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|INTERVIEW: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
‘Era of militancy is over’
In the fast changing world scenario since September 11, the Kashmir problem too has not remained unaffected. With signs that Pakistan is trying to disown the All-Party Hurriyet Conference (APHC), there are indications of desperation among Hurriyet leaders. They are trying hard to keep their flock together and do not let the world realize their anxiety at being seemingly ditched by their mentor, Pakistan. They still maintain that their cause and struggle enjoy Pakistan support. Recently APHC formed an ‘election commission’ of its own to conduct elections in the two parts of Kashmir falling under Indian and Pakistani control.
S Ubaidur Rahman of The Milli Gazette talked to the young Mirwaiz Molvi Umar Farooq, a leading Hurriyet figure and its former chairman, on host of issues concerning the Kashmiri separation movement, their relations with Pakistan and the militancy itself. 'Mirwaiz', i.e., 'chief wa'iz', is a traditional hereditary post, whose holder is supposed to be the religious head of the Kashmiri people. Excerpts:
|What is this election commission formed by the Hurriyet Conference?
We believe that the Kashmir problem can be solved politically. There are three parties to the Kashmir dispute. When India and Pakistan are duly represented by their respective governments, there is no well-established representative for the people of Kashmir. We want to hold elections in the four parts of the former princely State of Kashmir to elect their own representatives. These representatives will then hold talks with India and Pakistan.
Do you believe that any sovereign country will allow such a private organization to conduct elections on its territory?
These elections are not going to affect the respective positions of these countries. Our aim is only to elect the representatives of Kashmiri people through these elections They will be able to conduct talks with India and Pakistan governments. We have repeatedly asked the Indian government to conduct free and fair polls in the state. We asked them to conduct elections under the UN aegis. But India has so far refused to accept our demand.
There are signs that under the changing world scenario, Pakistan has ditched you. Do you feel betrayed?
This is not true. Though it is true that Pakistan has extended moral and political support to the Kashmiri people, it is not true that every decision that Hurriyet takes should be sanctioned by Pakistan. Pakistan has been our ally in our freedom struggle. It has raised the Kashmir issue in all the world fora.
Pakistan has accepted the Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination, when on the other hand India has denied it all along. Pakistan recognizes the people of Kashmir as a party.
When Pakistan can ditch the Taliban in Afghanistan, why it cannot do the same to you?
Afghanistan and Kashmir are two different things. Pakistan was an outsider in Afghanistan, whereas in Kashmir it is a part of the issue. It has genuine interests in Kashmir. Pakistani people think Kashmir to be very near to their heart. It is a very sensitive issue for them. They want a peaceful solution of the problem. It is India that is not allowing this. But I want to make one thing clear: Pakistani support or no support, we will continue our struggle for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
Is Pakistan seeking a peaceful solution by using guns against India?
The armed struggle in Kashmir is not created by Pakistan. Our struggle is the creation of unprecedented rigging of elections in 1988. All the prominent separatist leaders who later took arms against India were part of that election and had participated in the polls. They were disheartened by the large-scale rigging in the polls at that time and were forced to take up arms. Prior to that we were trying to seek freedom in a peaceful manner for several decades. But that was not heard by anyone. Pakistan has backed us psychologically and politically all these years. It has helped highlight the issue all over the world.
But there is a perception that the militancy has been hijacked by Pakistanis and other foreigners?
The concept that the militancy has been hijacked by foreigners and Pakistan is totally misplaced. The total number of foreign militants may not be more than a few hundred. I can substantiate my claim even by statistics provided by the Indian authorities. The percentage of foreign militants killed in the last thirteen years is less than even five percent of the total casualties. Even these people are now being asked to go back.
Can any other country give you the sort of freedom and security that India has provided you despite the fact that you are fighting against it?
There is no question why it wouldn't. We are a political party. We are pursuing our goal in a peaceful manner. On the other hand, there are efforts to curb our movement. Our people are not allowed to go abroad. Recently a senior Hurriyet leader [Syed Ali Shah Geelani] was not allowed to go for Haj. There is an effort to harass our second-rung leadership and a large number of our second-rung leaders have been arrested and put behind bars. But it is not very easy to crackdown against the top political leadership.
But, amazingly, you have been yourself frequently going abroad without any restrictions!
My position is dual. I am not only a political leader and represent Hurriyet and my party, I am also the religious leader of the people of Kashmir as ‘Mirwaiz.’ But I too have not remained unaffected by these restrictions. When I wanted to go for Haj in 1998, I was not denied permission. It was only after the Kashmiri people protested that I was allowed to go for Haj. There is another reason. The government wants to create suspicion in the minds of other Hurriyet leaders by giving preferential treatment to some people. But it has not succeeded in this effort.
What is Hurriyet's use now?
Hurriyet is the true representative of the Kashmiri people. It will always remain relevant. Our first step now is to conduct elections. We are in contact with all the concerned people.
But who is going to participate in those elections? There are other parties like Shabbir Shah, National Conference, Congress, Mufti Saeed's PDP and many others.
We are talking to all these people. And something concrete is going to come out soon.
So the era of militancy is over?
I believe that era is over. Militancy has done its part well. The issue is so much internationalized that everyone wants this issue to be settled. See we have initiated this political exercise.
Now India should take concrete actions leading to the solution of Kashmir. They have a policy of letting it linger on. Militancy can be revived if they don't act.
You have lost more than fifty thousand people in this struggle without getting anything so far. Do you ever think of those people who uselessly lost their lives in this struggle?
We have achieved a lot by this struggle. It is because of the sacrifices of these people that we have come close to our goals. Now everyone says and accepts that it is a problem. Only India is harping that Kashmir is its integral part. But no one believes this any longer. We have stood by those people very closely. No body takes India on its face value now.
There is a perception that militancy in Kashmir can be tagged with the war on terrorism..
I don't buy this theory. The indigenous group will strengthen. Foreign penetration will decrease. This has already begun.
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