SRINAGAR: India and Pakistan have squandered a lot of good chances to resolve the Kashmir issue, but there are still opportunities, former chief minister Omar Abdullah has said.
He outlined the need for a dialogue process both internally as well as externally to address the issue, saying the solution cannot be driven by the barrel of the gun.
“There are clearly two dimensions (to Kashmir issue). It is not simply a matter between New Delhi and JK, nor is it a matter between Islamabad and JK. A part of the state continues to remain with Pakistan and I belong to the part of the state that is with India, that acceded to India. So when we come to the way forward, both these dimensions of the problem will have to be tackled,” he said.
He was speaking at an event on the path forward in Kashmir at University of Berkeley in California in the US last week.
His speech was followed by a question and answer session where he spoke on varied topics, including on the current political situation in the country and the run-up to the general elections next year.
Abdullah, the working president of the opposition National Conference (NC), wondered if the time had come to ask are we being overly ambitious and overly emotional in talking of getting Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) back.
Referring to the Kargil war of 1999 between the two neighbours, he said that even with the greatest of provocations that time, India respected the sanctity of the Line of Control (LoC).
“In spite of the fact that we took losses on account of that, there were express instructions by the government of India that Indian planes and helicopters will not cross the LoC, that Indian troops will not cross the LoC. So, imagine even if with the provocation of Kargil we decided to respect the sanctity of the LoC, haven’t we somewhere or the other, decided that perhaps this is the way and let’s move forward,” he said.
In this context, he said one of the ways to move forward is to sit down with Pakistan and once and for all, address this issue.
“We can’t do it with the international mediation. I think mediation is a word that particularly people in India have a lot of suspicion about. But facilitation is not something that we have a problem with. Perhaps friends in the right places can facilitate this process between India and Pakistan and address some of the suspicions that we have.
I believe that we came incredibly close during the time of (former Pakistan president) General Pervez Musharraf first with (former) Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then with (ex-PM) Manmohan Singh, but time ran out for us because it took so long to finally put aside our suspicions of Musharraf as the architect of Kargil War that by the time we realised he was somebody we need to do business with, he wasn’t nearly as powerful as we needed him to be, he said.
He, however, said there still was scope for forward movement.
“…I don’t believe that all opportunities have been lost, but we have squandered a lot of good chances and I hope we don’t do that going ahead,” he said.
Without naming the separatists, Abdullah called for an internal dialogue with all shades of opinion.
The path forward has to start from the dialogue process both internally as well as externally. It has to take in all shades of opinion. It is no good that the government of India often hides behind this false screen that they create that let Kashmiris first agree on something and then we will talk. Look, Kashmir is not going to uniformly agree on one thing, no matter what solution you work out whether it’s part of something similar to Musharraf’s four-point formula or it is drastically different from that.
The fact is that you are not going to get a 100 per cent of population to agree on anything and therefore the effort has to be to bring in the majority of the population into whatever you agree and that can only be possible if we involve, in the dialogue process, those people, who at the moment we not only do disagree with but have kept away from that dialogue process. So, if we can agree to start talking to each other, start listening to each other rather than talking at each other, we can start addressing some of these problems, he said.
The NC working president said the state is facing a very unusual situation as the number of youths willing to pick up arms in the valley is more than the number of weapons actually available and stressed the need for political and economic measures to wean them away.
“We need to create economic opportunities for the state. We need to create a promise of better future for the youngsters who are today being drawn to pick up the gun. It is a very unusual situation that we have in JK today where there are more youngsters willing to pick up the guns than there are actually guns available.
And that sentiment needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed both politically and in terms of giving them opportunities. Opportunities in education, opportunities in employment and hopefully creating avenues and opportunities for them beyond the boundaries of the state,” he said.