All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq speaks to “The Hindu” on the eve of Narendra Modi’s first visit to Jammu and Kashmir as Prime Minister.
What is the meaning of your bandh... as the new Prime Minister makes his first visit to Jammu and Kashmir, what is the message you want to convey?
All separatist and pro-freedom parties have called this bandh together. This bandh is a message to people in New Delhi that its time they looked at Kashmir from a political basis. Right now everyone talks about normalcy, tourism and trade, but there is still a lot of pressure on the common man. There are still hundreds of thousands of troops stationed here, black laws, there are still detentions and house arrests of leaders of the Hurriyat. The message we want to convey is that when this government came to power they made some noises on revisiting the Vajpayee government's approach. But recent statements of the BJP and the government have been divisive. They want to divide and fragment Kashmir. There is no doubt that we want Kashmiri Pandits to return, whether Kashmir is seperarate or not, they have a right to come back. But the fact is the way they are dealing with this problem, creating ghettos, cutting them off from mainstream Kashmiri society, which is not going to help. We were hoping this government will look to rectify the mistakes of past governments, but it seems they want to go back to the old policy of following a security approach rather than a political approach.
But for the average person in the rest of India the question would be what is the problem: a bumper tourist season, a level of development, including the 2 projects Mr. Modi will inaugurate, militancy at low levels, and a visible lessening of the troops. Are you not following the old policies too?
The problem with this mindset is, do Kashmiris have to protest all the time and get killed just to convey the message that everything is not normal. By this mindset, New Delhi is pushing people to the wall. They are telling the pro-freedom parties that there should be militancy and protests again. But we don’t want people to die. The fact is you might not see protests, but this movement has graduated to a level where it is defined in the psychology and soul of every Kashmiri. It has graduated from violence to non-violence. But I still see a lot of alienation, in fact, in the youth, even as compared to days of militancy. Yes, people want their businesses to run, they want their education, better healthcare, but that doesn’t contradict that they want their basic freedoms to be restored. I think the problem is, whenever there is a crisis like situation, people come running from New Delhi, they talk about engagement, about committees, interlocutors and reports, but the moment they feel it is controllable and manageable they forget what has happened. Militancy has gone down, but at the same time why have troops not been lessened? They are not here to fight militancy… they are here to convey authority. There seems to be no political agenda vis-à-vis a resolution. If you look at the last 10 years of the UPA government, we felt it was all a waste. They had many opportunities, with Pakistan, with leaders here to move forward. Cross-LoC initiatives could have been built up, but rather than that, it’s more a politics of division. Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh are at loggerheads with each other. Wahabis, Barelvis, Salafis are all pitted against each other. I think its part of the strategy to pitch us against ourselves.
You think the Indian government does this?
Yes… but not just them. I can tell you as the head of the Ulema Council, as a religious leader, I am very worried about what is happening in Kashmiri society. The mosque used to be the centre of all social activity. Today that mosque is divided — Barelvis, Wahabis, Deobandis… I think a lot of money is coming from India, but also I do think money is coming from Saudi Arabia to propagate a divided Kashmiri society. We may end up following the (Talibanisation) process in Pakistan one day, why is the government of India allowing this to happen? On the other hand, we have huge social problems: we have orphans and widows… drug addiction is a big problem. At least 400,000 young Kashmiris are addicted. Why don’t the police tackle this? It takes not a moment for the government to identify a stone-pelter and book him under PSA and send him to jail, but it takes them months and years to find people supplying drugs.
Is drug addiction a bigger problem than the security situation?
I’m just saying this is one of the big problems of a conflict state. I tell you what worries me is where this is all headed. Kashmiris feel pushed against the wall. And if you see statistics of the past year, a lot of young educated Kashmiris are consciously taking the decision to rejoin militancy. People who have done their Master’s, who are educated, who could have careers, from well-to-do families are thinking of violence. This trend is going to grow. On social media, there is a lot of alienation, a lot of anger, and with one spark, we could go back to the 2010 situation, which we don’t want. Its very easy for the police to blame us, say the Hurriyat encourages violence, stone-pelting, but we try our best that boys don’t go out and protest violently.
You had written an open letter to voters in The Hindu saying that they should vote for a government that works for a resolution in Kashmir, now that there is a new government, what would you say they should do?
The problem is that most people in government think Kashmir problem is a creation of Pakistan, of Islam, of extremism. But even by India’s own legal standards, there is a dispute in Kashmir. India took the problem to the U.N., discussed it at Shimla, so people in India have to understand this is not like just another problem like Naxalism.
Our position is that there must be an attempt to re-unify all five regions — not just the areas under Indian control but also those under Pakistani control. The government should not mislead people into thinking it is only about militancy, that this is a security problem. To that end, our wish is that they should walk the steps of Mr. Vajpayee. Mr. Vajpayee had a better understanding of the problems. He wanted to see the Kashmir problem at rest. When he spoke of insaniyyat, he knew that the problem that people in Kashmir are averse to the question of the constitution only, he was looking at ways and means of giving it a human touch. That human angle is now missing.
Would the four-step formula first agreed to during the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh dialogue be acceptable to you? That the LoC become a dividing line, a border, but there are more cross-LoC linkages.
I think it’s a very good start. Hurriyat has always welcomed the idea of the four-step… for both India and Pakistan… If they take a more holistic approach towards Kashmir… not an administrative or law and order problem, or an economic problem. I think if Mr. Modi wants to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan, he must also reach out to Kashmir. I mean, remember that everyone in Kashmir, the NC, the PDP, the Hurriyat, are all talking about the same things today — repeal the black laws, free prisoners — but no one has even taken these initiatives forward. They only come to douse the fires in Kashmir, not to take it forward.
But would you accept the LoC as an International border? Many see that as the only solution.
Look, from the Hurriyat’s point of view, we see two ways forward. Either you allow a referendum or a plebiscite as India had promised. Or you allow a substantive dialogue between all parties. Let the final solution be an outcome of the process. You can’t start with the LoC as the final outcome.
But how do you represent the Kashmiri side in those parties, without even agreeing to stand for election?
If we actually have such a dialogue, and the government says, ‘we want to know who will represent Jammu and Kashmir’, let us go for a vote on that, let it be a democratic process too. Why is Hurriyat against participating in elections? Because anyone who gets elected, they have to accept Kashmir’s accession to India as final. Obviously we challenge that. Our whole movement is based on the dispute of Kashmir. It’s neither a part of India nor of Pakistan. It’s neither a “jugular vein”, nor is it an “integral part” of either India or Pakistan. We have said for a while, let India and Pakistan allow the five regions of Jammu and Kashmir to start talking to each other. Do it now, before there is a different situation, that the problems in Pakistan increase, or that there is a backlash from Afghanistan, before there is more violence here.
How worried are you about that backlash from Afghanistan? In fact, from the ISIS in Iraq that wants to build a caliphate from Syria to Kashmir?
The situation in Middle East is a cause of concern for every peace loving person whether he is a Muslim or not. The rise of the ISIS, this new breed of radicals is a cause of concern. In Kashmir we don’t want to be a ground for experiments, or any movement that would have a different agenda from ours. As a religious head, I will say the problem of Kashmir is not religious; it is not a problem of Hindus vs. Muslims; or a Muslim Kashmir vs. a Hindu India. It is a political problem. It is not about waging jihad. The problem has religious undertones, but it’s a political problem.
Coming to the problem of radicalisation, I agree, it is a worry. The last 20 years of conflict have brought many new ideas here. As a Kashmir, I have been brought up on Sufi thought and ethos, but the young Kashmiri isn’t akin to that. There is a change which I see in the Islamic discourse in the Valley. We are trying to fight that, with programmes for Kashmiri youth to connect them to our roots again.
To come back to specific solutions for the problem in Kashmir, what is your message, your suggestions to the Modi government?
What is needed is a new political initiative. I hope Mr. Modi doesn’t repeat (what) the previous PM (did) and only announce packages and economic initiatives. A positive start has been made with Pakistan. But there has to be a serious effort to address the Delhi-Srinagar trust deficit and take a holistic approach. The Hurriyat can be a bridge vis-à-vis Delhi-Srinagar-Islamabad if you want to reach out. In fact Hurriyat was the first to endorse Mr. Modi's invitation to Mr. Sharif.
You weren't disappointed that Mr. Sharif didn’t meet you on his visit?
No. In fact it was I who spoke to the Pakistan High Commissioner and said please convey on our behalf that we don’t want to come at this juncture. Let India and Pakistan take the process forward. We don’t want to play spoilsport, that everyone says India and Pakistan met for a special occasion and now Hurriyat has come and spoiled the occasion. Let them build a process of engagement, not chance meetings at the U.N. or SAARC. Let them have regular meetings of the Foreign Ministers, a full-fledged process of engagement. Let Delhi-Srinagar-Islamabad and Muzaffarabad too come to the table for a regular process.