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The Rediff Interview/Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, former J&K chief minister
'You cannot control people using the army'
December 05, 2006
Member of Parliament Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir till November 2005, recently sparked a furore when he demanded autonomy for Kashmir.
Sayeed leads the People's Democratic Party, which he formed in 1999 to persuade the Union government of the need for unconditional dialogue with the local people to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Previously a member of the Congress party, he quit to join V P Singh's Janata Dal, and became India's first Muslim home minister in 1989.
In New York recently to address the United General Assembly on the International Atomic Energy Agency report, Sayeed took time off to speak to Rediff India Abroad Senior Editor Suman Guha Mozumder about Kashmir and how the prospect of resolving the issue has become brighter than ever.
Almost 30 months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been in power what kind of changes, if any, do you see in the Kashmir situation?
After the 2002 elections our party was not in a majority, but in alliance with the Congress we evolved a common minimum programme. Many measures were suggested in that policy, including the need for a healing-touch policy -- that we have to address the alienation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and need to be in the hearts and minds of people and not depend on bullets to deal with the situation.
There has been tremendous change in the situation on the ground level. People's perceptions have changed as they really get involved in developmental activities and try to fight for democratic institutions like municipal, assembly and parliament elections.
Our policy was that it is not the bullet, but the ballot that will decide. To a great extent, we have succeeded in changing the scenario.
There has been a lot of tourism. The process of dialogue to resolve the problem also started with us talking to the militants. We had round table conferences in New Delhi and there were five groups to discuss different issues, including the LoC (Line of Control between the parts of Kashmir held by Pakistan and India), trade, movement of people and goods, economic development and good governance...
So there has been some positive change.
If trade is there -- we are just starting the trade between the two parts (the areas of Kashmir controlled by India and Pakistan) -- there will be no custom duty. There will be free movement of people and goods between the two parts.
We think that there are many setbacks in between -- some instances (of violence), but really I think the peace process, the process of dialogue, is irreversible. It has to go ahead. That is the ground reality for both our country and Pakistan. You cannot be enemies for all time. This confrontation cannot continue with our neighbours.
According to me, one focus is Kashmir. There has been a lot of animosity between the two countries because of Kashmir, resulting in three wars. But Kashmir is not the only issue. It is the relationship between the two countries. Our former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that 'you can change friends, but you cannot change neighbours.'
I think Vajpayee, even after the attack on Parliament, extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. There was a meeting in Islamabad. That process, even after the change of government, is continuing. The present government is taking the initiative and there may be some possibility of success.
President (Pervez) Musharraf has said that, as far Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, he is opposed to the UN resolution (for a plebiscite). So, there is flexibility on their side also.
According to me, the people of India have the opportunity (to resolve the issue) within a Constitutional framework. If there is consensus within the state of Jammu and Kashmir about some resolution, then I think it is possible for the country to take the bull by the horns. This is an opportunity and the Government of India has to utilise this opportunity.
Recently, you demanded autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. What exactly is the idea behind this?
I think autonomy is mentioned under the Constitution. As you know we acceded to India under special circumstances. We have a special position within the Constitution. Our relations with the country are governed under Article 370. We have a separate constitution, we have a separate flag and we have residuary powers.
Whatever laws are passed by the Indian Parliament are not applicable ipso facto to our state without the concurrence of the government or the legislature. So, Kashmir had a special position that has been eroded. When the elections were held in 2001 or 2002, I went to Vajpayee and told him the people say that Kashmir wants independence because the people of Jammu and Kashmir feel it is not they but Delhi that decides who rules the state.
There had been cases of rigging of elections. (Railway Minister) Lalu Prasad said from prison that he would rule and his wife had been ruling (the state of Bihar) for more than eight years.
In Tamil Nadu, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and AIADMK (All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) have been ruling since 1967 and the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) has been in West Bengal for decades but Article 356 had rarely (been) imposed (in these states) because people resented it. I said that in Kashmir's case the verdict of the people should not be negated.
As far as we are concerned we, as ministers and legislators, take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India. Jammu and Kashmir consists of three regions -- Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. When there is devolution of power from Center to state, there should be devolution of power from state to the regions. We suggest that there should be regional federalism so everybody has autonomy within the state.
What prompted you to call for autonomy for Kashmir now?
Autonomy is already there, but we lost some powers. Whatever the people decide, they can decide within the constitution and within the country. There is no right of cessation, but the people's verdict should not be negated as happened in our state.
There should be free trade between the two parts of Kashmir. There should be joint mechanisms for tourism. Let us think of some joint projects. There has to be a vision because in this age of globalisation, I think borders are all irrelevant.
Here one can say that our prime minister said 'we cannot change borders, but we can make borders irrelevant. I see the possibility of resolving this problem together because people are suffering. I think for any resolution, there should be some consensus within the state.
At the national level, I see a golden opportunity to resolve the dispute peacefully through dialogue. I am saying we should educate people.
You were Kashmir's chief minister until last year. Would you say the sense of alienation and the feeling that Delhi may have been imposing its will on Kashmir endured during this time?
Delhi has been doing it. It was only in 2002 that (truly fair) elections became fairest possible. Then prime minister Vajpayee said from the Red Fort that there would be the fairest possible elections and he ensured that. So, for the first time people thought they were participating in the democratic process.
Do you share the views of people like K Alan Kronstadt, the point man for South Asia in the Congressional Research Service, who recently visited Kashmir that there are too many troops in the valley?
Our armed forces are experienced in dealing with the external situation. The internal situation is very different and therefore a larger role should be given to the police and paramilitary forces.
We live in a democratic country; you cannot control people using the army. So there should be reduction of the armed forces (in Kashmir). Police and paramilitary forces should play a more important role in combating militancy.
There have often been demands that the people of Kashmir should be involved in the resolution of the issue. Could you tell us which party/parties actually represents the people of Kashmir?
Number one are the mainstream parties, those who are in the assembly, Parliament etc, such as the People's Democratic Party, the National Conference, Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and others. There are separatists who do not take part in elections. So there are two segments.
Anyhow, in any future dispensation, all have to take part in elections. So mainstream and separatists both should be involved in a dialogue.
How relevant is the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference?
They were formed after the insurgency. It is an umbrella organisation covering all the elements within the state whoever they are separatists, or not. They also have to participate. They had discussions with (then deputy prime minister L K) Advani and with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
I think a dialogue will start with them again. Even the Indian government feels there is an opportunity here. But there were some setbacks like the Bombay blasts. That kind of thing vitiates the atmosphere. I think this peace process has to go ahead. There may be ups and downs but it has to go ahead.
How will your demand for autonomy help the peace process?
Naturally, it will help. If the internal dimension is addressed and you take steps to satisfy the aspirations of the people, then it becomes easy to resolve the problem. It will help the situation and not create impediments.
What kind of response has your party got on this demand from your coalition partner, the Congress party, in the government?
It is there. They have to deliver.
Are they agreeable?
No, I won't say they are agreeable but we are partners in the government. When we fought elections, we had a common minimum programme with the Congress. The Congress agreed with that -- changing the socio-economic scenario and addressing the people's feelings of alienation.
The Congress has a lot of experience of dealing with these problems in Nagaland, Punjab, Mizoram and Manipur. They have to educate the people of India and talk to their own party. I think they are also convinced that here is an opportunity to resolve the problems of Kashmir within the constitutional framework and have a reconciliation with Pakistan.
Don't you think that once Kashmir gets autonomy, there may be similar demands from the states you mentioned?
No. Kashmir already has a special position since 1947. It is there. Nobody is saying that we should get some new dispensation. All we are saying is that some of those (privileges) should be restored, not all of it within the constitutional framework.
There is a perception that not all is well with your party's partnership with the Congress, that relations are strained...
You know, when you are in a coalition there are stresses and strains. There are differences of perceptions but the compulsions are there.
The compulsions of going together because you have some objectives before you. Despite your differences, attitudes, you have to go ahead. I think we would continue.
What is your position on the execution of Mohammed Afzal Guru, accused of complicity in the attack on Parliament?
People say the trial was not fair from the beginning (because Afzal) was not provided legal assistance. I do not know the reason. We have to (understand) the sentiment of the people demanding (that Afzal not be hanged). He is a young person.
There are a lot of agitations, strikes, processions in Kashmir about this. (Asking for clemency) is a legal course and it is open to everybody. They have moved a mercy petition. Even the assassin of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was pardoned because Sonia Gandhi took a keen interest in not having her hanged. So, it is up to the President of India to decide.
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