Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Sep 07, 2002
Government - Politics
`We are not in this struggle for the pleasure of Pak' Mr Abdul Gani Bhat, Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference
recently in Srinagar
If a serious attempt is made by India and Pakistan to solve the Kashmir dispute, it could be done through dialogue and even without plebiscite, says Mr Abdul Gani Bhat, Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, in an interview given to Business Line before he was placed under house arrest on Friday.
Excerpts from the interview:
Recently, there was a crisis in the Hurriyat over some rebels contesting the elections. How was it resolved?
We are a political conglomerate symbolising the political unity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and their sentiments. In any crisis, we are guided by the realities on the ground, sombre and stark, and not emotions or prejudices.
We have to consider the sacrifices made in our efforts to get a peaceful settlement on the J&K dispute, to move towards a better world and a brighter future; with a view to help India and Pakistan to improve relations, and ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
It is not only the future of Kashmir that should cause concern to the world, but the future of the entire south Asian region, particularly with the nuclear weaponisation of India and Pakistan.
If anything goes wrong, by accident, miscalculation, mistake or even design, it will be a total disaster for this entire region.
To banish the ghost of atomic war from South Asia, we have to address the root cause of tension between India and Pakistan, which is the dispute in J&K. We are trying to consolidate the forces of good towards that.
So, to gauge the views of the people, why did you not contest the elections? The Centre has come forward with definite moves; the Kashmir Committee (KC) has been formed, and its chief, Mr Ram Jethmalani, has even lashed out at Mr L. K. Advani for refusing to meet Shabir Shah. Don't you see any sincerity in all this?
I do not know how to measure the depth of sincerity in the minds of the rulers in India, Pakistan or Kashmir. But guided by the realities on the ground... that there is absolutely no alternative available either with India, Pakistan or us, for that matter but to talk and resolve the dispute.
And, for this, we will have to move beyond blistering sub-continental posturing, beyond belligerent hostility and the beaten track, beyond bias, prejudice and intransigence. We must move forward imaginatively with an open mind.
But Mr Vajpayee had said just this in his musings and elsewhere where he talked of innovative measures and the credo of insaniyat... But we got a Kargil and more cross-border terrorism from Pakistan in reply.
Well, if we are guided by yesterday, we cannot capture today, and much less produce a brighter and better future.
But the Government has been saying that we'll talk to Pakistan, but as a beginning why don't you talk to the Central government first?
We made it explicitly clear that if the Indians want us to talk to them first, we are prepared to do so, provided Pakistan is taken into confidence, and we will have to talk to Pakistan as well.
And this assurance has not been given to you?
No. When it comes, it will be a good beginning.
What about the KC? Does it give you some hope? Mr Jethmalani is not scared to speak his mind.
It is a good beginning but I cannot call it a very positive or healthy development. But when you begin you have to grapple with problems, like he faces in New Delhi.
For example, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister told him they are prepared to meet the Kashmir leaders. Shabir Shah accepted the invitation and went to Delhi, but was refused audience with both. We knew what would happen.
You foresaw it?
Absolutely, we were certain.
Why are you so pessimistic?
I'm not a pessimist on the resolution of the J&K problem, but am one when it comes to dialogue between India and Pakistan, or India and Kashmir, or among all three. Because Indians don't seem to demonstrate a deeper sense of responsibility or a higher degree of understanding.
If you are to resolve a highly sensitive issue such as Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought several wars, you have to proceed with imagination, openness and conviction.
You are placing so much trust in Pakistan, but after September 11, the way it has cosied up to the US, don't you fear that Pakistan may ditch you like it ditched the Taliban? How can you trust Pakistan?
We are not engaged in the freedom struggle for the pleasure of Pakistan or the displeasure of India.
We are engaged in this struggle on a principle and for a cause. And when you fight on these factors, it does not matter who says or does what...
So, what do you see as the solution? Do you still want a plebiscite?
The people of J&K are yet to exercise the choice promised to them, not only by the UN Security Council but by an Indo-Pak agreement and, more important, by the assurance given them by the Indian leadership on the soil of Kashmir that they are the masters of their destiny.
But there was no option of azadi there; it was either here or there.
Yes, I agree. If a solution is to emerge, we can't put on blinkers.
So, the third option should be available?
Any option that is acceptable to all the three parties.
Last year, there was a clamour for azadi after the autonomy resolution was thrown out. But this time I sense a tiredness, with people saying they want peace at any cost. Do you see militancy coming down?
Peace cannot happen in a vacuum. When you talk of peace you have to establish it on the ground and in the hearts and homes of people.
But what do the people really want?
They want a permanent settlement of the dispute. We cannot afford to remain in tension for all time to come.
Do you think the Government will agree to a plebiscite?
Depends... if a situation develops and if the pressures keep mounting...
Yes, then India will have to see reason and submit to the will of the people of J&K. Also, the dynamics of the situation suggest that India and Pakistan have to have a dialogue, take the people of J&K into confidence and find a way out. If this happens, maybe a plebiscite may not be necessary in J&K, because in a dialogue any solution can emerge.
Do you see the possibility of people opting to stay with India? Granted that successive Indian governments have ignored Kashmir or dealt with Kashmir unfairly. But if the next government is different...
You will have to recognise three stark realities; one, India my not agree to a plebiscite to be held in J&K; two, Paksitan is not going to ignore Kashmir, come what may; three, the alienation in Kashmir against India has deepened irretrievably. If you proceed on these premises, I'm sure we'll be able to find a way out.
But when you say `irretrievable', are you implying that the Kashmiris will not opt to stay with India?!
The people have to decide.
But what do you say?
I occupy a place where I cannot express myself as freely as you would want me to.
But had you participated in the elections you could have even made it conditional it would have been a wonderful opportunity to prove your representative nature.
If you consider the constitutional history of J&K, you will have to take into account the UN resolution, where India agreed that no Assembly can sit in judgement over the future dispensation of J&K.
When Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, as the Prime Minister of J&K, urged the Indian leadership to address the core issue on Kashmir, he lost the office of PM and languished in prison for 11 years.
His son passed a resolution with a two-thirds majority on the floor of the Assembly two years ago, which was contemptuously rejected by the rulers in New Delhi. That too, for a modicum of autonomy.
This has to guide us. Elections are a non-issue as far as the future dispensation of J&K is concerned.
In East Timor, they didn't organise elections but went in for a referendum. The same in Quebec, where the people decided to stay with Canada, though with a thin majority. But the Indians don't want it here because they fear the result may not be favourable.
And if it doesn't want it for the next 50 years, will you continue to live with violence and bloodshed?
We have lived for 55 long years with the problems and the blood trickling down from the hearts of the people with their houses burning and their honour lost.
We'll do so but the problem will continue to hang fire.
Do you think there is local support to militancy and, if yes, in what form?
Of course, in terms of food and shelter. People will not open fire on behalf of a boy with a gun but they do offer food and shelter, despite the fact that they can die for this. This should speak volumes about the involvement of the people in this struggle.
When do you see a final solution coming?
In the very near future, and for three reasons. One, Kashmir is a nuclear threat to this region. Two, in an open market economy; you will never be able to attract foreign investment till you ensure peace. Three, there is a realisation in India that we cannot live with tension for all time to come. The KC is glaring proof that the saner elements have realised the need for a solution.
But if the Government has a complete change of heart and attitude, floods the state with economic initiatives, gives a fillip to industrialisation and employment, and puts in place initiatives for education and health care... ?
You cannot live by bread alone. Why should the younger people lay down their lives?
What are your expectations from the next government?
Whichever the government and whoever the chief minister, it makes no different to the people of J&K because he will be a surrogate to the rulers in Delhi.
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