Mehbooba in Pak: J&K, PoK Assemblies be converted into Regional Council

8 April 2008
The Daily Excelsior
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Srinagar: People's Democratic Party (PDP) president, Mehbooba Mufti, today revealed that, during her recent visit to Pakistan, she had proposed conversion of Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly and 'Azad Jammu & Kashmir Assembly' into a Regional Council in order to evolve a joint mechanism on the divided State between New Delhi and Islamabad. She argued that increasing the rentals of the land in possession of security forces was no substitute for reduction of troops and asserted that Army shall have to vacate all civilian areas in Jammu & Kashmir. Addressing a crowded news conference at her official residence over her maiden visit to Pakistan, Mehbooba Mufti said that she had received a positive response to her suggestions during her series of meetings with leaders of different political parties. She said that she found everybody, from Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari to Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan, 'extremely positive' when she laid down a slew of suggestions with regard to 'roadmap of peace' in Jammu and Kashmir. 'They occasionally asked me to specify a possible solution to Kashmir. I told them had it been that easy, there would not have been one Lakh martyrs', Mehbooba said and sought to make it clear that her proposals were not the solution but a 'sincere gesture' to strengthen relations and the peace process between India and Pakistan. Mehbooba contended that economic viability was more important than fighting terrorism in this region. 'I asked them if there can be a joint mechanism (between New Delhi and Islamabad) to fight terrorism, why not a joint mechanism on the economic viability', she said while revealing her deliberations with the Pakistani leadership. 'I told them plainly that we have reserved 25 seats in our (Legislative) Assembly for the public representatives from their part of Kashmir. They have their own Assembly. I stressed that these Houses be converted into a Regional Council, which will remain on the top of everything', she added. 'Peoples' representatives should be competent to take such decisions and there's no superior power to prevent them from doing it', Mehbooba said. She revealed that in her meetings with the Pakistani leaders, she laid considerable emphasis on the need to remove all communication barriers. 'I told them that all roads should be opened between two parts of the State and trade should start (on the LoC) sooner than later. I appreciated the current peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad and made it clear to them that the two countries could not move forward in absence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They explained to me Pakistan's Kashmir policy and assured me that trade would begin on the LoC very soon'. Mehbooba said that in her interaction with the Pakistani leaders, she realised that there was no fundamental difference between Pervez Musharraf's Kashmir vision and that of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. 'Zardari Sahab told me that BB's (Benazir Bhutto's) Kashmir vision was no different from that of Gen Musharraf. I told them that Kashmir had a unique strategic position without parallels in entire South Asia and the suggestion of putting it to hibernation would not be desirable', Mehbooba said. She called for restoration of free trade and travel between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The PDP chief claimed to have told the Pakistani leaders that they would have to grant decentralisation of powers to Pakistan-administered Kashmir on the pattern of Jammu & Kashmir. According to her, she also explained the gamut of variant regional aspirations of the people of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. Mehbooba said that her party was committed to 'reduction of troops' in Jammu and Kashmir as, according to her, there was no need to deploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers in a State which had militants just in hundreds. 'We believe that Army shall have to vacate all civilian areas', Mehbooba said and argued that the recent hike in rentals of the land occupied by Army was no substitute for reduction of troops. She said that, while in Pakistan, she stressed on safe passage to the Kashmiri militants who, according to her, were dying to return to home and dismissed reported apprehension of security forces and agencies that such militants could pose any threat to the national security. Asked if she was in favour of getting back the Kashmiri militants from Pakistan and PoK, why her party, PDP, had opposed the CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami's resolution in the State Assembly in April 2006, Mehbooba said 'That was just a situation of confusion. The member (Tarigami) had not taken us into confidence. We didn't know anything about such a resolution. There was no whip. Congress members got up in opposition and so did those of PDP, in utter confusion'. She claimed that Pugwash, NGO that had invited her to a conference on Regional Security, had assured her that it would start a process of dialogue with the Hizbul Mujahideen supreme Syed Salah-ud-din on the possibility of latter's return to the Valley. Mehbooba revealed that some Kashmiri journalists, whose visit to Pakistan and PoK had been arranged by SAFMA, had told then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed that the Kashmiri militants desperately wanted to return. She claimed that Mufti immediately took up the matter with Government of India and began efforts to seek safe passage for these militants. When mediapersons desired to know why she had unfolded PDP's document of 'self-rule' to the Pakistani leaders rather than the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Government of India, Mehbooba claimed that the self-rule document was 'yet to be released'. She said that her suggestions were only 'some points of our self-rule document'.