Autonomy Cannot Solve Kashmir Issue: Mehbooba Mufti12 August 2010
New Delhi: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech to Kashmir leaders here was a 'good beginning', but proposals based on autonomy cannot solve the 63-year-old Kashmir issue, which has 'international ramifications'. She also believes that 'step by step integration' of the Indian and Pakistani Kashmirs in various fields is the way forward as Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing a vicious cycle of protests and deaths. 'We had the maximum autonomy for the past six decades. Pacts like the Indira-Sheikh (Abdullah) accord and Rajiv-Farooq (Abdullah) accord have failed to deliver. There is no point in trying the old formulae,' Mufti told IANS in a telephonic interview from Srinagar. 'Besides, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir involves the other Kashmir and Pakistan too. The issue has international ramnifications,' she said. Mufti, 51, who is also the leader of opposition in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, said the prime minister's Aug 10 speech should be followed up with action. 'Otherwise, the situation will deteriorate.' She said the government should initiate dialogue with all shades of opinion, including hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Ali Shah Geelani, 'who turned the recent violent protests to a peaceful one'. The PDP chief said she did not regret not attending the July 12 all-party meeting in Srinagar called by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. 'It was a very delayed and half-hearted move by the besieged state government,' she said. Nor does she regret not joining the all-party delegation that met the prime minister in Delhi Tuesday. 'The Delhi meeting came too late: one month after the Srinagar meet. It had lost all sanctity as the leaders of various parties like the National Conference, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress had already met prime minister during the period,' she said. The Srinagar and Delhi meetings were held in the wake of the cycle of violence in Kashmir since June 11, in which 50 people, mostly youths and teens, were killed by the security forces in firing to curb stone-pelting street protests. Curfew was imposed and the army called to stand-by in Srinagar and other towns as normal life was paralysed in the valley. Calling the Delhi meeting a 'cosmetic formality', Mufti said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already received all the inputs and made his opinion public through national television even before meeting the Jammu and Kashmir leaders. 'There was no mention of autonomy in the prime minister's speech. It was mentioned in an off-hand way after the meeting,' Mehbooba Mufti told IANS. She accused the 20-month-old Omar Abdullah government of frittering away the gains consolidated by the former PDP-Congress government. 'This (the progress under PDP) is not our opinion. Home Minister Chidambaram has put on record that militancy had come down and a peaceful atmosphere had prevailed in the valley during 2004-2007.' Mufti said the Omar government was 'simplifying the crisis in Kashmir by describing it as a phenomenon of stone-pelters'. 'The fact is that all sections of people are angry, as they (the present government) have failed to provide good governance. Their failure has brought the Kashmiri youth to the streets and put them in direct confrontation with the army and paramilitary forces,' she said. Mufti said the prime minister did well in his address by acknowledging the popular crisis in Kashmir and not instead 'putting the blame on the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) or Pakistan-sponsored militants'. But he should realise that the issue in Kashmir is not of an economic package, but of a political solution, she said. What could be the alternative to autonomy for solving the Kashmir issue? 'For us, the Self-Rule Plan of the PDP (a document released by the PDP in 2008 which proposes integration of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistani Kashmir in different fields like trade, travel, institutions and legislature) is the best way forward suggested by any mainstream party.' 'One should take practical ways. Ultimately, it should be realised that Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) have not reconciled to the division of the state in 1947. Step by step integration of the state is the way forward.' Does Mufti regret her controversial acts like snatching the mike of the speaker of the assembly or locking ministers in their offices? 'Not at all. Even in a democratic set-up, extreme situations created by the government evoke extreme reactions from people and their representatives,' she said. 'Look at the Telangana (issue in Andhra Pradesh) or other states. MLAs are pressing people's demands through their resignations and even direct action. But when we in Kashmir protest the rapes in Shopian or the killing of youths, it is branded as anti-national acts by our political rivals and some vested interests,' Mufti said.