At the time Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani was holding the second round of talks with a delegation of the separatist All-Parties Hurriyat Conference in New Delhi on March 27, another separatist Kashmiri politician, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, sat down in a south Delhi house to dismiss it as "patchwork."
The pro-Pakistan hardliner, who is plotting his own course and forming a rebel Hurriyat group, has not been softened in any way by the developments in Jammu and Kashmir over the last year. The aged rebel continues to make rabble-rousing statements and refuses to change his stand on the Kashmir dispute.
A solution to the Kashmir dispute, Geelani told rediff.com Chief Correspondent Josy Joseph, can be achieved only after New Delhi accepts that the territory is not an integral part of the Indian Union and allows the people of the state to decide their own future through a plebiscite.
Among other things, the Centre is prodding the Hurriyat leadership to not call for a boycott of the forthcoming Lok Sabha election even if they want to stay out of the process. They are also talking on several other issues. What do you think of this move forward?
The talks are unconstitutional and without any basis. They cannot claim to be Hurriyat because 15 out of the 23 members of the general council of the Hurriyat have passed a no-confidence motion against them. Then they [the 15 rebel members] requested me to hold the chairmanship of the Hurriyat. I was not ready initially because I am fed up of this 'forum politics'. But when these people compelled me, under compulsion I agreed. After that these people [the official Hurriyat delegation] have no justification to claim that they are Hurriyat.
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On today's talks also, I can tell you nothing solid will emerge. Advani has already said the talks are being held with 'our people' and for decentralisation of power.
That is not our problem. Our demand is that the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be given the right to self-determination according to the commitment given by India at both national and international levels. India took the case to the Security Council and the Security Council passed 18 resolutions in favour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. And it has been admitted that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of neither India nor Pakistan, until and unless the people of Jammu and Kashmir decide whether they want to be with India or Pakistan. We have been arguing for it right from 1947, not since 15 years [when the terrorism began]. It is an ongoing struggle.
You people very well know that Sheikh Abdullah led this movement continuously for 22 years. It is not a new thing, or new movement, or new organisation. So the outcome of this dialogue should be progress for the permanent settlement of the dispute. All these, release of detainees etc, are a patchwork.
But the dialogue seems to be enjoying the support of the international community and even Pakistan.
No. The real fact is the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Its people are the sufferers. The people of the state are making a lot of sacrifices for achieving their objective and that objective is only the right to self-determination. There is no other objective, no other target before the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who are sacrificing everything. Not only their lives, not only their properties, but their honour and dignity also. Because thousands of our womenfolk have been gang-raped by Indian forces. And you might know that 10,000 people have been arrested by Indian forces. Nobody knows their whereabouts; if they are dead where their graveyards are. You cannot ignore these sacrifices.
But the reality is that even Pakistan seems to be accepting the dialogue.
Pakistan is a party to the dispute. And in a pamphlet I have told all those who are talking about dialogue with India leaders that the rational and natural way of dialogue is, India and Pakistan should start it. And we will wait and see the progress for permanent resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan. And after that we will participate in the dialogue as a third and basic party to the dispute.
But these people did not take the natural course of the dialogue. They should have waited till India and Pakistan start a dialogue, then they should see how sincere and dedicated India is towards a permanent settlement of the dispute. The dispute cannot be resolved when you say that the LoC [Line of Control] must be made a permanent line of partition, or internal autonomy. These solutions cannot be accepted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir at any cost.
But the reality is something else, Geelaniji. India is building a 580 kilometre-long multi-layered fence along the LoC, with tacit Pakistani understanding. And isn't Pakistan also accepting this dialogue as one of the ways out of the problem?
No, not at all. I will tell you very vehemently, with full confidence, that the question does not arise of Pakistan accepting the LoC as a permanent border. Not at all!
You have an assurance to that effect from Pakistan?
No [laughs]. I need not have the assurance of Pakistan. I am telling you on my own, as far as a majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned. Not the majority of the people. I will tell you that as far as our Ladakh brothers are concerned, they are demanding for many years that they be made a Union territory. How can I say they are with the movement? So is the position in Jammu. Dogra brothers are not with the movement. But as far as the Muslim people of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, they are with the movement.
If you try to understand me without any prejudice you will say my stand is 100 percent correct. I say the resolutions of the UN Security Council be implemented. If the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir decide to be with India, then we will accept the decision of the majority, wholeheartedly, without any reservation, without any hesitation, wholeheartedly. And we will be faithful citizens of India. But then the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir will decide we should be with India.
If the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir decides to go to Pakistan, then they [India] should accept the decision of the majority on the basis of democratic norms. What is wrong in that?
Repeating your hardline stance isn't taking us anywhere. Why are you not ready to take a step backwards? If you and the government continue to stick to your rigid positions a resolution may never be possible.
This is not, my dear son, this is not a rigid stand. This is a realistic stand. You change your word. India should accept the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian government has accepted the disputed nature of the dispute, in whatever way it is.
No, no. There is a resolution standing in Parliament from 1995. They have not revoked that resolution. And they must withdraw their soldiers, at least to the barracks at this juncture. And withdraw the Disturbed Areas Act, release all detenues, and show sincerity towards a permanent settlement of the issue.
Is that a pre-condition for you to join the talks?
Yes, definitely. Else what would come out from the talks? There have been so many talks from 1947. For six months there were continuous talks between Karan Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, there was the Tashkent Agreement, there was the Simla Agreement, so many agreements for more than half a century. What has come out?
What is the situation in which you will enter the dialogue in the present environment?
We will wait and see what is the attitude of the Indian government when it start a dialogue with Pakistan. Then we will decide.
But right now nobody is actually inviting you for a dialogue?
I am not bothered [laughs]. I don't know if the Government of India should invite we people for dialogue. We don't need it.
In the wake of the talks, if there is a substantial difference on the ground in Kashmir, what would be your reaction?
These are all offshoots of the dispute. There was calm before 1987. We fought elections. I have myself been for 15 years in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. We used all peaceful ways and means to achieve a settlement. It is India which rejected all peaceful ways to give us our birthright to self-determination. In this condition, in this bitter experience of 55 years, if they stop atrocities, release detainees, that is not the objective. They do not show the progress that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory and we have given our pledge to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and we took the case to the UN Security Council, and Security Council has passed the resolutions, we have admitted to those resolutions, and we are ready to implement those resolutions. Then we can say that yes, India is ready.
As of now even the international community seems to be wary of your stand.
One thing you must understand, for future, you must learn that whenever a person is taking a stand with his full conscience that the stand is right he doesn't bother if this and that people are supporting him or the world community is supporting him. No need. If I am killed, if I will be martyred. I will tell you that I will succeed to achieve my objectives. Jammu and Kashmir is
not an integral part of India and India has deceived the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They have broken the pledges that they have made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. So whenever we find that we are on the right path we will even die, there is no need that the world community must support or anyone should support.
Even the Jamaat-e-Islami, your parent organisation, seems to be going against you these days. They have initiated action against your group and are distancing themselves from your actions.
No, they are not saying that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and so we are not supporting Geelani. They have decided that as far as the [Moulvi] Abbas [Ansari, current Hurriyat chairman] group is concerned, they are not Hurriyat group. They were thinking that now we will support the Geelani faction. Now they have not decided, so what? We are not facing any difficulty with no support from them.
In the last assembly election, there was a large turnout of voters even in the Kashmir valley. Isn't it a sign of the increasing support for India among the Muslims?
No, not at all. Whenever people of Jammu and Kashmir are voting, in the disputed territory, they are voting in the shadow of 700,000 Indian forces. Nobody can say that there is a free and fair election. No.
What sort of commitment are you looking forward to from Pakistan?
What do they have to do? They are accepting that Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory, they are demanding that India should withdraw its forces. And they have declared that if India withdraws troops they will withdraw their troops from Azad Kashmir and then there must be a plebiscite. First, they declared cease-fire along the LoC. What else do you want Pakistan to do?
Stop supporting the armed militants?
This is an indigenous struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I will tell you, my dear son, that gun was a compulsion for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. A compulsion. We people are not warmongers. We are a most peace-loving people. We have great respect for human and moral values. For centuries there were no communal clashes in Kashmir. We have not seen 'Gujarat' in our state.
But Geelanisaheb, so many lives are being lost there!
Who are losing lives? Mostly locals. Soldiers are losing lives because they are occupying forces. When British soldiers were in India, people were fighting against them. When East Pakistani people raised demands for separation from West Pakistan, your army went there. At that time Mrs Indira Gandhi said people raised their voice for independence and we are supposed to support every nation who are for independence. Why discriminate then?
There is a visible shift in the statements of General Musharraf. He is now vehement in saying that Pakistani soil will not be allowed to be used for any armed movement.
He is right as the president of Pakistan. As far as our struggle is concerned it is an indigenous struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. You must know it and you must accept it as a hard reality, whether it is in your interest or not. People have sacrificed their lives for it. In Jammu and Kashmir you will see more than 500 graveyards of martyrs. And I am telling you with full authority that more than 95 percent of the martyrs are from Jammu and Kashmir. We are the ones who want peace most. But peace cannot be achieved in a vacuum.
Do you think the 580 kilometre-long fencing of the LoC will be dismantled?
Definitely, Inshallah! Like the wall of Germany collapsed.
Photograph: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images | Image: Uday Kuckian