Federal structure can be one option: Mirwaiz
11 June 2005
Shamim ur Rahman
Karachi: The All Parties Hurriyat Conference chief, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, says that a federal structure for Kashmir might be one of the options that could be considered for a solution of the dispute and stressed the need for demilitarization of the territory for promoting confidence and trust among the interlocutors. He was talking to Dawn on Saturday morning before leaving for Islamabad after two-day visit to the city. The Mirwaiz said many options were being talked about, but the APHC did not have any specific solution. As all the stakeholders were not involved in the process, “we cannot proceed towards a solution. We must keep in mind that any solution must be based on the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. When we talk about the right of self- determination, then it pertains to Kashmir, Jammu, the Valley and Ladakh and the Northern Areas. We are trying to work out an arrangement that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and is reflective of the feelings and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. We have taken the first step. The process has only begun”. The Mirwaiz said before this initiative, India was maintaining that there was no dispute over Kashmir. But the visit of the APHC was reflective of the change and the desire for resolving the dispute. Now the second stage will be to work out modalities for achieving that objective. The first thing will be to initiate a process involving Pakistan, India and Kashmir in which the various proposals are deliberated upon. Various think tanks are working on such options. The APHC would like people in Pakistan and India and the Kashmiris to initiate a debate on that. At the same time, it would like the Indian government to fully address the ground realities and improve the human rights situation. Those who are in jail should be freed and custodial killings stopped forthwith. India should withdraw all inhuman laws like the Public Safety Act, the Arms and Ammunition Act, and the Detention Act. These acts provide unlimited power to the Indian forces in Kashmir. These concerns must be addressed. Q The need for demilitarization and withdrawal of troops has been emphasized recently. This was also included in the UN resolutions but neither side complied with those provisions. There was no flexibility shown by India during talks on Siachen recently and there was no progress on demilitarization. Do you still believe it is possible to demilitarize the region? A We are in favour of demilitarization. In order to build confidence and trust and promote friendship, it is essential to provide an enabling environment. Now India is also saying that the situation has changed for the better, so we hope they will take the necessary steps. Once they had indicated that they were pulling back some troops but how far that has been done is debatable. Once India, Pakistan and the APHC start talking, then the question of how to improve the enabling environment will be our concern. The Mirwaiz’s attention was drawn to proposal for a regional approach to a solution, based on seven regions, which had been talked about in considerable detail, and he was asked how the APHC looked at it. He said in Jammu and Kashmir different people had different culture and languages and ideologies. But one thing which was common was they all felt that there must be some progress with regard to a solution of the J&K problem. “Now an intra-Kashmir dialogue has started. This is a very important development. In the past 57 years Kashmiris were not given the opportunity to sit together and ponder about their future. This is very important discourse and will be crucial for the resolution of the issue in the coming years. We believe that the process that has begun now will not be interrupted. We want that leadership of Azad Kashmir to come to occupied Kashmir and we should come here again. We are going to Mirpur, Rawlakot, Kotli and we will talk to the people there and listen to their ideas. In the next visit we would like to visit those areas where we cannot go this time. We can create an environment in which Kashmiris themselves will be involved. Of course there are some grievances of different regions on our side also. The Ladakh people complain that they have not been given a due role in politics, the Jammu people complain of concentration of power in Srinagar. As there is a trend towards decentralization of power, we may also think of it in the context of Kashmir. We may also consider the federal structure. There are many options. We have just begun the journey.” Q Whenever a dispute of this nature is resolved, international guarantees are solicited. You have also talked about concerns of other regional and extra-regional countries. So if a breakthrough is achieved, then do you think that besides India and Pakistan, China and the US can be guarantors of a peace settlement? A Obviously when we are moving towards a solution of the Kashmir issue, then you have to take into account every aspect. There are three nuclear powers in our neighbourhood – India, Pakistan and China. If India and Pakistan reach an agreement, then China will be interested in that because it also has a role and influence. The US also desires that Pakistan and India should move ahead in the context of Kashmir. They have been saying that the rights and aspirations of the Kashmiris must be given due consideration. In this regard, I think that whenever such a situation will arise, the international community will automatically be involved in the matter, and we think that it should be involved in any such agreement on Kashmir. Q After the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, will the APHC also demand to open the Kargil-Ladakh and Astor-Srinagar routes for enabling divided families of that region to meet. A Of course. We have talked to General Pervez Musharraf and it is our desire that all routes should be opened. Including the Jammu-Sialkot and Poonch and Kotli routes. We have also demanded that routes within the state that link the Valley with Jammu should also be opened and people-to-people contact should be optimized. In the next phase there can be trade. Kashmiris should have access not only to Muzaffarabad but also to Pakistan. When obstructions are removed, then it will be easy to reach a settlement. Q The next two years are being termed as very crucial for the Kashmir issue. Do you agree with that? A Yes. We think that the Kashmir issue has reached a stage where its disputed nature has been recognized even by India. Now we have reached the resolution phase and we are talking on different options. The next year or so are very crucial in the context of resolving the Kashmir issue. Q How do you look at the statement of a minister in occupied Kashmir in which he has said that Kashmir is not an integral part of India and that Indian troops should be withdrawn from the occupied territory? A It only reinforces our stand. An impression was being created that the people of Jammu were not part of the ongoing process. There were also talk of the Muslim population of Doda and Rajouri. But it was realized that if Jammu is separated from the Valley, then it will have a tremendous negative bearing for the Kashmir people as a whole. Our endeavour will to keep the state of Jammu and Kashmir united in which all are involved despite diversity in culture, language, etc. We want that the Kashmiri pandits should also be part of it and those who are out of Srinagar for some reasons should be brought back. We have worked out a comprehensive plan for taking everybody along. Q Do you think that now the phase of militancy has ended? A As far as militancy is concerned, I would say that struggle of the Kashmiris is continuing on different fronts. We think there should be coordination, understanding and trust among all fronts of the struggle. The need of the hour is to focus on a political settlement of the Kashmir problem. Those who are engaged in militancy should also be taken into confidence. No one can ignore the sacrifices of the Kashmiri people. Without involving them in the process, it will not move forward. We are hopeful. We have to find a solution that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and all Kashmiris.