‘I do not think the JRL has marginalised me. I live by my merit’

  • Irfan Mehraj
  • Publish Date: Jan 21 2018 10:02PM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 21 2018 10:02PM
‘I do not think the JRL has marginalised me. I live by my merit’

Prof Abdul Gani Bhat is a rare leader. In a political culture that demands conformity with the dominant narratives, the Hurriyat elder stands out for often voicing unpopular positions, not least his consistently advocating dialogue with all stakeholders to the Kashmir dispute, including India. Widely read and articulate, he can hold his own whether debating the situation in Kashmir, or commenting on international politics. In this typically candid, and combative, conversation with Irfan Mehraj, Prof Bhat speaks about the Joint Resistance Leadership, his position on the dialogue process, and his alleged meeting with Dineshwar Sharma, the Indian government’s interlocutor on Kashmir. 

Excerpts:

YOU RECENTLY SAID THAT THE HURRIYAT SHOULD NOT REPEAT PAST MISTAKES BY REFUSING TO MEET INTERLOCUTORS SENT BY THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT. WHY DO YOU THINK SNUBBING INTERLOCUTORS IN THE PAST WAS MISTAKE? 

I don’t want to dig up bones from the graves of yesterday. Well, we (his organisation Muslim Conference) support dialogue. We want Pakistan and India to do the talking on Kashmir. There is no doubt about our stance. But if you want to force me to get into a controversy again, that is not going to happen. It’s finished. But in principle, I believe that dialogue is the only way out, for India, for Pakistan and for the people of Kashmir, to seek a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, which bedevils the relationship between India and Pakistan. This pending issue constitutes a threat to the stability of the entire South Asian region. This is what is important and for this talks should happen. 

You are interested in levels, as to which levels should the talks happen at. This is for India and Pakistan, as sovereign states, to determine, not for me. If you come to my office and want to talk to me, I would certainly talk to you. This is our principle. We have been supporting dialogue all along. And I have said that we do not close our doors to visitors; whosoever comes can talk to us and hear us and I trust if and when somebody comes and hears us, they will not be disappointed. 

 

THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT HAS SENT ANOTHER INTERLOCUTOR TO START A DIALOGUE PROCESS IN KASHMIR. DO YOU THINK IT WILL YIELD ANY RESULTS? 

For us, dialogue is the only way out. There can be no more wars between India and Pakistan. And I don’t think the United Nations can come to our help. The insensitivity the United Nations has demonstrated time and again should make it absolutely clear to me, to you and to everybody that they won’t help. So, if there is no war and if the United Nations doesn’t play any role, what is the choice left to us? The only choice left is dialogue. Therefore, we support dialogue. And when you ask me whether we should approve of what India does as India or disapprove of what Pakistan does as Pakistan, I will only say it’s a bilateral issue. It’s an issue involving India and Pakistan in terms of the political history of the Subcontinent. But as far as I am concerned and the Muslim Conference is concerned, we believe that Kashmiris have a role in the dialogue process – but only as the arbiter, not as a party to the dispute. India and Pakistan are the parties to the dispute. If India and Pakistan come to a stage where they produce an outline for the resolution of the dispute, it has to be referred to the people of Kashmir. The people of Kashmir should approve of it. If you approve of it, it will last. If you don’t approve of it, it will not last. 

We are weak, I understand that. We are not like India or Pakistan, both nuclear states. We are what we are: we are a people full of confusion and contradiction. And this should speak volumes about our weakness. But never dismiss me (Kashmiris) as the arbiter. The arbiter may be as weak as a bird, but his songs have to be heard and appreciated. I trust the international community will hear our songs and appreciate it. 

If India and Pakistan ever find a resolution, it will have to be referred to Kashmiris because we are the arbiter. Munsif hai hum.  

 

HOW IS KASHMIR NOT A PARTY TO THE DISPUTE WHEN THE ENTIRE DISPUTE IS ABOUT KASHMIR? 

In 1947, India was partitioned into two sovereign states. India comprised of two parts – British India and princely states. There were hundreds of princely states that were asked to join either India or Pakistan. This happened with many princely states except a few such as Junagadh, Kashmir. Therefore, Kashmir became a dispute. The dispute was discussed in the United Nations Security Council between India and Pakistan. Then, over the years, India and Pakistan entered into agreements in Tashkent and Shimla, Lahore and Islamabad. So, Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan. Kashmir is the unfinished legacy of 1947. 

Now, listen to the beat of Kashmiris’ heart – it wants India and Pakistan to do the talking, find a solution and refer it to us. We will see if the solution appeals to us, politically, economically and in other respects, and we will either approve of it like some of us approved General Parvez Musharraf’s four-point formula, or we won’t. I approved Musharraf’s formula. I will not go back on that. I said at the time that it was the way out. 

 

DO YOU THINK THE INTERLOCUTOR DINESHWAR SHARMA WOULD BE ABLE TO BREAK NEW GROUND IN KASHMIR GIVEN THAT THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT HAS IGNORED THE RECOMMENDATION OF ITS PREVIOUS EMISSARIES?

Let me be honest. If you isolate Pakistan from the dialogue process, you won’t reach anywhere. Similarly, if Pakistanis isolate India, we may again not reach anywhere. But we need to understand that historically and politically it’s an issue between India and Pakistan. They have fought wars over Kashmir. They debated the Kashmir dispute in the United Nations. They have signed agreements and declarations, and so they are the actual parties to the dispute. As far as we (Kashmiris) are concerned, we believe if these two countries pursue different paths, they may not get anywhere. What we must impress upon the leadership in India and Pakistan is that they start talking and then involve us – the people of Kashmir – in a triangular framework. That can happen. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know if we can find a way out. Maybe I will talk to Indians. If I talk to Indians, I might get somewhere but nowhere near the solution for the Kashmir dispute. 

Sending an interlocutor to Kashmir is India’s business. As far as I am concerned, I have made it absolutely clear that if you don’t initiate a comprehensive dialogue on Kashmir, you won’t reach anywhere. You are finished. 

Everybody who comes to Kashmir talks to me. I talked to Yashwant Sinha. I met with Sitaram Yechury. I talked to a few people here. That doesn’t make any difference. How does it matter if I talk to anyone? Whether we achieve a result is the question. My problem is that I may not be able to achieve any result when I talk to India to the exclusion of Pakistan, or to Pakistanis to the neglect of India. This will never give me any results. 

 

THERE IS SPECULATION THAT YOU MET DINESHWAR SHARMA. DID YOU? 

I don’t want to be beaten down by speculation. I don’t want to be drawn into a controversy. So I refuse to answer this question. 

 

DO YOU THINK THE FORMATION OF THE JOINT RESISTANCE LEADERSHIP HAS LED TO THE MARGINALISATION OF OTHER TOP HURRIYAT LEADERS SUCH AS YOURSELF? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF JRL?

 

Umar Sahib (Mirwaiz Umar Farooq) is chairperson of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. He doesn’t represent his person or his Awami Action Committee in what you call the Joint Resistance Leadership, he represents the APHC. I am one of the founding members of the APHC, I didn’t break away from it at any stage. I had the honour of leading the APHC as its chairman for three years. 

I voted against Umar Sahib joining the JRL, but the decision was taken by the majority. Since it was the majority decision, it had to be my decision. But I was not for it. 

When Umar Sahib speaks in the JRL, he represents us. I shouldn’t hold a brief on this, you should go and ask Umar Sahib. But Umar Sahib does hold a brief on my behalf. Do you want to install a parallel leadership? Do you want me to call ‘A’ a leader and ‘B’ not a leader? You can do it yourself, but I don’t want to do it. 

I absolutely do not think the JRL has marginalised me. I do not live by your prayers. I live by my merit. If I use my merit, I will not be marginalised even by India and Pakistan put together, let alone groups in Kashmir. 

 

 

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE POLITICAL PLANS? IS THERE TALK OF FORMING A HURRIYAT ALLIANCE SEPARATE FROM THE JRL? 

I don’t know how you define future but I believe that drawing lines will get me nowhere. Past, present and future is grammar. Politics is coming to grips with the situation that may be taking shape under your nose and you have no idea about it. My future is my past and present. I don’t want to be scattered into separate blocks of present and future. 

I think we don’t have to wait many years for the future. The time for my party and myself as well as for India and Pakistan and China is now. Today is the time for me and Indians and Pakistanis and, indirectly, Americans and Chinese to contribute to peace and stability in the region. If that happens, my role is sufficiently determined as a political leader in Kashmir. If that doesn’t happen, everyone will suffer the ignominy of the present. 

I don’t think there is going to be a separate Hurriyat alliance. The Hurriyat is going to continue as it is. If the Hurriyat breaks, I break. If I break, the idea of forum politics breaks. I have lived with this idea all these years. The Hurriyat was broken long back, but it didn’t really break. There are many Hurriyats now, but it’s the Hurriyat all the same.