September 13, 2002


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The Election Interview/Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
JK Election:w

'After 50 years we are still stuck at the same place' Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, former chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference and a moderate within the organisation, says the biggest hurdle to the resolution of the Kashmir problem is the egotism of India and Pakistan.

In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in New Delhi, hours before leaving for New York to attend a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, the mirwaiz said he was hopeful that the framework for a solution would be worked out during the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He also explained that all parties -- India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiri people -- needed to adopt a softer posture towards dialogue. Excerpts:

You have had three rounds of talks with the Kashmir Committee headed by Ram Jethmalani, former minister for law and justice in the Vajpayee government. Do you feel any progress has been made?

I think headway has been made in the sense that there is a realization amongst all members of the Kashmir Committee that the issue of Kashmir is more important than participating in the assembly election. That is where we see the basic difference.

The Government of India thinks the elections in the state are the end as far as Kashmir is concerned. Together with the Kashmir Committee the APHC has decided that we are going to take this process forward irrespective of what is going to be the outcome of the election.

They [the Kashmir Committee] also feel this problem needs to be resolved through peaceful means. The aspirations of the people of Kashmir need to be taken into consideration. But what is more important is that all parties involved in the dispute need to be realistic and forward-looking. We all have to give up hard postures and adopt soft postures towards dialogue. To my mind this itself is a very positive development.

The members of the Kashmir Committee are influential people who have greater say in many affairs and through the medium of the Kashmir Committee we intend to reach the Indian public.

Prime Minister Vajpayee had offered to talk to those who get elected in the state assembly polls. This was an opportunity for you to prove your representative character. Why did you miss it?

I can't understand why the talks are linked with the elections. When it comes to talking to Kashmiris, you start talking about representative character, whereas the emissary of the Government of India is meeting Naga insurgents in a third country and holding talks with them. Not just that, these talks are unconditional on various issues.

NSCN [National Socialist Council of Nagalim] leader [Thuingaleng] Muivah has categorically stated that the Government of Nagaland will not be a part of the talks. So why can't we apply the same yardstick in the case of Kashmir as well? Why hold the dialogue hostage to any electoral process? If they want to talk only to those who are elected, they can go and talk to Dr Farooq Abdullah, who has been ruling the state for so many years. The question is basically of trust, or rather mistrust.

We have been very categorical. Let dialogue come before any election. Let people feel that elections are part of an outcome [to] a dialogue rather than thrust by New Delhi on the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

We are not against participation in the elections, but we have our own concerns. How can you have free and fair elections with Dr Farooq Abdullah at the helm of affairs? How can you have free and fair elections when so many troops are deployed in Kashmir?

We have to sort out the issue of signing the oath of allegiance. If these issues had been sorted out, we would have been able to tell our people that this is an opportunity for us to prove our credentials, and we could have participated in the election. Unfortunately, the Government of India did not show any flexibility on these issues and they hurried into elections.

In the case of Nagaland, the Government of India is talking to militant outfits. But in the case of Kashmir, militant outfits have taken a back seat.

But the Hurriyat is ready to talk. We are offering the Government of India a better opportunity, that they can hold talks with us rather than with those who wield guns. Here we have people who are not armed, people who are ready to talk and listen. If the government had spoken to us, it could have been seen as a breakthrough.

I would still say [that] not much has been lost. Let the election happen and let the Government of India realise the realities on the ground. We feel there is need to have a structured dialogue.

What precisely do you mean by structured dialogue?

Structured dialogue means a dialogue with everyone involved. It does not mean involving everyone at the same time. When [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf came to Delhi, the Hurriyat was not part of the dialogue. The talks took place between India and Pakistan. We supported that process, hoping it would go forward.

Structured dialogue means moving forward in a phased manner. The Government of India can first hold talks with the people of Kashmir and then hold talks with Pakistan, or it can talk to Pakistan first and then allow us to talk to Pakistan.

The change in the Hurriyat stand is clear that we have agreed to have a systematic and structured dialogue on Kashmir.

Are you looking for a time-bound solution?

The situation does demand a time-bound dialogue. We have to realise that the situation in Kashmir is very volatile. Every day, people are getting killed. Unfortunately, the Government of India is not in control of things. Three people were buried alive in Sopore recently. When you have a situation like this, then how can you talk about elections?

We need to first build trust about any process. Before coming to Delhi to hold the second and third rounds of talks with the Kashmir Committee we went to the people and told them what we were intending to do. It was only after they gave their approval that we came to Delhi. We came because we had their mandate.

Whatever process we adopt, it should be open, it should be transparent. We have said we are willing to discuss all the options if the Government of India is willing to do so.

The APHC came forward to meet Jethmalani's committee, but declined to meet the committee headed by K C Pant. Why?

There is a clear difference between the attitude of the two Kashmir committees. The one headed by Jethmalani is open to anything, whereas the Kashmir committee headed by K C Pant was not willing to discuss the issues we wanted to discuss. He was talking to [every] Tom, Dick, and Harry in Kashmir, and the Hurriyat was just one amongst them.

I think where India, Pakistan, and the people of Kashmir are making a mistake is that we are trying to concentrate on a solution to the Kashmir problem rather than focusing on a process to the solution. We believe that once the process is begun, the solution will automatically follow. The trouble is, India says that it is not going to part with an inch of Kashmir and Pakistan says that Kashmir is its jugular vein. So having a process of dialogue in place should be our priority. That is what is happening in the Middle East where the Palestinians and Israelis are talking to each other.

What kind of process are you talking about where one [Israel] sends the army everyday and the other [Palestine] retaliates with human bombs?

We have to stop this kind of violence. We have got to go to the root cause of the violence. There too they have the problem of mistrust. The same thing is happening in Kashmir. The September 11 attacks on USA --- unfortunate and highly condemnable as they were --- clearly show that the people can go to any extent in desperation. Why drive someone to a wall that he thinks in terms of such destructive acts. Why would anyone pick up a gun when he knows he is going to die?

Look at the European Union. Major European countries have joined hands. There are borders, but they are not visible. Why can't we have something like this between India, Pakistan, and Kashmir? After 50 years we are still stuck where we were.

You spoke about the reunification of Kashmir. Do you think Pakistan will swallow this suggestion?

If Pakistan says the unification of Kashmir is not possible, then it is a hurdle to the resolution of the Kashmir problem. The Kashmir problem has a basic human dimension. People are divided. Families are divided. My own family is divided between India and Pakistan. This dimension is getting completely overlooked both by India and Pakistan. Both countries see this more as a territorial issue than an issue of human problems.

These issues need to be addressed whatever be the outcome of the dialogue.

What is the biggest hurdle in the solution of the Kashmir problem?

To my mind, the biggest hurdle in the resolution of the Kashmir problem is ego... whether it be the ego of the Indian government or the ego of the Pakistani government. The thinking pattern is changing. Issues of identity and regionalism are gaining ground and the structure in Pakistan will also undergo a change in years to come.

India thinks it would be compromising on its territorial integrity if it compromises on Kashmir. We have to have devolution of power and move towards a federal structure. We need to come out of history and think about our future.

Jammu and Kashmir Elections 2002: The complete coverage

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