Conflict Foreign Affairs

‘If Kashmiris want to stay with India, we have no issues’

Pakistan Kashmir Affairs minister Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo tells Kunal Majumder that only talks can resolve the vexed issue

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that the Kashmir issue would have to be resolved through dialogue. In the past 65 years, we have seen several rounds of talks. But there’s been no real progress. How optimistic are you now?
In the Shimla agreement, both countries had decided that the Kashmir issue will be resolved through dialogue, not through any form of aggression. Pakistan has always maintained that the issue can be resolved when the Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri leadership sit together and talk. Gilani’s statement should be welcomed. During their meetings, both the prime ministers have agreed on the need to continue talking. The ongoing composite dialogues are the result. Manmohan Singh has himself accepted that Kashmir will be a part of these composite dialogues. This is a victory for both sides and shows their seriousness in resolving the Kashmir issue as well as others.

But why don’t these dialogues ever succeed?
India says that Kashmir is an integral part of the country. Many people in Pakistan ask us, ‘Why do you want to engage in dialogue with India when it claims Kashmir is an integral part?” So I tell them that if Manmohan Singh has agreed to talk with Gilani on all issues including Kashmir, then he must have accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory. This means the will to resolve the issue is already there.

Gilani says Pakistan cannot afford to have another war on Kashmir. So does it also mean cessation of terror activities from Pakistani soil against India?
Both Pakistan and India can’t afford another war. We already had three wars. Neither the people of Pakistan nor the people of India can afford another confrontation, especially when both of us are nuclear states. War is always a failure of wisdom. Even people of Pakistan have accepted the way ahead is through dialogue. We are bound by the Shimla agreement to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue. We want to raise this issue at international platforms to make India realise that it cannot control Kashmir through armed forces. If the majority Muslim community doesn’t want to stay with India, how long can you keep them? In spite of so many troops in Kashmir, people are protesting. It is costing India a lot. India might be developing but what about the poverty in Kashmir?

India has always maintained that there have been democratic elections in Kashmir for the past 65 years and therefore Kashmiris have accepted Indian democracy.
If India is so convinced, then why doesn’t it conduct a plebiscite? Let Kashmiris decide if they want to be with India, Pakistan or become independent. If Kashmiris want to stay with India, let them be. We will have no problem.

Time and again India has pointed out that many terror groups are active in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Some extremists like Hafiz Saeed have openly spoken against India. If not war, aren’t these also forms of aggression?
Have any terror groups been functioning from there now? Since the Gilani government came to power, has any terror group attacked India? This is the result of democracy. Democracy believes in negotiations and dialogue.

Can we get an assurance from Pakistan that your Kashmir policy will not involve supporting state or non-state actors in any form of violence against India?
The Gilani government is not supporting any actors in any kind of violence against India.

Published in Tehelka:

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