Interview of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
“Within a year or two we will reach very close to the resolution of Kashmir problem”
Syed Nazakat in Delhi
As the dialogue process between the Kashmiri separatists and New Delhi enters the crucial phase, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, 31, has emerged as the lead player for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. The founder and present chairman of the Hurriyat, the religious head of Kashmiri Muslims led the five member delegation of a separatist conglomerate of Kashmir – All Parties Hurriyat Conference – to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi last week. It was for the first time that Kashmiri separatist leaders had talks with the prime minister himself to end the 15-year-long uprising in Kashmir. Mirwaiz said the talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a historic first step towards a solution to Kashmir and added that in his meeting with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in New York next week he will ask him to take steps to push the process forward. In an exclusive interview to Sahara Time correspondent Syed Nazakat in New Delhi, the Mirwaiz spoke about the marathon meeting, peace process and his vision of how to solve the Kashmir problem. Excerpts:
Q. You had two rounds of talks with the previous NDA government and now this time you met the Prime Minister himself. Are you satisfied with the talks?
A. Yes, of course. Kashmir is a complex problem so when we talk of Kashmir we cannot address all the problems in one meeting. Everyone who was present there said that this process has to be carried on. The Prime Minister also said that a committee will be formed to follow up the outcome of the talks. And you have to understand that it was the highest level of talks wherein you are directly talking with the Prime Minister of the country. The talks cannot go to a higher level than this and if we don’t succeed here this time then there is nothing else in sight.
Q. Have you asked anything specific from the Prime Minister during the talks?
A. We did not ask for anything specific. Our goal this time was to set the pace of the talk’s process. We made it point to tell the PM that the Kashmir problem needed to be solved. And I don’t remember he even once said that such and such a thing is not possible. We had free and frank discussions on subjects like violations of human rights, reduction of troops in the valley. Our point of view has been received well by the Government of India and that is what matters. However, he emphasised that a step-to-step approach is needed to find ab honourable and durable settlement of the Kashmir problem. Our main goal is on the need to consolidate the process of dialogue.
Q. As the Prime Minister has emphasised the need to end the violence, do you think you are in a position to stop the violence in Kashmir?
A. We promised the PM that whatever we can do in this regard we will do. I am also going to New York where I will meet President Musharraf on September 17. I will seek his support to move this process ahead. It is now a triangular process. I will tell him to further use his influence to help create an atmosphere inside Kashmir so that this process is not jeopardised
Q. When will the next Hurriyat- New Delhi meeting take place?
A. The date has not yet been set up for the second round of talks. But once Dr Singh is back from New York we will meet for the second rounds of talks. That is what has been agreed on. Nobody wants to repeat the experience of our talks with the National Democratic Alliance government. We are meeting now after 17 months. A lot could have been achieved during this intervening period.
Q. Are you concerned that the hardline faction of separatists accuses you of betraying the cause?
A. They are all our colleagues and we do have some differences with them. But we can’t keep the dialogue process hostage to anybody. Yes, it is very unfortunate that at a time when we needed to unite and to speak in one voice, we are divided and are speaking in different voices.
Q. And still you are saying that the Hurriyat is in a strong position today?
A. Our visit to Pakistan has helped us to consolidate our position not only within the valley but also in Pakistan. We met Kashmir leaders in Muzafarabad and also had talks with Pakistan. Everyone agreed with our perception of dialogue and that is why I say we are now on a stronger wicket than as compared to 2004. I must add that the India-Pakistan dialogue is also on the right track and the confidence building measures have helped in moving forward.
Q. But there were threats from the militant outfits also.
A. The mood today is pro-dialogue. When you look at the situation on the ground when we started holding talks in 2004 we could see there was little hesitancy from Pakistan to support this process and so many things were being said and printed in the media. The militants issued statements rejecting the process. Today apart from one organisation nobody is saying anything. The people are watching things closely and they wish that the peace process should move on.
Q. How do you respond to critics who say that you have no mandate to speak on behalf of the people of J&K?
A. If we are nobody and have no mandate to speak on behalf of the people than why did the Prime Minister invite us for the dialogue.
Q. Kashmiri Pandits are saying that they should also be involved in the talks. Your comment?
A. They are a part of Kashmir and we have already started our efforts to communicate with the Kashmiri Pandits. In fact, we have met a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits a month ago in Srinagar. And we are planning to go to Jammu to encourage Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homeland.
Q. Is it feasible for New Delhi to talk only to the Kashmiris, leaving out Pakistan?
A. No two parties are in a position to resolve the problem on their own. This is because Pakistan has a part of Kashmir. If we really have to solve the Kashmir problem than we have to involve all the parties of the dispute – India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. This could be a breakthrough
Q. So you are still sticking to tripartite talks.
A. That is the only way to solve this (Kashmir) problem.
Q. Then where is the open mind that you have been talking about?
A. We are talking about an open mind in the sense that we are not insisting that India, Pakistan and Kashmiris should sit at the negotiating table tomorrow itself. India and Pakistan are talking, we have had talks with Pakistan and now we are talking with India. And that is why I am repeatedly saying that for the first time the dialogue process aimed at a permanent solution to Kashmir is on the right track.
Q. What is the most important thing that the Indian government should do now?
A. Everybody realises that if we have to move forward then all of us have to contribute whether it is India, Pakistan or the people of Kashmir. But India has done a lot to pave the way for the final and peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue. We have been promised by Dr Manmohan Singh that human rights violations will end and there will be withdrawal of troops from Kashmir. We have also been told that the release of political prisoners will be seen. The right of Kashmiris to self-determination cannot be limited to joining only India or Pakistan. We want an option in which we would be masters of our own destiny.
Q. So what is the solution?
A. We have told the Prime Minister that when we meet next time we will put forward our proposal for the solution of the Kashmir problem.
Q. What about the option of making the Line of Control (LoC) into an international border?
A. It’s never going to be acceptable to Kashmiris because it excludes part of Kashmir. There is talk of making Kashmir a confederation, a “semi-nation” like Ireland, with India and Pakistan in joint control of defense and possibly also communications and foreign affairs. Then there is the idea of a buffer state in which Kashmir’s border will be absolutely porous and controlled by India and Pakistan on their respective sides. Another option is the  Dixon Plan, whereby the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley goes to Pakistan and the Hindu and Buddhist areas of the state to India. We don’t necessarily agree with any of these options. But we need to sit down and talk.
Q. During your recent visit to Pakistan you talked about what you called United States of Kashmir. Your comment.
A. We desire India and Pakistan to give a free hand to the Kashmiri leadership to come up with new proposals. We want to move beyond the traditional line. I know Kashmir is a complex issue with so many complexities. But I am quite sure that if we keep the movement on, leave the rigid approach and try to see Kashmir as a human problem then the solution of the problem is not that far away.
Q. How long do you think it will take to arrive at a political solution of Kashmir that you are striving for?
A. I can’t specify the time frame, but we are confident of arriving at one. But again a lot depends upon the Indian government. And it was nice to know that Dr Singh understands the seriousness of the problem. He acknowledges that whereas the problem is essentially a political one, it has its human dimension and the sufferings of the people. I am quite sure that if we keep talking with seriousness and purpose within a year or two we will reach very close to the resolution of the Kashmir problem.
(SAHARA TIME, September 17, 2005)