Srinagar: The all-party delegation of parliamentarians led by home minister Rajnath Singh visited Srinagar on September 4. That morning, Singh tweeted, “We intended to talk to individuals & groups who want peace & normalcy in the Kashmir Valley”. However, the Hurriyat Conference, the principal Kashmiri separatist group led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, boycotted the delegation, saying that its visit was “a futile exercise” when guns were still blazing in Kashmir and they themselves were under detention. When some parliamentarians – all of whom were members of a similar delegation in 2010 – went to meet the separatist leaders in their personal capacity, they were turned away at the door.
Hurriyat Conference spokesperson Shahid-ul-Islam, who has also been under house arrest in Srinagar since July 9, told The Wire in an interview that the group’s refusal to meet the parliamentarian delegation was “not to insult anyone” but a sign of “disappointment in the insincerity” of the Indian government. “You cannot come into my house, meet me for tea, promise things and then go and abuse me outside. How will I trust you again?” he asks.
Excerpts from the interview follow. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Why did the Hurriyat leaders not meet the delegation despite being invited?
This is the fourth visit from Indian parliamentarians. It’s a photo session, you know, and a firefighting mission. Whenever there is unrest, you see these parliamentarians or civil society members who are moderate liberals coming in. And then things settle down, they just forget everything. And again, when there is something untoward, they start calling. It’s a routine. People have realised it’s not going to serve any purpose. People don’t trust Indian politicians anymore.
But some Hurriyat leaders have participated in the dialogue before. Why not now?
If you go back and see, three important leaders have been talking to [the] government of India. It started with Shabeer Ahmed Shah, then Yasin Malik, then Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. What were the results? We got nothing. Not even confidence-building measures were given, forget azaadi (independence). There is only one thing on their mind – to discredit the separatist leadership among Kashmiris.
So you’re saying that if Geelani and Mirwaiz had met the delegation, it would have discredited them?
No, not just discredit. It would have not served any purpose. Firstly, the ones who came to meet had no mandate. Secondly, they were not [representatives of] the government of India talking. Thirdly, the government did not create a conducive atmosphere. You put leaders in jail like putting animals in a zoo and just want to go take a photograph there. It is not done. There should have been some groundwork done, [create a] peaceful atmosphere, ban of pellet guns, then only you can talk. The day the delegation announced it’s coming, that day also we had two killings and 600 injured. In such turmoil, how can you talk with a free mind?
Without talks, won’t this atmosphere of violence continue?
Many people in the Hurriyat believed in talks. Even after a war, I would say there should be dialogue. But India is to blame for making us lose faith in this exercise. When some of us talked to India in 2010, we were trying a softer approach, but the government didn’t do as promised. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq lost his uncle – unidentified gunmen shot him when he talked to India. His house was attacked. I was fired at twice. Another colleague, Qureshi, is paralysed because of a bullet in his head. So, we have suffered for talks, we have taken great personal risks.
We talked to [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee, and [L.K.] Advani, then Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram. But what were the results? Not even a change in AFSPA or investigation of human rights violations. Due to their insincerity and betrayal, they have pushed away even those leaders who were willing to engage with [the] government of India.
The home minister seems to have taken a tougher stand after the talks were boycotted. Will you not be blamed for putting more Kashmiris in the line of fire?
This time, things are different. People are coming to the leadership this time. It is not the leadership that is pushing people. People are coming to our houses and saying, please, we don’t want this to stop, we want an outcome this time. Don’t betray us, they are saying. It’s now or never – this is the mood of the people.
Aren’t there already too many deaths and injuries?
Yes, it is painful. But this is the mood of the people on the streets. The leadership is just following this cue.
The narrative by the Indian government now is that they tried to meet you, but you refused.
The Centre will blame us for spoiling the talks, we know that. But we say, implement some solutions already discussed from these earlier meetings. Show some sincerity now, do something on the ground, create the ground for dialogue.
What are some of these measures you want implemented immediately?
Stop the [use of] pellet guns, people are suffering. [The] home minister says ‘we will introduce PAVA chilli-based shells but we will not stop pellet guns’. What does it convey? How do you expect any social commitment from the common people or leadership then?
The government of India and the Hurriyat now stand with absolutist positions. How can we move forward?
There is always a meeting point. But the question is why are the basic confidence-building measures not done? For instance, removal of AFSPA, ban of pellet guns, removal of bunkers from city or fewer army camps next to villages. These are small steps for a big country like India. And today the armed forces, who are on the ground, are also seeing the need for political resolution. Do these [things] first for the common Kashmiri. Till then we cannot reach a meeting point.
A more nationalistic government is in power today under the BJP. Does this make a Kashmir solution harder to achieve?
Under the Vajpayee government in India and General Pervez Musharraf [government] in Pakistan, we had some talks. That was the first and only time we felt a ray of hope. But Musharraf was sabotaged by his subordinates. And Vajpayee also couldn’t handle the hawks within the BJP. Since then, we have lost hope and expectation. As for the present regime, look at the radicalisation they’re creating in both Hindus and Muslims. Since they assumed power, India’s global record of human rights and freedom of expression has fallen and they are trapped in so many of their own problems. So, I don’t think there are any expectations from this regime. But I will be happy if they surprise us.
Can the elected state government negotiate for these changes?
The Kashmir state governments have always been under the Centre, whether it was [the] National Conference under the Congress or now [the] People’s Democratic Party under the BJP. If we have an elected chief minister, then she should have been able to handle things, but things are different in Kashmir because there is 100% interference from [the] Centre.
Some Kashmiri separatists have been pro-Pakistan, some pro-India. How do you expect the government to deal with these factions?
You’re right, there were some who didn’t believe in talks. And some of us believed in talks. But the Indian government, by its callous behaviour, has proved that the ones refusing talks were right. They have proved Geelani right and Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz wrong. But this time there is no confusion of independent or pro-Pakistan. This is the first time all the leadership is united.
What is your united demand?
Whatever comes, all the three parties, India, Pakistan and Kashmir stakeholders, will have to sit together and start talking seriously for a Kashmir solution.