Reconciliation only in conducive atmosphere: Sardar Attique
Sardar Attique Khan is the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the Paakistani administered territory of Kashmir. Son of veteran leader Sardar Qayoom and heading the Muslim Conference, which has been a long time pro-Pakistan advocate, he is bracing for elections on July 26th. He is, however, wary of the sentiments within the state against a complete merger with Pakistan and calls for fulfilling aspirations of all sections of the people of undivided state in a final settlement of Kashmir dispute. He is equally cautious of offering too much role to the Pakistan national parties which are making strong inroads into politics in AJK. Following are excerpts of a conversation with Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal:
Anuradha: Regarding Kashmir dispute, you have been a strong advocate of granting right to self determination. How do you expect dissenting opinions to be settled through this instrument and UN resolutions?
Saradar Attique Khan: There are no doubts that we cannot move ahead in an atmosphere of mistrust and tensions. Differences need to be reconciled and reconciliation is the only answer. But then something has to be a basis for resolution. People of J&K, on both sides, despite all their different aspirations have the capacity to stay together and that is what is more important.
A: Do you then think that an intra-Kashmir dialogue should be the first step to right of self determination or a final situation?
SAK: You see, we supported the Musharraf formula, not out of love for the man but because of the ideas he floated. He talked about facilitating intra-Kashmir movement of people, restoration of trade between the two sides, restoration of tourism, re-opening of traditional routes. We need to turn this Line of Control into a line of trade and gradually through a process of interactions make this militarily dividing line totally non-functional. I have all along been advocating this. Kashmiris on both sides should get an opportunity to meet and interact. It is important to analyse what is politically meant by the words ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Kashmiris’. Kashmir includes the undivided state as it stood in 1947 and by Kashmiris we mean all its people irrespective of their caste, colour, creed, faith or ethnicity. When we talk of cross-LoC interactions, they need not remain restricted to informal talks. They need to move towards a more institutionalised set up. President Musharraf talked of joint mechanism. I would like to go a step further and call for setting up a joint development fund. Let us co-operate as much as we can – in tourism, sports, trade etc so that these funds can be used for development of the state on both sides and its people.
A: Have you taken up your suggestions with Pakistan government?
SAK: I have taken it up with UN. I have talked about it in Europe, Geneva, Washington and House of Lords in England. I have floated an open idea so that people study it and make the entire rhetoric of joint mechanism and joint strategy more meaningful.
A: Some limited trade across the LoC has been going on? Some restricted movement has also been allowed in past few years. But there is stagnation and it is not moving beyond. Do you think this entire mechanism is a failure?
SAK: When this process has started after a long span of separation, there was need to strengthen the mechanism, remove the hurdles and cumbersome procedures and pave way for unrestricted movement across the Line of Control. I have already spoken about even restoring Kashmir’s traditional trade with Far East via the Silk Route. We also need to promote over 2,000 years old religious tourism in South Asia through Kashmir which has lot of potential. This has to be restored through intra-Kashmir linkage. For this I started recruiting educated youth who need to be engaged positively. Since early fifties our party has been engaged with promoting these efforts for cross-border movement.
A: What do you think can be a suitable solution to Kashmir dispute?
SAK: If we head towards a meaningful process of negotiations in a conducive atmosphere bereft of enmity and animosity, the solution cannot be difficult to explore and find.
A: How do you propose to build conducive atmosphere for such negotiations?
SAK: Pakistan and India are both poor countries but in the last six decades they have both used all their resources to subvert each other politically, economically and developmentally. Lot of people on both sides have developed a vested interest in this and so this entire process of subversion has become very institutionalised, cannot be dismantled overnight. So there is need to find ways of substituting that mechanism.
A: Both Pakistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir being important components of it, how do you view the amnesty policy announced by J&K government on the Indian side for youth who have crossed the borders in the last twenty years?
SAK: Those who have come here are part of the state and it is the right of the people to stay in any part of the state, this side or that. Post 90 those who crossed the Line of Control, we already have strategies in place to rehabilitate them. This initiative that has been taken by the J&K government on that side could have been a good initiative had it involved people who have migrated since 1947. There are 2.1 million refugees. Why should they start with a cut off from recent years. It should have been all inclusive.
A: But can this policy make a new beginning from a certain cut off point and then be expanded to include the rest?
SAK: We have no objection if people want to go back on their own without any element of coercion and without being met by harassment. We also have no problems if more people want to cross the LoC to some this side But I would still want the scope of this package to include all kinds of migrations in the last 63 years.
A: You are approaching elections in AJK. What would be your main election agenda?
SAK: The major issue before the people, whatever the results of the elections, is restoration of political parties of the state. And, I think that is also the main agenda before the other parties of the state. I have emphasized time and again that if ‘ghair riyasti’ parties take over in this state, it would be detrimental to the interests of both Kashmir and Pakistan, as is the case on your side as well. Therefore, there is no need for a new slogan in the state.
A: How do you see your prospects in the coming elections?
SAK: Not too bad. There has been some factionalism, with a chunk of our party including some MLAs and ministers breaking away and going to the other side. This was a serious setback but soon people realised that our position on the ground level has not been affected too much.
A: Are you working for an alliance with any political group?
SAK: Preferably we are working for an alliance with the state based parties. We also have in place a working relationship with the federal government in Pakistan.
A: What do you mean by a working relationship? Does it mean seat sharing arrangement?
SAK: Working relationship means to mellow down the differences and some bitterness of the past. But we have had talks with everybody. Even Pakistan Peoples Party has expressed its desire to enter into some understanding with us. We have not outrightly refused anyone so far. We feel that a tall and shrewd leader like Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah or Sardar Ibrahim could not create any damage to Muslim Conference. We have survived even after them. So how much damage can the present lot of leaders cause to us? We are not very over optimistic but I think PPP is a big player and so an understanding with it is possible.