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The Rediff Interview/People\'s Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti

December 07, 2004

Mehbooba Mufti, member of Parliament and president of the ruling People's Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, is open to the idea of presenting the Indian point of view on the Kashmir issue to the world. She recently met Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz when he visited India and told Associate Editor Onkar Singh, "Inshallah, we should have a peaceful Kashmir in the next five years."

What is your assessment of Shaukat Aziz's visit to India?

It is not just Aziz's visit that is important. What is also significant is that there has been improvement in Indo-Pak relations in the last couple of years. Not only are leaders of the two countries meeting each other, even other people have been talking to each other at various levels.

I would say the Pakistani prime minister's visit is part of that process.

It has helped in clearing the air about some confusion after a meeting between Dr Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in New York sometime back.

Also Read: 'Let Kashmir now talk to Pakistan'

You also met Mr Aziz. What did you tell him?

Frankly, I did not get much time to speak to him. But in whatever time I had, I told him that Kashmir is a complex issue and it is going to take quite some time to sort out.

What we can do at this juncture is to reduce the miseries of the Kashmiri people as much as possible.

I told him that our prime minister has announced reduction of troops in the state. It would help if Pakistan too reciprocates, as President Musharraf had once promised. He had also promised to see to it that the violence level is brought down.

Also Read: 'Pakistan is getting diminishing returns'

The other issue I raised was the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. I even suggested starting a Jammu-Sialkot bus service.

I told him these two initiatives would have a tremendous impact on the people of Jammu and Kashmir on either side of the Line of Control.

Have you done the groundwork for starting the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service?

We have prepared a blueprint and have chalked out details of where to put up cafeterias, rest rooms, etc. But we need the green signal to go ahead and do the rest of the work like constructing an all-weather road.

Once we get a go ahead, I guess it would take at least two or three months to make the bus service operational. We are ready but we do not know what kind of preparation is required on the other side.

There was a lot of talk about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's November 17-18 visit to J&K. What impact did it have in the state?

I would like to congratulate the people of Kashmir, who despite a militant attack on the morning of November 17, turned up in large numbers to attend a public rally and waited till three in the afternoon to hear the prime minister. There were 40,000 people in the rally, of which 50% were youngsters.

They had come from all nooks and corners of the state. When the Kashmiri people decide to do something, then they are not afraid of anything. This is a positive signal.

The prime minister announced reduction of troops. It may be a small gesture but it gives us hope that one day some of the buildings occupied by the army would be returned to the original owners.

He also announced lifting of the ban on recruitments, which was another positive sign that would channelise the energies of the youth in a positive direction.

Besides, we did not have the money earlier but now we have enough to carry out construction of roads, bridges and other developmental activities.

Will granting autonomy to the state help?

I am not saying it will solve all the problems, but it would help.

Also Read: 'India should show some flexibility, na?'

We need to put our resources to good use but cannot use our biggest resource, which is water, for the benefit of Kashmiris. We lose thousands of crores of rupees on account of the treaty between India and Pakistan on use of water. The state has the potential to produce 20,000 megawatts of power but is not allowed to store water.

The moment we start doing anything, Pakistan starts shouting from the rooftops that it is against the treaty. New Delhi should do something about it. We should be allowed to use what belongs to us.

Is true that Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin has sent feelers that he wants to return to Kashmir?

I do not know. At least, I don't have any such information.

The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference claims to be the only true representatives of the people of J&K.

Jammu and Kashmir is a mini India. It is home to people and organisations of different shades and opinions, of which the Hurriyat Conference is one. We have to accommodate everyone. But only those who are elected to the state assembly and Parliament are true representatives of the people.

I salute the people of my state who cast their votes despite the risk their lives. If we, the elected representatives of the people of Kashmir, are not their true representatives then who is?

But if we want to solve this problem, we cannot ignore anybody.

General Musharraf is talking about dividing J&K into seven regions. Is that acceptable to you?

If such a proposal was indeed mooted, then Shaukat Aziz would have mentioned it during his visit to India. It may have been just an idea floated to gauge the reaction of the people.

Also Read: Aziz's one point agenda

I wonder if anyone has a solution that is totally acceptable or applicable to Kashmir. Suggesting any solution through the media is as good as killing it.

There is no readymade solution to Jammu and Kashmir problem. It can only emerge through talks. The good thing is that the people on both sides are talking about Kashmir without fighting about it.

Have the terrorist groups operating in J&K realised the futility of violence?

Not only they but also those operating across the world have realised that violence is not the answer to their problems. They want to sort out disputes with dignity and honour, and start their lives afresh.

Prime Minister Singh offered to hold unconditional talks with those keen to discuss their problems. I hope the militants seize this opportunity and come forward to hold a dialogue with the Centre.

If the Hurriyat had been serious, they too could have been part of the efforts that led to the ceasefire on the Line of Control, reduction of troops and starting of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. But they were aloof and lost the opportunity to contribute towards peaceful resolution of the J&K problem. We want peace with honour and dignity.

How long before peace is restored in J&K?

Inshallah. We should have a peaceful Kashmir in the next five years. The urge for peace exists not only on this side of Kashmir but the other side as well.

People realise you cannot hold yourself hostage to one contentious issue for decades and deny yourself a peaceful and progressive existence.

We got to reduce the misery of the people and move forward. That is the message of the people.

PhotographSajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images | Design: Rahil Shaikh

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