|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
The Rediff Interview/Hurriyat Conference Chairman Abbas Ansari
August 11, 2003
When Maulvi Abbas Ansari took over as chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference last month from Abdul Gani Bhat, many in the media were surprised.
The little known Ansari's initial statements that Americans were not welcome as mediators between India and Pakistan had US embassy officials rushing to Srinagar to pacify him and extend their support to the Hurriyat.
When he arrived in New Delhi along with Bhat and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the two Hurriyat stalwarts did not allow the media to speak to Ansari lest he made a statement which would not be in line with the Hurriyat's policies.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in New Delhi, Ansari said another war between India and Pakistan would not only destroy Kashmir but also India and Pakistan.
What is it that leaders of various political outfits in the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference are looking for?
Peace of mind of the people of Jammu and Kashmir becomes the first casualty when a war breaks out between India and Pakistan. The daily killings in Kashmir is troubling everyone, irrespective of the fact whether the person lives in the state or outside.
The situation has come to such a pass that it has become impossible to live even a few moments of life without anxiety.
The Government of India has appointed N N Vohra to talk to the Hurriyat Conference and other political parties in the state. Why are you not talking to Vohra?
Vohra has no agenda to talk to the Hurriyat Conference. He is talking about the number of roads, who should get government jobs and other administrative matters relating to the state. He is not talking about Kashmir -- the main issue between India and Pakistan.
The two countries have fought three big wars and one small scale war in Kargil on Kashmir. Vohra is not talking about it. What is his status? One of my men can go and see him. But not me. What we want to discuss is why all this is happening in Kashmir and this is what he cannot discuss. So where is the point in meeting him?
He can meet the taxi union leaders, shikarawala leaders and so. We do not fall in that category. Hence, there is no question of meeting Vohra.
Or is it that you want to talk to the Government of India?
We have learnt two lessons in the last 55 years, and that too from the Indian leadership. The first one was from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Before he died he released Sheikh Abdullah from jail. He wanted to find a peaceful solution to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir so that the people of both countries could sleep in peace.
Nehru first talked to Sheikhsahib in Delhi and then sent him to Pakistan and even Pakistan occupied Kashmir; he (Abdullah) held talks with Kashmiri leaders there.
The other lesson I learnt was from Mrs Indira Gandhi. Though she had a Congress government in Jammu and Kashmir led by Syed Mir Qasim, she spoke to Sheikh Abdullah. Though the main talks were going on between their emissaries the documents that were signed are known as the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord.
It was our bad luck that Pandit Nehru died even before the talks could take off. The talks between Mrs Gandhi and Sheikh sidelined Pakistan and the Pakistan occupied Kashmir leadership which is very much a part of Kashmir.
So when Mrs Gandhi could hold talks with Sheikhsahib to find a solution to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir, then why can't the present government do the same?
Sheikh Abdullah had stature. Do you have a leader in the Hurriyat Conference who can match him?
Frankly no. I would not claim that anyone of us can match him in this respect. But I would like to emphasise that the Hurriyat Conference does represent the wishes and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir both on the Indian side as well as on the Pakistani side.
It is therefore important that the Government of India invites us to hold talks. Not with Vohra, but with the political leadership of India.
So you are looking for a meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Is that correct?
The invitation from the government should have some level, some stature. Where is the level? Do you want us to hold talks with a bureaucrat? This is an insult to us. Even the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is saying the prime minister should hold talks with the Hurriyat Conference.
Even Omar Abdullah, president of the National Conference, says that. The state CPI-M also supports this stand. Even Pakistan Opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman who visited India recently said the Government of India should hold talks with us.
You are saying when talks on Kashmir begin then Pakistan occupied Kashmir should be included in it as well. Is that right?
Yes, this is our position because Kashmir on the Indian side and Kashmir on the Pakistani side are part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan has said the Kashmir issue should be solved through dialogue. But it does not specify which part of Kashmir.
Pakistan says it means Kashmir on the Indian side. Whereas India maintains we would talk on Kashmir but only about the area occupied by Pakistan. There is a lot of confusion on this score. It is necessary that whenever India and Pakistan talk about Kashmir it has to be the whole of Kashmir -- whether on this side of the border or that side of the border.
It is essential there should be intra-Kashmir dialogue between leaders of Kashmir on both sides of the border. We are told there is no democracy on that side of the border. Let us go there so that we can see for ourselves what they have and what they don't.
Are you looking for a mediator on Kashmir?
Frankly no. Mediators come as friends and become masters and try to force their opinion on the two sides of the negotiating table. Both India and Pakistan are independent nations and can talk on their own. Let them not talk just because there is a change in the situation in the world.
They should talk out of a desire for peace, and not out of fear of America. Americans are welcome to help as friends, but not as masters.
Is there anyone who is more acceptable to you?
Yes, we have the name of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa. He has no axe to grind. He understands our situation better because he has spent his whole life in jail. Let him be present more as a witness then as a mediator so that we get to know what transpired during the negotiations. Otherwise, we have two versions one from India and other from Pakistan.
How soon do you think a solution to the Kashmir problem can be found?
I am confident that once the process of negotiation begins, it will end soon. But I hope it will not end in the next 55 years. It might end in 50 months, but that is acceptable because it is going to take time to sort out this mess.
The Americans are believed to have a road map for Kashmir, to convert the Line of Control as the international boundary.
I am not aware of any such road map. This is not acceptable to us. I keep hearing about various options on this matter.
Are you looking for azadi for both sides of Kashmir?
Very difficult to say at this juncture.
If this issue is not sorted out through talks, could there be another war?
I dread to even think of this option because both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. If there is a war, then India, Pakistan and Kashmir would be finished. After the war is over and the Kashmiris are dead then they could divide the land in whatever manner they want to do so.
What happens to the Kashmiri Pandits?
Kashmir is their homeland and they have a right to come back to Kashmir. In fact, the state of Jammu and Kashmir could never be complete without them.
Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images
The Rediff Interviews