`Looking at flexibility, maybe a compromise'

Published : Jan 30, 2004 00:00 IST



Interview with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

FOR decades, secessionist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir have made the demand for a plebiscite - the centrepiece of their political platform. In support of their demand, they have pointed to both the United Nations resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir, passed in the wake of the 1947-1948 India-Pakistan war, and to promises made by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The resolutions said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be entitled to accede to India or Pakistan after a statewide referendum. Secessionist leaders have, however, been reluctant to acknowledge history. The promise of holding a plebiscite was contingent on the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the one-third of Jammu and Kashmir that it had occupied after Partition. Pakistan complicated the situation further by ceding part of the territory held by it to China. Privately, moderates in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) have long held that the resolutions have been rendered redundant.

In this exclusive interview to Praveen Swami, Srinagar religious leader and senior APHC member Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has, for the first time, publicly acknowledged that his organisation believed that the resolutions would never be implemented, and that it was "looking at flexibility, maybe a compromise between all the parties." Excerpts:

How optimistic are you about the forthcoming India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir and other issues?

Well, I think a good beginning has been made. I think there is a realisation on both sides that we need to move forward, and that there is an urge for peace in both countries. The major development that has happened is that both countries have decided to move forward from their traditional positions.

How is the situation now different from the one that prevailed after the Lahore summit, when a composite dialogue was supposed to take place?

I think the big difference is that both countries have agreed to go slow, but to go ahead steady. This is something that is needed to resolve a problem like Kashmir, or other problems which they have. There was too much hype the last time. This time, much more serious, much more responsible statements have been made by both sides. Hope has been generated, and the people of Jammu and Kashmir have reason to be hopeful that something good will happen.

There is also your own dialogue with New Delhi, which the APHC chairman Abbas Ansari has said could take place after January 26.

I do not know why he has said that. We have said that we are ready to talk anytime, even if they call us, say, next week. I do not see any problem.

How much of an issue is the specific wording of the invitation from New Delhi going to be?

As far as I remember the government had said that it was willing for unconditional and Kashmir-centred talks. Those were the two points that we had made, and the government accepted them. I do not think there is any issue, or any difference of opinion here.

Will these talks be slow and measured, as you say you hope the India-Pakistan talks will be?

I think they should be. If we have to reach anywhere, there has to be some understanding on both sides. Unfortunately, historically speaking, talks on Kashmir have led to mistrust, rather than building of trust. History, in this sense, is against us. That is why we need a slow and gradual process, rather than rushing into talks and trying to come up with something dramatic. You know, there is also the Bharatiya Janata Party and L.K. Advani; we have to see how the people of Jammu and Kashmir perceive it, this issue of a Hindu fundamentalist party. Let us make a beginning. It will not, I am sure, be just one meeting.

There is a school of thought, which argues that it would be better to commence these talks after the next general elections, when a new government would be free of short-term pressures to take a hard line on Kashmir.

I do not agree with this argument. I think it is the other way round. I think it is time for the BJP to project itself as a party that is not anti-Pakistan, or a hardliner on Kashmir and instead, as a party that is willing to listen and resolve the issue. I think it would work to its advantage if it has talks with Kashmiris and Pakistan.

How durable will the dialogue process be? The Hizbul Mujahideen and Jamait-ul-Mujahideen have opposed the talks, and General Pervez Musharraf may himself come under pressure from the jehadis. Crudely put, can the peace process survive a few bomb blasts or large-scale killings?

I do not think there will be an escalation of violence. The statements that are coming from Islamabad, particularly the promise to open the Uri-Muzaffarabad road, are very interesting. Now, it obviously does not suit Pakistan's position to allow people using Indian passports to use the Uri-Muzaffarabad route. If I remember correctly, Pakistan was initially opposed to any talks on the Uri-Muzaffarabad route, intra-Kashmir dialogue and so on. I think there is a feeling in Islamabad that we have to give peace a chance, depending on how India reacts. I am sure that if India makes some concessions, the other party would be forced to acknowledge the realities on the ground.

So you have a road map?

The fact is that people today are looking to their leadership to get them out of this mess. People believe that if we are looking at Kashmir, we are looking at flexibility, at maybe a compromise between all the parties. The APHC is trying to prepare the ground for this. We are looking for a resolution that is acceptable, honourable and durable. This is the way forward. To be very honest, when Musharraf was last here, when we met him before the Agra summit, we told him that the APHC does not believe that the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir are going to be implemented. Whatever would happen would be on a negotiated basis, not the official stands people have taken.

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