‘We all want Kashmir issue resolved’

The Australian High Commissioner to India, Mr. Patrick Suckling, who was on a recent visit to Kashmir says he was struck by the enormous potential of the State, and of the desire of many people to work to make something of this potential for the people of Kashmir. Mr. Suckling said that Kashmiris are renowned the world over for their abilities and wherever they distinguish themselves in various fields they work in, they are valued. The seasoned diplomat evinced pleasure at the potential rapprochement between India and Pakistan.
In a tête-à-tête with Kashmir Observer’s Managing Editor, Farooq Shah,  Mr. Suckling said that he was awestruck by Kashmir and  envisioned Kashmir to be as beautiful as it is today in the next decade.  He also expected it to be wealthier and with more options for people to follow their dreams and aspirations.  Donning the hat of a futurist, the High Commissioner said, ‘“I think Kashmir will also be more connected with the rest of the world as our world continues to shrink through technology and travel and I believe this will be of profound benefit to the people of Kashmir and to the peoples of the world’.

Excerpts from the interview:

Was your recent visit to Kashmir the first and what was your impression?

I visited Kashmir in 1989.  It was and still is among the more beautiful places in the world with the most friendly and talented people displayed in Kashmir’s rightly famous culture.  I bought three beautiful shawls for my wife and two daughters as a small but magical expression of Kashmir’s skills, traditions, sophistication and culture.

What was the purpose of your sudden visit to Kashmir?

It was not sudden.  I had been meaning to visit for some time.  The purpose was to see first-hand what is happening in Kashmir, and to explore what possibilities there might be to have connections between the people of Australia and the people of Kashmir.  We have some connections, but more would be welcome for mutual understanding and benefit.

Your visit coincided with the International Human Rights Day. Kashmir being in a grip of violence for the past 26 years is grappled with a serious human rights situation. Are you aware of the situation?

Yes, I am aware of the situation in Kashmir and also of the significant improvements since I was last here in 1989.

The CIA world book says that the dispute over Kashmir has made it the largest and the most militarized territorial dispute in the world. It features in the Guinness Book of World Records for this uncanny reason. This reflects a very sad state of affairs. Doesn’t it?

We all want a resolution, the people of Kashmir most.

You met with the chief minister and various other dignitaries in Kashmir. What were the important issues that came up during the discussion?

The Chief Minister, Ministers, Senior Officials, business people, academics, NGOs, media, the peop- all want the best for Kashmir.  That was a very strong message I got.  The Chief Minister underlined his commitment to development of the state, for stronger economic growth to provide jobs and prosperity for the people of Kashmir.  He emphasised his focus on skills training to make Kashmiris job-ready and on infrastructure, agriculture, tourism and industry to improve employment options and the wealth of all Kashmiris.  I was struck by the enormous potential of the State, and of the desire of many people to work to make something of this potential for the people of Kashmir.

A business delegation also called on you whilst your stay in Kashmir. What were their suggestions and what guarantees did you pledge with regard to their demands?

They pointed to improving business prospects in Kashmir, for the potential of Kashmir to do much more with dairy and fruit and vegetables – including into the large market across India and elsewhere – and in areas like infrastructure, urban development, environmental management, tourism, traditional handicrafts and industry.  They were keen to make more connections with Australian businesses which have capabilities and skills to bring to Kashmir for growth and jobs.  We agreed it was better to bring these capabilities through business because aid money always runs out eventually whereas if you have a profitable business it is sustainable, it should grow over time and help with employment and wealth generation in the State. We should look for mutually beneficial connections.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir after the British left India was immediately thrown into a chaos. The princely state got unfortunately divided among three nuclear armed countries—India, Pakistan and China. This has given rise to a peculiar identity crisis among Kashmiris. Does your country share this emotional crisis that Kashmiris are grappled with?

Australia has always encouraged resolution of the issues in Kashmir for the benefit of all parties, not least the people of Kashmir themselves.  I have only visited Kashmir three times so I am not an expert but I am always struck by the dignity and the abilities of the Kashmiri people.  I remember being at the Zubin Mehta concert in the Shalimar Gardens and listening to the Kashmiri musicians play with the German orchestra.  It was beautiful ,moving and very positive.  I spoke to some Kashmiris the next day who said when they had heard it their eyes had glowed with pride and their hearts had been filled.  I saw Zubin Mehta in Delhi in October and gave him this feedback and he was deeply touched.

The people of Kashmir who’ve suffered immensely during the past 15 years or so, obviously for no fault of theirs, have a grudge that the Western world has remained a mute spectator to their ordeal. What do you say to that?

I’m not sure of the veracity of this statement and so cannot comment.

World powers, your country included, have shrugged off their responsibilities on the pretext that Kashmir problem is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, letting the people here suffer in the tussle between the two elephants. Do you not think a more pragmatic approach could have assisted in hammering out a solution long back?

It is not a pretext, it is a fact that resolution is a matter for India and Pakistan. The international community remains supportive of a resolution.  Australia is pleased to see recent developments between India and Pakistan, they are important which is nowhere better understood than in Kashmir.

Kashmiris have been working the world over in various fields –medical, engineering, scientific etc.—and their contributions have been praiseworthy. Are you aware of their contribution?

Kashmiris are renowned the world over for their abilities.  So yes, as with everyone, where Kashmiris distinguish themselves in the sorts of fields you mention- of course it is valued.

Besides the denial of political rights the lack of economic opportunities is believed to be a major cause of extremism and terrorism from which now no country is immune. What can your country do to help build the shattered economy of Kashmir that is being considered a breeding ground of extremism and terrorism?

I don’t agree with the premise of your question.  In talking to the recently elected Chief Minister and others they gave a sense of Kashmir’s economy rebuilding from the devastating floods of last year and growing in potential.  The business people said the same.  This provides possibilities for economic engagement with Australia.  But at the end of the day business must do business so it will be them that decide on such engagement in areas as outlined above or elsewhere.

But both India and Pakistan have failed to resolve their differences on Kashmir for well over five decades now. Do you, as a diplomat, who has a thorough know-how of international affairs, not think that it is the right time for the international community to tell India and Pakistan that enough is enough?

We are encouraged by the recent resumption of dialogue.  There is interest on both sides.  Australia welcomes that.

India and Pakistan have embarked on certain measures to seek solution to their outstanding issues. The joint statement issued after the External Affairs Minister, Ms Sushma Swaraaj met with the Adviser to Pakistan prime minister, Mr Sartaaj Aziz, was warmly welcomed by all. India’s prime minister is also expected to travel to Pakistan on the SAARC summit next year. What are the prospectus of this dialogue process?

These are very positive developments.  They are very welcome.  We encourage their success.  You know the old saying where there is a will there is a way, and will is evident.

 There’s a travel advisory against visiting Kashmir. The government of Jammu and Kashmir has been trying hard to have it lifted, though without success. Do you not think the time’s ripe to lift it?

We continuously review our travel advisories around the world.  I am not aware of the government trying hard to lift our travel advisory.  I did have some discussions as inputs to our regular process of review of the travel advisory and we will consider these in forming the best advice we can in the interests of Australians travelling.  So let’s see; our travel advisories must always best reflect the realities on the ground.  

As an expert from outside, how do you visualise Kashmir 10 years from now?

I hope Kashmir in ten years time will still be as beautiful a place as it is today.  I know it will still have as impressive and capable people as it does today.  I expect it will be wealthier and with more options for people to follow their dreams.  I think it will also be more connected with the rest of the world as our world continues to shrink through technology and travel and I believe this will be of profound benefit to the people of Kashmir and to the peoples of the world.


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