World, Asia - Pacific

‘Plan to form joint front of Kashmiri leaders across LoC’

In exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Azad Kashmir premier says it is time to break Line of Control like Berlin Wall

Iftikhar Gilani   | 11.12.2019
‘Plan to form joint front of Kashmiri leaders across LoC’

MUZAFFARABAD, Azad Jammu and Kashmir 

Just opposite the mountainous Muzaffarabad city center that houses the Turkish built Osmania Masjid, is the official residence of prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

In its lush green lawns overlooking River Neelam, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan, 64, told Anadolu Agency that fate of his administrative region is linked with Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, which lies behind the nearby hillock.

Belonging to a political family, Khan represents Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the region.

Last year in September, he had a narrow escape when his helicopter came under fire from the Indian army when he was travelling to a village near Line of Control (LoC) that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Tensions between India and Pakistan are forcing people in the region to live on a razor-edge. Sharing many insights, Khan said it is time to form an umbrella that includes the AJK government and representatives of resistance leaders from Indian-administered Kashmir to reach out to the international community, to press upon India and Pakistan to come on a negotiation table, to settle the Kashmir issue which is haunting peace in South Asia.

Anadolu Agency (AA): What has been the effect of India’s Aug. 5 decision of revoking autonomy to its part of Kashmir on your region?

Raja Farooq Haider Khan (RFHK): Our fate is linked with India occupied Kashmir. We belong to the same stock. Whatever happens there, we feel pain. I myself belong to a divided family. Our resistance history is 400-year-old. What happened on Aug. 5 has huge repercussions on this part of Kashmir. People here are highly disturbed. My electoral constituency touches the LoC. Some youth from the area came and abused me. They tried to shame me that I am sitting cozy in my office, and does not bother what is happening on the other side. They were asking me to come out of the office and lead them to cross the LoC. I tried to make them understand that it has consequences. We definitely shall march towards the LoC. Nobody will prevent us from doing so. Entire Jammu and Kashmir state is very particular about its character and identity. Now our identity, culture, dress, dietary habits, language is under attack. It is not only political battle, but question of our civilizational existence.

An Indian diplomat said quite explicitly that when Israel can do demographic changes in the Middle East and bring settlements, why cannot India do in Kashmir?

In my part of Kashmir, people feel helpless. They are sentimental. They are thinking of ways to help their brethren across. India has balkanized our state. Now I am hearing they are dividing it further.

Pakistan has some international commitments which has tied our hands. Otherwise, people from this side would have marched towards the LoC and crossed the bloody line to come to the rescue of their brothers. There is passion here to cross the LoC and break it like Germans tore down the Berlin wall. This line will definitely end.

Q: What is the road map that you have envisaged to tackle the crises?

RFHK: We need to unite at this moment on a common minimum program. We must focus on demanding right to self-determination. We should not allow any distraction at this moment. That will harm us. I am proposing that the AJK government and the representatives of the resistance movement in Indian part of Kashmir should come under a common umbrella. You must understand Kashmir is not a territorial issue. It is about the right to self-determination. It is important that we change our strategy and keep the real party that is Kashmiris on the front. When the Palestine Liberation Organization got observer status at the UN, they even did not had control on the West Bank at that time. We are fortunate enough; we have liberated part of Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan with us.

Q: There was not much success at the diplomatic level, except few voices here and there. What is your plan to make world aware about Kashmir situation?

RFHK: Our President Masood Khan is an ace diplomat. He has worked on many diplomatic assignments before becoming president. Yes, Organization of Islamic Cooperation disappointed us. But Turkey, Malaysia, Iran and China were steadfast in supporting us. That was a source of encouragement. If we keep governments aside, we got huge support from public in France, Holland, Germany, Spain and many other countries. We now need to use this sympathy to take our issue in their national parliaments. Policies are made in capitals, not at the UN or at the EU headquarters or at any multilateral forums.

Our target is to unite diaspora in the world capitals. Our problem was that AJK and Indian part of Kashmir diaspora was never united or on the same page. India’s actions have raised anxiety levels in the AJK, even among those who are not part of divided families and had no concern earlier with people from across the LoC. Since Indian leaders have repeatedly shown intent to annex this part of Kashmir as well and hoist their flag at Muzaffarabad, it has perturbed them.

On human rights issue, we have full support. World capitals are unanimous on this issue. Now we need to make it understood that this human rights issue is linked with a political issue.

We have to tell the world that if you do any agreement with India, incorporate a clause to make it imperative for India to respect human rights. Indian jails are like Guantanamo Bay for Kashmiris. As per my knowledge, youth in Kashmir are under tremendous psychological pressure. What is happening there has huge impact on their psychology. Even Israel is not doing this with Palestinians.

Q: India has recently issued a new map of Jammu and Kashmir where your region of Kashmir has been shown as part of India.

RFHK: It does not affect us. This LoC or cease-fire line has not sanctity for us. I will tell you with certainty that we are just awaiting India to launch an attack. We want them to initiate to cross the LoC. Then you will see. It will be a repeat of first Afghan war, when just two British soldiers could have returned to their base in Jalalabad. I am awaiting them. Let the blame of crossing the LoC not rest with us. There are people living ahead of military posts along the LoC.

The 5-kilometer-wide (3 miles) strip along the LoC inhabits a population of 610,000. Within 500 meters (1,640 feet) strip there is a population of 103,000. This population is ready for any eventuality. There are further 4.5 million people in other regions ready to take on Indian advances. Majority of population here are mountain dwellers. They know well what to do in a war. We do not need to train them. They know how to respond. They are in a battle-ready position.

Q: From 2005 to 2008, many confidence building measures (CBMs) were taken to allow people from two parts of Kashmir to meet and trade. What is the position of these CBMs now?

RFHK: India has stopped cross-LoC trade. I had told my staff to inquire of other side of Kashmir why it happened. Then I came to know that the Indian government was not comfortable with this trade and contacts across the LoC. These contacts had given strength to Kashmiri people and fomented a bond between the two parts. It had strengthened identity of Kashmiris. That was a source of concern for them [Indians]. We had succeeded to convince governments of India and Pakistan to allow Kashmiris to travel without using passports. It is weakness of India that they stopped this trade.

Q: Is there any chance of revival of these CBMs?

RFHK: In fact, I wanted to travel to the other part of Kashmir. But I will never go there on passport. Because that is my own part. I belong to that part of Kashmir. How can I travel to my own land using passport of any country? After the Aug. 5 decision, I am skeptical on the mode of document that will be used for a cross-LoC travel. Since India has abolished separate and dual citizenship of Kashmiris, I am not sure how this travel contact will operate now. We still have domicile or state subject here in our part of Kashmir. But India has abolished it.

Q: Many Indian leaders are now saying that middle ground in Kashmir has been eliminated. You had friends for pro-India leadership of other part of Kashmir, what is your advice to them?

RFHK: There is no question that Kashmir is a Muslim majority state. But it has a sizable Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh population. There are different ethnicities also. But we are one as inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir. I am happy that even Hindu brethren in Jammu have also realized ulterior designs of New Delhi. In Israel, indigenous Arab Jews are treated second-class citizens. And those who came from outside particularly from Europe are calling shots. A similar situation is happening in Indian part of Kashmir. I want to tell people in Jammu that we are one. Our interests are common. We should not get carried away by New Delhi which has off and on deceived Jammu and Kashmir leadership.

It is also time for pro-India leadership like National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party to introspect. India has one face for world community, but a different face for Kashmiris. It is time for the NC to return to form a Plebiscite Front, which its late leader Sheikh Abdullah was leading prior to 1975 till he became chief minister. If they do so and demand right to self-determination, they will get admiration. Otherwise, history will not forgive them.

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