We cannot be stuck in history: Mirwaiz
9 April 2005
Islamabad: Kashmir's spiritual leader and chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq believes that the time has come for all elements in Kashmir to coordinate and have a unified voice on how to proceed further. He advocates a triangular dialogue to settle the political future of the Kashmiris but cautions that one wrong step could take the entire process back to square one. In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Dawn last week in New Delhi where he had come to meet the PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mirwaiz said 'We have to have a step by step approach as far as the problem (Kashmir) is concerned.' He talked at length about the Kashmir bus service, the advantages of the Indo-Pakistan dialogue for the Kashmiris, the human rights situation in the valley, the APHC split and the difference between Congress's Kashmir policy and that of the BJP government. Mr Farooq said the Kashmir issue had many dimensions to it and the bus service catered to the human aspect, which was fine. He said all other roads linking Jammu, Laddakh and the Valley that were closed after 1947 including the Poonch-Kotli and Jammu- Sialkot routes should be opened and all communication links should also be restored. However, he emphasized that the focus must not be lost from the real political problem in Jammu and Kashmir. 'We welcome and support these gestures and CBMs but the fact is that the people of Kashmir have made immense sacrifices and the investment of the people of Kashmir in this movement is very high and we cannot lose sight of that.' However, 'we want India and Pakistan to come closer because unless these countries come closer to each other, the prospects of a resolution of our problems become very dim.... We have to be consistent as far as the CBMs are concerned. They have to lead to a situation where we can address the problem politically. We cannot just continue with the humanitarian steps.' In this context he appreciated the course of action adopted by Pakistan, especially by President General Pervez Musharraf. 'He (President Musharraf) has not lost the focus of the main issue despite all the CBMs.' Mr. Farooq indicated that APHC representatives would want to go and meet people across the ceasefire line. 'If given the opportunity, the Hurriyat would want to visit Pakistan, too, and talk to President Musharraf, political parties in Pakistan and the Mujahideen and take them all into confidence as to how we can move forward,' he stated. He disagreed with the view that the start of the Kashmir bus service would harm the Kashmiri struggle. He said that the bus service should be viewed 'as a step which is linked with our struggle and our determination rather than something which India and Pakistan have agreed on.' According to Mirwaiz Farooq, 'We were reaching a situation where there was almost a stalemate on Kashmir. But then President Musharraf floated some proposals that have generated a debate inside Kashmir and, I am sure, in India and Pakistan too as to what could be the ultimate solution to the problem.' Mr Farooq said that the APHC had two or three roadmaps on Kashmir which could be shared with the Indian and Pakistani leadership. 'We want to be a part of the process. But before that, we should be allowed to deliberate on these issues with the leadership in Azad Kashmir and the Mujahideen so that everybody can be on board,' he said. Recounting the two rounds of discussions with the previous Vajpayee government, Mr. Farooq said 'We had an understanding on three issues with the BJP one, that any talks between the separatists or the Hurriyat Conference and the government of India have to be unconditional and there has to be no bar of the Constitution; two, the talks have to be centred on a solution of Jammu and Kashmir, not about transfer of power, subsidies, elections or economic packages; three, and most importantly that the involvement of the third party, which is Pakistan, has to be mandatory in any process if we are looking at a permanent solution to the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.' He said on these three issues if the government in Delhi was ready to take the initiative, Hurriyet would definitely respond positively. However, he added that before starting a new dialogue with New Delhi it was important that India allowed the leadership of Kashmir to go to Azad Kashmir to make this process a complete one. On the APHC's split and prospects of its unification, Mr. Farooq said he was trying hard for unity but conceded that unfortunately the gap had widened. However, he pointed out that there was no difference as far as the goal was concerned. He said while he respected Mr. Geelani's perception, he believed that support ought to be given by Pakistan to those people who want to contribute towards the process of resolution rather than who want to create hurdles in the way to a resolution. 'We have to help both Pakistan and India in their efforts to have a solution to Kashmir rather than create more stumbling blocks,' he said, lamenting that the APHC stood more or less divided at such a critical juncture when it was important for it to be together. Asked how he would compare Congress's Kashmir policy with that of the BJP, Mr. Farooq said that irrespective of party policy, in the case of the BJP Mr Vajpayee's statements gave the feeling that this was not an exercise in rhetoric. 'One could see to some extent that apart from the party position there was a personal realization that we need to move forward. 'With him (Vajpayee) one could feel he was looking into the possibility of opening up at least some channels of communication with Kashmiris especially with separatist elements in Kashmir,' the APHC chairman said. 'Most importantly we felt he took the initiative to start the dialogue with Pakistan despite the fact that at that time the BJP and even the opposition was hawkish considering that Kargil had happened,' he said. 'Congress may seem more secular and accommodating but if you look into the history of Kashmir it is clear that the issue was created by the Congress. So in that sense, they are old players and know the situation, the politics, and the tricks of how to evade a settlement rather than come to terms with the situation on the ground.' Commenting on the difference in the human rights situation in Kashmir over the period of a year from March 2004 to March 2005, Mr. Farooq said 'If you look at the statistics, attacks and skirmishes between the Kashmiris and the security forces have come down.' However, he pointed out that there was still a huge presence of troops and paramilitary forces on the ground. 'In Jammu and Kashmir we have more than 450,000 military and para- military troops and it is a virtual military camp. The checking, the searches and crackdowns are a headache.' Commenting on the withdrawal of troops following the Indian government's announcement, he said that no numbers had been given and human rights violations were continuing. 'The worse part is the silence of the international community,' said Mr Farooq. He said after 9-11 people were 'quiet about it' and there was not enough pressure on the government of India. Out of the hundreds of human rights cases that the Hurriyat had sent to the Indian national and state human rights commissions, only one or two had been taken up, he said.