On This Day In History: Patras On Kashmir
Zahra Sabri provides an excerpt from an interview of famous writer, humourist, diplomat Patras Bukhari by United Nations Press Correspondents in which he was posed questions on the Kashmir crisis and the general issues that exist between Pakistan and India.
Although the great humourist Patras Bukhari’s greatest claim to fame today is his Urdu prose, he distinguished himself in a number of other professions – broadcasting, teaching, and diplomacy. He remained Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1950-54, and then was Under-Secretary of the United Nations’ Department of Information for the next four years. Born in Peshawar to a Kashmiri family in 1898, his full name was Pir Sayyid Ahmad Shah Bukhari. He died in New York in 1958.
On this day in history, exactly 68 years ago, Patras Bukhari discussed the Kashmir crisis with a number of United Nations (UN) press correspondents from across the world at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. The date was Sept 7, 1951. Much, and yet little, has changed from then until now.
Below are excerpts from a recording of this event which has been preserved and published by the Lutfullah Archives.
Host: Pakistan is interested in many issues at the UN. The biggest, of course, is the dispute with India over the territory of Kashmir. Pakistani and Indian troops face one another in Kashmir. Pakistan wants a free election there under the UN. The Pakistanis believe the largely Muslim people in the area would vote to join Pakistan. But I expect we’ll get more light on that matter in a few moments. Mr Minister, we hear reports that the situation in Kashmir is very tense. Do you think there’s any likelihood of open warfare breaking out between your own country and India?
Bukhari: Well, John, the situation is extremely uneasy or, in fact, critical. India has concentrated the bulk of its army on our borders. We have taken up defensive positions, and the two armies are much too close to each other for anyone to feel happy about it. So, from that you can draw your own conclusions.
Correspondent from the Pakistan Times: Professor Bukhari, could you tell us what you think should be the solution of this problem that has been tossed around here [at the United Nations] since 1948 and we always seem to postpone and postpone.
Bukhari: Well, we are not looking for a solution. The solution has been arrived at, and agreed upon, i.e. a free plebiscite. What we are looking for is an implementation of the solution under the auspices of the United Nations. And that is where we are building our hope on the United Nations, that it will see that an international agreement which was adumbrated under their auspices should be implemented as soon as possible.
Correspondent from the Christian Science Monitor: Dr Bukhari, it is sometimes said that Prime Minister Nehru of India attributes Europe’s centuries of violence to the French-German hostility and wishes at all cost to avoid a similar relationship between India and China. Now, do you think this is a sound hypothesis, speaking as an expert on the subcontinent? Do you believe in the policy of conciliating Communist China?
Bukhari: Well, in so far as India’s attitude towards China is concerned, I think you ought to put the question to Mr. Nehru. Several people have put it and haven’t got a clear answer. But I believe that the Indian government is, or rather some elements associated with Mr Nehru are just as aggressive in many ways as other elements. Only perhaps Mr. Nehru’s aggression might be described as, to use an American phrase, ‘aggression with a college education’.
Correspondent from the New York Herald Tribune: Sir, I want to go right back to Kashmir. Your country and India are disputing over a sizeable piece of territory, and I don’t want to try to coin a saying here, but in any dispute, there is some right and some wrong on each side. Now, going back to the beginning of this dispute, will Pakistan admit any wrongs that she would set right if India would set right certain wrongs that caused it all?
Bukhari: I’m afraid the question is rather vague. The whole point is, whatever Pakistan’s wrongs (and I don’t know what you have in mind), the answer is not that because of that, four million [Kashmiri] people should be handed to Mr. Nehru because Mr. Nehru wishes it. I don’t think that those four million people should be punished for any wrong, whether committed by India or by Pakistan. But if you tell me what wrongs we have committed, I should like to sit in sackcloth and ashes if it is wrong.
Correspondent from the New York Herald Tribune: Sir, I wasn’t thinking of anything specific. I was merely asking if you would confess any hasty errors in the beginning of this dispute if India would.
Bukhari: Well, here I said this is rather vague. The whole point is, here is a territory about which there’s a decision that a plebiscite should be held. If you have found Pakistan guilty ten times over of the worst crimes, this fact is still there, and therefore the plebiscite should nevertheless be held. You can, if you like, punish Pakistan later for several sins, but you can’t punish Kashmiris for it.
Correspondent from the Montreal Star: Well, professor, this is not a question designed to push you into the latest mode in sackcloth. But I’d like to know this – suppose the Kashmir case was settled tomorrow (everybody satisfied, everybody happy), would there still be outstanding differences between you and India?
Bukhari: I think there would be outstanding differences. There are three or four major outstanding differences. But then there are differences between almost any two states you can think of. There are matters that are pending. Only, I think that once the Kashmir question is settled, the atmosphere will improve so considerably that the other disputes could be settled far more easily than is possible at the moment.
Correspondent from the Montreal Star: Is it true that waterpower has a bearing on this Kashmir question?
Bukhari: While it has a bearing, if you like, the situation is that the great part of West Pakistan depends for irrigation on rivers that arise either in India or in Kashmir. The rivers that arise in India have been, in the past, cut off by India on a certain occasion. And we think that if Kashmir passes into Indian hands, then our agriculture will be in great jeopardy in the hands of an unfriendly India. Does that answer your question?
Correspondent from the Montreal Star: Quite so, yes.
Correspondent from the Associated Press: Professor Bukhari, I wonder if we can bring this to a matter a little bit closer to the heart of us Americans, sir. There have been some reports that Pakistan is cooling off towards the United States in the belief that she will get more from the United States by being coy instead of cooperative. Do you think that Pakistan actually will adopt such a course, and if she does, why would she do it?
Bukhari: Well, I’m not an authority on coyness, but I think the best way to describe it is as follows – that the people of Pakistan are becoming extremely critical and dissatisfied with the present government for having pledged so much reliance on the United Nations for a solution of this problem. Now everybody knows that the major powers in the United Nations do play a major role. The two major powers that have been intimately interested in this question are the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and the people are getting extremely critical of our government for having placed our reliance, if you like, on these two. What the government’s attitude on the matter is – the government still insists that the security council and the United Nations should discharge its fullest responsibility in the matter.
Correspondent from the Associated Press: I’m wondering if the professor misunderstood me. I was speaking only of the United States, and not of the UN. Pakistan has been beside the United States in several critical issues, and these reports, as I understand it, indicate that Pakistan may have to be, should we say, wooed, more than she has in the past, to go along with the United States. And some of us, in this country, feel that if a country is a friend, it is a friend, and does not have to be wooed.
Bukhari: Well, I as the representative of Pakistan in the United Nations, have received no instructions that I should seek now or in the future to be wooed. But the fact does remain that there is a certain amount of disappointment in that the United States of America has not taken a stronger, and a clearer attitude towards this question [of Kashmir] in the Security Council.
Correspondent from the New York Daily News: Dr Bukhari, I’d like to go a little further than [my colleague] did on that question and ask you whether you were satisfied with the role that the United Nations had played in this dispute, and could you enlarge a little on what your government feels could have been done or hasn’t been done?
Bukhari: Well, if I was asked to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, my answer would be, ‘we are not satisfied’. The specific settlement of international disputes is one of the major functions and hopes of the United Nations. This dispute, with all its attendant dangers and risks, has been before the United Nations for over three years. In these three years, they have not passed beyond Article 36, which says that the United Nations should try and bring about understanding between two disputants. It has not even passed down to Article 37, which says that the United Nations Security Council should give its own decision, leave alone passing on to something a little stronger than that, and, that is to say, in its own way reprimanding whichever state it considers to be defaulting. And to have stayed on Article 36 for three years is, we think, letting the situation get worse and worse every day.
Freelance writer at the United Nations: Dr Bukhari, I want to refer back to [the correspondent from the Associated Press’s] question having to do with attitudes towards the United States, but this time without reference to Kashmir and instead with reference to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Certainly, many of the Asian nations have taken a neutral attitude as between the East and the West in the Cold War, and Pakistan has definitely thrown in its lot up to this time with the West, something that is very happy and encouraging to many Americans. Would you tell us, if you’re not cooling off too much on that relationship, what the gains are in that position as against the neutral position being pursued so assiduously?
Bukhari: Well, I do not think we have adopted that attitude because of any possible gain, in the meaning in which that term is generally understood. We have tried to decide each issue on its own merits, and there’s one thing that we very badly need, and we’ve always been guided by that consideration, both where we have positively expressed our view and where we have refrained from doing so. And that has been that we require – even more than other people – peace. We’ve just come into the world four years ago, and we haven’t a dog’s chance if we don’t get a few years, at least, of peace in which we can develop. Nor does any other Asiatic country. And that has been the one guiding principle in our attitude throughout this question.
Freelance writer at the United Nations: Couldn’t what you have just said, Minister Bukhari, have been said by any of the nations taking the neutral position as the reason why they are holding the neutral position?
Bukhari: Well, no, because certain other nations, some of them my distinguished neighbours, do not merely want peace. They really want a free field – free of major powers in the West. They want a free field in Asia for their own expansionism.
Correspondent from the International News Service: Sir, what is the state of relations between your country and Communist China at present? I believe you have in ambassador at Beiping (Beijing) and are carrying out some kind [of exchange] with the Chinese.
Bukhari: Well, they are as you describe. There is a diplomatic exchange between the two countries.
Correspondent from the International News Service: Minister, would you say that relations are more friendly than before as result of the ambassador being there in Beiping?
Bukhari: Well, I think the exchange of diplomatic relations is always a sign of a certain amount of goodwill on the part of the countries. It’s a formal expression of goodwill.
Correspondent from the Press Trust of India: Mr Bukhari, let me turn back to the question of Kashmir. You said that you wanted a plebiscite according to the United Nations decision, and also subsequently you said that Kashmir was so important to you from the ‘water’ point of view that you could not possibly leave it in hostile hands. And if it fell into hostile hands, it would endanger Pakistan’s interests. Are you not, thereby, in a way, prejudging the issue of the plebiscite, or do you intend to put your second answer in a different way?
Bukhari: I think the sentence that ‘we could not possibly leave it in hostile hands’ is your paraphrasing of my statement.
Correspondent from the Press Trust of India: No, sir. It was exactly as you said.
Bukhari: Well, if that’s what I said, I beg your pardon. What I really meant was – here is a country, which according to our best knowledge and belief, wants to join Pakistan. We may be wrong, but that is our belief. On the other hand, we say, ‘why does India want to stay there?’ India being unfriendly, we think it wants to stay there for unfriendly purposes, and we cannot look upon this situation with equanimity.
Correspondent from the Montreal Star: About this question of Asian neutralism, Dr. Bukhari, let me note that one great Asian power – China – is not neutral. Do you think that it is possible in the world today for any government to be truly neutral? I mean, in plain words.
Bukhari: Well, obviously some countries are, and how could they be unless it was possible?
Correspondent from the Montreal Star: But are they? I mean, that is my point.
Bukhari: Well, again, as I said, your issue, like. I will give my view – I think that India’s attitude is different to many other countries in Asia, because I think, as I said, India’s one great interest is. By talking of ‘Asia for the Asiatics’ – and you remember we heard this slogan, about three quarters of the century ago, also used in Asia. [India’s] main purpose is to get the western powers out of there in order to have a stronger control of the weaker countries in Asia, which I do not think can be described as neutral.
Correspondent from the International News Service: Sir, is there a communist movement in your country, and if so, how strong is it?
Bukhari: This question was put once to my foreign minister. He said, “If I say there is a strong communist movement, it won’t be true. And if I say there isn’t, certain very great major powers will no longer be interested.”
Correspondent from the Associated Press: Thank you. I’m finally asking, sir, the question that I asked right at the start. About whether we should woo Pakistan or hope that she’ll go along with us. Sir, you’ve travelled in this country [USA] quite a bit, I think. What is your impression of people, as you know them, in this country? The ordinary Americans that you meet – what do you think about them?
Bukhari: Well, it’s been my good fortune to address a large number of audiences, not only in international affairs, but on literature and on allied arts. In churches, in schools, in universities. And this may surprise you as an American, but my outstanding impression is of the essential humility of the people. The great willingness with which they ask genuine questions in the spirit of inquiry. It’s not only touching, it’s almost moving, the way they do ask them. And I think there’s a great deal of hunger for wanting to know the facts. There’s a certain amount of confusion. But then everybody in the world is confused a certain amount today. But the great genuine desire for knowing things and doing the right thing is tremendous.
Correspondent from the New York Herald Tribune: Well, as an American, sir, I will ask this question with humility because it goes right back to controversy. Do you think that there is any evidence that India – when and if she can – wants to swallow up Pakistan?
Bukhari: If she can, I have not the slightest doubt (though she might find it difficult to digest it) she certainly would.
Zahra Sabri is a doctoral student in Indo-Muslim history and Literatures at McGill University, Canada. She is a literary translator and has translated folk and classical poetry from various South Asian languages. She has also worked as a journalist and taught History and Literature at several universities in Karachi.