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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I am not a Citizen of India: Umar Farooq

I am not a citizen of India: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

By
Devasish Ray
Washington DC
September 28, 2005

The role of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has always been the topic of disparagement. Experts charge the APHC of being a stooge of Pakistan, while others believe that this party cannot play a tangible role in solving the burning issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet the APHC continues to meet with the top brass of both the governments of Pakistan and India. Recently, the Chairman of the APHC, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq met with Pervez Musharraf in New York (They stayed in the same hotel). He also met Dr. Manmohan Singh. I caught up with him at the National Press Club in Washington DC to talk to him and clarify some issues. Here are some excerpts.

DR: You recently met with Dr. Manmohan Singh to discuss Jammu & Kashmir. In your opinion what seems to have changed since former Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for a cease-fire?

MUF: When we talk in terms of peace in Kashmir we must understand that there can be no peace in a vacuum. The Hurriyat has maintained that it is not a religious issue but a political one. We are hoping that Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri ’ s put all their efforts together to build a brighter and better future for people living in this region. We have been talking with the new government in India as well as with Pervez Musharraf. We are hopeful, yet we understand that it is a complex issue, as long as all parties are serious we can move forward.

DR: Hearing you a few moments back I was quite surprised when time and again you were talking about Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiri ‘ s. Do you not consider yourself to a citizen of democratic India?

MUF: As far as the issue of Jammu & Kashmir is concerned, the Hurriyat and the majority of our people believe that Kashmir is a disputed territory and demands a political dispensation. We have to understand that people are divided, families are divided….

DR: The question was. Do you consider yourself to be a citizen of India or not?

MUF: Well! I consider myself to be a citizen of Jammu & Kashmir.

DR: Okay. However, if this is your approach, why should the Government of India take you seriously and for that matter even Pakistan?

MUF: (irritated) Because, I think both Pakistan and India agree that there is a problem here. As we are in agreement that the problem concerns all three parties let us move forward and have an understanding where we can have a settlement on this issue.

DR: Let us be realistic here. You cannot have peace with militants resorting to violence. You cannot have peace with a heavy military presence there and the military will withdraw only if the arms are given up. You have totally failed in roping in the militants and secondly you have resisted participating in elections. How do you justify your sincerity then?

MUF: Regarding militancy, I must say that people lost faith in the Indian government and the elections were a farce.

DR: Let me stop you here and ask you, surely the militants do not represent the whole of Jammu and Kashmir”?

MUF: No! They don’t. They are only a part of the struggle. The overall struggles are in the hearts of people. We can put a stop to the roar of guns in Kashmir, but what about the roar in my heart. I agree with you that we have to put an end to violence if we need lasting peace.

DR: The elections…

MUF: The Hurriyat never believes in elections the way they are conducted in Kashmir. Let the Indian government give us a mechanism where the process is free and fair.

DR: The last election was free and fair. wasn’t it? Again, if you are asking for sops you are not going to get it outside the constitution. Why are you not participating then and asserting your right?

MUF: You cannot have a free and fair election in the presence of hundreds and thousands of troops.

DR: Wait a minute.. This time there were international observers who did say that these elections were free and fair..

MUF: There were observers but none officially. First we have to be clear as to what the objective of having elections. If the objective is running the administration, then the problem is no more. We believe that the problem is not running the administration but the future of the state.

DR: Let me ask you blunt question. You are accused of being a spokesperson of the Pakistani government. Is this true?

MUF: This is really unfortunate. The position we have taken as a Kashmiri and the son of the soil. We have seen a lot of pain and agony over many years. We are not saying to give Kashmir to Pakistan, what we want is a dialog. The most important factor is that the people of India should look at us from a humanitarian point. The people of India should understand that the sufferings of the Kashmiri people.

DR: Umar, let me leave you with a thought. While one understands the plight of the people of Kashmir, I have no hesitation in saying with great conviction that if Kashmir bleeds the rest of India bleeds too. Thank you very much for talking to me.

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