September 12, 2002


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The Election Interview/Abdul Gani Bhat
JK Election:w

'Kashmir is linked to the very survival of South Asia' Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference Abdul Gani Bhat feels the time is ripe for India and Pakistan to find a solution to the Kashmir problem with the help of his organisation.

In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in New Delhi, Bhat said the escape routes for all three parties to the dispute --- India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiri people --- had been blocked and the only option was to sit together and hammer out a solution.

When we talk of Kashmir, where are you right now?

We have set out on a journey [for] the resolution of the problem of Jammu & Kashmir. We hope to arrive at some resolution, which would help in bringing permanent peace --- for India and Pakistan. This peace would also bring peace in the entire region of South Asia.

Can this happen or are we building castles in the air?

This can indeed happen and become hard reality if we put in a collective effort. At the people's level, we have started the process. The Kashmir Committee in India, the Kashmir Committee in Pakistan, and the Kashmiris in Kashmir could move together to resolve this problem. The resolution of the dispute will have to be hammered out. It has to be acceptable, honourable, and durable.

Have you got in touch with Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, chairman of the Kashmir Committee set up by Pakistan?

No, I have not spoken to him so far. If he has the Hurriyat Conference numbers and wants to get in touch with us, we would be happy to talk to him.

What has been achieved during your talks with the Kashmir Committee led by Ram Jethmalani?

I would consider the joint statement issued at the end of the third round of talks with the Kashmir Committee as our biggest achievement. The fact is that what no Indian or Pakistani leaders could do, we have done during our talks with the Kashmir Committee headed by Jethmalani.

Some leaders in the APHC have been talking about an independent Kashmir/unified Kashmir. Is it feasible?

What kind of solution emerges from the talks depends upon the attitudes and style of those who are at the helm of affairs in India. So it is difficult to say what form the solution would take --- whether it would be accession with India, would it be accession with Pakistan, independent Kashmir or some other outline. I cannot say at this juncture. As I said, this would depend on the attitude and style of those who take part in the talks.

What are you aspiring for?

It is again difficult for me to say as to what I am aspiring for because I head the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, which has 23 different parties under it. It has two kinds of opinions. One which goes against independence and one which goes against accession either with India or Pakistan. So long as I am chairman of the APHC I have to represent everybody. That is why it is pertinent that I should not offer my comment on this question.

Do you feel that the initiative taken by Jethmalani's Committee has come rather late in the day?

It is never late if we mean business. But it is always late if you don't mean business. We have begun a process to recognise the sombre reality that if we do not address the issue now we may run into big trouble.

What makes you say so?

Because the Kashmir problem is linked to the very survival of the South Asian region! India is a nuclear country and so is Pakistan. If anything goes wrong either by accident or even by miscalculation or by mistake or by design, the consequences would be disastrous. And if we want to preserve the nuclear peace in this region, then we would have to address the problem of Jammu & Kashmir. If we understand this objectively, then we can achieve a breakthrough. I think a process has begun in that direction.

Do you think you could tell those who are wielding the guns that they should give peace a chance?

Yes, we can tell them, provided we take some measured steps in the right direction.

Do you think they are willing to come back to the mainstream?

Mainstream is a term, which is not acceptable to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. What is 'mainstream'? This has to be spelt out. Is it at the point of a gun or with force? Or does it mean mainstream with broken promises? We will have to sit and talk, and talk seriously. Talk with a purpose. Talk with substance. Talk objectively. And find a way out.

India and Pakistan have talked on a number of occasions in the past, but have not found a solution. Do you think you can find a solution now when we have not been able to sort it out in the last 50 years?

The situation has undergone a sea change in the past one decade or so. We have to understand the dynamics of the situation. This is neither 1947 nor 1965 nor 1971. This is 2002. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear countries. The terrorist attack on America on September 11 has undoubtedly changed the world and the opinion is against violence. But at the same time there is a realization that the root causes of violence would have to be addressed sooner than later.

The leaders of the world have realised that they cannot mix terrorism with freedom struggles. If they do that, they would do injustice to those who are fighting for freedom. The Kashmir problem has a historical perspective and has to be understood. If we do it [solve it], we would be able to move forward. If we don't, we might run into big trouble. There is absolutely no escape route available to anyone of us, whether it is India or Pakistan or the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

We have to hammer out a solution. Whatever be the solution, whatever be the cost. And that is why we have used the words acceptable, honourable, and durable.

In short, you are saying time is running out. Is that right?

I am saying the time is ripe to find a solution to the problem of Jammu & Kashmir. We have to resolve the dispute to the flutter of all hearts across the globe.

There has been a suggestion that Pakistan is willing to accept the Line of Control as the international border. Comment?

This is a suggestion that Pakistan can never think of. Even if the Pakistanis do it and Indians follow the suit, this is not acceptable to us. A line drawn across our hearts. A line drawn across our souls, a line drawn in blood. A line drawn as an interim arrangement for finding a final solution. This cannot be converted into a lasting border between any two countries. The mighty Berlin Wall collapsed under the weight of history.

Secondly, you cannot convert a dispute into a solution. You have to talk to find a solution to the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir --- the earlier this is done the better it would be for all of us.

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