New govt better follow Musharraf: Mehbooba: Kashmir peace process

1 April 2008
The Dawn
Anwar Mansuri

ISLAMABAD: Indian-held Kashmir’s visiting political leader Mehbooba Mufti hopes Pakistan’s new government will carry forward the peace process pursued by President Pervez Musharraf with India. “Don’t take the process as his personal agenda or policy but view it as the need of the people of Kashmir,” she said speaking at the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) Media Centre here on Tuesday. She said that when she suggested the same to PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in their meeting last Saturday he said he wanted “action, not just talks” about confidence building measures (CBMs). Ms Mehbooba, who is a member of the Indian parliament, said sometime back she asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the progress being made on CBMs. He advised her to wait for the political situation in Pakistan to stabilise. “I am not here with a solution but with a roadmap that we think would lead to a solution,” she said, calling for a framework for empowerment of people on both sides of Line of Control with guarantees from India and Pakistan. She also called for opening the two parts of Kashmir to travel and trade. “Trade and freer travel would make us self-sufficient. There can be resource sharing, a coordinated agriculture policy, and unification through trade,” she said, praising the concept of “making the border irrelevant”. “You cannot change the borders but can make them irrelevant. The meaning of sovereignty is changing. Today it means how easily you can cross borders and access resources and technology,” she observed. Ms Mehbooba, 51, a fiery campaigner for Kashmiris’ civil rights, disagreed with what she called “the impression in Pakistan that while Islamabad did much to move forward on the Kashmir issue, India had done nothing”. She reminded that the historic Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service became possible after New Delhi agreed to introduce “permit system” for Kashmiris crossing the Line of Control (LoC). “That means India conceded two systems for travel,” she said, alluding to the regular passport and visa system. Ms Mehbooba stressed on achieving political goals in small steps — thus increasing the space for action to secure bigger goals. She said this strategy paid well to the People’s Democratic Party that her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a former chief minister of Indian-held Kashmir, had launched in 1999 after splitting from the Indian Congress Party. The PDP won the 2002 elections in Indian-held Kashmir on the platform of easing life for the Kashmiri people. “We formed a coalition with the Congress, not for sharing power but on a common minimum programme, which eventually persuaded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to announce his Healing Touch Policy,” she said. That policy made it possible to remove the dreaded anti- terrorist law POTA and police Task Force and release the political prisoners like Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Gilani. The militancy in Indian-held Kashmir scaled down “drastically” as a result, according to her. “You have to have a human face (in fighting militancy),” she said. Prof Khwaja Masud, who presided the session, endorsed Mehbooba Mufti’s ideas, observing that “we should strive for what is achievable in the short term, through peaceful and non-violent means”.