The main cleric from Kashmir and one of the prominent Hurriyat leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, talks about ways to overcome strife in the troubled Valley, arguing to follow the steps once taken by former BJP Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Excerpts from an exclusive interview by Junaid Kathju
Do you feel that Kashmir issue has lost ground at international forums? Despite Hurriyat Conference’s pleas over the years no country is willing to interfere, calling it a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan?
The Middle East crises are at the forefront of international politics today. Civil war in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, rise of ISIS has engrossed the world community. It has sort of put Kashmir issue on the backburner. However, Kashmir holds its own significance when it comes to the peace in the South Asia. Already three wars have been fought over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. It is one of the oldest disputes that are present before the United Nation. World community cannot just shed away its responsibility; it has to address this problem sooner or later to bring stability and prosperity in this part of a world.
But India has never been in favour of involving any third party?
We are not against bilateral talks but it has to be meaningful and result oriented. We have experienced in the past how Tashkent declaration, Lahore declaration, Shimla agreement have miserably failed.
By calling the world attention towards Kashmir issue is to pressure India to come to the negotiating table. Over the years, Indian establishment has turned a complete blind eye for sorting Kashmir problem.
What about Pakistan?
Pakistan respects our sentiments. Even though they want Kashmir to be a part of their country but when it comes to the choice of self-independence they have always supported it. They are ready for any negotiation which suits Kashmiri people. In my meeting with Pakistan High Commissioner I reiterated that it is people of Kashmir which should decide its future. India needs to adopt the same approach. If Pakistan doesn’t have any problem of listening to the voice of Kashmiri people why is India showing reluctance?
When you talk about Kashmir issue, it largely remains confined to the Valley? What about Jammu and Ladakh, majority of them want to be a part of India?
When Hurriyat talks of Kashmir issue, it refers to all the five regions of Kashmir - Kashmir valley, Jammu region, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan -- that existed before 1947. While dealing with the issue, there was a need to keep the aspirations of the people of all these regions in mind. Whatever be the decision of majority will be accepted. But first let India address the issue.
Is there any out of box solution for Kashmir?
Out of box solution to Kashmir lies outside the Constitution of India and Pakistan. Either you can go by international agreements which are there on Kashmir including UN resolutions or you have to probably look towards a new mechanism. We were ready to accept the four point formula of General Parvez Musharraf in terms of first step towards the larger goal of solving Kashmir issue. At one point there was a Dixon plan that was on the cards. These proposals could have been implemented and may be after 10 to 15 years we could have reviewed it to know the progress. But unfortunately India never agrees to such proposals. They are hell bent to use its military might to control Kashmir.
How do you see the new rise in militancy in the Valley? Educated youth are now joining the militants’ ranks?
The wave of new militancy is the result of India’s aggression. When you don’t give space to dissent these things are bound to happen. We (separatist leaders) are consistently being kept under house arrest. No peaceful protests are being allowed. Whenever youth came out on the streets to register their peaceful protest they are being fired upon. Even teenagers are being booked and jailed for years without any trial. By imposing draconian laws like Armed Force Special Power Act (AFSPA), killing innocent people, raping women has created hatred in Kashmiris towards India.When you continuously push people against the wall, there comes a point when they will turn and hit you back. That’s why I always favour a peaceful dialogue to avert such dangerous situation but it is India that is unwilling to adopt peaceful means.
Because of talking about dialogue you are always criticised by some of our colleagues for advocating talks with India without achieving anything?
Hurriyat (M) has always been in favour of talks. We believe that dialogue is the only way out to solve a problem. Our party has always welcomed the positive approach of India when it comes to the Kashmir issue. We held parleys with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh in the hope that there would be some way forward to resolve the issue. It is true that none of these talks could bear any fruits but today international community cannot accuse us for not trying.
Yes, there are people especially among some quarters of the pro-freedom groups who term engagement with New Delhi as tantamount to treason. But one has to understand that our intent to enter into a dialogue with New Delhi is to resolve the Kashmir issue. It is the part of our resistance. But sadly, it has always been looked other way round.
When Narendra Modi came to power, you were optimistic that he would follow the Vajpayee doctrine of ‘Insaniyat ke Daire main’ or within humanitarian parameters on Kashmir. Has he lived up to such expectations?
We had high hopes from Narendra Modi when he became Prime Minister. There was hardly any movement forward on Kashmir issue after the disappointing 10 years of UPA Government led by Congress. They always played dilly-dallying tactics. We were expecting Modi would bring the change and would follow the footsteps of Vajpayee who saw Kashmir problem from humanistic perspective. But one year has gone by and nothing much has changed.
The cancellation of first Foreign Secretary level talks between Islamabad and New Delhi was a big disappointment. Even though, later the talks resumed then Pathankot incident took place which further delayed the things. Now, Nawaz Sharif and Modi have started talking. But BJP needs to revisit the policy and approach adopted by Vajpayee, if they are sincere in resolving the vexed Kashmir problem.
Do you find Narendra Modi sincere?
Modi has to realise that economic packages won’t do any good in Kashmir. In all his two to three visits to Kashmir he did not speak a single word about Kashmir issue. When Vajpayee came to Kashmir on his first trip he too came with an economic package but soon he realised that it is not going to work. In his second visit he talked about Kashmir issue within the ambit of humanity. Pro-people initiatives such as cross LoC bus service, Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service were started. Our (separatist leaders) trip to Pakistan was facilitated by Government of India. Such moves were welcomed by everyone. I hope the best sense prevails in Modi to follow the same course which is so far missing.
Is there any back channel talks going on with India at this point of time?
After BJP came to power at the Centre there have been no back channels talks. Nobody has approached us.
Are there any chances of your joining the mainstream politics?
Our agenda is not administration. We are not fighting for better roads, electricity, ration or employment. We seek political resolution of Kashmir. We want unification of Jammu and Kashmir which is divided between India and Pakistan. The right to self-determination. So there comes no question of joining the mainstream politics.
How do you see the re-stitching of BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir?
It is an alliance of inconvenience. Since BJP has been in the Government there has been complete polarisation in the State. We are not against the good governance but to divide the State on petty issues is not acceptable. PDP leadership have to address these concerns.There is a negativity that Separatist leaders are against the growth and prosperity. It is not the case. We are against the Indian policies towards Kashmir. We want India to grow and prosper, but at the same time we want our fundamental rights. And we have every right to demand this.
How do you see the JNU row over Kashmir?
It is good thing that now people of India are taking keen interest in Kashmir. We saw what happened in JNU. There is a realisation among the youth in India that the issue needs to be solved. The common people in India are now taking humanistic approach towards Kashmir rather than see it through the prism of nationalism. It is a high time for Government of India to listen to its own people.