File photo of Farooq Abdullah. Photograph:( Zee News Network )
'Article 370 was brought to safeguard the interest. You cannot buy lands in Arunachal Pradesh or North East too,' Abdullah told WION's Kartikeya Sharma.
Former Union Minister and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah spoke to WION on a number of issues ranging from Pakistan, Kashmir to threat to his life. Abdullah insisted that talks with Pakistan should be resumed and advocated for an open border. He said that new government has taken the oath in Pakistan and both India and Pakistan must make some hard choices. He also said that the matter of the security at his residence should be looked into.
WION: Prime Minister Modi spoke about local poll bodies in Kashmir. Is it a good idea and can they be held peacefully?
Farooq Abdullah: A Panchayat is a basic democratic institution. Let people look after their affairs instead of government officers. I think Panchayat elections should be held. I held them under terrible circumstances. There will be some tragedies. Those who do not want elections will try to see they do not succeed. I think it is a good idea and elections must be held.
WION: What needs to be done so that things return to normal in Kashmir?
Farooq Abdullah: There are a number of things that need to be done. People want peace in Kashmir and peace will not flow from the barrel of the gun. It has to come by talking to the neighbour who is promoting unrest in the Valley. Unless Pakistan is brought on the table, the situation will not improve. New Prime Minister of Pakistan is taking over today and his utterances have been very good. I hope we would reciprocate, we should try to find a way out.
WION: Why are you saying that peace in the Kashmir is impossible without Pakistan’s cooperation?
Farooq Abdullah: Who started this whole thing? How did it grow? Where are these people trained? It cannot be ignored that Pakistan is very much part of it. Pakistan also has grievances and they can be settled by sitting across the table. Shri Vajpayee tried but lost the 2004 elections. Things could have been better if he had been involved a bit longer. We have to work on those lines.
WION: What grievances can Pakistan have?
Farooq Abdullah: Grievances are there and cannot be won by the use of the force. Force will not give you the result. Let’s find out what is pinching your foot?
WION: Whom do you talk to in Pakistan? Imran Khan or Army?
Farooq Abdullah: Imran Khan has just taken the oath. The party that helped him come to power is the Army and let’s be frank about it. If Imran Khan makes the right moves then Army will support him. I’m not saying that PM’s should talk. Let other people talk and prepare the ground so that PMs could talk one day. I’m not saying that it should be like the Agra Summit which took place after Kargil and did not produce any result.
WION: Modi made overtures. Met Nawaz Sharif. Look where Sharif has ended?
Farooq Abdullah: Why only Nawaz? Zardari is also on the mat. It is their problem. Just because you had dinner with the PM does not mean that the problem is solved. It has to be solved at the table. They claim entire Kashmir and we claim what they possess. How can we come out of it? Entire SAARC is held to ransom because of this problem.
WION: You have often spoken about the LoC being given a sanctity of a border. Is it workable?
Farooq Abdullah: What about Ireland? Look at them today, they have no borders. People work across the border and use different currencies. If there is a will there will be a way. Both the sides need to be willing.
WION: Who needs to make an overture?
Farooq Abdullah: Who makes an overture is not important, the point is that we need a way forward. We are just destroying each other and we need to put an end to it. India needs to focus on better things. There is poverty to fight.
WION: How did stone pelting start in the valley? It was not there 5 years back.
Farooq Abdullah: We need to get to the bottom of it. But has there been any political meeting of a party with the present the government? Changing CM’s way does not solve the situation. A dialogue is the only way forward.
WION: Kashmir also has an interlocutor?
Farooq Abdullah: Have you heard anything from the interlocutor? What has happened to the previous interlocutors? Nothing has been done on the report they produced. Similarly, the Vora report too is gathering dust. These reports should be tabled in the Parliament. Why cannot India see them? We are not anti-India, we are part of India. Rounds of shells are being fired across the border and in the process civilians and soldiers of both sides are dying. Foreign power is making money by selling guns to both of us.
WION: Is the present violence a fallout of PDP-BJP alliance?
Farooq Abdullah: I don’t want to talk about it. The question is, has it brought people together and made India stronger? Or has it divided India and divided them into Hindus and Muslims? Are we dividing India further?
WION: Is mainstream politics impacting Kashmiri discourse?
Farooq Abdullah: I think so. Media too has its responsibility. Kashmir is being boiled down to fight between terrorists and Army. But Kashmiri Muslims performing last rites of a pandit in the valley, as he does not have relatives, is not shown. Hatred is being promoted and this needs to be curbed.
WION: What is the principal objection of the National Conference on Article 34(A)?
Farooq Abdullah: We are opposed to any change, it is our faith. Our faith is article 370 through which J&K joined India. We never merged with India, other states merged with India, J&K joined India it could have gone to Pakistan. Article 370 was brought to safeguard the interest. You cannot buy lands in Arunachal Pradesh or North East too.
WION: What explains the push for 35(A)? An imagination that the process of an amalgamation of Kashmir with India is an unfinished business?
Farooq Abdullah: Aren’t we part of India? We are part of India and that is where the battle lie. It is the feeling in some people that we are not part of India. This feeling should be taken out of them. We are as much a part of India as any person from another state.
WION: What is the difference of approach between the present government and the one run by Vajpayee Ji when it comes to Kashmir?
Farooq Abdullah: Vajpayee ji was a different man. He fought my father, he was from RSS but he knew that if India has to move forward then it has to move forward with everyone. He fought RSS from inside asking them to change with time. He was strong and that is why his name was Atal. He could take decisions which no one could take.
When the Kargil war took place, I went to meet Vajpayee with a General of 15th Corp. Pakistani soldiers were sitting in our bunkers. The commanders told me that they would win but lose a lot of people if the Air Force is not used. They argued that mountains are bare and the movement of soldiers is taking place at night.
I saw the IAF Chief going out, but when I told him this, he said, "it needs to be done."
Vajpayee called back the IAF chief. The Chief said that if we use the Air Force then it will escalate the war and all borders will open up. Vajpayee said that when Pakistanis walked miles insides out territory did they not think that it will open up the borders?
He asked him to do whatever is necessary and use whatever he has. Musharraf had to run to Clinton. He lost the battle of Kashmir that day. He had to accept that it was them fighting in Kashmir and not the jihadis. Musharraf had to ask Clinton to tell India that they want to withdraw.
WION: How do you remember Vajpayee? There were talks that you would become the Vice President of the country?
Farooq Abdullah: That was not in my fate. He was a great man, he was sensitive and talked straight. He knew how to live life.
WION: Did you share his love of food?
Farooq Abdullah: Whenever he went abroad he would take people accompanying him to the best and choicest of the eating houses. He ran a coalition of 23 parties and it is not a joke. I don’t think that anyone can do it ever again. He ran it very smoothly.
WION: Is the perception of terrorist vs Army discourse stalling the talks in Kashmir?
Farooq Abdullah: When firing happens or pelting happens, what happens? Forces enter homes, things are broken. You antagonize people. This makes them feel that they have nowhere to go. You make enemies.
WION: Forces are also getting attacked by stone pelters and people give cover to terrorists when operations are on?
Farooq Abdullah: You cannot win people like this. Infiltration continues. One day the dam would burst. One day escalation between the two nations will become too big to handle.
WION: It is not easy to talk to a country which perpetrated 26/11? Is it a hard choice?
Farooq Abdullah: It is not a simple choice, it is a hard choice. It is neither a simple choice for Pakistan who has been telling their people for the past 70 years that Kashmir belongs to them. Can a Pakistani PM say that territory with India does not belong to them? Can an Indian PM say that let Pakistan keep the other part of Kashmir? Is it even possible? That is why it is a hard choice.
WION: There are people within India who have grievances. Kashmiri Pandits have not be resettled
Farooq Abdullah: There are Kashmiri Pandits in villages. There are a lot of factors. Are Kashmiri pandits willing to go back? They have settled in various parts of the country. When Gujral was the PM, we made a plan to get them back but Ganderbal tragedy happened. So, we need to get Pakistan on the table.
WION: Is it possible to conduct free and fair elections in Kashmir?
Farooq Abdullah: Elections need to be conducted. You cannot give in. I won my election but Anantnag election was stayed. Democracy needs to survive.
WION: What was the reason behind it?
Farooq Abdullah: You ask people. Do not withdraw from the election, that is my motto. Democratic institutions need to be strengthened.
WION: How do you conduct elections when most of the political stakeholders cannot move around freely?
Farooq Abdullah: Out of 1000, 10 will vote. These institutions need to be strengthened.
WION: Kashmir hops from one election to another without democracy percolating down
Farooq Abdullah: Why are you worried. It will percolate, you cannot give in. Democratic institutions cannot be killed. There are turbulent times but does not mean that turbulence will remain all the time.
WION: Is 'Grand Alliance' a great idea?
Farooq Abdullah: Opposition is required in a democracy. If you have a strong Opposition it can check the government. When I came to power in 1996 with a huge majority, a lot of people wanted to join my party. I would ask them not to do so because an Opposition was required. Even if the BJP wins the election, Opposition emerges in a bigger number, it will be good for the country.
WION: Has Rahul Gandhi come of age?
Farooq Abdullah: The Same question was asked of Rajiv Gandhi. People would say that how will a pilot run the country. People gain experience over time, he will also learn. PM Modi also learnt as CM.
WION: A man was shot inside your residence in J&K. Do you think your life is in danger?
Farooq Abdullah: I don’t know. I faced death. A man enter my house when I was not there, Omar was also not present. The matter must be probed. How could he enter from the gate without any damage to his vehicle? He drove all the way in and walked right to the front door of my house.
He broke things and started to climb stairs to our bedrooms, it was strange. How did he have the knowledge of the house? Who is behind it? Was it a recce that something like this could be done in the future? This is when I have all the protection. How did he get in? Something is behind it and it must be probed properly.
WION: What is the task of Farooq Abdullah in 2018-19?
Farooq Abdullah: I will continue to work to unite the nation. I want to see an India where hunger does not exist.