Autonomy is not separation
29 June 2000
Srinagar: There are indications that the Central Government will soon begin a dialogue with the separatists in Kashmir, particularly the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, as the decks for the talks seem to have been cleared, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, said today. In an interview to The Hindu here, Dr. Abdullah said, ''I think the Centre is eager to talk to these groups. I think after the Prime Minister returns from Europe, the Union Cabinet will decide about the dates and the venue for the meeting.'' On his involvement in the proposed dialogue, he said, ''this is strictly between the Centre and the groups'' adding ''let them first talk. It is only after they come to some conclusion will I be taken into confidence.'' Rejecting a proposal of the United States-based Kashmir Study Group for division of the State on communal lines, Dr. Abdullah said it did not enjoy the blessings of the American Government, otherwise ''the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, would have taken it up with the Prime Minister during his recent visit here.'' ''Mr. Farooq Kathwari, architect of the plan, met me in Jammu early this year and put forward the proposal. I did not agree then, and I don''t agree now. It suggests that the Chenab river be the dividing line to bifurcate Kashmir and Jammu with an option for the people in Rajouri, Doda and Poonch to go either with Kashmir or Jammu, which will remain in India. Similarly, Leh would be a part of India and Kargil would have the option of going with Kashmir or Skardu. There are many such plans being mooted by some Kashmiris, U.S. Senators and Congressmen. These are not acceptable to us,'' Dr. Abdullah said. On the autonomy resolution passed by the State Assembly last week, he said, ''it does not mean separation from India but is a way the people of State can live with dignity and honour.'' Rejecting the plan to have a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary to discuss the issue, Dr. Abdullah insisted on a ministerial committee saying, ''it is a political issue and has to be discussed at the political level.'' Blaming the Bharatiya Janata Party for misleading the nation on the issue, he wondered, ''how can you expect support from the BJP which has been demanding even abrogation of Article 370. But it is not the view of the ruling National Democratic Alliance. I think the NDA partners will see reason and back us.'' Asked how he would react if the demand was not accepted, he said, ''you will see at that time. We proved those wrong who said we would not be able to pass the resolution.'' The Chief Minister pointed out that protests in some pockets of Jammu and Leh did not mean everyone there was against autonomy. ''Jammu division does not mean Jammu alone but comprises Udhampur, Doda, Rajouri, Poonch and Kathua. Same is the case with Ladakh, which does not consist of Leh alone. I cannot say everybody in Kashmir is with autonomy as there are some who want azadi (freedom). But I am sure the majority will support us,'' he said. Expressing the hope that autonomy would lead to peace, he said, ''it is not the only path. There is also the path of a dialogue between India and Pakistan. All these are steps in the right direction.''