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`We want to work on a step-by-step basis'

Print edition : Oct 07, 2005

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Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.-ANU PUSHKARNA

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.-ANU PUSHKARNA

Interview with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

More than most people All Parties Hurriyat Conference's chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq understands the potential costs of making peace in Jammu and Kashmir. His father, the well-known cleric Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, was assassinated by the Hizbul Mujahideen on suspicion of having opened a covert dialogue with New Delhi; today, the son himself faces terrorist threats. Nonethesless, Mirwaiz Farooq has emerged as the most vocal and visible advocate of a political dialogue with New Delhi. He discussed the challenges ahead with Praveen Swami. Excerpts:

Compared with the last round of talks you had with New Delhi when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power, how satisfied are you with the mood and seriousness of purpose of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government?

I would say that there are some differences. The overall atmosphere is much more conducive to dialogue; some confidence-building measures are already in place and others will be announced soon. Another factor that is very, very important is that in 2004 Pakistan was not supportive of this process. [The Islamist leader] Syed Ali Shah Geelani was very much their favourite and the militants were issuing all kinds of statements. Today, I feel we are in a much stronger position.

How so?

Well, Pakistan's support is one factor. India has also realised that the APHC is the only group that is relevant to the situation. You're now going to ask me - every journalist does - how talking to just one group is going to help move forward. I think you have realised that ours is the only group that represents both the sentiments in Kashmir and the spirit of change in the subcontinent. There are, of course, other groups too. Geelani and the hardliners undoubtedly represent the sentiment, but not the spirit of change. The same is true of the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party [PDP]. They represent change, but not the sentiment. That is why the APHC is the most relevant group to the dialogue process today.

Some have been calling for a widening of the dialogue process, either in parallel to the engagement New Delhi has with the APHC or as a part of it. Do you think there is a need for such dialogue?

I think New Delhi should not spend its time talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry. The APHC is trying to get other people on board who are outside our fold. Apart from Geelani sahib, there are people like Shabbir Shah and Yasin Malik who are on the same track as we are. There are minor hiccups vis-a-vis our perception and theirs, which we need to work on, but hopefully things will work out. For example, we have opened a channel of communication with the Kashmiri Pandit community. Just the other day, I had a detailed discussion with representatives of the Sikh community. We will gradually focus on the intra-Kashmiri aspect of the dialogue, because we realise that when we talk of Jammu and Kashmir it is not just one community or region that is being discussed.

When you next meet the Prime Minister, should we expect a concrete set of issues to be discussed or are there still modalities to be discussed?

I think we have to evolve a mechanism on how to move forward before dealing with substantive issues. There has, after all, been a 17-month lull between the talks with the NDA and this round. What we would like now is the institution of a structure that gives continuity to the peace process. Continuity is essential to consolidation.

So you are not in a tearing rush to bring big issues to the table?

No, not at all. We want to take our time over things, and to work on a step-by-step basis. We want to head towards a situation where we do not have to work through interlocutors and mediators, but have a direct link with New Delhi. We also need to be aware that there are some parties seeking to sabotage the dialogue. For example, the National Conference and the PDP feel threatened that we are challenging their power. For example, there in New Delhi we were talking about dialogue, and here, in Srinagar, the State government detained people under the Public Safety Act, which put us in a very awkward position. Now, this can't go on. If New Delhi is serious about the dialogue, it will have to use its influence at the State level as well. It will have to take measures on the ground to strengthen the dialogue.

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