'Musharraf Is The Best Bet'
15 April 2007
Lahore: Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is the leader of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Indian Kashmir. His party is an important player in Jammu & Kashmir. Recently, the PDP created a stir by demanding 'demilitarisation' of the state and only after the PM instituted a Special Committee to go into it did things calm down. Sayeed joined the Indian Express team and had several things to say about his views on Kashmir at the present juncture and what he feels about President Musharraf's ideas about the way forward. MUFTI MOHAMMED SAYEED: There has been a total turn-around in the situation in Kashmir recently. I don't want to go into the details, but the first phase began in 1989 when there was total alienation of the local people. The Army came in and it was a fire-fighting situation. Even Army officers have now gone on record saying it is not the job of the Army to resolve the Kashmir situation. It is only by political process that you can meet the challenge. Our policy included the disbanding of the task forces, making the security forces, even the Army, accountable and accelerating economic development in the state. These policies have brought in tremendous change, which was reflected in the recently held civic polls. Even though some of our candidates were assassinated, there was more than 70 per cent participation by the people. In such a situation, you have to deal politically and democratically. India has survived due to the noise and chaos of democracy, but I want to say that during our tenure, we withdrew the Army from Srinagar and other municipal areas like Anantnag, Baramulla Sopore. How is it that there have been less incidents of fake encounters in areas where the control is taken by police and paramilitary forces? As your paper has reported, during the last year there have been fake encounters. The man called Abu Salim from Gujarat was actually a corporator from Kokarnag! If someone is killed in an encounter - by accident or by design, by the Army - there is no way you can question the Army about it. To prosecute under the Disturbed Areas Act, you have to get sanction of the Central government. According to me, the relations between India and Pakistan are getting better with the effort of reconciliation between the two countries. Kashmir was the bone of contention; now it is Kashmir where they want to exchange and test the ground. In the SAARC summits, when they are looking at free trade, free movement without passports and visas, they are also looking at Kashmir in terms of the next ten years. The Prime Minister, in his statement said he has no authority to concede even an inch of land in Kashmir without the mandate of its people, and at the same time has made the sense of borders irrelevant in a sense. When we are talking about the Muzzafarabad-Srinagar bus service, Pakistan had put a rider that no passports and visas would be required as both parts belong to the same state. Our Prime Minister conceded and the officers in charge on both sides simply give a permit to the travellers. We are supplying fruits, handicrafts and papier mache, among other items, to Pakistan. When there is trade, there is no custom duty and that makes the movement of people between the two countries easier. There is a possibility of a breakthrough, but there are always chances of a slip between the cup and the lip. I feel that the process of peace and dialogue is irreversible and we have to make it through. Like Vajpayee said, 'We can change our friends, but not our neighbors.' Our Prime Minister has had two round table conferences and has constituted five standing groups, which are giving recommendations to deal with internal dimension of the situation. For instance, we are looking at extending the scope of the bus service, which is only for divided families, to journalists, tourists, artists and students. Kashmir is going to be the moving force in the future. UNNI RAJEN SHANKER: You have been talking of a resolution being so close and near. How has the situation changed since when you were the CM? The situation is far better now than during my tenure. There has been a decline in infiltration, incidents of violence and killings by the Army. The process began in 1996 and people have realised that democracy is the answer and people also want peace now. After suffering years of militancy, they too want a solution. UNNI RAJEN SHANKER: How soon will that happen? Musharraf's four-point declaration for self-rule and no independent Kashmir has made our task easier. On our side, we would have our self-rule and they would have their autonomy on their side. Once we have free movement and free trade, things will become better and we could have some consultative operation mechanism in both the parts. When there was an earthquake last year and our Prime Minister offered help, they refused and asked for a joint disaster management committee. They want joint hydel projects. They fear that if we set up a barrage on the river, their part might be flooded during the rains. So we still have to work at winning mutual confidence on both sides. But like I always say, Kashmir, that used to be the bone of contention between the two countries, can now be the bridge between the two countries. VINAY JHA: You have mentioned Musharraf's proposal for self-rule. The National Conference has also been talking about autonomy. What will the broad outline of self- rule in Kashmir be? I can only tell you about the basis of self- rule, as we are still in the process of drawing out the fundamentals of self-rule in Kashmir. The basis of the concept is that the people's verdict must not be negated. Also, self-rule means the non- application of Article 356 of the Constitution in Kashmir. Only the Assembly should be allowed to decide the fate of the government. The Central government can intervene in case of external danger or internal turmoil through other provisions in the Constitution. Also, we are not in favour of trifurcating the state into a Kashmir that wants autonomy, a Jammu that wants closer integration, and a Ladakh that wants a union council. Our policy will try to include the aspirations of all three regions. PEERZADA ASHIQ: When you came to power, you had disbanded the Special Operations Group and the Special Task Force. The recent killings in Ganderbal were committed by the SOG . . . The killings were committed by the Army. The Task Force is not a separate organisation but a part of the police. We had given them other normal duties during our time. PEERZADA ASHIQ: How is your concept of demilitarisation different from that of Musharraf? We are pressing for demilitarisation in internal security operations and are looking at relocation of the Army. The soldiers can move out of areas like Srinagar city and move to the barracks. They can continue protecting our borders and frontiers. If we are initiating a peace process and are looking at involving the people in it, we cannot do it at the point of a gun. There are several spaces, such as an indoor stadium, a club, and a 40-room guesthouse belonging to the university that have been occupied by the forces. The Army has appointed a nodal officer to look into each and has promised us that they will gradually shift out. The situation in Kashmir is moving towards normalcy following Musharraf's 2004 SAARC declaration, wherein he announced a joint mechanism against terrorism. As far as my information goes, there has been a cap on the government's support to militancy. Of course there are other units of terror, but at least their government has stopped support for now. PRADEEP KAUSHAL: Do you see the National Conference and the Congress moving closer? When the bypolls took place last year, there was some problem between the Congress and the PDP. But as I had told reporters at that time, the Congress and PDP alliance is not a kachey dhagon ka bandhan; it was a pragmatic alliance. Despite the Gujarat incident, the Congress stood by the PDP in 2002. There were teething problems within the coalition as there are in all coalitions, but even when we passed this resolution for delimilitarisation, their main concern throughout was that the coalition has to survive. I think the Congress wants this alliance to survive. SHISHIR GUPTA: No one doubts your nationalism and everyone knows that your family has suffered because of militancy. In that context, you have been talking of demilitarisation, which is a word of the vanquished. Your demand for withdrawal of forces is more like a political signal for raising the flag for the elections to be held next year and seemed like an indicator to your problems with the present Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad. Don't you think that even though the situation in Kashmir is stable, it is still not suitable for demilitarisation? Demilitarisation is a part of the peace process and to curb internal resentment caused by fake encounters in the past. In my opinion, the situation has improved in areas where the Army has been replaced by the CRPF. I have been Home Minister, and I can say that while the Army is trained to fight the external aggressor, it is not trained well enough to handle internal insurgency. SEEMA CHISHTI: As you mentioned, you were the Home Minister in 1989 and had access to a range of information and perspectives on Kashmir at that time. You are a leader in Kashmir now. Is there a difference on your perspective of Kashmir between then and now? I think that the 2002 elections will be seen as the most definitive moment in the history of Kashmir because people were given the choice of democracy. I had once told Atal Bihari Vajpayee about how the people of Kashmir feel that, unlike in other states, their fates depend on what is decided in Delhi and not in Kashmir. Lalu Prasad's wife ruled Bihar for eight years while he was in jail and CPM has been in power in Bengal since 1977 because the people voted for them. But Kashmir had to rely on what Delhi and the Central government had decided for them. RAVISH TIWARI: How much do you trust President Musharraf and Pakistan? And why? Politics is the art of the possible. Just as Vajpayee had taken a step forward after looking at the ground reality, so has Musharraf , hoping for some resolution. Given that war and insurgency did not take things forward, he had no option but to look at a resolution through peace. I don't know what is in his mind, but people say that Musharraf is the best bet. A democratically elected leader may take years to convince his people just as it took us so many years to take our public into confidence. SHISHIR GUPTA: In the current political scenario, one sees some synergy between the Congress and the National Conference and then we see that your daughter, Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, has been sympathising with the so-called separatists. Where does the Hurriyat fit in after your demand for demilitarisation? The process that is to take place in Kashmir is all-inclusive. Whatever their position may be, the Hurriyat will be a part of the process, along with the Congress, the PDP, and the National Conference. ANURADHA NAGARAJ: Given that the situation in Kashmir is moving towards a resolution, do you see an economic revival in Kashmir? The PM has given us an economic package of Rs 24,000 crore, which has generated potential for economic revival. We have great potential in the field of producing power and are capable of generataing 20,000 MW.