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The first-ever survey on both sides of Kashmir threw up some startling results: only 2 per cent of people in Jammu and Kashmir want to join Pakistan, and 43 per cent of Kashmiris overall prefer independence. But what’s even more startling is that the survey, titled ‘Kashmir: Paths to Peace’, is the brainchild of Saif al Islam al Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The report was prepared by Dr Robert W. Bradnock of King’s College London and a senior fellow at Chatham House, the UK’s most influential think-tank. Nishtha Chugh spoke to Bradnock. Excerpts:
What interest did Gaddafi’s son Saif have in conducting the survey?
We first came in touch in 2002. Saif was then running a charity in Libya which was trying to help (among others) Kashmiri refugees, mainly in Pakistan. He had visited the refugee camps in 2001, when Kashmir was dominated by militancy. He was concerned with the humanitarian nature of the crisis. In his early 30s then, he had embarked on his post-graduate degree in the London School of Economics. That PhD (completed last year) and his research interests were concerned with the role of civil society in resolving disputes. He became interested in Kashmir during his studies. Saif was also concerned with the global implications of the spread of terrorism, and that Libya should be seen as a peacemaker.
How did Saif come up with the idea of a survey in Kashmir?
The idea of the survey was entirely his. He had written a paper about Kashmir in ’02 which hasn’t been published yet. He wrote about it as he was interested in the historical nature of the dispute itself. But as we discussed its complexities in the modern period, he felt the Kashmiris should be consulted, to know how they thought on the issue of self-determination, and how they perceived their problems. The survey became a joint effort of the King’s College London, IPSOS-Mori and their associates in India and Pakistan. Chatham House came into the process only when the report was ready.
"Many in India think Azad Kashmir is more backward. It’s not so. Pakistan has invested a lot in infrastructure."
How were the surveyors recruited? Could there be a margin of bias creeping in?
They were all locally recruited and trained in Srinagar, in Jammu and Muzaffarabad. The real acid test of independence is in the results. In many respects, the results are not what people would give under duress. For example, on the Indian side where the military presence is very strong, you won’t expect there will be pressure from the government on respondents to say, “I will vote for independence.” Yet the vote for India in J&K was only just over 28 per cent. In Pakistan, you won’t expect only 50 per cent of Azad Kashmir (PoK to Indians) to say they wanted to join Pakistan.
Have you visited the region?
I went to the Valley in India in ’03. The military presence was obvious. I had gone to AJK in 1998. Many people in India think AJK is more backward. It doesn’t strike a visitor like that. Pakistan has put a lot of money into infrastructure. The environment does not look any worse than on the Indian side. It’s very difficult to say unequivocally which side is better. However, the visible signs of the dispute are undoubtedly more on the Indian side.
Why do more people in PoK support violence as a way to end the dispute?
There may be two reasons. On the Pakistan side, militants have always been talked about as freedom fighters. They are fighting on the other side and not within their community. Secondly, it’s producing a very big counter-terrorist reaction from the forces. And that leads to its own brutality.
One result that will surprise people in AJK is that the support for joining Pakistan in J&K is just 2 per cent overall. And particularly outside AJK, in Pakistani Punjab, there’ll be a sense of disbelief.
What policy suggestions would you make to the Indian government?
The most startling thing in the poll is that a very large proportion of Kashmiris don’t like the LoC as it stands today but would be happy to have it if it were opened up and if there were genuine free movement of goods. I wouldn’t suggest turning the LoC into an international border as this takes away the option of making it more porous—and that’s what the Kashmiris want. The diplomatic challenge for India and Pakistan is to ensure that any liberalisation of the border is not accompanied by a resurgence of terrorist/militant movement. And this highlights in essence that the solution to this problem doesn’t lie just in Kashmir, it lies in relations between India and Pakistan and a building of trust.