Kashmiris admit US hand behind Indo-Pak peace
26 January 2004
The Daily Times
NEW DELHI: Domestic compulsions are keeping India and Pakistan from giving credit to the US for the recent breakthroughs regarding Kashmir and Indo-Pakistan relations. But the Kashmiri leadership that met Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in New Delhi last Thursday is open about the US role. In fact, the first contact between senior policy makers in New Delhi and the Hurriyat leadership was made soon after President Clinton visited India and Pakistan in March 2000.However, former APHC chairman Syed Ali Gilani, who along with his colleagues, was released from prison at President Clinton's intervention, dispirited such contacts and dampened the spirits of interlocutors including Delhi-based American envoys, former foreign secretaries Muchkund Dubey, Salman Haider and people like late AM Khusroo and many others. The interlocutors in turn stopped interacting with Mr Gilani and turned to other Kashmiri leaders.Excerpts from Prof Abdul Gani Bhat's talks with Daily Times.We have seen for past one month that peace winds are blowing between India and Pakistan and you are also a part to such an engagement. What actually caused these winds to blow?Change is changeless. A change has happened in regard to the mindset as well as the attitudes of world leaders. This has to have an impact on the leadership in the subcontinent, which has risen to the occasion. In my opinion, we are fortunate for having Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf. PM Vajpayee represents a vision and President Musharraf represents pragmatism. When you put vision and pragmatism together you should expect big changes in the style of working, changes in shaping relations, changes in identifying areas where we can work together and move forward. And this is reflected in each speech the leaders make, in the joint statement issued in Islamabad and after our meeting with the Indian leadership here in New Delhi.Change has happened. Change is reflected in the Indian government's offer of talks with the Hurriyat. It was reflected on our part in terms of accepting the offer. The Indian government made absolutely clear that talks are unconditional and Kashmir centric and have nothing to do with either elections or power sharing in Srinagar.In what way the two statements, one issued in Islamabad on January 6 and the other in New Delhi on January 22, reflect and complement each other? Both have vowed to move forward to resolve the Kashmir issue. The Kashmir problem has to be viewed always in conjunction with what has happened in India and Pakistan. If you discuss Kashmir in isolation, you end up nowhere. India is a party and so is Pakistan and so are people of Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan are two major nuclear powers in the region. We probably, as the principle party, pale into insignificance. But, look at the forces of history. They are more powerful than any nuclear arsenal. This should explain sufficiently the resolve on the part of the Kashmiri and Indian leaderships to begin talking.You are returning to Srinagar after meeting Indian Deputy PM LK Advani. Are returning with a bagful of promises or with mere hope?We think we have made a beginning, which we consider was the right step in the right direction. The going will be tougher. We are determined to solve problems. And this movement forward has generated hope in Kashmir and given a tremendous fillip to our resolve to move forward till we reach our goal, that is the permanent settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir problem and restoration of nuclear peace in South Asia.Are you satisfied with the first step?Absolutely. If we say no, we will be doing injustice to the Indian prime minister and deputy prime minister and to ourselves as well. We took care that a beginning was made in such a manner that when we leave, we leave with a sense of relief and dignity. However, it may be a big boost to say, with a sense of success at the very first start.What is the basis of your confidence in the sincerity of the Indian leadership?I wish of the leadership in Delhi and Islamabad a long life and a safe journey to the destination of resolving disputes and restoring peace. They have demonstrated a deep sense of responsibility. They have initiated a process that is so big and so huge that they cannot think of in terms of derailing it at any stage now.As we understand here, India's problem in Kashmir has been just militancy and for it the solution is a status quo and pre-1989 position. Now tell us, whether India wants to move beyond this position?If you go by the words of PM Vajpayee used in Srinagar last year and read it out in conjunction with his 2002 musings in Kerala. He himself said, 'We have to go beyond the beaten track.' What is the beaten track? It signifies change. Deputy PM Advani also told us that we should have to rise above if solutions have to be found. Yes, I see a change. The Indians are talking to the Hurriyat and they will also start talking to Pakistan in a few days.But you are missing history. At the time of the Sino-India war, then Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru initiated the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks and those led us nowhere. There have been declarations, joint statements between India and Pakistan and several accords between the Kashmiri leadership and New Delhi. But they all failed.When an event happens, you have to consider the situation. The situation is entirely different now. Both countries were not nuclear when the accords, declarations and joint statements you mentioned were shaped. The balance was restored when both went nuclear. Globalisation and the acquisition of nuclear weapons are two major factors. The entire world has focused attention towards South Asia and they have started understanding the root cause of tensions. The whole world is focussing on Kashmir now. This is the situation where we think history will not be repeated.Talks earlier produced nothing. We have had agreements, declarations but they did not lead to any solutions, much less to the establishment of permanent peace in South Asia. One of the most important reasons of the nuclearisation of South Asia is Kashmir. Another reason is the US war against terrorism. 9-11 was a turning point, bringing about a change in the mindset of leaders. As a consequence, Pakistan had to reverse its policy on Afghanistan. Similarity, India had to change.Are you in touch with Pakistan over the talks you are having with India or you have burned your boats with Pakistan?We wish well of Pakistan and India. But we refuse to be guided by India and Pakistan as far as our problem is concerned. We are thankful to Pakistanis that they have espoused our cause in spite of tremendous problems confronting them. This is a record in history. But right now we have reached a stage where we think we should speak as Kashmiris and speak in the interests of India, Pakistan as well as the Kashmiri population.I wish, hope and prey that Pakistan grows from strength to strength and transforms into a powerful country in the years to come.By just isolating you, do you think Pakistan is repeating the mistake it made in Afghanistan, where it backed the Taliban and isolated the Northern Alliance? Do you compare your group to the Northern Alliance?There is no link between the two situations. Pakistan is a sovereign country. They have the right to take decisions with regard to Afghanistan, India and Kashmir. Yes, we have the impression that there is a gap in communications and we will try to bridge it.But we have also every right to react. We have been in the field, in the thick of the situation. Kashmir is linked to India and Pakistan. Therefore, we have every right to say yes or no to Pakistan and India. We wish that the Pakistanis and Indians realise that enough is enough and that we want to end the violence and engage in purposeful and productive activity and address the core issue of Kashmir and find a way out. Pakistan also needs to change in terms of the changed global situation. The change they demonstrated in Islamabad also needs to be shown with regard to Kashmir. There are people who say talking is selling. We don't buy this accusation. Talking is finding a way out and not selling to India and Pakistan.How do you explain the phrase 'a step-by-step approach would lead to the resolution of all outstanding issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir' that was in the joint statement issued after you met Deputy PM Advani?When sincerity and seriousness constitute the guiding principle, you can choose the finest words to explain a situation. That is what we did. We made it absolutely clear. It means the release of prisoners languishing in prisons, an end to human rights violations, the withdrawal of POTA and an end to crackdowns. People must feel that the negotiations have brought change on the ground.But that does not mean they are the only issues. That does not mean we have ignored the root cause. You can't perform a miracle in the first meeting. We can go slowly. That is why we said a 'step-by-step' approach. We covered everything. We covered the future arrangement of Jammu and Kashmir, the measures to be taken with a view to the changing situation in Jammu and Kashmir. We hope this will happen.We discussed nothing other than hinting to Deputy PM Advani and PM Vajpayee that we will share ideas with you about the future of Kashmir. We said solutions have to be acceptable to Kashmir, India and Pakistan. You take your time. We have given a thought to it. We have prepared an outline and will be taking it to India and Pakistan, the international community and to our people also. We hope the outline is acceptable and durable for all three parties.How different is your outline to the American road map that calls for an exchange of territories and the division of state?These are matters of detail. This is not the time to discuss it.When you say a 'step- by-step' approach, what is the next step now?I think the end of elections in India will mark the beginning of the real job ahead. A job for India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Let us therefore prepare ourselves till the elections in India are over and we actually start talking. I hope by then the situation would have further substantially improved between India and Pakistan and they have created a congenial atmosphere in Kashmir too. That would help us move faster than expected.Deputy PM Advani told us in a press conference that you have committed to the enlargement of the dialogue process? What are your plans for that?I think when we say a wider range the people of Jammu and Ladakh have to be taken into confidence. Their mindset is different from my mindset and the mindset of the people of Kashmir. I don't want to go by community division. These are realities you have to accept. But another principle is more important than this one. We represent the people and anger against indignity. We represent the alienation that has deepened. We are the relevant representatives, might not be as big as Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, but relevant. He may be the representative of the people by votes, but he represents just an interest. You have to mark a difference.When you talk in terms of Jammu and Ladakh, it is not representing a problem but their aspirations. If I say, Indians should respect what I want and Pakistan should honour what I stand for. This principle should apply to Jammu, Ladakh and Azad Kashmir too. Therefore, a wider range, a broader consensus amongst Kashmiris is important. But more important is the group that braved all risks and decided to talk because the group represents the problem.When will you start consultations?We don't have to do it. It is for the Indian government.But they have entrusted it to you to consult all regions and the concerns of all communities?Yes, we will go to the people. We did talk to them before. When Deputy PM Advani referred to the pundits. I told Mr Advani that we should have taken up the issue up with you. We are sorry, we either forgot or we thought we should take up it in next meeting. They are a part of our blood. They are our flesh. We belong to the same racial stock. We share everything. A situation has separated us. But I told Mr Advani, can they come if I tell them to return. No, they will not. They have to come to Kashmir with dignity, with honour and more importantly with a deeper sense of security. For that you have to wait. That situation can arise only when the violence is put to an end. Violence can be put to an end when India, Pakistan and Kashmir start walking and talking together.Recently the Council for Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Hass said political problems needed to be ripened before they could be put to solutions. How far is Kashmir ripe now for the solution?I don't think Richard Hass or anyone can wait for the ripening of the problem. We don't want to live in tension all times to come. Neither the people in India nor Pakistan nor we can wait any longer. We want to get out of it and live peacefully. For that we cannot hang on and say the situation has not ripened. This is not the right way of addressing problems. The right way is to nip the evil in the bud.What will you do till March when you will have the next round of talks with Deputy PM Advani?I don't want to brag unnecessarily. I will not say that I will be turning tables or going home to tell people look we had gone to Delhi and we got this thing. It is winter in Kashmir and it's an agricultural society. We are a handful of people compared to the huge size of India and Pakistan. We are the smallest and weakest. We will talk to as many people as we can and place things before them in the proper perspective and not generate false hopes and not demoralise them.