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"Let there be peace, freedom of movement, and trade"

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Sardar Abdul Qayum Khan: "Politics in our part of the world is based on suspicion and mistrust. People are always ready to believe the worst."
Sardar Abdul Qayum Khan: "Politics in our part of the world is based on suspicion and mistrust. People are always ready to believe the worst."

Praveen Swami

Sardar Abdul Qayum Khan, former Prime Minister and President of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, offers his take on what can be done to resolve the dispute. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

The man who initiated the India-Pakistan war of 1947 comes to New Delhi bearing a message of peace. "Mujahid-e-Awwal," Sardar Abdul Qayum Khan's followers call him the first holy warrior. In 1947, Mr. Khan, then an officer in the British Indian Army, initiated a military thrust into Poonch that sparked off the first India-Pakistan war. His forces, made up of tribal irregulars and military personnel, were among the most successful of the columns that almost succeeded in seizing Jammu and Kashmir for Pakistan. Qayum Khan went on to become Pakistan-occupied Kashmir's Prime Minister and President, and remains among the most influential voices in its politics. Six decades on, Mr. Khan was in New Delhi for a conference for politicians from both sides of the Line of Control, in an effort to undo the history he helped make.

During your visit to India, you have repeatedly emphasised the need to make borders irrelevant in Jammu and Kashmir. As the peace process pushes ahead, would you not agree that it is necessary to first have an agreed border, before it can become irrelevant?

Let's put it this way: the idea of irrelevance is meant to free up the movement of peoples and trade across both sides of Kashmir. Without doubt, we will have to agree on a border. However, we can begin dismantling restrictions prior to that decision.

Irrelevance, as a concept, concerns some policy makers in India, who say that without an agreement on the border, it will allow Pakistan to press its claims at a later stage to use the free movement of people, as it were, to strengthen its political hand. What would be your response to this line of argument?

I agree that it is matter of great concern that the status of a territory that existed prior to the independence of India and Pakistan continues to hang in limbo six decades later. This situation cannot be allowed to persist. The problem, though, is that we have been discussing the final status of Kashmir for all these decades. Nothing has been achieved. So, let us forget about finality. Let us deal with the problem as it exists. One problem is jihadi activity. Another problem are the hardships faced by people in the day-to-day lives. Let us try to deal with these problems one by one. Even this is difficult enough because, unfortunately, the antagonism that caused the problem is still in place. Both in India and Pakistan, the legacy of Partition persists.

So, in your view, is the problem in Kashmir tied up with the larger problem of communalism in south Asia? It is interesting to hear you say this, because Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah once said that Kashmir's Muslims would meet the same fate as Muslims in some parts of India had done during Partition.

Yes, the situation in Kashmir is the outcome of far larger history. Ultimately, the fate of the people of Kashmir is enmeshed with that of the region. But it is important to note that we cannot be made hostages of this larger conflict. During a recent meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, I said that any solution that would save the lives of Kashmiris would be acceptable. Any solution.

Some hardline leaders would dispute this. Both the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah and the Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani have rejected the kinds of compromise you are advocating.

Everyone India, Pakistan, the various Kashmiri leaders have their public postures and commitments. Ultimately, though, everyone needs to accept they cannot accept all that they want. The bottom line is that we have to accept realities. We cannot, for one, have independence. There were good reasons why the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir excluded this possibility; it remains impracticable today. Second, India will not, under any circumstances, accept one more Partition. Third, in the present world situation, the major powers will not accept the emergence of a new Muslim-majority state. I may or may not like these three realities, but I have to work within this framework. So I ask those who reject dialogue and compromise what is your alternative?

Presumably, continuing to fight! This is what some jihadi leaders, and Mr. Geelani, say.

Jihad for what purpose? To what end? As you know, I talked of jihad in 1947. I not only talked about it, but also put my life on the line fighting for what I believed in unlike some of those calling for it today. We secured some of our objectives. Others we did not. We stopped when the limits of what could be achieved had been reached. We did not engage in mindless violence.

Your characterisation of violence seems a little at odds with what you said at a recent seminar in New Delhi that the Lashkar-e-Taiba is a religious group, not a terrorist organisation, that it had fought the British during the freedom struggle.

Let me clarify what I said, because I see it has been misunderstood by many in India. I have often held discussions on the Lashkar-e-Taiba with many of those worried about the organisation the Europeans, the British. My purpose is to reach out to the group, and persuade it to come on board the peace process. Nothing is achieved by putting someone in a corner. There are many sane, reasonable people in the Lashkar, with whom there have been some fruitful conversations. Let us leave it at that now.

Could you tell us a little bit about your own alternative? What is your vision of the future?

Well, my solution is this: let there be peace, freedom of movement, and trade. Then, let us see what is possible. I do not want to get involved in a public discussion of the specifics of a solution. There is a lot of dialogue going on now behind closed doors, and I think it is best that these discussions stay secret. You are probably too young to remember this, but even Sheikh Abdullah had proposed a kind of condominium proposal, involving India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. Some people seem to be talking about the same sorts of things today.

Sheikh Abdullah had, among various other proposals, advocated a confederation of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir during his May 1964, visit to Pakistan. General Ayub Khan, Pakistan's military ruler, rejected it. He thought the proposal would "undo the Partition and place the Hindu majority in a dominant and decisive position."

Politics in our part of the world is based on suspicion and mistrust. People are always ready to believe the worst: it is our fitrat [basic character]. If anyone tries to do anything good, there are a dozen people poised to heap abuse on him. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in this position. President Musharraf is in the same position. In Pakistan, there are people shouting, `do not trust India.' In India, there are people shouting, `do not trust Pakistan.' Fine, trust no one. But accept that you must move forward. We are neighbours. We cannot shift to some other neighbourhood. We can be good neighbours, or squabble endlessly. What future do we want? In India and Pakistan, we are very good at talking endlessly about the past, while outsiders go about making our future. Is that really what we want?


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