Insistence on Kashmir will do Pakistan no good: Advani

19 April 2008
The Dawn
Nayyara Rahman

NEW DELHI: Senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and leader of the opposition in the Indian parliament L.K. Advani has said that Pakistan’s insistence on describing Kashmir as the core issue “would not achieve anything”. In an exclusive interview with DawnNews TV, Mr Advani spoke of communalism in India, his party’s role in national politics and the prospects of peace between India and Pakistan. The BJP leader said although he encouraged the Composite Dialogue between the two countries, he believed that other issues, like information and commerce, should precede Kashmir. “Kashmir later,” he said. However, he remained optimistic that although the Kashmir problem would take time to resolve, a day would come when India and Pakistan would form a confederation, to solve the issue. In comments pertaining to the Agra Summit, Mr Advani said he was ‘incorrectly’ blamed for its failure by President Pervez Musharraf. Far from being the cause behind its failure, he said, he was in fact one of the architects of the summit. According to Mr Advani, it was President Musharraf’s inflexibility that led to the summit’s failure. “Musharraf just would not admit that there is any such thing like terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, or in Punjab, which has been inspired by him or his country. And he maintained that what was happening in Jammu and Kashmir or in other parts of the country… cannot be called terrorism. It is a ‘freedom struggle’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for their own freedom.” Mr Advani stressed that cross-border terrorism was a serious bone of contention in the India-Pakistan peace process. While agreeing that militancy had decreased along the borders, he said it could be attributed to the Joint Statement reached by India and Pakistan, and was still there in the country. He was of the view that until this problem was dealt with, there could be no progress on the peace process. When asked why diplomacy was not initially used to solve the Kargil crisis, he said that it was not diplomacy that resolved the issue, but intervention by the United States. He believed that it was a ‘war of a kind’ in which ‘Pakistan refused to accept its own dead bodies’ and implied that Pakistan had capitulated before the US while India had not. The former deputy prime minister also spoke at length about his party’s communal image and its role in nationhood. He implied that religion was inherent in any democracy, since ‘religion is a considerable part of life’, and anyone not subscribing to the view could live in a ‘communist country’. “The role of religion is not much. But it is considerable in life. In a democracy religion is important. In a communist state, it isn’t.” He consistently denied accusations of playing the communal card, but was less successful in projecting a non-communal image of his party. When asked to comment about his support for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, after the ‘post-Godhra’ riots, instead of defending his actions he quoted the onslaught India’s Sikh community faced after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. “They were not riots. Not a single Hindu was killed. About 3,500 Sikhs were killed. Congress said, ‘So what? When a huge tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.’ “How can I find fault with the [Gujarat] government then? I am bound to say that this is not fair to the Gujarat government and this is why I defend it.” Furthermore, he said, the votes spoke for themselves. Responding to whether the Gujarat killings followed an ‘action-reaction’ logic to Godhra, he said he agreed to the suggestion to some extent. When asked if Pakistan’s ‘Islamic Republic’ status bothered India, he said, “A theocratic state does bother us… it does.” But he insisted that Jinnah was inherently a secular leader, and had his 11th August, 1947 speech been implemented, Pakistan too would be a secular state. Mr Advani said his party’s hard-line resolution on Pakistan following his 2006 visit to the country, was because Jinnah’s speech ‘was pushed beneath the carpet’. The most striking moment of the interview, however, was when Mr Advani, in his own words, clarified his stand on Ayodhya for the first time. He said that while he stood by the Ayodhya Movement, and embraced it, he was saddened by the demolition of the Babri Mosque. BJP’s subsequent electoral victory, he said, was because the Ayodhya Movement, and not the demolition, reflected the people’s aspirations. “I believe a temple should have been built at the site. But the demolition disturbed me.” It would have been interesting to see how a mosque and a temple could have co-existed on exactly the same spot in Ayodhya.