The path-breaking dialogue between the separatist All-Parties Hurriyat Conference and the Centre faces a serious threat with a key constituent deciding to pull out ahead of the second round of talks scheduled for Saturday, March 27.
The Peoples' Political Front announced its decision last month to withdraw from the Hurriyat team that had been chosen to carry on the dialogue with New Delhi. The reason: the ostensibly deteriorating human rights situation in the valley.
Though the Political Front is not the biggest or most popular party in the separatist conglomerate, it has a unique standing in Jammu and Kashmir, having played a crucial role in getting the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest terrorist organisation in the state, to declare a ceasefire in 2000 and even open negotiations with the Centre.
Political Front leaders Fazal Haq Qureshi, part of the five-member Hurriyat delegation that met Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani in New Delhi on January 22, and Mohammed Musadiq Aadil were among the Hizb's interlocutors during the ceasefire. The two were among the earliest Kashmiris to take up militancy. They were also among the first to come overground in 1994, declaring that the Kashmir dispute could only be resolved through negotiations.
Musadiq Aadil, 47, vice-chairman of the front, spoke to Chief Correspondent Josy Joseph from his STD booth in Srinagar.
Why did you pull out of the dialogue process?
When they (the Hurriyat team) returned from New Delhi they were given a few assurances by New Delhi, like the release of political prisoners, and on human rights in the valley. But the situation that evolved was different. On January 26 they released 34 people. Not a single political prisoner was among them.
The situation got worse later. In Bandipore, the army took five civilians as porters and returned their bodies. Another was shot dead and buried as a foreign militant. When the body was exhumed, he turned out to be a poor local tailor. In Kishtwar they shot dead a maulvi in the masjid. Ikhwanis (pro-government militants) shot dead a chap whose cousin was a militant.
The security forces just want to eliminate all the militants, and several innocents are also getting killed. This is not acceptable. We have to face the public. So when the five leaders returned from Delhi, the Government of India had given us assurances. In fact, in the Hurriyat meeting we were the ones who said that we understand if Vajpayee or Advani says that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India because they have election-time compulsions.
Here we have to not only face the public, but also other groups, including those supporting (former Hurriyat member and pro-Pakistan leader Syed Ali Shah) Geelani. They are after us. What great storm would have hit the Indian government if they had released political prisoners?
But here in New Delhi we are told you were threatened by militants to withdraw from the dialogue process.
We were not threatened. We have met the militants, we have also sent a message to (Hizb chief Syed) Salahuddin about our decision to hold a dialogue and that political negotiation is the only way ahead for a resolution of Kashmir. We are not fickle-minded kids who can be frightened. Even at the height of the militancy we were not afraid of saying this is a political issue. Recently militants came to us to talk to us, but not to threaten us.
Militants from which group?
From Hizb, Jaish [Jaish-e-Mohammed] and others. They all came to us. We told them a dialogue is the way out, especially in the light of the increasing closeness between India and Pakistan. We urged them also to join us in the dialogue. None of them threatened us. We in fact asked them to declare a ceasefire. (Former Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz) Umar Farooq has also appealed to them to declare a ceasefire. They are unable to declare a ceasefire because they need directions from outside.
From their leaders or the Pakistani establishment?
You know wherefrom they need the direction. In fact they should be invited to a ceasefire. The Government of India knows where the militants get their orders. The border fencing etc is part of the understanding between the two governments. It ultimately is intended as part of India's efforts to corner the militants, to finish them. But we cannot allow that. These militants are our relatives, our brothers. How can we just stand and watch the security forces kill them?
Recently, in a village near Sopore, the security forces surrounded two buildings where two militants were holed up. They blew up the building. From the debris the militants cried out saying they were ready to surrender. But they were shot dead. Because we are in the political mood it doesn't mean we can just stand and watch these people being killed.
Are you also pulling out of the Hurriyat?
We are with the Hurriyat. Now we are calling for a boycott of the elections. The Hurriyat is also giving a boycott call. The human rights situation is as it is, there is no improvement.
We want both India and Pakistan to take a close look at the ground reality. It must change. The ordinary Kashmiri must realise there is a definite change. Otherwise, what is the use of the Indo-Pak dialogue?
Kashmir is the core issue. As of now there is no difference. The militants who are inside are here. There is no movement of militants now across the border. The Government of India wants to kill the militants. Even these militants are innocent, they are trapped. Give amnesty to them. India is a big country, why can't it give a month's amnesty to them to surrender?
What if the militants do not heed the ceasefire call? Why should India be the first to offer a ceasefire?
The Government of India is a disciplined force. The militants are not. So India must give the ceasefire call first. But we think the government wants to finish them.
Which force is leading the killing spree? The army?
All forces are the same. It all depends on the order. The government must take the initiative and see the response. For three years India said it wouldn't talk to Pakistan, but is now talking. So why not a ceasefire? Militancy is going on elsewhere in India. Hasn't the government declared a ceasefire in those parts?
If the Hurriyat goes ahead with the dialogue, will you pull out of it?
We will not leave the Hurriyat. If the ground situation improves, then we are ready to return to the dialogue. But it is the government's duty to see that the situation improves in Kashmir. If India and Pakistan can come close, why another approach towards Kashmir?
Do you think the coming election could be a reason for the so-called toughening of the government's stand? I mean, are the BJP and its allies going to use the 'improving' situation in Kashmir for the election?
The situation could get worse, if that is so. Please don't link elections to Kashmir. If the BJP deploys the issue, then the situation in Kashmir could get worse. But isn't the BJP now close to Pakistan? Then why shouldn't the situation in Kashmir improve? Ordinary people must feel there is a definite improvement in the situation, then only all these dialogues would have any meaning. Elections are not important to us.
You will not take part in the election under any condition?
If India and Pakistan come together and give an assurance that the Kashmir issue would be solved within a definite time period, then we can join the election. Actually not just India and Pakistan, but also the superpower (America) because there is a question of credibility. In India and Pakistan the power situation is such that we wouldn't trust any such commitment. (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf has already asked militants in Pakistan to surrender.
Pakistan is a victim of militancy. Then fencing (of the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir), which is going on with the tacit understanding of the two countries, is also meant to deal with militancy in a particular way. We don't accept that. They don't want any cross-border movement, and then (they will) finish off militants within Kashmir here.
So you fear that Pakistan might give in to India's 'manipulations' on Kashmir?
No. The government in Pakistan will have to face the public there. They cannot do anything without Kashmiris in their confidence. They will not ditch us. Pakistan's public is with us. Do you think a government in Pakistan can survive after ditching us?
So you could come back to the dialogue table? You are not being held back by any threats?
No. Let them change the ground situation, then we will go back to dialogue. If we have pulled out due to threats from militants, then we will never go back, isn't it?
Photographs: Ranjan Basu/ Saab Press
Image: Uday Kuckian