In conversation with Asaduddin Owaisi on his experiences in the recent all-party delegation to Kashmir and how he thinks peace could be restored in the Valley.
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi was part of the recent all-party delegation that visited Kashmir. As part of an initiative to diffuse the ongoing crisis in Kashmir, the delegation submitted many recommendations. Owaisi himself made a list of suggestions to the central government. He told the media that ‘alienation of people’ and a ‘lack of governance’ are the biggest factors that have precipitated an unforeseen unrest in Kashmir. In the aftermath of the attack on the Uri army base camp, Owaisi is of the opinion that the government should now actively engage in the twin pursuits of aggressively fighting terrorism and take people of Kashmir into confidence. The Wire caught up with him to discuss what his experiences were like in Kashmir and how he thinks peace could be restored in the Valley.
The terror attack on Uri has further heightened tension in Kashmir. How do you think the government should move ahead?
There is no doubt that terrorism has to be fought head on. There cannot be any compromise as far as fidayeen attacks are concerned. All parties are at a consensus that there cannot be any compromise. We agree with the government on this. But it must weigh all the options – military, diplomatic, economic – before deciding on its course of action.
While the Centre weighs its options, questions have also been raised about India’s military capabilities in handling such attacks. Many defence experts also blamed the finance ministry for not allotting enough funds to protect the Uri base.
Even when the parliament complex was attacked, the army was alerted. But nothing happened after that. The long-pending standing committee report on defence talks about modernisation of defence and various such issues. But no headway has been made. It has not been implemented. We must find out what are the lacunae. How did these terrorists breach the perimeter in both Uri and Pathankot? The government should do some introspection. Even V.K. Singh, retired army chief and now a minister of state in the cabinet, has also talked about identifying the lacunae. We must protect our air bases, army camps and naval bases.
I was reading an article in DNA which lists out the number of fidayeen attacks in the last two decades. It gives a comparative picture of such attacks from Vajpayee’s regime to the Modi government. And I was amazed to see that no such incident was reported only in the two-year period – 2011 and 2012.
So I feel even if the government does not want to discuss the issue of terrorism in the parliament, it should call an all-party meeting to get suggestions. I feel it should be a united fight.
The BJP leaders have been taking aggressive stands on the issue but has not done enough to prevent such attacks. Ram Madhav said he wants the ‘complete jaw for one tooth’. What do you think?
Well, Mr. Modi too had made a lot of strong statements before. Sushma Swaraj, too, reacting to one such incident had also asked ten heads for one head. However, in the last two years, the government has not been able to prevent attacks in Uri, Pathankot, Udhampur, Pampore, also consulates in Afghanistan to name a few. I am sure they will not take any action before weighing all the aspects of the offensive.
The war rhetoric on social media, considered to be fuelled by the Sangh parivar, has communal overtones. What do you have to say?
Fighting against terrorism can only be successful if everyone comes on one platform. One cannot view it as an issue of Hindus, Muslims or Dalits. And the Sangh parivar should not, at least when it comes to fighting terrorism, polarise on communal lines. They are not the only nationalists. The scourge of terrorism affects everybody. They should stop this ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude.
The Uri attack has happened at a time when there is an unprecedented crisis in the state. You were part of the all-party delegation that recently visited Jammu and Kashmir to consult various stakeholders in the Valley. What is your assessment of the situation?
The situation is very bad. More than two months have past but there is hardly any improvement. More than 80 deaths have taken place. More than 8000 people have been injured. Things are not looking to improve.
We met political representatives of various political parties, as well as members of many civil society organisations, based in Kashmir. A group of MPs and I, on our own volition, met Mirwaiz (Umar Farooq), Shabir Shah, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat (All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders) but they refused to talk about the Kashmir issue.
I am of the opinion that there were already tell-tale signs of this crisis brewing that the government didn’t notice earlier. When Mufti sahab [Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, People Democratic Party leader and former J&K chief minister] died, only a few people participated in his funeral. On the same day, thousands of people went for a militant’s namaaz-e-janaaza (funeral procession) in south Kashmir. Secondly, one must ask why did it take nearly three months for Mehbooba Mufti to take over as chief minister? Clearly, things were not going in the right direction.
Earlier, during the UPA government, Chidambaram did not want to table the interlocutors’ report in parliament. It was thrown in the dustbin. Later, he wrote an article saying ‘I wish I could have implemented it’.
And now since the state government did not have their ears to the ground, we have a uncontrollable situation at hand.
Despite widespread criticisms of the way the crisis was handled, the Modi government has only given signals that it will not budge from its aggressive posturing on the Kashmir issue. Critics have said such aggression might alienate the people of the Valley further. What do you think?
Well, when Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and some others were presenting his views to the all-party delegation, they said very clearly that (protest) fatigue is not going to set in soon in the Valley this time. There is a huge difference between what happened in 2010 and what is going on now.
I had given certain suggestions to the government after I came back from the Valley. Firstly, the government should form an independent fact-finding mission, members of which should not be from either the BJP or Congress. Let it go and talk to people in Jammu, Ladakh, and the Kashmir Valley. Secondly, a time-bound inquiry commission should be set up, headed by someone like former chief justice of India K.G Balakrishnan. Thirdly, the government should give life-long compensation to people who have been fully blinded or partially blinded by pellet guns. Fourthly, a Braille school should be opened for them in Srinagar.
Compensation should also be given to families of those who lost their lives in the ongoing agitations. Kashmir Valley could be made a trade hub. One of my thoughts was to boost the apple trade in the Valley. The government should also provide for transportation facilities for that.
Another suggestion I made was that there is this Lakshadweep administrator called Farooq Khan, who has filed a case in the J&K high court challenging provisions of Article 370. He is a BJP man. The party can tell him to withdraw the petition.
The RSS has also filed a case under the name of Jammu Kashmir Study Circle about Article 35 (A), which is about the citizenship issue. The government can tell it to withdraw the case.
These are steps which can build confidence among Kashmiri people.
Finally, I think the Union home minister should invite editors of the four important newspapers of the Valley – Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma, Kashmir Times – and listen to their views. Unfortunately, Mr. Chidambaram stopped advertisements from DAVP to them. So, you know, a dialogue process must start.
You are also pointing fingers at the Congress for its problematic role in Kashmir. How do you compare the previous UPA regime with the Modi government?
You know, I can only tell you one thing. I met a few young men in 2010 at Hazratbal shrine. They were a group of protestors who came and spoke to me. I vividly remember one of them telling me that you only remember Kashmir when it is in flames. You forget Kashmir when it is in peace. This is what has happened under successive governments. That is also big contributing factor in what we are facing today.
In the last few days, we have seen stories that narrate the use of excessive force by the government in Kashmir.
The pellet guns should be dropped completely. Let the government make a statement that it is not going to use it. Every alternate day, you are seeing deaths, injuries, people getting blinded. I seriously don’t know what the government is thinking. There seems to be a total confusion within its ranks.
Much of the campaign of the BJP on Kashmir’s crisis has been around the point that Pakistan is provoking and fuelling the ongoing protest in the Valley. What is your take on it?
Then why has (Tareeq Hameed) Karra resigned? Why did Muzaffar Hussain Baig make this statement recently that if our agenda of alliance is not implemented properly, then Mehbooba Mufti should reconsider being in power. These are leaders from PDP, a party which is now a partner to the BJP in the state.
Why is that when their own agenda of alliance (between the PDP and BJP) talks about so many confidence-building measures, the state government has implemented nothing mentioned in the agenda. It doesn’t want to talk about it.
Pakistan will always fish in troubled waters. But what have you done at your end?
What, according to you, is the role of the PDP in the crisis?
Let me tell you, with the limited knowledge of Kashmir that I have, that political parties have lost immense political ground in Kashmir. That is not at all good for peace in Valley. The majority of protests and deaths have happened in PDP’s stronghold of south Kashmir. In the process, National Conference, Congress and many other parties have lost support. Now we are seeing trouble brewing in the Jammu region too. Someone had sacrificed a camel. The so-called gau-rakshaks have made an issue out of it. So an environment of distrust is also being seen there.
Do you think the PDP-BJP alliance is unnatural, full of contradictions?
Well, I can only tell you that this alliance has not been able to govern properly. It has failed to deliver. If they had done what they had promised in their agenda, the situation wouldn’t have been so bad.
It was the PDP which said they will have to stop the BJP’s electoral campaign of ‘Mission 44’. It was the late Mufti Sahab who said they will have to stop the BJP at any cost. And then when it went for an alliance with the BJP, Mufti Sahab in the presence of Modi said that he would like to thank his friends across the border and the separatists. This gesture itself is inimical to the BJP. There will always be trouble-makers. But it is us who will have to one step ahead of them and stop such forces.
What was your interaction like with Hurriyat leaders?
Mehbooba ji invited them as the president of PDP, not as a chief minister. I don’t know why that was done. You invite them by keeping them in jail or in house arrest. Anyway, when I and another group of MPs met them, they said they have taken a stand that we would not speak about Kashmir. They were very upset and angry. I don’t see it as a snub. Even if it is a snub, it does not matter. At the end of the day, when we say that Kashmir is an integral part of India, so those Kashmiris are also integral. Even if they are upset, you will have to speak to them. They will also have to speak to the government.
In a show on NDTV, I have clearly said that I would like them to be a part of the discussion. I also offered my condolences for people who lost their lives. I also apologised for such losses in my individual capacity as a member of parliament. Now it is for the government to think what they really want to do.
When they say extremist ideologies have taken over Kashmir, I would like to remind them of October 2003 when one such person was a state guest of Raj Bhawan. And now you have cancelled his FCRA license. It is amazing how the governments have had no consistent stand.
Many have criticised the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that gives undue privilege to the military and police. Do you think it must be reviewed?
The government should do many things. The bottom line is that it should apply its mind. Yes, it should employ soft measures first. For the first time, everything was completely shut down on Eid. AFSPA can be reviewed. The state government’s agenda mentions it clearly. Pellet guns should be dropped. It should start talking to all stakeholders. The all-party delegation has given its suggestions and recommendations. Normalcy has to be restored quickly.