June 24, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Sardar Muhammed Abdul Qayyum Khan

'Had there been no militancy the Indian government would never have agreed to talk about Kashmir''Had there been no militancy the Indian government would never have agreed to talk about Kashmir'

Sardar Muhammed Abdul Qayyum Khan is 78 -- older than the bitterest blood feud between India and Pakistan, and an inherent part of it.

In 1947, he was part of the Pathan invasion that split the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh into two.

After the creation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or Azad [Liberated] Kashmir as he calls it, Khan has been a prominent political figure there -- four times president, prime minister once, and leader of the Opposition.

Last year, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf handpicked him to chair the 22-member National Kashmir Committee, which spearheads Islamabad's efforts for a solution to the Kashmir trouble. In this capacity, Khan is also believed to be leading his country's Track Two diplomacy with New Delhi.

Though he has actively encouraged militancy across the border in Indian Kashmir, providing a base for armed separatists in his autonomous state, the elderly, soft-spoken Kashmiri is seen as a moderate today -- or, as he puts it, an "ordinary middleclass person with a clear conscience."

Of the old school, he believes in strict adherence to Islamic teachings. Militancy, or a war for liberation, is very different from terrorism; any military action that kills civilians is no jihad, he says, it is terrorism.

And as such, Khan isn't happy with the armed separatists in the Kashmir valley. "They have been unfortunate in not following the concept of jihad," he says.

In Washington and New York City recently as part of his international networking efforts to garner support for Pakistan's stand on Kashmir, Khan spoke to Senior Assistant Editor Chindu Sreedharan before he left for London.

Excerpts from the freewheeling interview, which was supplemented by email queries:

Could you tell us about the committee you head? How it came into being, its objectives?

The president discussed it with me, and wanted my involvement in the process of an early resolution of the Kashmir problem. This was a few days or few weeks before 9/11. Finally the committee came into being on January 15 [2002].

The president had left it [the committee's objectives] wide open. He said it was to formulate the Kashmir policy, and as and how wherever it was necessary, to coordinate.

We set our own priorities, starting with the coordination of efforts at the international and national levels. Outside Pakistan, we specifically mean the exercise undertaken by the USIP [United States Institute of Peace] in Washington. We are trying to coordinate the efforts.

The committee has people from all the provinces of Pakistan and one or two people from abroad. Some people are from the Azad Kashmir side. We have 22 members in all. We have a core group. The total number of people is five, including myself, and it [the selection to the core group] is not because of any distinction, but availability in Islamabad.

There are reports that American forces may move into PoK to patrol the LoC.

As long as UNMOG [the United Nations Military Observers Group] exists, there is no need for anybody else to patrol and monitor.

'Everybody is not under Musharraf's control -- or anybody's control, for that matter. Confronting Musharraf all the time will help extremist elements in Pakistan' The India-Pakistan relationship now is at its worst in recent times. What do you think is the reason?

This is the cumulative effect of the past. As time goes on, all conflicts aggravate. This is one of the aggravated positions -- because of the nuclearisation of the two countries, military build-up, leaning against each other, subverting each other. All these activities had to come to a situation where it became very dangerous.

I don't like to blame everything on the Indian side; there have been faults on this side also. But basically, the refusal to address the Kashmir issue politically, that has been the main cause of all this. If we had started addressing the Kashmir issue, then there would have been no militancy.

You spoke of faults on Pakistan side. How much has Pakistan contributed?

Pakistan has contributed only to the extent that it went nuclear. Which was not expected of it. That raised the level of tempers on both sides.

Under President Musharraf there has been a lot of moderation. He became more clear in his approach to the Kashmir issue, which, of course, would definitely be misinterpreted on the other side. That has been the routine exercise -- of one side taking any policy of the other, interpreting it as a weakness, this has been going on. And then, the Kargil issue added fuel to the fire.

What action do you think can India and Pakistan take to contain the situation?

If they really mean it, and it is a very big IF, many steps can be taken. Not only to defuse but to resolve the issue. I am still convinced that an intra-Kashmir dialogue should be allowed. Kashmiris from both sides should be allowed to sit down and discuss. They should be given the task to find out how the situation can be deescalated. I am talking about a process. De-escalation and normalization will follow.

In the beginning it should be confined to the Kashmiris, and then, of course, in collaboration with Indian and Pakistani representatives we can go beyond that.

Isn't that farfetched? After all, it is India and Pakistan that face each other on the border.

That's true. But, after all, it is a question of Kashmir. It is the people of Kashmir who are suffering the physical suffering. In the present locked-up situation, Kashmiris may find a way out.

Indian officials say there is still infiltration into Kashmir.

That cannot be totally stopped. It is impossible. Firstly, everybody is not under Musharraf's control -- or anybody's control, for that matter. So the Indian government should appreciate the steps Musharraf has taken. Confronting him all the time will help the extremist elements in the country.

The elements that are not under Musharraf's control, do those include the United Jihad Council [the umbrella organization of militant outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir]?

It is not under the strict control that way. But they can be dealt with. I can deal with them. They are the people who are interested in the resolution of the problem. Even if we don't ask them, if they see something politically happening, they will automatically respond.

His [Musharraf's] decision to ban extremists has not been aggressively violated. I think the people have accepted his decision. The extremist elements in Pakistan are not even one-hundredth of what it is in India. Numerically, qualitatively. It is a very small percentage.

So what percentage would you say is not under Musharraf's control?

The percentage is not very high, but qualitatively they are very… No extremists are under his control.

Do you agree with the view that it is time for militants to put down the gun and explore other means?

I think it will be difficult after 10, 12 years to stop without offering the people anything tangible. Even if we make all possible efforts to do that I don't think it is going to stop.

The unfortunate impression I still have is, had there been no militant movement, the Indian government would not have responded. Never even agreed to talk about Kashmir. Once a process is set in, most of the people with arms, they will automatically feel there is a process on, let us not aggravate the situation. And others can be convinced also.

'Whether they are Muslims, non-Muslims, killing anybody who is innocent, not directly fighting with you, is an act of terrorism.' So you would not advise them to put down guns now.

How can I do that? If I did that without offering anything to them, I would be responsible for the disaster that may happen later on. I can't hold myself responsible for it. It is very logical. Not that I wish it to be so. But this is the practical ground reality.

Your committee also looks at human rights violations. There have been many acts of terror in Kashmir.

Yes. The [Srinagar] assembly attack. President Musharraf sent condolences. Acts of terrorism should be treated separately from what is happening. Militants fighting the army, the army fighting militants is understandable.

Where would you draw the line?

I term terrorism as when innocent people are killed -- people not at war. Whether they are Muslims, non-Muslims, killing anybody who is innocent, not directly fighting with you, it is an act of terrorism.

In which case, aren't there acts of terrorism in Kashmir? By separatists? Civilians die in grenade attacks, explosions.

Yes, that's an act of terrorism. From my point of view, it is an act of terrorism.

Syed Salahuddin, chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, justifies such deaths by saying those cannot be helped.

[Pause] You see, I have not allowed that under my command. There were 6,000 people I was commanding, two brigades, in 1947-48 [during the invasion by Pakistani irregulars, who captured part of Jammu and Kashmir]. I did not allow anybody, any civilian to be harmed. Whoseover civilian came to me, I put them in the camp, and protected their honour and life in as best a manner I could. There were young girls kidnapped here and there, I brought them back, all of them. I did not allow any conversion to Islam though that was the fashion of the day on both sides, under force. That's why I say terrorism is totally separate from a war of liberation.

In 1947, you would have been 22? What are your recollections of that period?

Twenty-three. What motivated us to take up arms is that Maharaja [Hari Singh] started deploying his troops along the Pakistan border. I was an army man, I could very clearly see he was trying to seal of the border with Pakistan. At that time there was the question of accession and non-accession also going around.

The maharaja himself had become the commander-in-chief [of the army]. We decided to launch a political movement. But that political movement was very soon fired upon by the Dogra army.

So we founded retaliation, armed retaliation. That's how we in Kashmir [Khan was born in Poonch], Azad Kashmir territory started the movement. There was no invasion till three to four months later. Then people from adjacent territories, Pathans, they started coming in.

I organized the forces at that time. At that time we were fighting the Dogra army . There was no Indian army. Then, of course, the Indian army came in -- after the accession, although there was no accession instrument. Mr Menon, V P Menon [then prime minister Jawarharlal Nehru's representative], he came waving that, although he never got it signed [by Hari Singh]. It was just a fake document.

Do you have any evidence to support that?

Professor Alistair Lamb has written two books on Kashmir. In them, he has discussed the question of accession, including timing, distance and the declaration by Menon that he had got the signature. Lamb's claim has not been contradicted so far, just as the document is not available anywhere in the world.

'I have been telling them that the people of the land should feel safe in your hands. The militants are just gun-hungry, everybody has got a gun and he starts using it without any discipline' What are your major reflections of the invasion?

One thing is that we strictly followed the commandments of jihad. Even though we did not make it a [holy] fight or war, we still followed the injunctions. We were clear not to harm women, not to harm children.

Secondly, I did not allow any conversions to Islam. And those who were taken as prisoners, we treated them as our own kith and kin. The camp I was running was the only camp in Azad Kashmir. In other places people killed them. Everywhere people where kidnapping and taking away girls… Everybody was killing everybody. Everybody was bloodthirsty. I did not allow that under my command.

So how do you look upon the ongoing militancy in Kashmir?

They have been unfortunate in not following the concept of jihad. [Laughs]. My sector was the only one that followed it.

I have not been dealing with them directly, but I have been telling them that this is how we treated the people of the land; they should feel safe in your hands. But I think they are not following -- untrained people, you see, they are just gun-hungry, everybody has got a gun and he starts using it without any discipline.

Does that mean if the concept of jihad had been followed, militancy would have been more effective?

Yes. It would have been very effective. Because, you don't get Allah's support if you don't follow strictly the concept of jihad. Jihad provides protection, people feel protected under the mujahideen.

How do you respond to the view that Pakistan, through the Pathan invasion, authored the Kashmir trouble? Till then, it was a political struggle, an uprising against Maharaja Hari Singh. But with the invasion, it took on a different, violent dimension.

The Pakistan government had nothing to do with it, but the government of Pakistan could not resist it as the Pathans became violent.

'I don't like to blame everything on the Indian side; there have been faults on this side also. If we had addressed the Kashmir issue then there would have been no militancy.' Two recent events, the killing of [All Parties] Hurriyat [Conference] leader Abdul Ghani Lone and the arrest of another Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, what effect have these had on the peace process?

The death of Lone has been very, very harmful. Geelani's arrest… The Indian government seems to be panicky over every damn thing. It is a big government, a huge country, a powerful country. If India as a big country does not try to accommodate an answer… then we will be compelled to seek assistance of a third party. Why should we do that? Why can't we do it amongst ourselves? I don't see any reason. And it pains me to see that although we have achieved independence, mentally we are not independent.

About Geelani's arrest…

Geelani's arrest will not help the peace process in any manner whatsoever. He is an important element in… His extremist behaviour, that I think is corrigible. It is not incorrigible, you see. He can be tackled… if there is something in hand to offer.

There was a section among the separatists, and in the Hizbul Mujahideen, who wanted to participate in the forthcoming election in Jammu and Kashmir. They seem to have been frightened away after Lone's killing.

Nobody is frightened away because of the killing. In my opinion, at the moment it cannot be attributed to the extremist element alone. The circumstance also suggests the accident to have accrued at the behest of some Indian agents.

The meeting you had with Lone in Dubai had turned controversial, and is believed to have spurred the killing.

Yes, the 'Dubai plan'! Actually there was no plan. I was there for a meeting in Jeddah. One evening I got a call from the mirwaiz [Umer Farooq, one of the moderate leaders in the Hurriyat], saying he was in Dubai, and wanted to come to Saudi Arabia. But he was not getting a visa. So I said, hold on, I will see what I can do. We did our best, but the visa was not coming through. I said I will come there, and we will have a chat.

Next day he rang up saying Abdul Ghani Lone was coming to Dubai, on his way to the US for treatment. I went down. And there we had three, four days of discussing all aspects. We discussed what could Kashmiris do.

Then the BBC rang me and said [Minister of State for External Affairs and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah's son] Omar Abdullah was also there. I did not know that. If I were to meet someone from the Indian side, why should I meet Abdullah, why not directly talk to some Indian leaders? Talking to a Kashmiri in this proxy channel, it is ridiculous! Why should I bracket myself with Omar Abdullah? [Laughs]

Then later on, after we came back, I read a news item in one of the papers of Pakistan that said I had a meeting with Abdullah and some Daulat, who was the former RAW chief. I never heard his name before. [Laughs]. This is how the media distorts facts.

'Kashmiris from both sides should find out how the situation can be deescalated. I am talking about a process. De-escalation and normalization will follow Let me confirm this, who all were at the meeting? There was no one from the Indian side?

Absolutely. Nobody from the Indian side! There were two of those people. I was third. And three others -- one from America, one from Canada, and one from England.

You have been the president and PM of PoK, which is the base camp of militancy in Kashmir. How free were you from military interference? I ask this because it is said that the Inter-Services Intelligence not only supports, but controls, militancy and that the Azad Kashmir administration is in its hands.

It depends from person to person. If you have a neighbour who is incompetent, you may meddle in his affairs. But if you have a competent government, there will be no interference.

In my case, there was no interference. Rather, I was interfering in their affairs. Zia-ul Haq, Bhutto, they all sought my assistance. There was no interference.

What kind of support did you provide militants?

We housed them, we looked after them. We gave them moral support. We [the government] did not give them money, though I did spend a lot of money on their propaganda. They had no dearth of money. If they wanted money, I would have given them. Azad Kashmir has limited resources, but still I would have given them.

And weapons?

Weapons are no problem. You have money, I will have you delivered weapons in India! Weapons are the most easily accessible things today.

There is a view that the ISI is not under President Musharraf's control.

Is the RAW [Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence wing] under the control of India? Agencies have become so strong that future governments will be set up by agencies. It's a common phenomenon all over the world.

What according to you is the solution to the Kashmir problem? How far away are we from it?

We have been moving along by accidents. An accident can join us; an accident can set us apart too. Right now I am not bothered about a solution. What can really make a change is setting in motion a process. Whatever comes out of it will be acceptable.

Do you see the Pandits returning to Kashmir? Does the solution you envisage include them?

Every Kashmiri, whether it is a Dogra, or a Pandit, or a Christian, is part of it.

Sardar Muhammed Qayyum Khan photograph: Jay Mandal. Design: Uttam Ghosh

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