it would rather stay with the Valley — a ‘relationship of decades’ — than jump into the welter of India where linguistic chauvinism is taking over the centuries’ old coherent tradition. Much depends on the people living in the Valley in terms of how far they are willing to accommodate Jammu.

In the same way, it depends on the Sinhalese how far they are willing to go to win over the northern part of Sri Lanka where the Tamils abound and where the LTTE has been most active. Absorption of Tamils or those who harbour the dream of Eelam depends on the government in Colombo. A federal structure instead of the unitary system the country follows or the devolution of power to the different parts may provide a way out. But then the authoritarianism of the ruling party will have to be curbed. The spirit of democracy must defeat the sense of ethnic superiority which has come to guide the winning side.

I was shouted down when I told a gathering of students at the Srinagar University that their movement would have made far more impact if it had been non-violent. Yasin Malik, the first militant, underlines the futility of violence when he says that he has turned Gandhian.

Similarly, when I met a few LTTE leaders some years ago, they were violent even in their tone. They are as much in the wrong as the Hurriyat leaders if they believe that a principle can only be stoutly defended by the language of violence or by condemning those who do not accept their point of view.

For both of them, there are no shades, only black and white — those who are not with them are against them. This is the old approach of the bigoted, not of tolerance and feeling that others might also have some share of the truth. This approach is wholly unscientific, unreasonable and uncivilised, whether it is applied to the realm of politics, religion or economic theory. All Saarc countries must realise this.

Whatever Colombo and New Delhi may think about their respective strategies, we have arrived at a stage where an attempt of forcible imposition of policy or an idea is ultimately bound to fail. In the present circumstances this may lead to further alienation.

I wish the two would realise this and treat the defeated with dignity and care. They have to win them over and make them feel that their stake in peace is no less than that of the government. If the LTTE and the Hurriyat continue to defy reason and live in the darkness of misdoings they would be living in a make-believe world.

Similarly, there can be no victory for Sri Lanka and India. In fact, the status quo is a defeat for everyone. We have seen in the past that it is not easy for even great powers to reintroduce colonial control over territories which have become independent. Both Colombo and New Delhi have to accept that the desire for identity is strong and cannot be suppressed.

The ground is ready for Sri Lanka to have a settlement with the Tamils who harbour a feeling of denial in their own country. In the same way, the government in Delhi has to sort out things with the Kashmiris who find that the autonomy they enjoyed in 1950 has been eroded over the years.

In fact, people in all the countries of South Asia want to rule themselves without governments’ interference. They are sick and tired of violence and would like to settle down to a stable, secure future. They want democracy, but they know that it is not an end unto itself. It is the means to attain peace and equal opportunities. What has not sunk in is that wrong means will not lead to right results.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi. (Dawn)