January 24, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ Panun Kashmir leader Kamal Hak

 'The BJP is more concerned about the temple in Ayodhya than the misery of 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits'

The All Party Hurriyat Conference's plans to visit Pakistan to untie the Kashmir knot electrified the Panun Kashmir, the organisation of Kashmiri Pandits who want a separate homeland for themselves.

"Good, let the Hurriyat leaders visit Islamabad, we will follow suit. Any solution of the Kashmir dispute cannot be achieved without the participation of 3.5 lakh of our community members who have been driven out from our homeland at the point of the gun."

That was the plaintive cry of Panun Kashmir spokesman and senior national coordinator Kamal Hak who warned the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government that it must be prepared for the Kashmiri Pandit team's Islamabad visit to apprise the bulk of the Pakistani population that the community has a major stake in the resolution of the tangle between India and Pakistan.

Special Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay spoke to Hak at his home near Delhi recently, to find out how the Panun Kashmir reacts to the move for peace in the valley.

Why should the Musharraf regime care to hear you out when successive central governments in New Delhi have ignored Panun Kashmir?

Why is the Hurriyat going to Islamabad when its leaders are in constant and active touch with successive Pakistani governments? They can simply come to New Delhi and meet the Pakistan high commissioner to push their points of view.

For almost a decade now, the Kashmiri polity, including the militant leadership, has been drawing its sustenance from across the border in Pakistan. You must understand if that is the case, what purpose will it serve to send the Hurriyat team to Islamabad? This, the Panun Kashmir just does not understand.

Secondly, the Government of India also appears to be keen to send the Hurriyat team to Islamabad. This means the GoI is according some sort of de facto legitimacy to Pakistan, thus recognising that Islamabad is a party to the Kashmir dispute.

Since the government has long held since Independence its position that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between it and the Kashmiris, we are appalled that the Hurriyat team is now being sent to Pakistan.

It probably is the Indian government's face-saving gesture to hold tripartite talks. If that is the case -- that Pakistan is a key for the Kashmir solution -- it is our view there is need for a Panun Kashmir team to visit Pakistan to apprise the bulk of its population of the pitiable plight we have been suffering for a decade.

I must emphasise we have very strong reasons to believe that most Pakistani people are unaware how Kashmiri Pandits have been hounded out of their homeland and that the solution sought must take into account our feelings and aspirations. That is why we want to visit Islamabad.

There is criticism that Kashmiri Pandit organisations have many differences among themselves.

Look, there could be some difference in our approach, but the objective for a separate homeland is common. We are all united on that which is of paramount importance. The rest, as they say, is negligible.

Unless you successfully engage the Indian government's attention to your plight, there is little point in engaging foreign governments, is there?

Unfortunately, that is a fact. Ever since our exodus from J&K began in 1990, the nation has seen the entire gamut of political parties holding power at the Centre. We have seen the Congress, the Janata Dal, the United Front comprising the secular parties and now the National Democratic Alliance government of Prime Minister Vajpayee. I am afraid all of them have merely heard us out. They have all been callous towards us.

The Vajpayee government is no different. That is why Panun Kashmir has participated in international human rights conferences. I am happy to tell you that Western countries including powerful American politicians are now aware of the Kashmiri Pandits's plight.

Has the Vajpayee government ignored the hardships Kashmiri Pandits have encountered?

I think the Vajpayee government has ignored us for electoral considerations.

Could you elaborate?

Since 1990-1991, Panun Kashmir had a lot of hope on the BJP since it declared itself a champion of the Hindus. The party was then striving for consolidation of the Hindu ethos in India. But we soon found out that the BJP is more concerned about the bricks and stones and mortar for the temple in Ayodhya than the misery and untold suffering of 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits displaced from Kashmir.

Of course, Vajpayee and Home Minister Advani heard us out a couple of times which previous governments were not doing. But there has been deafening silence from the Vajpayee government ever since.

In January 1990, half the community were hounded out of Kashmir by gun-toting militants. On September 14 the previous year, BJP vice-president and its national executive member Tilklal Taploo was murdered in cold blood. We have been observing this day as our Martyrs's Day. We met Vajpayeeji and Advaniji to urge them to come to our aid. Nothing has happened. They remained non-commital.

What is this talk about your organisation's contact with Pakistan human rights activist Asma Jahangir?

Some of us met her informally abroad and she got a whiff of what has been happening to our community. Human rights has to be applied equally all over the world. And if need be, we will meet her if we find that we have to travel to Pakistan to fulfill our aspirations.

How have you apprised the international community about your plight?

We attended human rights conferences in Geneva, other parts of Europe and the US. The important people concerned with human rights have reacted very favourably to us. Earlier, this was not the case because they did not know about our plight. Now we receive calls from abroad every day which want us to emphasise what our present condition is. That is a good sign.

Who will finance your trip to Pakistan if it comes to that?

Financially, our organisation has to make both ends meet and our members contribute funds to take care of the basic necessities. Those of us who earn some livelihood contribute more. We will put up the funds if the Islamabad trip becomes absolutely vital.

How do you qualify 'vital'?

It all depends on the outcome of the Hurriyat trip to Pakistan. We will weigh the pros and cons and then make our move.

Design: Dominic Xavier


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