April 4, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat

The Rediff Interview/All-Parties Hurriyat Conference Chairman Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat
Why should we meet K C Pant?

The Kashmir peace mission led by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission K C Pant seems to be failing even before it has begun.

The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of 23 Kashmiri separatist groups, said on Wednesday morning that it would not participate in a dialogue before its proposed visit to Pakistan. It rubbished Pant's nomination as yet another hollow step by New Delhi. The APHC also said it would not talk to Pant if he chooses to talk to "a crowd", instead of negotiating with the APHC.

Sounding more assertive than ever, Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, told Special Correspondent Josy Joseph that Pant's nomination had no significance, and asked the Government of India to take concrete steps towards peace.

What is your reaction to K C Pant's nomination to help negotiate a solution to the Kashmir dispute?

The people in Jammu & Kashmir are interested in a permanent settlement. Who does it will not be important. But what we feel concerned about is that a lopsided approach is not going to carry us anywhere. We have to put in a collective effort involving India, Pakistan, and the principal party in Jammu & Kashmir. If this is not done, we are not going to reach anywhere. We may end up nowhere.

Do you think New Delhi is not sincere once again?

I don't know. This is for the Government of India to explain whether it is sincere. We want to make it abundantly clear that we have taken a position which should lead us to an honourable and durable solution to the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir.

Have you not been informed about Mr Pant?

K C Pant I don't know. We read about it, heard about it, but we don't know. Why should the government inform us? They do it at their own level. The home minister's statement is as confusing as the situation in the South Asian region. He chooses to talk to all the parties in Jammu & Kashmir, which is he chooses to talk to a crowd. By talking to a crowd what do you choose to achieve? You will only be consuming time, years together. But reach nowhere, produce no result.

But we want to talk, of course. Talk to Pakistanis, Indians, and to both, with a view of course to breaking the ice and achieving a result.

Isn't the Centre, by claiming that it would talk to all concerned, trying to sideline the APHC and do the job that you people had been promising to do? That of talking to all concerned in Kashmir, whom you people claim to represent.

No party to a dispute can pass for a negotiator, or mediator. Well, the Government of India chooses Mr K C Pant as the chief negotiator, but they have no agenda. What is their political agenda? Why don't they come out and say that we want to talk about this, talk about that. Why don't they say so?

The nomination is not going to carry you anywhere. You have to have an agenda. We said we will be undertaking a trip to Pakistan. We spelt out our agenda. We said we will be talking -- talking to the government of Pakistan, to the leadership in Azad Kashmir, we will be engaging in an interaction with the Mujahideen leadership in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. With a view of course to consolidating the peace process. This is what an agenda implies.

You don't have any agenda. A nomination is not an agenda. That is why I said it is a lopsided, lukewarm approach to a sensitive problem.

So you imply that if K C Pant approaches you, you will not talk to him?

Well, I don't want to put it the way you did. Even for argument's sake, if K C Pant talks to the Hurriyat leadership, will any dialogue between the Government of India and the people of Jammu & Kashmir or any party from Kashmir produce a result? I am afraid, my answer will be no. Why? Because, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah did it with Mrs Gandhi in 1975, so that he could be installed as the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. A tall man shrinking into a pygmy. He started as the prime minister of Kashmir and finished as the chief minister of Kashmir. He started as the prime minister of an autonomous Kashmir and finished as the chief minister of a Kashmir which had lost everything; his autonomy, India's autonomy.

So talks between India and the people of Kashmir will end up nowhere as I said earlier. It did not happen in the past, it cannot happen in the future either.

What we really mean is to involve all the parties to the dispute -- India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu & Kashmir -- the principle party which represents the heart beats of the people, which represents the political aspirations rooted in the history of Jammu & Kashmir.

So would you advise K C Pant first to visit Islamabad? Or invite Pakistan to send representatives over.

I said there are three parties to the dispute. India and Pakistan have been talking for the last 50 years. Have they not talked about Kashmir? They met at the United Nations Security Council, debated the issue for many, many long years, they met in Tashkent, they met in Simla, in Lahore.

Earlier on they met in Delhi, and signed agreements, declarations and yet could not produce a result. We say, Kashmiris as the principle party should assume a role to initiate a dialogue, a purposeful dialogue, a substantive dialogue, a dialogue which will give us a result in the interest of peace, security and stability for the whole lot in South Asia. What has not given us anything in the past should not be repeated. If you keep on repeating, in my opinion you are not doing any service to your people, let alone people in other parts of South Asia.

Let us assume that Mr Pant is sincere in his mission.

I don't want to doubt his integrity. I don't want to doubt anybody's integrity. But the question is even if K C Pant talks to any of us, where do you want to go? I want to know. Where is your agenda? What is your agenda if the government is so courageous and bold as to nominate the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission as the chief negotiator of a team which shall engage all the parties in Jammu & Kashmir, including parties which never exist anywhere in the state, including parties which exist only on paper, including parties which are on the payrolls of the Government of India, including the parties which are surrogates to the Government of India?

They would only be consuming years and not producing anything. Even if this is done, where do you want to go? We say we want to talk about the future dispensation of Jammu & Kashmir. This is what the problem is. This is where we have to apply our brains.

Let us assume Mr Pant is sincere and wants to discuss the future, then what is your advice to him?

I don't want to tender forth a piece of advice to a seasoned politician like K C Pant. I would want the leadership in Delhi, in Islamabad, in Kashmir to be guided by sombre political realities than wishful thinking.

Still, would you advise him to have a meeting between the Hurriyat, Pakistan and India?

I have said I don't want any dialogue between a crowd and a leadership in Delhi or Islamabad. We don't want to talk for the pleasure of it. We want to enter into a dialogue.

Accepting that the Hurriyat represents the Kashmiris politically if Mr Pant were to start a dialogue, what would you be expecting him to do?

I have said, and I repeat that unless all the three are involved in the process, the process is not going to produce any result.

Agreed, but what would be your suggestion to Mr Pant, since you claim to be the legitimate voice of the Kashmiris?

My suggestion to K C Pant, and others and everywhere would be is that they should provide an opportunity to the APHC to undertake a visit to Pakistan, get back and talk to the Indians.

Is that a pre-condition to having talks with him?

This is not a precondition. I don't want to go by conditions. I want to go by realities.

With your proposed visit to Pakistan not taking place, will you be meeting Mr Pant?

No, not at all. Why should we meet him? What are we going to do? I have said, I don't want to meet people just for the pleasure of it. I want business. I want to deliver, I want others also to deliver. We mean business. If you mean business, you will have to take measures which will carry you somewhere. But you want to take steps to nowhere. You want to board a train which is probably destined to reach nowhere.

So Professor Bhat, you are boycotting Mr Pant's mission?

I am not boycotting anything. I believe in a purposeful dialogue. But I do not want to believe in a dialogue which is only going to end up nowhere.

India has already ruled out talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen. Do you think it is necessary to involve the Hizb or other armed groups sometime in the discussions?

I don't know which party the Government of India is choosing to meet. I don't know. It is for the Government of India to spell out who they want to talk to. What do they want to talk about? Your home minister is on record saying that we will be talking to a separatist, militant leadership, which is, of course, the Hizbul Mujahideen. The Hizbul Mujahideen have rejected it. Finished. Why blame the Hizbul Mujahideen? Why not your home minister? If you keep changing colours like you do in Delhi you will lose all colours one day.

Has the cease-fire lost meaning in the valley?

Yes. You can't have a 'fire' and cease-fire simultaneously. If you fight a war, you can't say that we are at peace with the people in Jammu & Kashmir. The crackdowns are there, the searches are there, the irretrievable alienation is there. Remember India will have to consider J&K not purely from a political angle, but from an economical and psychological angle too.

From the economical angle, Kashmir is proving very costly for the people of India. Psychologically, the alienation has deepened irretrievably. They don't want to understand the dynamics of the situation in Kashmir. How am I going to help? That is why I said, we have to take a step forward in the right direction.

You are talking in terms of steps, but never indicate that you are going to take steps in the right direction. So where do you want to go? What do you want to do? You have to come out, spell it out. The people in India, Pakistan, Kashmir do not want -- under any circumstances -- to live in tension.

But wishes are not always horses. We have to be guided by stark political realities. The political reality is that if the people don't want to live in tension we will have to address issues to reduce tension. This is mathematically true.

Kashmir constitutes a potential threat to our future. Now is not the question whether you feel concerned about the future of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Now the problem involves the very survival of the region called South Asia.

If India and Pakistan fight another war, either by mistake, or by miscalculation, by an accident, or even by a design, it will spill into a total disaster. We have to banish the ghosts of a nuclear war from South Asia. How can we do it? If you chose to preserve nuclear peace in South Asia, you will have to address issues that constitute a threat to it.

We want to go to Pakistan. Not for sightseeing. The mission is hazardous, it can mean anything. It can mean my life, my colleagues' life. We have to deal with people who are prepared to lay down their lives for a cause. Therefore, good sense should prevail. Justice should prevail.

India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu & Kashmir should look beyond, and go beyond.

Within the Hurriyat there is visible division. Syed Geelani is taking a hard line which none of you propagate.

Within the Government of India there is dismal division between one group and another.

But the government is not a passionate group, led by a common ideology and supporting an armed rebellion at the peril of thousands of people.

This is different. There are differences between brothers within the same household. There are differences within political parties. Mamata Banerjee was a part of the NDA government. She now talks a different language.

Similarly, in the Hurriyat if somebody chooses to take a different line, I do not deny him the right. But what matters, is whether he has broken away or not. And we have been giving a thought about it. And we have solved it.

Not a day has passed in the history of the Hurriyat when people do not talk about divisions. "Hurriyat gone;" "Hurriyat finished;" "Tomorrow there wouldn't be Hurriyat". But in seven years, we haven't been broken.

So Kashmir is not a religious issue as Mr Geelani says?

Kashmir is a dispute which involves everything, which involves your future -- political, economical, cultural, ethnic, everything as a matter of fact. Kashmir is primarily a political issue, yes. Because we demand the people's right to self-determination. Because if the right is given to us, each one of us have to exercises it irrespective of caste, creed and colour. But when you talk in terms of caste, creed and colour you draw lines. I don't want to draw any lines.

I say Kashmir is a dispute which involves India, Pakistan, people of Kashmir, and South Asian region. And many other countries too -- America, China, Iran, Afghanistan. The world is shrinking into a global village. So you cannot draw a line.

Have you taken Mr Geelani back into your fold?

Yes. That (his withdrawal as demanded by the APHC) was for the Jamaat to decide, and they say it should be reconsidered in the largest interest. So we have reconsidered it and sorted it out. If he chooses to join us again, we will never slam our doors on him.

In the last couple of weeks, militant groups have been issuing threats asking contractors to stop working for security agencies. That would affect the livelihood of thousands in the state. What is your reaction to that?

This is not my issue. This is not my problem. I hope the boys operating in Kashmir are also not interested in issues like the one raised by the papers -- that contractors should be banned from working. I don't think they are interested.

But they have been issuing statements?

Maybe. In my opinion they are not interested. They are not interested in the nomination of Mr KC Pant as the chief negotiator, they are not interested in Dr Farooq Abdullah's by-election, they are not interested in Farooq Abdullah's panchayat elections, contracts, shopping... They are interested in a peaceful settlement through dialogue. They are handling guns. But their handling of guns should be understood with reference to the atrocities committed on the people of Jammu & Kashmir for the last five decades.

I think the outburst which took on an armed dimension has to be viewed from a different angle. Violence breeds violence. If you thrust violence on people, the reaction will be violent.

In my opinion guns were placed into the hands of the boys of Kashmir by the Government of India, the government of Jammu & Kashmir. Particularly two young people, then young: Dr Farooq Abdullah and Mr Rajiv Gandhi as far as 1987.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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