Sardar Muhmmad Abdul Qayyum Khan, former Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir (Pakistan-Administered Jammu and Kashmir) and Supreme Head of All J & K Muslim Conference was recently in New Delhi to participate in "Intra J & K `Heart to Heart Meet" held on 20th and 21st of September 2005 and organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Coordination Committee of J&K Leaders and Intellectuals. In this interview with ASHIMA KAUL he speaks about the Kashmir conflict and the possibilities of resolving it.
MQ- Is this your first visit to India? What were your thoughts before coming?
A- Yes this is my first visit to Independent India. I last came here in 1946. It has been sixty years. I see a lot of development and that is understandable. However I do not find any difference in the essence of India. It is the same and I am very comfortable here. There was no specific agenda other than the `Heart to Heart` talk with Kashmiris from the other side (of Kashmir). I had no idea as to who all were coming for the interaction. I myself was in doubt whether I would be able to visit Delhi or not. But here I am, and by and large it was a successful meeting, far more than our expectations.
Q- You met people from different political parties and intellectuals having diverse opinions and ideologies. What are your comments after listening to these voices?
A First of all, let me say that there is lack of information about each other on both sides. There is an impression on this side that there has been no economic development in Azad Kashmir. Everybody was asking me if there has been any development in my area. Similarly, people in Azad Kashmir have an impression that the environment in India is inimical for different communities to co-exist. There is a feeling among some people on our side of Kashmir that there is deep polarisation among communities in India but I do not have such an impression.
Q- How do you think we can promote a culture of understanding and peace?
A- By simply promoting more and more contacts with different constituencies like women, children, youth, parliamentarians, lawyers etc. The false impressions about each would dissolve and melt by meeting each other.
Q- What role can the media play in this regard?
A- Media has played a vital role both sides in promoting good ideas as well as in spreading bad ideas. Overall, however, the media has not played a constructive role. But now there is a positive shift. We have initiatives like SAFMA (South Asia Free Media Association), which brings the media of both sides on a common platform to discuss and debate issues. But a lot more has to be done in this direction. There needs to be more writing and discussion on addressing issues which concern both sides. For example, organizations like SAFMA could discuss and try to bring a consensus on various issues.
However the official media on both sides have been very negative and destructive. There were many good things planned in the past. But they were thwarted by the negative elements, which are very strong on both sides, and, in fact, in all countries. They can destroy and sabotage anything. There is no specific media policy to address this. And there seems to be no other remedy for this other than proper leadership.
Q- You are a leader. Why don`t you take the initiative?
A- There are no mathematical answers for such issues as leadership. If you have a strong leadership then the path would be created on its own, If it is a weak leadership which is dictated by the people down below, then there is no meaning.
Q- In your presentation during the "Heart to Heart" talks, you mentioned that if the LoC (Line of Control) converted into an International border it would have security and economic implications for Pakistan. Could you elaborate?
A- Yes. For example take the case of Baglihar Dam. There was an Agreement between the two countries (the Indus Water Treaty 1960) according to which the Dam was meant for producing electricity. Just a small reservoir had to be built. But the Government of India has violated that Agreement and has built a huge reservoir which could stop the water flow for quite some time to Punjab and other areas in Pakistan. This is a major wheat-growing area. Intrinsically linked to this is the defense of the country, and this, therefore, has security implications for Pakistan. If the LoC becomes permanent then India would have the capability of stopping all river waters, without exception, into Pakistan. This has serious security and economic implications. The leaders of the two countries and high officials should sit with each other and share their respective concerns about this and other such issues.
Q- What are your suggestions?
A- For the time being let the borders become irrelevant. For example in Cyprus, the borders are still there but peoples` movement has become so common that nobody talks about borders. However some political rhetoric is such which is unwanted and undesirable. Nobody was challenging the borders but unnecessarily Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked about `No redrawing of borders`. Now why do you have to say it? Nobody is discussing it. So it irritates people on both sides and the hawks take advantage.
Q-But the border issue is connected with the issue of
Kashmir. Even if we make borders irrelevant, that still does not solve the Kashmir problem, is it not?
A- Yes it does not resolve the Kashmir issue, but major tension is resolved. The expenditure which is being incurred to maintain this tension is huge. All the troops deployed on that side, troops deployed on this side and maintaining the forces involves lot of defense expenditure. The Defense expenditure impacts severely on the economy of both countries.
Q-In this context, in which areas do you see the possibility of joint or co-operative ventures?
A- There are several such possibilities. For instance, the governments of both sides of Kashmir could plan Tourism, Trade and social services, like electricity and medical care projects, jointly. There could be sharing of expertise both sides.
Q- What about the cultural differences between the two parts of Kashmir? How do you foresee the possibility of people of the two sides, with different ethnicities, co-existing?
A- Jammu and Kashmir is a multicultural region. (Laughs) It is like one whole India, When borders would go away we would exist like we existed in the past. These were the same people with same entity. We lived amicably and peacefully in the past, and we would be able to do so now.
Q-The opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road is a Kashmir-centric confidence-building measure CBM. Can you suggest any other such measures?
A- This bus service is very limited. In 100 years only few thousand people would be able to travel to and fro. This should be made free. Just like Cyprus.
Q- But what about security implications, especially for India?
A- That is imaginary There is no security issue. Agencies create security issues for their own benefit. They create a situation and say, "Here is a security problem".
Q- So what other such confidence-building measures do you propose?
A- All natural traditional routes-six of them, which were in existence in the past in Kashmir-should be reopened. Just those six routes and no other new routes. Besides that, free the prisoners, reduce the number of troops, ease out of the fauji tenion, promote cultural exchanges, trade and tourism. Then we can sit and talk to each other about other issues without any reservations. Then we could sit and think and decide what could be done in the future.
Q- After this visit what would be your message to people on both sides?
A- The conference `Heart to Heart` is the message itself. It was a historic meeting. In comparison to many other initiatives this one has great significance and relevance because people from two parts of Kashmir, with diverse views and ideologies met for the first time to know and understand each other.
Q- Can you hare some of the finer benchmarks of your personal journey. What transformation have you experienced over the years?
A- I do not know whether transformation happens or not because whatever my thought process was in my childhood and youth, the same has expanded, magnified and broadened. If you talk of humanity, I always had a soft corner for the minority. In the middle of the war in 1947, when we were fighting I protected a friend`s family from the other community and did not allow a single forcible conversion to take place. I am following the same ideology now.
Q- But you have not come out openly against violence.
A-One should not ignore facts but face them. There is a huge presence of forces in this part of Kashmir [the part controlled by India]. Their simple presence, even if they do not do anything, is the greatest violation of Human Rights. Occupation will always generate resistance. Whether you want it or not, occupation and resistance go hand in hand. Pakistan-based violence has been completely finished by President Musharaf. There is no such thing as Pakistan-based militancy anywhere in Pakistan now.