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'I dream of an independent Kashmir'

April 05, 2005 16:51 IST
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Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabbir Ahmed Shah blames India for being inflexible on Kashmir. He believes that while Pakistan has shown the desire to move forward to resolve the Kashmir issue, India has been slow to respond.

As the countdown starts for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, which many believe is a bold step in normalising Indo-Pak relations and focusing on Kashmir, he spoke to Special Correspondent Salil Kumar on various issues, including the peace process.

What is your opinion on the revival of the bus link?

Then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made the beginning during his speech in Sringar. The same night, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf welcomed it. The next day, Vajpayee held a press conference (and said) that India would discuss all issues with Pakistan, including Kashmir. We also welcomed it.

My stand has been clear that till such time that this enmity (between India and Pakistan) makes way for friendship, nothing will move forward.

I have spoken to (Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid M) Kasuri and (Indian External Affairs Minister K) Natwar Singh. Later, (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh and Musharraf met in New York. We the Kashmiri leaders) have also been meeting. We told them that the time was right, that talks should move forward.

But there is a problem. We in Kashmir should also feel the changes that are taking place. Atrocities are still on, the Special Powers Act is still there, encounters still take place.

One should remember that it is because of the Kashmir issue that the two countries have acquired nuclear weapons.

What did you discuss with former Pakistan prime minister Chaudhary Shujat Hussain in New Delhi?

I told him though the Pakistani government has shown a lot of flexibility, the Government of India has not done anything.

But Manmohan Singh has said in Mauritius that he will discuss 'Kashmir' when he meets Musharraf in Delhi on April 17.

The bus is just a confidence-building measure. There are just a few divided families. Their number is not in lakhs. In fact, not even in thousands.

The major CBM will be army accountability, removal of the Special Powers Act, release of political prisoners, etc. Till these steps are taken, it is all meaningless.

Also see:
They are pawns in the great game

The Kashmiri leadership should also be involved in the talks (between India and Pakistan).

India said it would show flexibility only when cross-border terrorism comes to an end.

Musharraf has shown flexibility. Earlier he was talking about UN resolutions.

Did he have a choice?

But he has come to a realisation that we want a resolution that is acceptable to India too. India should take note of that.

There is so much noise in India (on the India-Pakistan bus). But you are not doing us a favour. We never recognised the LoC in the first place. We have languished in jails for so many years.

You earlier spoke of Kashmiri leadership. What do you mean by it?

I mean those who have shed their blood for the Kashmiri cause. Those who have suffered atrocities, those who have spent years in jail.

Your leadership itself is so divided.

That is unfortunate. But it is an internal matter and it will be resolved. But the Indian government should not take advantage of that.

The separatists say they have popular support. Why not take part in the election process? In fact, the Indian government invited you to take part in the election.

Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Yasser Arafat also had the support of the people, but they were not told this.

In any case, K C Pant came to my house, Dilip Padgaonkar came, M J Akbar came. We said we were ready to fight the election under the aegis of the intellectuals of both the countries and the international community. Hold elections under a neutral party and we will take part.

Now today if I fight the election under the Indian system then I am betraying my cause. If I get an Indian passport today that means I am admitting that I am an Indian. That would have been double standards.

Kashmir is a disputed area. We are fighting a war against India.

There is a feeling that the separatists have been completely sidelined now.

To some extent I agree. But India is taking advantage of that and painting a wrong picture.

When K C Pant came what did you tell him?

I told him that Vajpayeeji should make sure that his name is written in the history books. I told him we should have a conducive atmosphere. Forget foreign nongovernmental organisations, even Indian outfits speak of atrocities in Kashmir.

Later (N N)Vohra also came, but he was extremely vague. He was talking to everyone from the tonga union to the autorickshaw union.

Speaking of atrocities, everyone but you agrees that things are much better now.

I can give you many examples. You are talking of urban areas. Go 50 km outside and you will see. CBMs should be raised there.

A couple of days ago there was a blast in a school. One child died and one lost a leg.

Who was behind that blast?

Why do you have your army in schools? Speak to the family whose child died. Speak to the parents there. We are told that the explosive was in the schoolbag of a kid. When the blast took place, that child should have been blown to smithereens. Instead, he just lost a leg.

What is the future of the separatist movement?

Bright. It is very good. India got freedom from the British. We will also be successful.

And even if that does not happen, at least our conscience will be clear. We would have at least tried our best. We want to be a bridge between the two governments (India and Pakistan).

War is a crime. We want that to be avoided. When Kargil happened, we were against that also.

We believe in raising a demand. We want everyone to come to the table. But the talks should be result-oriented.

Look at the defence expenditure. The guard standing outside, when he drinks a glass of water, it costs India Rs 50.

I believe in logic and reason. I dream of an independent Kashmir.

Photograph: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Main image: Rahil Shaikh

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