Hizbul Committed To Dialogue On Kashmir
25 August 2000
The Times of India
Washington DC: A U.S.-based Kashmiri leader who enjoys the confidence of the Hizbul Mujahideen''s supreme commander has said the separatist group is committed to the negotiating process and no longer believes in a military solution to the Kashmir problem. Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC)and a prominent member of the team nominated by the Hizb to facilitate dialogue between ''India and the Kashmiri leadership'', said he was optimistic that talks between the rebel group and the Indian government could be resumed soon. Fai was speaking at a roundtable discussion organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a leading think tank here. The discussion was also attended by Clinton administration officials from the State Department''s South Asia bureau. Fai has just returned from Islamabad after interacting with Hizb supreme commander Syed Salahuddin and he was in contact with the Hizb''s top leadership when the group withdrew its two-week-old cease-fire on August 8. ''I don''t think it is really the end. It is the making of the beginning, if all parties (to the Kashmir problem) realise and understand what is really at risk (if the Kashmir imbroglio is not resolved),'' he said, referring to the collapse of the peace process. Fai noted that Salahuddin was on record as saying that ''the resolution of the Kashmir problem can only come through the negotiating process, not through the gun.'' Fai implied that the Hizb called off its cease-fire, which was announced on July 24 by Kashmir-based commander Abdul Majid Dar, not so much due to the Indian government''s refusal to engage Pakistan in tripartite talks on Kashmir, but more over Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee''s alleged about-face at the last minute. ''He (Vajpayee) mentioned at 1 p.m. on August 8, Indian time, that we (Indian government) are willing to talk to Hizbul Mujahideen without any conditions but the final settlement has to be within the Indian Constitution,'' Fai said. He acknowledged that the Indian Army had reciprocated the Hizb''s cease-fire. ''They ceased military offensive against the Hizbul Mujahideen. Even Prime Minister Vajpayee attempted to work around the Constitution, rather than within the Constitution,'' he said. Fai said what was most important was the statement Vajpayee made in Pahalgam in Kashmir, shortly after separatist guerrillas massacred nearly 100 people in a killing spree. ''He (Vajpayee) said that the touchstone of the peace talks should not be the Indian Constitution, (but) ''insaniyat'' or humanity,'' Fai said. ''These were the gestures and statements that really gave (rise to) a lot of optimism and hope not only for the Kashmiri people but to everybody who was very concerned with the situation,'' he said. Fai said if all the parties to the Kashmir problem took seven important steps, not only could the peace process be resumed, ''but a permanent and lasting peace could come not only to Kashmir, but to the whole of South Asia.'' First, according to Fai, ''all military activities in Jammu and Kashmir must come to an end, whether...the gun is in the hands of militants or paramilitary forces. There has to be an atmosphere of non-violence.'' Second, ''there should not be any pre-conditions from any party.'' Third, ''all parties to the dispute,'' which Fai said were India, Pakistan, the Kashmiri people and the international community, must come to the negotiating table. Fourth, ''if neutral mediation is available, this should be taken advantage of.'' He said a world figure like former South African president Nelson Mandela would be ideal to guide this process. As a fifth step, ''the fundamental principle that has to remain the guiding force to any settlement is the inherent right of the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their future.'' ''At this time, no party,'' he noted as a sixth step, ''should be really concerned about the shape and the form of the settlement.'' Fai said, each party, as a seventh step, had to make sacrifices for the sake of peace. ''Each party will have to modify its own position in order to create a common ground,'' he said. Fai argued that ''it is almost impossible to have a final settlement of the Kashmir issue to the fullest possible satisfaction of India, to the fullest possible satisfaction of Pakistan, and to the fullest possible satisfaction of Kashmiris.'' ''So a workable solution is possible if there are compromises and there are sacrifices from all the parties involved,'' he said.