May 18, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/J&K Democratic Freedom Party President Shabir Shah

'Our decision will not be negative'

Shabir Shah, president of the Jammu & Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, was the first prominent Kashmiri separatist leader to come forward with the offer of holding talks with the Government of India in 1998.

After spending 22 years in captivity, Shah had returned to a hero's welcome in 1993. He went on to join the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, but was expelled from the coalition.

Once portrayed as the 'Nelson Mandela of J&K', Shah was recently invited by Krishen Chandra Pant -- the Centre's chief negotiator in J&K. But Shah neither rejected the offer nor expressed a clear denial.

In an interview with Basharat Peer at his party headquarters in Srinagar, Shah says he is not disappointed with the Pant effort and hopes for a positive result. Excerpts:

As of now, what is your stand on holding talks with K C Pant?

See, the first letter I got from K C Pant was vague and I wanted some clarifications. I sent my reply -- not by post, but by hand -- through two prominent members of my party. Pant too responded positively. He told the media that he was open-minded about the queries raised by Shabir Shah. I considered that a healthy sign.

Then, he had to consult the prime minister, home minister and other senior people in the Government of India. After 12 days, his close associate Ramesh Jain, a senior home ministry official, came to Srinagar with his reply.

I, along with the working committee members of my party, read Pant's reply dated May 13. Our working committee deliberated over the contents of the letter for one whole night.

The Kashmir dispute is 52 years old. A dispute for which one lakh Kashmiri youth have sacrificed their lives. So we decided to release the letter to the public for a debate. You can see the reaction in the media. People are discussing it. We wanted to see how the people of Kashmir would react to it.

We in the Democratic Freedom Party believe that we cannot ignore the fact that the unilateral cease-fire by the Government of India and now the appointment of a politician like K C Pant is a result of the sacrifices of the people and the mujahideen of Kashmir.

What inference did you draw after reading K C Pant's second letter and what decision are you going to take based on it?

I could see a lot of improvement. We are not disappointed with his reply. Pant's latest letter says that Kashmir is not a mere law-and-order problem, but a dispute we have to resolve. Plus it also shows a willingness to talk to Pakistan, whereas the first letter did not even mention the word Pakistan.

I have high regard for him and our party is considering his proposal. But there are a lot of modalities involved. The decision we take will not be negative.

How do you see this willingness of India to involve Pakistan in the talks?

It is a great move. A beginning can be made and a solution found, but both the Indian and Pakistani governments and others involved in the dispute need to be sincere.

J&K Democratic Freedom Party President Shabir Shah Pakistan's Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf has said: "It is a window of opportunity" and "Vajpayee is a sincere man". Musharraf has also said that "you have Vajpayee in India and I am there in Pakistan". So it seems that the present heads of state can solve the issue. We too have lauded it.

Do you believe the Indian government is sincere?

We should not be cynical. If someone thrusts a war upon you, you retaliate. But if somebody invites you to talk, you should respond in a similar manner. We cannot brandish guns if somebody comes to talk.

Do you see the Kashmir issue as a religious war or a political dispute?

It is not a religious war. It is a political dispute and its solution too has to be political. I am hopeful. The sacrifice made by the Kashmiris would not go waste. The people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir have only seen the autumn, but now it is time for spring.

Even the Indian prime minister said in a statement some days ago that he would make sure that India and Pakistan became friends. They can be friends once the Kashmir issue is addressed. In fact, when the Berlin Wall could fall, why cannot the wall between India and Pakistan?

Recently there was an attack on your office. And some threats directed at you in the newspapers...

Shabir Shah has been in this field since the age of 14. The boys who did it have been emotionally exploited. I have spent 22 years in jails and have never compromised. These small blasts are part of the game. They would not affect my decisions in any way. I believe the decisions of life and death are in the hands of Allah.

The Hurriyat has been insisting that they will talk only after they are allowed to go to Pakistan. What is your stance on this?

Meeting the people in Pakistan has even been my stand. I too was a member of the [Hurriyat] executive council. But when you are concerned about solving a major issue as Kashmir, you need to flexible. The Government of India and the Hurriyat leadership both took a rigid stand on it. But when the question of a nation is involved and you need to talk to someone, you can even talk on a satellite phone. These little things should not be a roadblock in achieving the major goal.

Why did you have to leave Hurriyat Conference?

I was an executive member. I said we should have representation from all sections, all communities, not just the Muslims of the valley. That would get us more international support.

I suggested we should transform the Hurriyat from a forum of various parties to one single party because we are not fighting an election on a common minimum programme but fighting for independence.

They did not agree and I left the Hurriyat.

Even today, if the Hurriyat agrees to it [my suggestions], I am ready to join it unconditionally.

Recently, RSS leaders were understood to have conveyed their desire to Advani to take a hard posture on Kashmir.

Those who advise the Indian leadership to adopt a 'kill him, catch him' policy in Kashmir are doing no good to India. Even Gandhi said that a single drop of blood from the veins of a freedom fighter could give birth to 999 freedom fighters. I think such people are not pujaris of Bharatmata, but insult her.

How do you view the international support you have received?

It is true that we could not muster as much support as the Bosnians and the Palestinians did. Further, the international community is also considering the fact that India is a great market. It has been disappointing at times, but we are hopeful that things will change for the better.


Shabir Shah spurns Pant's offer of talks
Pant replies to clarifications sought by Shabir Shah
Shabir Shah offers to talk to Pant
The Shabir Shah interview

Design: Dominic Xavier

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