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Muslim delegation visits Kashmir; advises round table conference
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Syed Shahabuddin at the press conference in Srinagar

Srinagar: A high-level Indian Muslim delegation visited Kashmir early this month for five days to assess the situation there and advise the community and the government here accordingly. Soon after its arrival in the Valley local media highlighted gossip that the delegation was sent by the Indian government to persuade Kashmiri organisations to take part in the forthcoming elections. These unfounded rumours even led the Muzaffarabad-based United Jihad Council to issue a statement from the Pakistan-administered Kashmir advising the delegation to leave the Valley and go to Gujarat.

The delegation, representing the All-Indian Muslim Majlis-e Mushawart (AIMMM), umbrella body of Muslim organisations in India, was led by its president and former member of Parliament Syed Shahabuddin. Other members of the delegation were vice president of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind, Maulana Shafi Moonis, former central minister, Prof. Saifuddin Soz, member of Parliament KM Khan, and Zafarul-Islam Khan, all members of the AIMMM executive council.

The AIMMM Mission started at Jammu where it interacted with a number of political parties and personalities as well as visited a Kashmiri Pandit migrant camp and the Raghunath temple which was the target of a militant attack on March 30.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, the delegation interacted with a representative cross-section of the political leadership and intelligentsia of the state, including the next chief minister Omar Abdullah and other leaders of the National Conference, the APHC, the Jamaat-e Islami Kashmir, the Democractic Freedom Party, the Peoples Conference, and the People's Democratic Party, the state human rights commission, noted journalists, eminent lawyers and retired bureaucrats. The Mission called on the Lone family to convey its condolences at the assassination of the Kashmiri leader Abdul Ghani Lone. 

At the end of the visit the delegation leader Syed Shahabuddin issued a statement which said that "the signs of return to normalcy and in the context of recent development, there is a surge of hope for a final solution of the Kashmir problem. The people long for peace and for a peaceful settlement. But the state is still under a virtual state of emergency. There is fear in the air, with sporadic violence. The people nurse deep alienation with the political system and cynicism about the democratic process due to their sad experience of broken promises and forgotten assurances. They feel disenchanted and frustrated, wary of new promises and fresh undertakings".

The statement went on to say that "having gone through many elections, they do not see the coming election as the solution or even as the first step towards a final settlement. They strongly feel that there can be no “free and fair election,” even with the presence of eminent observers, national or foreign, unless there is freedom from fear, freedom of expression and of assembly, indeed unless the repressive machinery of the state is dismantled and the still raging militancy and counter-militancy are brought to an end."

The statement added that "the Kashmir problem is basically political and can be resolved only by political means not by a clash of arms, nor simply by economic development or good governance. The quest of an acceptable, durable and honorable solution will be a long journey which will test at every step the will and determination of the people of the state and their leadership for peace with dignity. An election can only be an occasion to review the progress towards the ultimate destination."

The Mission called on the central government to immediately initiate unconditional dialogue with the political leadership of the people in a sincere effort eventually to arrive at the above goal.

The Mission suggested that for the success of the dialogue, the central government should first take due preparatory steps to create a conducive environment, such as releasing the political detainees, reducing the visible presence of the security forces in the inhabited areas, suspending the operation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, minimising recourse to the Public Safety Act and the POTA, disbanding the Special Task Force and the Special Police Officers (SPOs), withdrawing support from the pro-government militants and reaching an agreement with the militants for a lasting cease-fire.

The Mission proposed that the central government should set the ball rolling by convening a round table conference of all significant formations, including all recognized national and state political parties, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and others. Such a conference will throw up all possible options and pave the path for a frank exchange of views and the emergence of a feasible consensus.

The Mission felt that once the dialogue is initiated, it will generate confidence in the democratic process and motivate the people to participate massively in the Assembly election, as and when it is held, which may serve not only to fill a constitutional vacuum but also to provide the people with a responsive administration, committed to good governance.

The Mission has concluded that no major political formation in the state constitutes a hurdle in the path of negotiations. The Mission took note of the strong desire of the people of the state that the governments of India and Pakistan should resume a purposeful dialogue on all bilateral questions including the Kashmir problem, which may lead to freedom of peaceful intercourse between the people divided by the LoC and perhaps to their eventual unification.

The delegation leader, Syed Shahabuddin, held a press conference in Srinagar on July 3 in which, in response to an oft-raised question, he said that we do not regard the Muslims of India hostage to the good behaviour of the Kashmiris." However, he added, "the Kashmiri association with India will be a source of strength for Indian Muslims." 

In reply to another question, he said that the basic problem in Kashmir was political and therefore the Indian government must come out with a "political package." Election in itself is not an end. He conceded that independence of Kashmir against the will of India and Pakistan is not possible.

Replying to another question about the RSS resolution calling for the trifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Syed Shahabuddin said that he does not support trifurcation but the RSS's political face, the BJP, will have the opportunity to raise this issue during negotiations. But, he observed, with its hardline the BJP will be kicked out of office soon.

Syed Shahabuddin categorically denied that the delegation was sent by the government of India. "We do not represent the government of India. We are addressing the public opinion…we have come only to add to the voice of sanity," he said adding that he would advise the United Jihad Council to "keep off Kashmir."

The writer was part of the AIMMM delegation to Kashmir in his capacity as a member of its executive council. 

AIMMM statement
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