As the latest brutal cycle of protests, killings, blindings and curfew closes in on two uninterrupted months, the need to resolve the Kashmir issue is ever more urgent. One of the key players who can help find a way out of this crisis is the chairman of the moderate faction of Hurriyat Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. In this conversation with Catch, he speaks about the ongoing unrest and why Narendra Modi\'s latest offer of talks is essentially meaningless. Excerpts:
The state government has sought your cooperation to help stabilise the situation. Why don't you help?
The state government has ensured for years now that no political space is provided to us. This was done on the assumption that it would isolate us from the people and make us irrelevant, and affect the sentiment for Azadi. But as the fresh uprising has made clear, this strategy has only backfired. The people have risen up in revolt and are demanding their basic right.
But even now, both the state and the central governments are not ready to revise their strategy. We are being confined to our houses or put in jail. The government is dealing with the uprising by killing and blinding the youth. It is using force to quell the resistance and refusing to address the political problem.
At the same time, a vicious propaganda campaign has been unleashed against us in sections of print and electronic media, where oppressive measures are justified by the state as being imperatives for maintaining so-called peace.
The issue is not about helping restore peace, it's about taking concrete steps to address what the people want; it is about starting a substantive process to resolve the Kashmir dispute according to the aspirations of the people.
An all-party delegation is visiting Kashmir on Sunday. Also, at a meeting with a delegation of J&K's opposition leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a "permanent solution to Kashmir within the framework of constitution". What do you make of this?
Prime Minister Modi has, no doubt, talked of a permanent political solution, but it is a solution that he seeks to find within the framework of the Indian Constitution. If that was the case, Kashmir would have been resolved in 1947 only. The fact that the dispute is hanging fire for the seven decades and has been the single most important cause of instability in South Asia is because India has refused to look for a solution beyond the limits of its constitution.
Kashmiris have been the worst victims of this conflict. We have lost thousands of lives. Now, our fourth generation is up in revolt. For the past two months, youth have been braving bullets and pellets. More than 75 people have been killed and several hundred have been blinded.
You can't just close eyes to this reality and parrot the script. This will resolve nothing. Mr Modi is uniquely poised to resolve the issue. He has the mandate to do so. We are ready to play our role. What is needed is the boldness and the political imagination. There can be a meaningful engagement among the three parties to the dispute.
The most democratic way to resolve Kashmir is to hold a referendum and let the people decide. This could be held in the entire J&K, including in areas of the state administered by Pakistan.
In the past, you were involved in several rounds of dialogue with New Delhi. Are you ready to talk to the Centre again?
We were part of an unconditional dialogue with New Delhi. We held talks despite the huge risks involved. And we grievously suffered in the process.
Through 2004 to 2006, we talked simultaneously to India and Pakistan. But what happened? India went back on its commitments and abandoned the process midway.
This not only dented our credibility but also hurt the institution of dialogue. Now Kashmiris have little faith in the dialogue. It's seen as a waste of time, an expedient recourse to buy time until clam returns. This makes us more cautious. We can't be part of a process that leads nowhere, least of all one being held within the framework of constitution.
The problem also arises because the Hurriyat seeks the involvement of Pakistan in any dialogue on Kashmir. Why can't you talk directly with New Delhi and resolve the issue independently of Pakistan?
This is not possible as it won't resolve anything. You can't ignore that Pakistan is a party to the dispute. The dispute over the state involves the entire J&K, a part of which is administered by Pakistan. There are also the UN resolutions to which both India and Pakistan are signatories.
And, again, if dialogue between Srinagar and New Delhi could resolve the Kashmir dispute, it would have happened long back. Did the Indira-Sheikh Abdullah Accord of 1975 achieve anything?
On the other hand, I would say that even an India-Pakistan dialogue that excludes Kashmiris wouldn't solve the dispute. We have a long history of bilateral Indo-Pak agreements such as Tashkent and Shimla, one of which have resolved nothing. Any process geared towards finding a solution just can't afford to leave out any party.
Can a return to Parvez Musharraf's four-point formula be a basis for the resolution of Kashmir?
It was a promising process and could have very well succeeded. But New Delhi's negative approach and Pakistan's internal problems prevented this promising process from reaching its logical conclusion. Given this, I doubt India and Pakistan will go back to it.
The formula offered a lot of scope for progress. The biggest incentive for Kashmiris was demilitarisation, which would have eased up the oppressive situation in Kashmir. The open borders would have given Kashmir access to Azad Kashmir and from thereon to Central Asia. It would have been a game-changer. Just imagine the impact 10 years down the line if the agreement had come through. Kashmir would have been a source of harmony between India and Pakistan rather than discord.
The four-point formula promised more than this, in fact. It provided for a plebiscite to be held after 10 years of its implementation.