A VOICE FROM KASHMIR

Print edition : August 03, 2002

Lawrence Lifschultz interviews Abdul Ghani Lone (1932-2002).

What follows is an outspoken and detailed interview given by Lone to the writer, Lawrence Lifschultz, who is currently at work on a book entitled Kashmir: Is There A Way Out Of The Impasse? The interview took place at Lone's residence in Srinagar in June 2001. Lone speaks frankly on the "colonial attitudes" of India and Pakistan towards Kashmir and how the Kashmir policies of both countries have consistently failed the people of Kashmir.

The life of Abdul Ghani Lone was a reflection of Kashmir's journey through peril and tragedy. In 1949, at the age of 17, Lone was arrested in Kupwara at the house of a local school-teacher who was suspected by the authorities of planning an armed uprising. Yet, by 1967, at the age of 35, Lone was not only a well-known lawyer, but had been elected to Kashmir's Legislative Assembly on a Congress Party ticket.

After a decade of living at the centre of 'mainstream politics', Lone found that his hope of finding a solution to Kashmir's enduring crisis remained unfulfilled. In 1976, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi summarily expelled him from the Congress Party. Gradually, Lone's scepticism grew over the prospect of finding a solution within the framework of India's democratic system. He began to doubt whether India would be able to "settle the issue of Kashmir with the people of Kashmir". In 1978, he formed the People's Conference dedicated to "the restoration of 'internal autonomy' in Kashmir". He would lead the People's Conference until the day of his death.

Following the emergence of militant activity in Kashmir in 1989 and the founding of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, Lone rose to a prominent position within the APHC's seven-man executive. Yet, despite all the allegations of Pakistani involvement with elements in the Hurriyat, Lone remained an independent and Kashmiri voice.

A month before Lone's assassination, new and troubling tensions developed within the Hurriyat and in Pakistan over Islamabad's Kashmir policy. On April 18, 2002, he travelled to Dubai with Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, an executive member of the APHC and son of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq. Among the Kashmiris Lone and Farooq met was Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, Chairman of the Kashmir Committee that is based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

As India and Pakistan approached the nuclear edge - with Kashmir emerging once again as the potential flashpoint for war - Lone is reported to have stated to the Dubai gathering that it was imperative for Kashmiris to reclaim political control of developments within Kashmir. He objected to 'outsiders' seeking to impose another agenda on Kashmir's freedom struggle. He reportedly conveyed to the Pakistan government an urgent request that Jehadi groups be withdrawn from Kashmir.

"I told them that it is high time that Jehadis should leave us alone," said Lone, according to a report in Dawn, Pakistan's leading newspaper. "Their presence is detrimental to our struggle, especially because they have initiated an international Jehadi agenda, thus connecting the Kashmir issue with terrorism." Noting that he had been the first Kashmiri leader to have originally welcomed the participation of Jehadis, Lone stated that the behaviour of Jehadi groups in Kashmir had disqualified them from further involvement. "When they started talking of unfurling their flag on the Red Fort and the White House, their activities began to hurt the interest of Kashmiris," said Lone. He added that the stage had been reached where "a solution is only possible through negotiations and peaceful means".

On the day of the assassination, Lone's son Sajad, in an emotionally charged statement, accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and Syed Ali Shah Geelani from the Jamaat-i-Islami, of involvement in his father's murder. Geelani, an executive member of the APHC, was first turned back from visiting the Lone family residence. However, following the intervention of other APHC members, the family permitted Geelani to return the following day and participate in the funeral procession. In an interview, Geelani called Lone "a valued colleague", adding "I would not even hazard a guess as to which side benefitted from his killing".

Abdul Ghani Lone's assassination in Srinagar is a poignant reminder of that phase in Kashmir's "dirty war" which reached its peak during the early to mid-1990s. Certain militant groups systematically set out to target and assassinate political personalities who refused to accept the notion that Kashmir had only "one option" - accession to Pakistan. Individuals who have faced Indian repression on a daily basis remark that they often had to "watch their backs" as carefully as the dangerous terrain that lay before them. Lone, as he makes clear in the interview, was a proponent of a "third option" for Kashmir - the option of an independent Kashmir, or a new form of sovereignty to be accepted by both India and Pakistan as being integral to both their national interests.

On hearing news that Lone had been killed, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stated: "He [Lone] was working for peace which is why he was killed". However, Lone's own view of Vajpayee's "peace work" was one of deep scepticism. Vajpayee and the BJP, like their predecessors, had failed Kashmiris. "They are rogues," said Lone. "You can't expect anything from these people." It was Lone's view that the Kashmir policies of both India and Pakistan have failed the Kashmir people and increased their suffering.

It is not clear whether the bullets that killed Abdul Ghani Lone were fired under orders or from which camp. Was he shot in the back by his "official friends" or killed by his "official enemies"? Or, in the sordid covert environment that permeates Kashmir's political undercurrents, did mid- or low-level operatives kill on their own initiative, without specific orders from one of the plethora of intelligence services or militant organisations that operate in the territory?

Mr. Lone, can you describe the history and circumstances that drew you into Kashmiri politics?

I come from the village Handwara located in the northern part of the Kashmir Valley called Kupwara. I was born on the 5th of June 1932. My father was a very poor man. It was the dire poverty in our area that gave me the impetus to go for higher education. I did my LLB and joined the Bar. In 1967 I became a Member of the Legislative Assembly on a Congress Party ticket. In 1969 I became Deputy Minister for Irrigation and Power. During the period of the Chief Ministership of Mir Qasim I was promoted to State Minister of Education and Health. In 1972 I was made a Cabinet Minister, in the year 1973 I resigned. Since then, I have been in the opposition.

What was the process that changed you from a member of the Congress Party into someone who not only opposed the Congress as a political force but also supported "Azad" for Kashmir?

To start with you must understand that my life and political career was full of difficult experiences. When I was in the ninth class at school, I was arrested in a conspiracy case. This was in 1949. I was then a very young man. As far as I can recollect, there was a group of people in those days that took a decision to launch an armed struggle. The Indian police seized some weapons.

INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP

The house where I was living at the time was searched. I wasn't directly involved in the case. When the authorities came to arrest the owner of the house, they arrested me too. I was detained for two months and then released.

The owner of the house subsequently became my father-in-law. He was a teacher. From time to time he would give me some papers to deliver to others. I didn't know what these papers were but I did as he requested. At the time I was simply pursuing my studies.

In 1953, when Sheikh Abdullah was deposed and arrested, I was again detained. I was sentenced for six months and fined five thousand rupees. There was an agitation at the time of Sheikh Abdullah's arrest. Therefore, there was a ban on public meetings. Yet, I took part in these meetings. The police arrested me and charged me with speaking at public meetings in contravention of the ban. So, at this stage I had developed anti-India tendencies.

Eventually you were to join the Congress Party. What took you in that direction?

After I completed my law degree I came into contact with an interesting judge in whose court I was often arguing cases. The two of us frequently had discussions about many subjects. It was a time in which members of the National Conference were often trying to intervene in the judicial process. I often complained about this type of political intervention. But, this judge said to me, "You also are responsible for what is happening. If MLA's are trying to intervene in cases, it is due partly to the fact that there is no one to oppose their activity."

He said, "You are the first person from your area to have educated himself. You are an advocate now. You must come to the rescue of your people." Slowly, I became convinced that people need some sort of support and guidance. The political leadership in Kashmir at that time was simply blackmailing the people. In those days, G.M. Sadiq had separated from Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad. He had formed the Democratic National Council. Sadiq was the only man in Kashmiri public life at the time that I can say was absolutely honest. His integrity was beyond doubt.

Sadiq convinced me that if we fight this mighty Government of India we will end up nowhere. Instead, he argued, we should become part of the system and persuade India to recognise that people in Kashmir cannot be ruled by force. I was convinced. I became an MLA and joined the National Congress. Ultimately, after having served in the Legislative Assembly and having been a Minister, I finally came to the conclusion that the system was trying to make me cow down. I came to believe that I couldn't contribute anything to my basic cause.

My basic ideology was then, as it is now, that India cannot retain this territory by force. If India had any chance to retain Kashmir, then India would have to convince the people. It is India itself that introduced the basic principle that the people of Kashmir had available to them the "right of self-determination". The erstwhile ruler of Kashmir acceded to India absolutely without conditions. Yet, it was the Government of India that in turn declared that this accession would be subject to ratification by the people.

After partition when tribesmen from Pakistan intervened and began advancing into the disputed territory, the Government of India approached the United Nations. The application that India made under Article VI unequivocally stated that once the territory or Jammu and Kashmir has been cleared of those that had intervened and peace had been restored, the people would be free to decide their future, by means of known democratic norms - either a plebiscite or a referendum - under international supervision. Not only did India make this commitment, but it asserted it again and again, both nationally and internationally. It consistently maintained that the right of the Kashmiri people to determine their future was available to them.

When did you leave the government?

I left the government in 1973. Later, in 1976 Mrs.Gandhi expelled me from the Congress Party.

However, throughout the 1960s, despite the fact that neither a plebiscite nor a referendum had been held, you still believed that you could make the "system" work on behalf of Kashmir?

Yes, we still believed that we could convince the Indians that unless and until you settle the issue of Kashmir with the people of Kashmir, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to run a "normal" administration in this territory. Either India had to convince the Kashmiri people that they are a part of India or they had to give them the chance to decide their own future. Unless India did one or the other, the crisis was bound to continue.

What finally changed your mind?

What happened is that once again India came to terms with Sheikh Abdullah. This was 1975. I thought that if Sheikh Abdullah came to power he was still in a position to convince his own people. Yet, I also was convinced that Mrs. Gandhi was not willing to give Sheikh Abdullah a free hand to rule. In 1976 I issued a statement saying that Mrs. Gandhi should detach herself from the local Congress Party in Kashmir, and permit it to join with Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference. This would have given Sheikh Abdullah a free hand to rule in Kashmir. Under these conditions he could still have convinced the people to accept India.

For this statement I was expelled without notice from the Congress Party. I was then a Congress Party MLA. Nine other MLAs supported me. We were a group of 10. Sheikh Abdullah made no public comment about what had happened. The Indians by then had made him the Chief Minister. Nevertheless, he did try his level best to win us over to his side as independent MLAs. In that effort, I also came to the honest conclusion that the Old Man doesn't have the guts and courage to do anything. He had lost his fire. He was now very much afraid of New Delhi. After having been so long in jail he was also under pressure from his family at that time. They wanted him to "make hay while the sun shines". We call it here the "rule of the family".

In 1977 I fought in the election on the Janata Party ticket. Chandrashekar and his group were supposed to be liberal people. I was going to fight the election on my own. But local supporters of the Janata Party, including Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and others, wanted to fight Sheikh Abdullah. They prevailed upon me saying I should not fight separately. It was a difficult challenge for them to fight the "Great" Sheikh Abdullah. So, I fought that election on the Janata Party ticket and won. Only two of us won seats. However, within a year I resigned from the Janata Party and formed the People's Conference. It was the same problem. At that point we were fighting for the restoration of "internal autonomy" in Kashmir.

What did you precisely mean by "internal autonomy"? Had not the provisions of Article 370 already been eroded?

When the former ruler of Kashmir acceded to India after partition, he surrendered to India authority in only three areas - defence, communication, and foreign affairs. He retained the rest for Kashmir. At the time of the accession, Kashmir was a semi-independent state. In my opinion, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that was later drawn up had, in fact, nothing to do with autonomy. It is my opinion that Article 370 was a bridge used by India to erode the autonomy that we originally possessed following partition. The Government of India can only legislate on those subjects identified by the erstwhile ruler in the 'Instrument of Accession'. Under that 'Instrument' the Government of India could only provide administration in the three subjects.

Later Article 370 was introduced. Under '370' the President of India could do away with these limits at any stage provided the state government made an application to the President and provided this request was supported by the Constituent Assembly of the state. It also stated that any act passed by the Indian Parliament could be applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir provided the state government made an application to the President. What happened was that this state's governments went on making applications and the President started issuing presidential orders. By those presidential orders our autonomy was subverted.

Various orders were issued. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India was extended into J&K in various ways. The authority of the Auditor General of India was introduced. The permit system was abolished. At the time of the accession no one was allowed to come to Kashmir without a permit issued from Srinagar. We had our own Income Tax Department. We had to surrender that also. All these were taken away. The right of citizenship was also taken away from the Kashmiri state. By this I mean Kashmiri citizenship. During the Maharaja's time only residents of Kashmir could acquire land in Kashmir. Others could not directly purchase land. They could only lease land.

In 1964 the biggest blow to our autonomy occurred during the government of Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq. The measure that destroyed our autonomy was known as the "Presidential Application Order of 1964". This took away what we call the "Nomenclature". Until then Kashmir had its own head of state, the Sadr-e-Riyasat, or President, who was elected by the state legislature, and the President of India, would in turn formally recognise him as Sadr-e-Riyasat of J&K. The qualification was that he must be a state subject - a citizen of J&K. No one else could become President. The Prime Minister was the head of administration. There was no Governor then. The first Sadr-e-Riyasat was Maharaja Karan Singh. He was the first and the last. The People's Conference party we formed after I resigned from the Janata Party, was committed to a restoration of Kashmir's "internal autonomy".

In 1987 there was an election in Kashmir that in retrospect represents a watershed. Many people date the emergence of the present militancy which has spanned the last decade from the intense alienation that followed the election. The election is generally considered to have been rigged at various levels. What role did you play at that time? And, what was your relationship with the Muslim United Front (MUF)?

Our party did join the MUF but our admission to the Front was later "cancelled". The opposition parties that existed then joined together and I was approached as well. The view was that we should put up a united front and we should not divide our votes. The leaders were then all in detention. I also was detained. When I was released I was approached to join. I was called to a meeting. We were all asked to take oaths. I also took an oath. [Laughs] Later on they said, "No". We were not wanted. We were told that our party would not be admitted to the Muslim United Front. We were told that we could fight the election and share seats with the Jamaat-i-Islami.

God knows, why we were not accepted. I can't say. How can I explain it to you? I myself believe that some politicians are afraid of me. They feel uncomfortable in my company. So, my party fielded 25 independent candidates. We fought independently in 1987. The same thing happened all over. We were winning in three or four constituencies. We like others were "made to lose".

The Muslim United Front won four seats. Had I been in the MUF they would have won about 20 seats despite all the rigging. At certain places they made me lose, and at certain places I made them lose. Opposition votes were divided.

Lone Saheb, bring me to where we are today, and tell me where we are going tomorrow?

We are nowhere. We don't know about tomorrow. But, at the moment we are nowhere. You see the colonial attitudes of Indians and Pakistanis. We have been in "this moment" for the last 12 or 13 years. Our belief is that this dispute has taken the lives of more than 70,000 people. We know that more than 15,000 houses have been blasted or torched by the Indian Army. More than 3,000 people have been killed while in custody. Approximately the same number have "disappeared". Thousands of our daughters and sisters have been raped or molested. These have been the weapons of war used against us. We have suffered all these sacrifices.

Yet, now the situation emerges where we stand nowhere. It is as if we have suffered only for their pleasure. We stand nowhere. We are treated as if we don't exist. It is as if there isn't a freedom struggle going on. It is made to appear as if there is only a dispute between India and Pakistan. Our movement has been hijacked. So, we stand nowhere.

If you were permitted to stand "somewhere" and Kashmiris were able to have a real voice, what would a "just solution" to the Kashmir question look like? Over many decades India and Pakistan have been stuck in intransigent positions. They tacitly accept that there are only "two options" for Kashmir, and each rejects the option the other supports. The choice is either accession to Pakistan or accession to India with India nowadays saying there is only one option and it is settled.

Pakistan's position, at least until Musharraf, has been essentially similar - "one option". Musharraf personally appears somewhat ambiguous on this question. How has public sentiment in Kashmir evolved over half a century? Do the "two options" represent a plausible way forward or does a "third option" exist? Is the "third option" independence or a new concept of sovereignty for Kashmir? Has the centre of gravity in Kashmiri public opinion shifted in favour of a "third option"?

Yes, I believe if it is left to Kashmiris they will go for the "Third Option". If a plebiscite had been held within three or four years after partition, the results might have been different.

At that time would a majority of Kashmiris have voted to accede to Pakistan?

No, quite the opposite, the vote would probably have gone in India's favour at the time. However, with the passage of time the Indians began to show their face to the people.

Could the vote on a plebiscite have ever gone in Pakistan's favour?

This is a question of perception. One can't possibly say for certain. But, when Pakistan intervened with tribesmen [from the North West Frontier Province], the men they used started looting after they arrived. They started killing people. People were killed because of their faith. We Kashmiris don't believe in killings. There were massacres in Baramulla and other places. There was brutality.

What option do you personally favour? If there were a genuine possibility of "self-determination", what would you favour? Would you support a "third option"?

Yes, that is my honest belief and that is my party's position.

Where do you and the JKLF differ on this issue? Are there any differences between you and Yasin Malik on this question?

I don't suppose on this question there is any difference. Since the Hurriyat was formed, we took a view that it was not profitable for our movement to suggest any specific option at this stage. Those in favour of Pakistan would suggest that "accession" to Pakistan was the right course. The pro-independence people would argue for their position. By prematurely putting forward "positions" the basic issue that must first be addressed would be sidelined. The basic issue is that India should first concede that Kashmir is a disputed territory. Instead, they say "nothing doing...this is an 'integral part' of India...accession [to India] is final."

When I was a young man, my father liked to tell an old Kashmiri story. He would tell people about an old man who had one son. Winter was approaching. The father and son sat together and decided that they should prepare a blanket. It would be cold soon. The family needed a blanket. A decision had to be made about its dimensions. The father said it should be five yards long. The son said it should be seven. They started quarrelling.

A wise man came and asked them why they were quarrelling. The father explained that they wanted to make a blanket and that his son wanted it to be seven yards long and he wanted it to be five. The wise man said, "Don't quarrel." He said bring me the material and I'll see whether it is fit for five yards or seven yards. They said we have no material. The wise man said, "Why are you poor people fighting? First, get the material and then decide what the length will be."

I placed this old story before my colleagues. I said, "Why should we break our heads on this issue. Our Kashmir is with India. They say it is an 'integral part" of India. Why should we as Kashmiris fight over whether Kashmir should "accede to Pakistan" or be "independent"? It is with them. Let us first persuade the Indians that they should concede that Kashmir is a disputed territory and its future is yet to be decided. Once they do it, then comes the question of how we will solve the issue of this disputed territory. To me this is the logical approach.

The other day Vajpayee said Kashmir is an "integral part" of India. He said this issue was not to be discussed. So, we live in the same situation. Last winter, Vajpayee said about Kashmir that as Prime Minister he would not traverse the same "beaten path". We thought something new might be possible. But, he has taken the same "beaten path" as all the others.

You spoke earlier of the "colonial attitudes" of India and Pakistan. Can you give your assessment of Pakistan's role in the Kashmir dispute? In Islamabad recently a group of Kashmir exiles told me an interesting story. Among the people I spoke with were representatives of the APHC in Pakistan. They described a meeting with General Pervez Musharraf in February 2001. It was a meeting that was scheduled to last one hour. It lasted several hours. Musharraf had also invited another key military colleague to join them.

According to at least one Kashmiri who attended the meeting, the Kashmiris speaking with Musharraf felt that for the first time they were meeting a Pakistani leader who they didn't "fear". They felt free to be frank about their views without danger of suffering possible consequences. At one point Musharraf was directly asked if he was open to the "third option". Reportedly, he said that a solution to the Kashmir question has to be based on the wishes of the Kashmiri people. According to an individual who was at the meeting, Musharraf went on to say that many Pakistanis may have a certain option in mind but if Kashmiris make a free and independent choice for themselves, then Pakistanis must accept their decision, even if such a decision were painful for Pakistanis. When you met Musharraf, did you ask whether or not he was open to a "third option" or whether he would oppose it?

I did not discuss the issue with him directly in this way. However, I did make a specific point to him. I had also discussed this same matter with representatives of Pakistan from previous governments. On one occasion in New York I spoke with Sartaj Aziz when he was Foreign Minister. We also made this point in writing to Aziz. We said to the Pakistanis that they should try their level best to help Kashmir get out from being an Indian possession, but in doing so they should not express a preference for any option. Otherwise, they would create problems for our freedom struggle. We told them, "You are just our supporters. You should project yourself as our supporters and not as "owners" of Kashmir."

In relation to the presence of "foreign militants" in Kashmir there has been a big controversy here. When I was in Pakistan [in 2000], I issued a statement about this. There was a dinner party while I was in Pakistan hosted in my honour by the head of the Jamaat-i-Islami of Azad Kashmir, Rashid Peravhi. There were many Pakistanis attending. I gave a speech at the dinner where I said it is important that you understand what are our differences as Kashmiris are with India. The simple fact is that the Indians first came to Kashmir as friends. They said they were our supporters. They told us that we had the right to decide about our future. They said, "The tribesmen that had come from Pakistan are forcibly occupying your territory. We shall drive them out and then you will be free to take a decision about your future."

I told the Pakistani audience that India has done terrible things to us. Our history with India is a long one of broken promises. They have been very rough to us. But I said I wanted to know if Pakistan also had a hidden agenda. I asked, "Would you also like to take us over and occupy our land?"

I explained the reason why I was raising this question. Vajpayee had recently made a proposal for establishing a ceasefire and beginning a dialogue. It was our view that it was the people of Kashmir who must come up with their own response. As far as the militants who have come to Kashmir from Pakistan and elsewhere are concerned, they are our sympathisers. They are welcome so long as they have come to help us. But, they must not take up the role of "owners". They are not "owners" of our movement. I asked, "Would those of you who are supporting them also like to occupy us?" This was probably the first time a Kashmiri leader ever went to Pakistan and clearly had his say.

Later during the same trip I met Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Hafiz Mohammed Sayed, leaders of Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami. I told them, "It is ridiculous. Who are your 'militants'? We in Kashmir had yet to formulate our response to Vajpayee's proposals but your people rejected them. Who are those people to reject proposals on our behalf? Why should you expect us to keep quiet?" Qazi and Hafiz agreed with me and said to me, "You are right." When I raised this point with Musharraf, he also agreed that they should not have issued such statements from Pakistan.

So you do not have a clear impression whether Musharraf is open or not to the "Third Option"?

I did not discuss it directly with him. We spent more than an hour and a half together. He was interested in discussing Vajpayee's announcement and whether India was open to a genuine dialogue. I think it is unfortunate that Musharraf came to power as a military dictator. It would have been better had he come to power as an elected representative. Taking all things into consideration, I think that if the Indians cooperate, Musharraf is still the best man on the Pakistani side with whom the Indians can deal on Kashmir. He is a practical man. He can reach a settlement on Kashmir.

You need to understand the rigidity of the Indians. If the APHC had been allowed to go to Pakistan, it would have served as a catalyst. The greatest catalyst for peace could have been the Hurriyat. The Hurriyat could have gone and told the Pakistanis so many plain things. But how can you solve the Indian problem? The Indians take for granted that the Hurriyat are surrogates of Pakistan. There is clear evidence before them that this is not so. I had gone to Pakistan and said so many things that had not pleased Pakistanis. I raised so many issues.

There is substantial evidence that the Hurriyat leaders are not sold on Pakistan's thinking. But the Indians are themselves trapped by rigid thinking. We in the APHC could have gone to Pakistan and argued with Musharraf saying that the third option is a way out. Other Hurriyat leaders and I would have told him this is the way. If the Pakistanis are going to go for a solution that is not commensurate with their known stand, they will need the support of the Kashmiri people. The support will be readily available if they move toward another option.

Would Syed Ali Shah Geelani [a member of the APHC executive and an important figure of the Jamaat-i-Islami of Kashmir] have accepted this?

Geelani has his own views. I will express my own views. He is not in a position to deter me. And, I am not in a position to deter him.

What does the future hold for Kashmir? Dr. Eqbal Ahmed, the Pakistani intellectual, who as a young man was involved in Algeria's struggle against the French, used to say that the Algerians lost their battle militarily, but won their struggle politically. By the end of the Algerian war a very significant section of French opinion was against the war and the brutal cost of holding onto Algeria. Among these were some of France's most prominent intellectuals. What success have Kashmiris had in persuading Indians that another way forward has to be found if a solution is to be achieved?

I am convinced that it is not only our struggles that will help us achieve our goal. We need also to increase international awareness of our situation. But, first and foremost the Indian people need to be educated in order to know exactly what is happening in Kashmir. These are the two key constituencies we need to convince in order to ultimately persuade the Government of India to agree to a just solution.

I personally have been to Patna, Delhi, West Bengal, Bombay, and Gujarat, These are among the many places I have visited. Unfortunately, so far we have had a limited response. We describe the terrible human rights violations that are going on in Kashmir. The Indian human rights organisations that have organised our visits have limited resources. There has been a great deal of disinformation about Kashmir by the Government of India. Recently, there has been some openness in the Indian press. However, for the last 10 years the Indian press has shut its eyes and ears to the indiscriminate killing in Kashmir, and has essentially put forward the Government's version.

The standard view among India's older generation is that there was a dispute over Kashmir that was taken to the United Nations by the Government of India. Now, a new generation has come up. What they believe is that there is an "integral part" of India called Kashmir, populated by Muslims, and that the Muslim countries want to take it away from India. This is the younger generation's impression. They simply don't know the basics regarding the historical background. They don't understand that there is a legitimate dispute about the Kashmir issue.

The only Kashmiri view they know about is that of Mr. Geelani who gets a great deal of press coverage from both the Pakistanis and the Indians. Geelani's views fit the standard views found in each country. From the Indian point of view they say look here how "anti-Indian" Geelani's views are. The Pakistanis give him a great deal of coverage. So, when I go to India I know what to expect. The Indian public has been conditioned to see Kashmiris in one way. Here is this Kashmiri. He is an "extremist". He is a "fanatic". They are "murderers". They are "killers". I understand from experience how hard it is to persuade an Indian to even listen to your argument. They start with a view based on the image that the Government of India has projected for so long that we are all "terrorists".

We in the APHC are a small group with only seven men in the leadership. We need to change a situation that has been politically frozen for years. We have tried to take the right decisions at the right times. But the Government of India has been unmoved. I am not so pessimistic. I was the first leader of the Hurriyat who argued with the American Ambassador Frank Wisner. In 1994 he put a question to me. He said, "Mr. Lone, should we say that there is no possibility of a solution in Kashmir?" I told him, "Yes, there is a possibility if this 'Saffron Brigade' [the BJP] comes to power." Wisner laughed at me and said, "What are you talking about?"

When the BJP came to power, there were possibilities. We hoped that before the summit with Musharraf they could open the way toward progress. Instead, Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh issued statements declaring that Kashmir was an "integral part" of India. I then issued a statement saying that it seems that Jaswant Singh is himself not convinced that Kashmir is an "integral part" of India and that is why he felt the need to assert it. Vajpayee said this is not an issue to be discussed.

Vajpayee's statement was obnoxious to me. It may have been his view. But why should he make such a statement [on the eve of a summit with Pakistan]. It represented only the arrogance of power. Vajpayee should have been a statesman rather than raise this point. If his army is holding Kashmir, why should he make this assertion? There was demoralisation everywhere in Kashmir. We hoped for progress from the summit. If Vajpayee were a big leader, why should he have made this assertion? Last winter, Vajpayee said that as Prime Minister he would not traverse the same "beaten path" in Kashmir. We thought something new might be possible. But, he has taken the same "beaten path" as all the others. They are rogues. You can't expect anything from these people.

And, what of the Pakistanis? Have they also let you down?

They have definitely let us down. This is on the record. They have let us down. What moral support have they given us? This was the time to provide us moral support. The Americans have taken a stand and they have religiously followed it. They have said that in any bilateral talks between India and Pakistan the discussions should take note of the sentiments and views of the people of Kashmir. America is a distant foreign country. They say it. What's wrong with Pakistanis? Why shouldn't they say it? There is a movement going on in Kashmir. The Kashmiris are suffering. They are struggling. Why shouldn't we take note? If India is not ready to talk with the Kashmiris, then Pakistan should be able to say that we will talk with the Kashmiris and take note of their views.

But, Pakistan follows its own national interest. Kashmiris can be sacrificed. Their sentiments can be sacrificed. It is the same case with India. They say there is no need to talk to the Hurriyat or the Kashmiri people. Alienation is there. Day by day, alienation is piled upon alienation. They only wish that we should be their slaves.

India's leadership is committing a great blunder. India is suffering. Indians are losing everything of value. They once valued Gandhi as a great prophet of peace and non-violence. You can see what kind of peace and non-violence they are practising in Kashmir. India has the possibility to emerge as a world power. Kashmir stands in its way.

Half of India's population remains below the poverty line. No one cares for them. Yet, India spends its taxpayers' money killing people in the lanes and by-lanes of Srinagar. They are killing those people who they claim are their citizens. They have gone mad. Why then are they killing their own people? Why should they allow their sisters and daughters to be raped by their own army? The soldier who has tasted rape and extortion will return home and practice this in his own country. In the end what will happen to Indian culture, Indian history and Indian society?

The war in Kashmir has become a corrupt racket. We know it here. Most people in India are in the dark. Let me give you just one example. If one hundred men go to Pakistan for training, then at least 70 to 80 per cent are being sent by the Indian Armed Forces. Less than 30 per cent are being sent by the Mujahideen groups. The Pakistani officer on the other side knows that 80 per cent of those arriving have been sent by his counterpart from the Indian side. He knows it. But, he doesn't care. He too has his incentives.

And, the Indian officer on this side doesn't care. If the boys come back and surrender as planned, then the Indian officer pockets most of the Rs.30,000 available to each boy who surrenders. They grab that money. If 80 boys come back and 40 surrender, then 40 rifles given by Pakistan to the militants land up in the hands of the Indian Army. In the course of time, the other 40 young men will be killed and these weapons will also be picked-up by the Indian Army. This is the system. Who cares?

What do you think of the efforts of those people in India and Pakistan who have attempted over the years to find a solution to the question of Kashmir? What is your view of men like I.A. Rehman, Mubashar Hasan, Pran Chopra, and Admiral Ramdas?

There are certain people in Pakistan and in India who are really constructive people. They are not limited by specific national notions. They have a notion that there should be a solution to the dispute. In India, Admiral Ramdas is one of them. It is my opinion that from Pakistan I. A Rehman is a very constructive man. I have not met Mubashar Hasan. At one time George Verghese tried to be constructive but later he changed.

One often hears while travelling in Kashmir the comment that despite being an articulate and important Kashmiri voice, the Hurriyat has so far failed to sufficiently broaden its political base among crucial Kashmiri minorities. When I raise this point, I am only expressing what I have heard from a number of Kashmiri Sikhs, Pandits, Buddhists and other minorities, many of who are in fact sympathetic to positions the Hurriyat has expressed. The issue for all these communities revolves around that phenomenon known as Kashmiriyat. If "freedom" comes to Kashmir, will it be an equal freedom for Kashmir's Muslim community and Kashmir's minorities?

Minorities in Kashmir express anxiety about the future. As it is presently constituted, is the Hurriyat a sufficiently representative body adequate to represent a broad spectrum of Kashmiris? If it becomes possible to hold trilateral negotiations between India, Pakistan, and Kashmiri representatives, who will speak for Kashmir and who will decide? Is the APHC the appropriate representative forum to enter negotiations on behalf of Kashmiris?

Why not? Concerning the present stage, we are in the midst of the struggle. Hindus may not support the Hurriyat at this stage because some people who support accession to Pakistan are part of the APHC. So, at present due to this fact, they have not joined us. We have said, "Well, don't join us." Let us get something and then we will discuss the problem. Of course, we will have to broaden our base. How is it possible to do otherwise? At this point of time in the world you cannot simply drag people along with you. People must be persuaded to voluntarily associate themselves with you on the basis of their free will. We will definitely do it.

The Indians are saying as a matter of propaganda that we don't represent anyone. To me this is nonsense. Why should they demand a representative character at this stage from Hurriyat? They never demanded it from Laldenga. At the international level no one ever made this demand from Nelson Mandela. Should negotiations not have been carried out in South Africa in order to structure a genuinely democratic dispensation? You must examine the attitude of the Indians. What is the dispute here? There are only two parties to the dispute. On one side there is the APHC that says that Kashmir is a disputed territory. The APHC says there is no finality to the "accession". The APHC says Kashmir is not "an integral part of India". On the other side is the Government of India that says: "Kashmir is 'an integral part of India' and 'accession' is final." In this sense, we are clearly the two main parties.

Despite differences within some parties all the principal political parties in India share the view of the Government of India on this issue. Thus, their views are reflected by the Government of India. The APHC reflects the view of the main political forces in Kashmir that differ with India on these crucial questions. Therefore, the APHC and the Government of India are the two main parties that face each other. It is only we who differ. So, if there is to be a dialogue to narrow down the differences or to find a solution, it must be the Hurriyat and the Government of India that enter into discussions.

Once the Government of India sits with the Hurriyat, they can certainly and rightly raise the question of representation. They can say we are willing to discuss Kashmir with you but there are problems that need to be addressed. You don't represent Kashmiri Pandits. You don't represent Jammu's Dogras. You don't represent Buddhists of Ladakh. It is a question of procedure. These problems will be addressed and they will be solved. We have proposals that will be put forward at the proper time.

There are two recognised states involved in the Kashmiri dispute - India and Pakistan. The "third party" involved are the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever settlement is ultimately reached, it will be accomplished by agreement. The future status of Kashmir should be decided by agreement of all the three parties. For example, one thing that can be agreed by all is that Kashmir will be a "secular state". Another matter that can be part of an agreement is that there should be proper representation of all communities in Kashmir with constitutional guarantees. Matters such as these should be settled by agreement. One community alone should not decide. Therefore, we must shape such an agreement before elections are held. If you have elections first, the Muslims will be in the majority and they will decide. We do not want only one community deciding. A constitutional agreement must come first.

Is the Kashmir we are talking about go from Jammu and Ladakh to Gilgit and Baltistan?

Oh, yes. We are for that.

So, it is the 1947 Kashmiri borders that will define a future Kashmir?

There are other options also. What are they?

I will not reveal those. I will keep them right here - close to my chest. They will be revealed at the appropriate time.

You have often expressed your concern regarding the state of "secular politics" in Kashmir. However, there are elements within the Hurriyat who are publicly on record saying that they are opposed to the idea of a secular Kashmir state. Are there ways that a consensus can be reached so that a possible catastrophe can be avoided in Kashmir?

Yes, there are ways. The opinions you refer to are individual views. You may want to quote Mr. Geelani. He is an individual. His party, the Jamaat, is not with him on this matter.

Two days ago I interviewed Mr. Geelani. He stated to us that "secularism" is "a poison for Islam".

With all due respect to Mr. Geelani, I do not agree. There are two branches of "secularism". One is European secularism. That is not only anti-Islam. It is also anti-religion. There is also the branch of secularism found in India. The origin of Indian secularism is linked with the events of 1947. There were "states of emergency" in both India and Pakistan. Many of the Muslims who worked on behalf of the creation of Pakistan found themselves in India after partition. This was particularly true of Muslims from places like U.P.

These people faced a very perplexing situation. Their position became even more complicated when Mohammed Ali Jinnah made a statement before Pakistan's Constituent Assembly. Jinnah said the Muslims in India must remain loyal citizens of India. He also said the Hindus of Pakistan must now remain the loyal citizens of Pakistan. There remained 120 million Muslims in India. Refugees fleeing from Pakistan were threatening to harm the Muslim community in India. They wanted to burn their houses as had been done to them.

The Indian state faced a problem. They could not kill all the Muslims. How could they do it? So, how could people live in India with all this enmity? The Congress leaders came to the conclusion that unlike Pakistan they needed a state where there would be no restrictions on any religious movement, and that the Indian state should not own any religion. This was a correct decision. And, that decision defined Indian secularism. They believe in diversity. Everyone is free to practise any religion.

What would Kashmiri secularism be?

It would be the same! Everyone will be free to profess his or her own religion.

When we put this question to several other Kashmiri leaders, they were of the opinion that the type of secularism they were thinking of would derive its inspiration from Islam. They were not in favour of a Kashmir founded on a secular basis defined by Kashmiri citizenship. They were in favour of tolerance from Muslims toward other religious communities.

I also say I am in favour of religious tolerance. But what is religious tolerance? If it does not please Mr. Geelani to call it secularism due to his own problems, then we will call it religious tolerance. It is one and the same thing. If you tolerate me as a Muslim, I should reciprocate. I should tolerate you as a Hindu.

This still doesn't completely answer the concerns of certain minorities. I recently met a Kashmiri Sikh businessman. He was born here. His parents were born here. He says he is a Kashmiri. Yet, he worries about the views of Mr. Geelani.. He fears for his future. He fears for his security. This Sikh gentleman worries that Kashmir might one day be called the Islamic State of Kashmir. He expressed concern that under such circumstances the Koran might be made a compulsory subject in the schools. He then said that most Kashmiri Sikhs would leave Kashmir within 10 years of such a development. He said that Sikhs and other minorities needed clear constitutional protections and guarantees.

I told all this to Geelani Saheb when we met him a few days ago. He assured us that minorities would always be protected in Kashmir. I said that similar promises had been made to minorities in Pakistan by Jinnah and others, but today the Christian community is being persecuted by the gratuitous use of blasphemy laws and other measures directed at minorities. Geelani Saheb said the problem was that Pakistan was not a "proper Islamic state".

As far as Mr. Geelani is concerned, I don't believe what he professes today he will also profess tomorrow. Not only does his own party, the Jamaat, disagree with him, he sometimes disagrees with himself. Today he says something. After six months he says something else. He says, "Let there be a plebiscite. If a decision is in favour of India, we will stay in India. If it is in favour of Pakistan, we will go to Pakistan. If it favours independence, we will become independent." But, then sometimes he says, "Nothing doing! It is only accession to Pakistan that is possible. The rest is 'un-Islamic"'. He also includes an independent state as being un-Islamic when he takes this position.

Mr. Geelani says that in the Hurriyat Constitution the first priority is the implementation of U.N. resolutions, and that does not include the "third option". Is this correct?

No, he is not correct. The "third option" is very much a part of the Hurriyat's Constitution. Perhaps, the problem was the Mr. Geelani's English is poor. So, perhaps, he did not understand.

His English seemed quite fluent to us.

[At this juncture Lone instructs his assistant to bring out a copy of the Hurriyat Constitution. The aide returns with a copy of the Constitution.]

Let me read exactly what our Constitution says regarding the U.N. resolution and the question of the "third option". It says the following: "...to make a peaceful settlement secure for the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir they may exercise the right of self-determination in accordance with the U.N. Charter and the resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council. However, the exercise of the right of self-determination shall also include the right to independence." I think this point is now quite clear. Regarding the Hurriyat's position, the "third option" is clearly available to us.

Lawrence Lifschultz was South Asia Correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong). During 2000-2001 he was a Senior Fulbright Fellow in Pakistan. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Yale Center for International & Area Studies at Yale University.

Email: lawrence.lifschultz@yale.edu

2002 No part of this interview may be published without the prior permission of Lawrence Lifschultz.

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