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“There is no authority which can create an independent Kashmir”

Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan, 80, four times president and prime minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or which he emphasizes as Azad Kashmir was a part of the Pathan invasion in 1947. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf handpicked him to chair the 22-member National Kashmir Committee, which spearheads Islamabad’s efforts for a solution to the Kashmir trouble. The man who actively encouraged militancy across the border in J&K, provided a base for armed separatists in his autonomous state, the elderly, soft-spoken Kashmiri is seen as a moderate today. Last week, he was in New Delhi to participate in the ‘heart-to-heart talks’, organized by Indian Council of World Affairs. The conference was first scheduled to be held in Jammu but Sardar Qayyum Khan did not want to travel to Jammu on an Indian visa, which he said amounts to accepting Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India. In an exclusive interview to Sahara Time’s correspondent Syed Nazakat, Khan spoke about the India Pakistan peace process, 1947 invasion, militant training camps in PoK and how to win peace in the valley. Excerpts…

Q. India and Pakistan are engaged in peace talks for the last two years. How do you view the ongoing peace talks?
A. It is very unfortunate that the things we should have discussed 20 years back we are discussing today. Anyway it is always better late then never. I think the peace initiative between the two countries headed by Dr Manmohan Singh and General Pervez Musharraf is on the right track.

Q. What steps do you think India and Pakistan can take to strengthen the peace process?
A. The two countries would have to strengthen and enhance the confidence building measures. We must move forward step by step. I am convinced that an intra-Kashmir dialogue should be allowed. Kashmiris from both sides should be allowed to sit down and discuss. They should be given the task to find out how the situation can be de-escalated.

Q. If I am right, you were a part of the Pathan invasion in 1947 that split the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir into two parts?
A. Yes I was there in the middle of the 1947 fight. What motivated us to take up arms is that Maharaja Hari Singh started deploying his troops along the Pakistan border. I was an army man, I could very clearly see he was trying to seal off the border with Pakistan. At that time there was only one Kashmir. We decided to launch a political movement. But the Dogra army opened fire on the marchers. So, we started an armed retaliation. I organized the forces at that time. At that time we were fighting the Dogra army. There was no Indian army. Then, of course, the Indian army came in — after the accession, although there was no accession instrument.

Q. How do you respond to the view that Pakistan, through the Pathan invasion in 1947, authored the Kashmir trouble?
A. The Pakistan government had nothing to do with it, but the government of Pakistan could not resist it as the Pathans became violent.

Q. There are reports that militant training camps still exist in PoK. So how do you view the peace process can move forward?
A. Look, you are once again falling into the old trap. If you lay down preconditions, then Pakistan will also stick to its old position, the U.N. resolution. And tell me do you really think that the militant camps are needed anymore?

Q. What do you mean?
A. I don’t think there is any need to recruit and train new boys.
There are already many boys who have got arms training in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Muzaffarabad.

Q. How many have gained arms training?
A. I am not sure about the exact number. But the number would not be less then 25,000 to 30,000. They can’t be totally stopped. It is impossible.

Q. Is the United Jihad Council, the umbrella organisation of 12 militant outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir, under Musharraf’s control?
A. It is not under strict control that way. But they can be dealt with. They are the people who are interested in the resolution of the problem.

Q. Do you agree with the view that it is the time for militants to put down the gun and pave the way for political dialogue?
A. They have laid down arms in the past and even declared truce. But what happened later? So you have to understand their position also. It is very difficult for them to stop without offering the people anything tangible after 16 years and over 80,000 lives. The violence should not impede the dialogue process. We have to learn to deal with the situation. Once a process is set in, most of the people with arms, they will automatically feel there is a process on.

Q. So you would not advise them to shun arms now.
A. How can I do that? If I did that without offering anything to them, I would be responsible for the disaster that may happen later on. I can’t hold myself responsible for it.

Q. You have been the president and PM of PoK, what kind of support did you provide militants?
A. We provided them moral and political support.

Q. And weapons…
A. Weapons are no problem. If you have money, you can buy weapons in India. Weapons are the most easily accessible things today.

Q. How free is the government in PoK from Pakistan interference? It is widely believed that the government in Muzaffarabad is governed by Islamabad?
A. It is a common thing that if you have a neighbour who is incompetent, you may meddle in his affairs. But if you have a competent government, there will be no interference. In my case, there was no interference. Rather, I was interfering in their affairs. Unlike this side of Kashmir (J&K) we enjoy complete autonomy. We have a president, a prime minister and an assembly which performs the job of legislation. We have our own election commission which conducts elections in our part of Kashmir.

Q. But despite what you claim is complete freedom, as compared to this side of Kashmir your side of Kashmir is underdeveloped?
A. (laughs) India should be happy about that.

Q. There is a section of separatists, who think that independent Kashmir is the only solution to the Kashmir problem?
A. Independent Kashmir doesn’t exist anywhere. You cannot create it. It doesn’t suit India, Pakistan China and it even does not suit the Kashmiris themselves. There is no authority, no organisation which can create an independent Kashmir.

Q. So what according to you is the solution to Kashmir? How far away are we from it?
A. I have no solution in my mind except that India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris should sit down and open-heartedly discuss all options on the table for a long time and then find a way out. We have been moving along by accidents. An accident can join us; an accident can set us apart too. Right now I am not bothered about a solution. What can really make a change is setting in motion a process. Whatever comes out of it will be acceptable.

Q. About the time frame…
A. To be honest, I have no idea how long it would take us to solve the problem.

Q. Does the solution you envisage include Kashmiri Pandits?
A. Every Kashmiri, irrespective of caste and religion, is part of it.

Q. Reports are there that Musharraf has invited CM Mufti Mohamed Sayeed, his daughter and PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference president Omer Abdullah to PoK and Pakistan. Are you comfortable with the visit of these leaders you used to once call ‘puppets of New Delhi’?
A. I have no problem if a Kashmiri travels to another Kashmir.

(Sahara Time Oct 1, 2005)

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