Kashmir Religious Leader Pushes Self-Determination

The people of Kashmir should be allowed to determine their own national future, Mirwaiz Umaz Farooq, the political and spiritual leader of the Kashmiri Freedom Movement, told about 80 people last night in Harvard Hall.

Kashmir is a Muslim-dominated region in the Himalayas that has been the source of two wars between India and Pakistan. India controls two-thirds of the Kashmir; Pakistan controls the other one-third.

Farooq's speech comes at a time of high strain in the Indian sub-continent due to the detonation of atomic bombs in both India and Pakistan.

"Now we have entered a new dimension, a nuclear dimension," Farooq said, explaining the consequences of the atomic bomb detonations which took place this spring. "Kashmir is the key to peace and stability in the area."

Farooq's speech also addressed the necessity of allowing the Kashmiri people to determine their own fate, instead of bowing to the wishes of neighboring governments.


"The government of India and Pakistan never took into consideration the wishes and desires of Kashmir," Farooq said. "We feel that for any discussion to be fruitful, Kashmir has to be involved."

Farooq expressed displeasure with India's approach to controlling the Kashmir region.

"The policy of the Indian government has been to deal with the [Kashmir] issue militarily rather than politically," Farooq said. "The Indian presence is so profound in Kashmir that people are afraid to go onto the street."

The Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard-Radcliffe South Asian Association sponsored the speech.

"[Farooq] was in the States and happened to be going through Boston. A common friend called me [to know if I wanted him to come]. That was last week. I sent a few e-mails out and he was able to come," said Imraan R. Mir '00, who arranged for Farooq to speak yesterday.

Farooq said he decided to speak at Harvard because of the diversity of students who would be able to hear Kashmir's plight.

"The students are the power. We have to approach the students and Harvard College has students of all backgrounds. The future policymakers go to Harvard and must understand the Kashmir conflict," Farooq said.

Mir said Farooq spoke on behalf of a

point of view not often voiced in the U.S.

"Ultimately he represents a voice in the Kashmir government that is important especially after India and Pakistan have detonated the atomic bomb," Mir said. "Also, this represents a different point of view. Everyone always says, 'Pakistan is a bastard,' or 'India is a bastard,' [but] we never hear Kashmir's voice."

While some audience members expressed approval of Farooq's ideas, others questioned the validity of allowing Kashmir complete control over its own destiny, especially with respect to India's political dominance.

"It was heartwarming to hear a voice that is hardly ever represented," said Minha K. Sheikh, an audience member who attended because of her Kashmiri background.

Farooq was the first elected chair of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of more than 20 different organizations who want to end Indian occupation and who want the self-determination of Kashmir. Though he is no longer chair, he still serves as a main representative to the conference.

Farooq is also the religious head of the Muslims of Kashmir, a position that has been handed down from father to son in his family for 13 generations.

Harvard is the first university where Farooq spoke on this trip. He plans on speaking at other universities throughout the country, including Stanford