Srinagar,PEERZADA ASHIQ: National Conference working president and former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has defended his father’s (Farooq Abdullah’s) remarks that “India cannot take Pakistan-occupied Kashmir away from Pakistan” saying the Kargil war in 1999 provided an opportunity to cross the Line of Control but India preferred to respect its sanctity.
“I understand there is a Parliament resolution that authorises or pressurises the Government of India to bring back that part of Jammu and Kashmir to India control. If that be the case, why didn’t we do it in the Kargil war?” asked Omar.
In an interview to The Hindu, the Junior Abdullah claimed that during the Kargil war there were express instructions that no man or machine would cross the LoC. “We did more to maintain the sanctity of the LoC than Pakistan did. If the Parliament resolution was our guiding light then Kargil was the best excuse for us to cross the LoC and take back some territory. If at that provocation we did not do it why will we do it now,” Omar said, while defending his father’s remarks.
Change in stance
Reflecting a change in earlier stand to convert the LoC into a border, Omar said, “People of the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which have been artificially divided, should be allowed to reunite. Whether that reunification takes place under a sovereign arrangement or this sort of thing where the LoC is converted into a de facto border and then is made softer and irrelevant border.”
Describing the package insufficient to resolve the political problem, Omar , while commenting on prolonging the Kashmir issue, warned, “Kashmir is also now increasingly under pressure from a version of Islam that was otherwise alien to the State. To what extent this will continue and how this change processes and thoughts in J&K, it is too early to tell.”
Calling for resumption of dialogue process on internal and external dimension of Kashmir, the former Chief Minister said his party would once again take to people the autonomy as a solution. “Autonomy is the cornerstone of our political identity,” he said.
Omar alleged that “the sections of opinion in the corridors of power in New Delhi that time [when autonomy resolution was passed] realised that a party with two thirds majority is not something they want to see and that an alternative to regional voice was another regional party and not a national party.”
“The creation of the PDP is too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence,” he said.
Omar also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of failing the Vajpayee legacy. “Vajpayee never stood up and said he knows everything about J&K. He was willing to listen. PM Modi chose to interpret words of Vajpayee ‘Jamooriyat, Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat’ with limited application … This PM is not Dr. Manmohan Singh. He certainly isn’t Vajpayee and Modi didn’t toe the Mufti’s line recently on Pakistan and Kashmir’s political problem.”
He also alleged that his grandfather Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, founder of the NC, was being demonised. “There were misunderstandings and misgivings about him, misplaced as they were. At that point in time, too much effort was made to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of Jawaharlal Nehru. The J&K trouble started from there. If he hadn’t been unceremoniously dethroned or detained and after that J&K’s autonomy was not tinkered with, who knows how different our history would have been today.”
Of late, the underlining of most of your speeches has been resolution of the Kashmir issue. In fact, you delinked development from the political problem saying “money alone cannot solve the issue”.
This not a recent development. I will take you back when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister and during his visit to south Kashmir I mentioned that while we are grateful for financial assistance we receive but at end of the day the root cause of the problem is political. Unless it is addressed politically, money is not going to buy a solution. So unlike others who can be accused of taking a different line in the government and different line in the opposition, I have consistently maintained that dialogue is the only option and only route available to use. Unless you will not address the (Kashmir) problem internally and externally it will not go. This is our line and was an immediate response to the recent Prime Minister’s (Narendra Modi) economic package too. This government was formed not just for economic package. In fact, economic package was a small component in the Agenda for Alliance, which was largely political in nature. But none of these issues were touched by the prime minister or of late by the chief minister for any concrete action. As an Opposition my role is to basically remind the government of what they were supposed to do. And remind the people of what it was not doing.
Kashmir issue continues to prolong. How do you see it shaping Kashmir and its people?
Jammu and Kashmir of today is not what it was 20-25 years ago. You still see predominantly the sort of more tolerant Islam that Jammu and Kashmir was known for. But it is also now increasingly under pressure from a version of Islam that was otherwise alien to the State. To what extent this will continue and how this change processes and thoughts in J-K, it is too early to tell. We do face problem of militancy and terrorism but has not so far turned into lawlessness. People are by and large safe in our society. Petty crime is not as much as it is in other parts of the country. Look at militancy-infested areas of North East or Naxalite areas, the petty extortion that goes on there at the hands of the gun doesn’t happen here. Because, to an extent, the fight in Kashmir has been more about ideology than about economics. Criminalisation hasn’t happened here.
Recent public speeches made by National Conference general secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar in south Kashmir saw him consistently raising the Autonomy issue. Is NC going back to people again with Autonomy and educating them about it contours?
Autonomy is the cornerstone of our political identity. We believe that this is the best possible solution. It has a stamp and approval of an elected assembly that passed it in 2000. But we are also realistic that in the course of the dialogue maybe something else comes up. Building pressure on New Delhi on autonomy is the tricky part. Unfortunately, New Delhi only responds to visible trouble in Kashmir. When things are reasonably calm they tend not to pay much attention. They only take notice when something goes wrong here. So challenge for both us as an Opposition party and for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a ruling party is to try and get Government of India to take note of the issues without being trouble here. It is not easy because you have a prime minister who has publicly declare that on the question of Kashmir he doesn’t need anybody’s advice and will do what he likes. That obviously makes our job that much more difficult.
Is NC paying a price for passing the resolution on autonomy?
A large section of the NC believes that the creation of the PDP was direct result of the autonomy resolution. The sections of opinion in the corridor of power in New Delhi that time realized that a party with two thirds majority is not something they want to see and that an alternate to regional voice was another regional party and not a national party. It is too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. The resolution gets passed and soon after PDP comes into existence. They got all the coverage on television and radio and they seemed not to lack for money to fight elections. It is something we have to deal with. It is politics. It is more problematic for the State than to it. An attempt to divide the voice of the state cannot be in the interest of the State. It doesn’t help. New Delhi takes advantage of the fractured voice when we ask it to address issues saying ‘you unify your voice and then come to us’. They tell us even PDP does not agree so why you telling us and get a convenient excuse.
NC president Farooq Abdullah recently made statements like “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir cannot be taken away from Pakistan”, “Militancy cannot be stopped in J-K by the army” and suggested that “borders between parts of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir be made porous”. What is he referring to?
The line of control (LoC) being the line on which solution can be drawn, these are not new views. These views expressed by him even as chief minister between 1996 and 2002 and successively at functions and events after that. They are based on sound logic, which is that too much water has flown in the Jhelum now for you to be able to start undoing that. For any solution in J-K to work you will have to arrive at some sort of arrangement where neither India nor Pakistan loses face, no one side claim victory. Take the Ufa declaration, no sooner had the declaration been made public that India took the position that it was a victory on their part because Pakistan had sort of make no mention of Kashmir. Two days later Pakistan took a completely different position and the whole process was unraveled. This is a small declaration. Imagine the same thing in the case of territory. I understand there is a Parliament resolution that was passed that authorizes or pressurizes the Government of India to bring back that part of Jammu and Kashmir to India control. If that be the case, why didn’t we do it in the Kargil war. The fact is during the Kargil war there were expressed instructions that no man or machine would cross the LoC. We did more to maintain sanctity of the LoC than Paistan did. If the Parliament resolution was our guiding light then Kargil was the best excuse for us to cross the LoC and take back some territory. If at that provocation we did not do it why will we do it now. What my father said, maybe wording perhaps made some people uncomfortable, but the thought process is not new. He has always believed that LoC ultimately will form part of the solution. It is a fact that army cannot eradicate militancy from J-K and the army will testify to that. The fact is that the gun is not a solution. Yes, security forces, be it army or paramilitary forces, they will play a part in bringing the violence down to acceptable level but after that the political process has to take over. Why is it that the army has been doing the things under Sadbhavana, doing humanitarian campaign and has interest in political process continuing and strengthening because they also realize that after a while their role is limited and the civilian authority has to take over. Punjab is a case in point. KPS Gill made successes against militancy but political process took it to the logical conclusion. Let’s take Ireland for example. At the end of the day what IRA and security forces did in the battles they fought it was ultimately the Good Friday agreement that led to a political process that resulted in a situation it is today. So what my father said is something that privately or publicly security experts will agree to. I don’t think anyone of underplay role of the army and lack appreciation but we also have to appreciate that their role is finite and not infinite. While we have not taken a position paper on LoC but NC stand has been that people of the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which have been artificially divided, should be allowed to reunite. Whether that reunification takes place under a sovereign arrangement or this sort of thing where the LoC is converted into a defacto border and then is made softer and irrelevant border. If I am not mistaken even the PDP has talked on these lines that you have an irrelevant border. You have a European like model where the free flow of people and goods and material is allowed and the PDP took it one step further and called for a free trade zone to be established. These are all various permutations and combinations of the same idea that if a border exists, it does not interfere in the day to day life of people.
You referred to the Good Friday model, we have much-talked four-point Musharraf formula that had to some extent India round the corner. What is NC’s stand on it?
We have been supportive of a dialogue process. There were aspects in the four-point programme that we found difficult to implement particularly joint control, which is difficult to manage at the best of times, other aspects which called for phased demilitarization and greater people-to-people contact, no territorial give and take, these were workable ideas.
Musharraf also talked about identifying regions within the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir? Is there such a need for a solution?
We already have a clear cut sub-regional identifications like plains of Jammu, Chenab valley, Pir Panchal and the Valley etc. There is need to give adequate voice and space. A limited beginning was with the hill development councils in Leh and Kargil. This was internal autonomy that the NC talked about. We didn’t talk about just autonomy between New Delhi and the State. We also talked about regional autonomy within the valley and Jammu. But our document was accused of being communal but there is a sort of religious differentiation in these regions. This is not something we have created but over the course of time it has come to be.
How was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee approach different from present dispensation?
PM Vajpayee never stood up and said he knows everything about J-K. He was willing to listen. He used the words Jamooriyat, Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat in a much wider context than PM Modi chose to interpret them. PM Modi only chose to interpret Jamooriyat as Panchayati Raj, Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat were interpreted with limited application. Vajpayee extended hand of friendship to Pakistan under difficult circumstances. There is a huge difference between the legacy of what PM Vajpayee and what we have seen so far. Vajpayee worked towards a solution but probably had less time at his hand. He also didn’t have the majority of his own in the Parliament. Vajpayee has certain constraints that PM Modi does not have but still went the extra mile. The good part was that PM Manmohan Singh tried to take it to the logical conclusion, which hasn’t happened in this transition of administration.
In your speeches you keep referring to the PM Modi’s snub to Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on Pakistan during his recent visit. How would have you reacted if you were at the dais?
I don’t know how would I react. But, in this case, Sayeed is partly himself responsible. He oversold it. This is Mufti’s old habit. He tries to take credit for things that is not his doing, for example opening up of the Srinagar-Muzafarrabad bus. As the chief minister he was privy to developments that were happening so he came here and tried to sell as if he was architect of that. Whereas the actual architect were Vajpayee and Musharraf. In this case, ten days before the PM visit, the CM met the PM and on his return he claimed this is going to be a historic visit and great announcements are going to be made. That the dialogue process is going to be restarted. Nayeem Akhtar as minister says that the announcement in this public meeting will benefit Kashmiris for generations to come. Now, expectations were raised not by the PM but CM and his colleagues. Obviously, he had briefed the PM and said this is what he should talk about and expected the PM toe his line. This PM is not Dr Manmohan Singh. He certainly isn’t Vajpayee and Modi didn’t toe the Mufti’s line. In the end, Mufti was left with agony face. If I was CM I would not have tried to force PM Modi to say which he didn’t want to. I would have not have definitely sold a speech before a speech as made. That was the big mistake.
Given the division and disagreements between the PDP and the BJP, do you think this government will sustain for six years?
They are both desperate to stay in power and for different reasons. The BJP has got its first chance and they would like to take this as long as they can. For Mufti sahib, challenge is different. He has to facilitate an organized transition of power from himself to his daughter and he knows that transition will be almost impossible to manage if he is not in power. He needs to be in power for that transition. Therefore, for both the parties there is an incentive to remain in power.
If in the future the BJP looks for options in Kashmir? Is NC an option?
The option was made available to us right in the beginning before they knocked on the PDP doors they knocked our doors. My father was candid enough recently in outlining that the BJP offer was turned down. If the offer was turned down then I see no reason we will accept it now.
In the past one decade, the mainstream parties in Kashmir stayed away from the Kashmir problem and centered politics around sadak, bijli and pani. But that has changed now.
The NC has never shied away from talking about the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. The distinction I have always drawn is at the point of elections. The mistake some people make is when they try to confuse elections with the referendum both in the separatist camp and the mainstream camp. The separatists have used the elections to try encourage people to boycott them. The parties at the Centre used the elections as vindication that the turnout is good so there is no Kashmir problem. Elections in J&K is not about resolution of the problem but resolution of day to day problem. That does not stop the mainstream from having a position on the resolution of Kashmir and espousing it. I have met Musharraf and leaders from the Nawaz Sharief’s party as well as the Pakistan Peoples Party and is same true of Mehbooba Mufti. It is not true that as mainstream parties we have not reached out to political leaders in Pakistan. Given the right circumstances, we will continue to do that.
On the external dimension of Kashmir, what should be the approach of New Delhi?
First, no more knee jerk reactions. We have seen to many knee jerk reactions on ceasefire violation and Hurriyat. Meetings between Hurriyat leaders and Pakistan leaders are not new. It has continued since the phase of militancy started. Pakistan will never allow a situation, as of now, where they will come to India and not meet Hurriyat leaders. Therefore to make these meetings a dialogue process to breakdown is tantamount to accepting that a dialogue will not take place at all in India. We need to recognize that the way we have internal compulsions so does Pakistan. To make Hurriyat Conference a reason for dialogue not to take place between India and Pakistan is giving them more importance than they require. The Hurriyat has a stated position and have a constituency within J-K as much as we like to wish them away you can’t do that. They are part of both the problem and the solution as well. This government has chosen to set this fact aside or ignore.
For external dimension, we need to have concerted efforts. For example, you meet in Ufa and don’t look at each other in Kathmandu and barely wave in New York and then you sit down and have cozy chat in Paris. This is confusing and doesn’t help. We need continuous process to talk and make it immune to external influences.
Is separatist politics misplaced? Or should be allowed to practice their politics?
They have a point of view. Who am I to say that their politics is misplaced. They don’t agree with my point of view and I don’t agree with theirs. But I am hardly one to say that they have no right to espouse their views. As long as they don’t glorify violence and their actions do not cause unnecessary suffering to people, I have no problem with them continuing with their politics. The problem arises when they try to capitalize on unfortunate developments that take place in the State, particularly when people die. But I do not agree with the recent steps of the Mufti government to detain them and prevent them from meeting Pakistani National Security Advisor, which was unprecedented. No government in the past has taken steps like that but yes I guess that was the compulsion for Sayeed for allied with the BJP.
When you look back in the history. Was your grandfather treated fairly by New Delhi for his politics? He too started a secessionist movement by launching Plebiscite Front, though he never headed it.
Obviously, there were misunderstanding and misgivings about him, misplaced as they were. At that point in time, too much effort was made to sow the seeds of doubt in the mind of Jawaharlal Nehru’s mind. The beginning of the J&K trouble started from there. If he hadn’t been unceremoniously dethroned or detained and after that J&K’s autonomous was not tinkered with, who knows how different out history would have been today. But that is how the life is and you don’t get a chance to turn back the clock and redo things. He was misunderstood and even today he is misunderstood. A concerted efforts have been made in the past 25 years to demonise the man but he stood nothing but for rights of people. He recognized the realities we lived in. Yes, he espoused the cause of people to be given the right of self determination to determine their future. But he was also realistic enough that between 1953, when he was removed, to 1975, when he entered into an agreement with Indira Gandhi so much had happened. Significantly, there were two massive military defeats that Pakistan suffered. I think he recognized that Pakistan was a country that was not able to keep itself together. He saw dismemberment of East and West Pakistan. What would Pakistan do for J&K. Therefore, he recognized that maybe separatists grudgingly today that whatever the relations between India and Jammu and Kashmir was only a worthwhile option. You may disagree with his politics but not economic contribution. He was behind the land to the tiller and the debt forgiveness at that time. Today, J$K has the least poverty in the country because of those two steps. J&K survived 25 years of militancy and still you have a semblance of economy here and is testament of the decision he took. It deeply pains me when he is demonized.
Was Sheikh Abdullah disillusioned about idea of India later?
I don’t know. I was too old to have this type of conversations with him. I was only twelve when he died. Who has political mind at 12? I prefer the God has given him longer life and I was able to have such conversations. This is a conversation that my father better would have given his longer association with him.
Given Sheikh’s politics, what would have been his reaction to what is happening in India today?
Of course, he would have been deeply disappointed because he was among the tallest Muslim leaders, definitely tallest in Jammu and Kashmir. He stood in the face of two nation theory and said no, and Muslim-majority J-K acceded to India. He supported that accession. He did not believe in creation of a theological state. For him to see the growing intolerance where a man can be killed or lynched for mere suspicion of having beef at home and a driver is burnt to death for something he has nothing to do with. An MLA throws a beef party and the driver is burnt alive. Yes, I am sure, he would have been deeply concerned.
Sheikh sahib acceded to India on two major planks of democracy and secularism. In 1987, democracy was tarnished and in 2014 we are facing intolerance debate? Isn’t Kashmir’s mainstream losing ground?
It is making the life little tougher but I still have hope. I think the country is large enough to pull off to check this situation which is causing worry. It is tougher for the mainstream parties to sell the idea of tolerance, secular and democratic India. But what we see now is an aberration and not the rule.