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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 14 New Delhi March 21, 2020

Mubashir Hasan: A man who yearned for Peace through Empowerment of People in the Subcontinent

Tuesday 24 March 2020, by Tapan Bose

TRIBUTE

Dr Mubashir Hasan, founder and the guiding spirit of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, is no more. The subcontinent has lost a great crusader for the rights of the poor and peace between India and Pakistan. Since 1990, India has been facing a mass revolt in Kashmir for Aazadi which was spearheaded by local militants. In order to suppress the move-ment, the Indian Government had saturated the Valley with military and paramilitary forces, empowering them to use maximum force against the people. The Pakistan Government had initially responded by aiding the Kashmiri militants and then facilitating non-Kashmiri jihadi groups to infiltrate the Valley. As violence spiralled, India accused Pakistan of conducting a “proxy war” and Pakistan blamed India of mass killing of Kashmiri Muslims. By 1993, the relations between India and Pakistan had reached its nadir, jingoistic sabre-rattling was the language of cross-border communication, and diplomatic channels of exchanges atrophied. The spectre of war loomed large on the horizon of India and Pakistan.

It was at this critical juncture that Dr Mubashir Hasan and a group of his friends took the initiative to come to India to appeal to Indian political leaders, academics and civil society actors to initiate a people-to-people dialogue for peace. He said, when the govern-ments do not talk to each other, it was necessary for the people to take the initiative to begin a cross-border dialogue for peace. He had argued that we should not let a handful of military-civil bureaucrats and politicians decide the destiny of a billion plus people of the subconti-nent. People needed to intervene immediately to stop this madness from spreading.

The visit of Dr Hasan to India in 1994 led to the formation of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). He was the main spirit behind the initiative. It was a totally unique idea at a time when even exchange of newspapers between the two countries was blocked. It would be completely different from the track-two dialogue forums which were essentially statist and elitist. The proposal was a bold intervention—a joint India-Pakistan forum involving ordinary people. It was characteristic of Dr Hasan who always believed in the power of the people whether as a founder of Pakistan Peoples’ Party and as Finance Minister in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government. Indeed when Bhutto was challenged by the Pakistan National Alliance after his election of 1977, Dr Mubashir Hasan publicly advised him to mobilise the peasantry and the working class in his fight against the Right-wing parties who had outfitted them-selves in religious robes. Bhutto declined his advice.

The Forum was inspired by the same faith in peoples’ power. From 1994 onwards the PIPFPD met regularly, holding massive conven-tions in both countries, despite attacks by the Right-wing media on both sides and suspicion of state agencies. In 1994-95, when the situation in Kashmir was extremely volatile, the PIPFPD at its Delhi and Lahore joint conventions, attended by hundreds of Indian and Pakistani civil society actors, adopted a resolution on Kashmir calling on Pakistan to end its material support to the militancy and asking India to withdraw its Army from civilian areas and end the human rights abuses there. The PIPFPD called on the two governments to recognise that Kashmir was not merely a territorial dispute between the two states, but concerned the aspirations and lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line-of Control. It called for establishing cross-LoC contacts and for involving the people of all regions of J &K to search for a peaceful democratic solution of the dispute.

The PIPFPD has all along held that war and attempts to create war hysteria should be outlawed and the process of de-nuclearisation and reversal of the arms race should be started. In 1994 the PIPFPD had pointed out the need for curbing religious intolerance as these tendencies create social strife, undermine democracy and increase the persecution and oppression of disadvantaged sections of society.

Over the past three decades, the PIPFPD has held several large conventions in major cities in both countries. Participants included representa-tives of the human rights movement, workers organisations, peasant movement, women’s movements, environment movement, cultural workers, professionals, academics, scientists and former civil servants and soldiers of India and Pakistan. It brought together persons well known for their commitment to peace, equity and social justice, communal amity, democracy and people’s solidarity in the sub-continent. The PIPFPD played an important role in creating a cross-border peace constituency. The steadfast commitment and guidance of such a tall figure as Dr Hasan was crucial in navigating the PIPFPD during the difficult moments in Pakistan- India relations.

Most recently, after the terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in February 2019 and Indian air strikes deep inside Pakistan’s territory, members of the PIPFPD from both sides of the border strongly condemned the violation of the Line of Control by India. They called upon the governments of India and Pakistan to initiate meaningful dialogue involving the Kashmiri leadership from both sides to resolve the political dispute. The PIPFPD in a statement released from Lahore and New Delhi said, “We note with seriousness and strongly condemn the Indian air strikes and bombing in settled districts of Pakistan beyond the Line of Control. We demand both governments of India and Pakistan to show restraint and avoid any war-like situation. We further demand immediate measures from both sides to de-escalate the situation and de-militarise borders by withdrawing troops to the peace-time level.”

Mubashir Hasan continued to remain active even after he was confined to bed by severe lung infection and asthma. After the Indian Government enacted the Citizenship Amend-ment Act, he issued a joint statement with 14 other South Asian intellectuals which said, “If the New Delhi authorities were seeking security for religious minorities in the three selected countries, they should have engaged in a sustained diplomatic effort. We believe that, with its action, the Government of India has made religious minorities in the three countries more vulnerable than before.”

Dr Hasan held that the ruling elites of India and Pakistan were “mere clones of their colonial predecessor”, and their main objective was to remain in power by denying the real aspirations of their citizens.The PIPFPD was guided by Mubashir Hasan’s view that the only hope for the subcontinent lay in the awakening of the people and assertion of their sovereign rights. As his lifelong friend and comrade I. A. Rehman wrote, “Even during the last days of his life, when he could barely speak, he would ask his friends, when the people will rise to shake off this oppressive system.”

Dr Mubashir Hasan is survived by his wife, Dr Zeenat Hasan, and a large number of friends, admirers and disciples in India and Pakistan.

Today, when the two countries have stopped issuing visa, and anyone who talks of peace is being called an enemy agent, Mubashir Hasan’s bold step to visit India in the teeth of opposition and threats, beckons us to follow his lead. Mubashir Hasan is no more. His spirit and vision remains with us. It is now the task of the peace activists of the subcontinent to fulfil his dream.

A film-maker, Tapan Bose is the Co-Chairperson of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) from the Indian side.

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