Nyla Ali Khan is an academic and author of two books. This granddaughter of Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah has emerged as an independent voice unlike most other members of Kashmir’s first political family. In an interview with AFZAL SOFI, she talks about Kashmir dispute, her own political aspirations and importance letting her child understand where they come from.
Afzal Sofi (Kashmir Reader): Tell us about your visit to Kashmir this time.
Nyla Ali Khan: I live with my husband in the US but every year I come to Kashmir to see my parents who live here. It’s also the time when my daughter gets to know where she actually belongs. Besides, I make it a point to do my research whenever I’m here. I collect data and meet different people so I can write something about Kashmir. For my first book on Kashmir, “Islam, Women and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan”, I did a lot of research from 2005 to 2008. This year too I compiled and edited an anthology on Kashmir which consists of essays by nine different scholars of Kashmir belonging to different fields like political science, sociology, literature and others. The anthology has been published and will be released in August this year in the US. The idea is to bring forth different perspectives on social, political, cultural, literal and other aspects of Kashmir.
Then in June, I also participated in the seminar conducted by the Sajad Iqbal Foundation in University of Kashmir, where scholars of varied fields presented their papers on different issues of Kashmir. I presented my paper on the topic “Women in conflict zone”. One interacts with different people belonging to different ideologies and learns a lot by understanding others perspectives. Unfortunately, during the last twenty years of conflict our society has been fragmented due to polarization. People doubt each other. People are not ready to listen to other perspectives and this is damaging. It gives external forces an upper hand and our issues become more complicated. Number of stakeholders is increasing—political parties and the military to name just two—and that’s a problem. We must try to emerge as one community.
KR: Some people say that peace has arrived in Kashmir while others say it’s tentative. What do you think of these claims?
NAK: Kashmir is a conflict zone, a militarized zone. In such zones, peace is always tentative and fragile. Peace gets disturbed with a single incident. Take the example of the fire incident at Dastageer Sahib’s shrine. “Peace” that had been established was broken in no time. So peace here is so fragile that just one crisis can break it. The military’s peace-keeping means are always temporary. What’s needed is a political resolution.
Unfortunately, during the last twenty years of conflict our society has been fragmented due to polarization. People doubt each other. People are not ready to listen to other perspectives and this is damaging. It gives external forces an upper hand and our issues become more complicated.
KR: What do you think should be the political solution of Kashmir?
NAK: I have studied a lot about the Kashmir issue and for me the ideal solution of this issue will be to make Jammu and Kashmir a sovereign state enclave whose security is guaranteed not only by India and Pakistan but by world powers [as well]. How practical it is, there may be differing voices on it. For me the restoration of autonomy is the best way to achieve this. There may be people who may not agree with it, that autonomy is not the solution according to the wishes of people of Jammu and Kashmir, but I think autonomy will keep every part of Kashmir united and will placate the interest of people of every region of the state. And I am not saying it because I belong to a particular family background.
KR: The National Conference has been advocating autonomy and also passed a resolution about it in the Assembly. The latest interlocutors also recommended autonomy in some form. Different political parties have been advocating their own formulae for. Do you think India is serious about granting autonomy or any other interim solution to Kashmir?
NAK: India needs to change its position and resolve this conflict. The situation, which was prevailing in Kashmir in 1979, was not same as it was in 1990. Jammu and Kashmir has faced the brunt of the conflict, particularly the Kashmir region, and this is a right time for India to show political will and restore autonomy. There may be people who may think that autonomy is not the solution according to the wishes of people and for some it may be completely unacceptable. But if the nation state of India does not show the political will to restore autonomy in the state it will be a big blow to the morale of people of state, which will only increase the trust deficit between India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
KR: For quite some time it is being said that India and Pakistan have sidelined Kashmir issue in their ongoing dialogue process and want to concentrate on improving bilateral relations. Do you think it is true, and what can be its implications on Kashmir?
NAK: This has happened several times before when it was felt that Pakistan has put the Kashmir issue on backburner, but there was always a section of people to criticize it. In 2002, Pakistani president Asif Zardari gave the statement that it was necessary to put the Kashmir issue on backburner for the sake of amity between India and Pakistan and recently Imran Khan also gave some similar statements. Also in 1972, after Simla agreement between India and Pakistan it was felt by many that Pakistan has accepted Line of Control as permanent border. But this did not happen. Whatever be the situation, the main thing is that we have to raise Kashmiri individual voices in unison. We should be able to shun the political differences and make some kind of consensus about our demands. We have to overcome the fragmentation that has occurred in our society because it has done lot of harm to us. As many Indian bigwigs and parliamentarians say, that Kashmiri people are confused and they don’t know what they want. There should be consensus-building exercises and the mainstream parties should be part of it.
KR: How do you think that could be achieved?
NAK: All the political parties, mainstream and separatists, should make a consensus- building exercise. They need to come on a single platform and put forth the single ideology for the resolution of Kashmir. For that there is the need that internal critique among all the parties may emerge in order to check where they went wrong in the past and draw a future road map. As it happened in the separatist parties, or I can say Kashmir movement parties, when Abdul Ghani Lone said that they don’t need foreign jehadis now and also people like Mirwaiz or Abdul Ghani Bhat who are playing the role of internal critique. It is necessary for these parties to strategize the future road map so that there may not be further loss of life. This internal critique needs to stress upon the autonomy and discuss how much of autonomy we can retain. This seems to be an idealistic thought but the world stays on hopes.
KR: You belong to family with a particular political background and could have made politics your career. Why did you choose otherwise?
NAK: Of course I belong to the family of particular political background, but I always wanted to pursue higher studies and I got the chance to go to US to do it. When a person stays away from home you are not influenced by the associations or political ideologies that exist back home. In such a situation a person develops a different perspective about the society, you start thinking about the marginalized sections of the societies. Doing the Ph.d in US is a rigorous exercise and the perspective you develop during the time is not lopsided. During my years in the US, I have developed integrated political thinking and my efforts are always to maintain its integrity.
KR: How much are you influenced by your grandfather Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah?
NAK: I would be conniving to say that he has not influenced me. As a grand daughter I have an immense love and respect of him. He always has been the great figure in my life. He has given sacrifices and bore hardships for his people. The present young generation does not know about those things. In 1930 when he launched a movement, Kashmiri Muslims did not have access to socio-economic privileges, they did not have access to education or enjoy political enfranchisement. He belonged to a middle class family and he gave strength to the Kashmiri Muslims at that time and took the flag of Kashmiri nationalism. This time we may say anything about him because attempts have been made to distort the history. But we must agree that with his leadership lot of change occurred in the conditions of Kashmiris. He fought for the rights of Kashmiri peasants and provided a base for the middle class to emerge. With him rural Kashmir got access to higher education. He was a great leader and his influence will always remain on my life.
KR: What hopes do you have for Kashmir?
NAK: I hope Kashmiris get a chance to carve their own destiny, they get a chance to pave their own path, a path that is fruitful, productive, one that allows a rebuilding of community, a rehabilitation of our society without self destruction. God give Kashmiris intelligence, strength and courage to become a zone in South Asia that bridges political, cultural and religious differences between India and Pakistan, so that we can live in amity, peace and political enfranchisement with our neighbours.