August 8, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Omar Abdullah

'We will have to talk to Pakistan in the future'

Omar Abdullah is the sole National Conference representative in the National Democratic Alliance government. As minister of state for commerce and industry, he is trying to usher in the information technology revolution in Kashmir so that it can offer avenues of employment to the youth and prevent them from taking to the gun.

However, right now, all attention is on the Hizbul Mujahideen-Government of India talks, and even as this piece was being written, the Hizb called off its week-long ceasefire. In an interview to Amberish K Diwanji, Abdullah Jr spoke about the ceasefire and the ground-level situation in the valley.

The Hizbul has called off its ceasefire. What impact will this have on the valley?

It only means that there will be no more talks and a return to violence! It had earlier put down the gun and now it has picked it up again. Tragically, it will be members of the National Conference who'll have to bear the brunt of the Hizb's violence since they are known to target our members and party workers.

No doubt, it is also a setback to the peace process. The Government of India had actually said it would go outside the Constitution of India in its negotiations for the sake of peace, which is a very bold step, and the Hizbul Mujahideen did not even try to meet us halfway or give extra time. This is very disappointing.

In terms of violence, the Hizb will react but it will not necessarily mean more violence immediately. After all, violence went up 'after' the Hizb declared its ceasefire. The massacres at Pahalgam and other killings happened after the ceasefire.

Do you believe that Pakistan may be behind the Hizbul Mujahideen calling off the ceasefire?

Let us not forget that the whole thing began from Pakistan. It was from Pakistan that the ceasefire call was first issued, and it is from Pakistan that the ceasefire has been called off. It would be foolish to believe that Pakistan is not involved; definitely Islamabad's hand is there in what is happening.

What could have led to the talks being called off?

Well, the Hizb had complained that the army was still targeting its cadres. Now it is extremely difficult for the army not to target them since one militant looks like another. And till such time the Hizbul Mujahideen gave its area of operations or its members, or some such modalities are worked out, if the Hizb is visible to the army, they will be targeted.

The army will not ask the militant which outfit he comes from. One hoped that the discussion had carried on and the ceasefire modalities worked out.

How representative of Kashmiris is the Hizbul Mujahideen? And does it have any influence over the other outfits?

I don't think any militant group has any link with or influence over any other militant group because if it did, then the Hizb would not have called for a ceasefire and come for talks.

I think it is fair to say that the Hizbul Mujahideen represents a percentage, a small percentage, of Kashmiri opinion because it is the Hizbul Mujahideen that is constituted by Kashmiris. This is very significant because if a Kashmiri group was willing for talks, it means that people have realised the futility of violence and that you have turned the corner as far as the people of Kashmir's thought are concerned. All the other groups comprise Afghans and Pakistanis.

But we'd have to watch out for groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba?

That is the case, and will be the case. One hopes good sense prevails with them, because if the Kashmiri militants were not interested in violence, then who the hell are they to come and wage jehad in Kashmir? They can go and blow up their own country, burn up Afghanistan.

Could it be that Pakistan was miffed at not being part of the talks?

The Government of India has said that as of right now, the condition on the ground is not conducive for talking with Pakistan, which is a very fair assessment. In the wake of a massacre of more than a 100 people by essentially Pakistan trained, backed and funded militants, how can we talk to Pakistan? The last time the Government of India spoke to Pakistan, we had Kargil.

Plus, General Pervez Musharraf does not seem to be a man in complete control of Pakistan. The ISI is controlled by someone, the army is controlled by someone else... and Musharraf claims to be a man of peace?

Even if you agree with Musharraf that Pakistan only provides moral support to the militants and nothing else, then it is his moral responsibility to ensure that innocent civilians are not massacred. And if he can't live up to his moral obligation, then to whom will India talk to? It means he has no morals and scruples.

But one thing is perfectly clear: at some future date we'll have to include to Pakistan in the talks over Kashmir. I think even the Government of India realises that. But they will have to take some credible steps for that. So let's see what they do.

What happens to the issue of autonomy raised by the National Conference?

Let's be clear about this. What can the Government of India give either the Hizbul Mujahideen or the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference? It can't give them azadi (freedom) or give Kashmir to Pakistan. All it can give is a degree of autonomy under the Constitution, which is exactly what the National Conference is asking for.

The party president has gone on record telling the Government of India that even if you don't want to give autonomy to the National Conference, give it to the Hurriyat or the Hizb, because ultimately it will go to the people and that is most important.

Thus, the issue is alive and we will keep it alive. Look, if you can talk to the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Hurriyat outside the purview of the Constitution, surely you can talk to us within the Constitution!

And if are differences over some aspects of the autonomy report, they can be discussed. You convince us or we'll convince you. There is room for dialogue.

What could have prompted the now aborted ceasefire call? Was it the people's disillusionment?

Certainly! The people were most unhappy with the situation, with the massacres in Chatti Singhpora, the killings in Doda, and Kupwara. And this resentment had been building up.

Also, let us not take away any credit from the security forces. The forces had made great progress in the past few months in targeting the Hizbul Mujahideen, and the latter is in complete disarray with huge numbers killed over the past two months. So they must have felt the heat.

Omar Abdullah will appear on the Rediff Chat on Friday, August 11, 2000, at 1700 hours IST to discuss the latest developments in Kashmir.

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