No peace, without solving Kashmir
ACROSS THE TABLE
In an exclusive interview with Nisar Ahmad Thokar Greater Kashmir Islamabad Bureau Chief, Raja Muhammad Farooq Khan speaks about the issues relating to region’s internal politics and about various dimensions of Kashmir problem.
Born in a Rajput dynasty in 1955, Raja Muhammad Farooq Khan, the Prime Minister of State Azad Jammu and Kashmir hails from Chikar valley. He received his early education from his hometown (Muzaffarabad) and later graduated from Government College Lahore.
Khan’s father Raja Haider Khan was an active worker of Muslim Conference. Owing to his years’ long political struggle and affiliation with the party he was elected as president of Muslim Conference twice. Following his death in 1966, Sardar Abdul Qayyum was elected as the president of the Party.
Saeda Khanum, the mother of Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider, hailed from Down Town Srinagar. In late 40s Khanum was married to Raja Haider Khan, who was then serving as an officer in Forest Department. Khanam had the privilege to be the first ever women legislator of AJK. In 1970 she was elected as member of AJK Legislative Assembly. And his sister Miss Naureen Haider also remained a member of Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly from 1991 to 1996 .
You have recently taken charge as the prime minister of AJK. As chief executive what priorities you have set to ensure good governance to the state?
So far as the issue of social-welfare is concerned, a strong and sustained economy is very essential, for that matter you need some revenue generating projects that enhance your capacity and competence to create job opportunities besides extending economic assistance to the people. As there is increase in the government’s returns, it would certainly have trickle down effects.
To strengthen the economy and to generate economic activity all across the state we have two sectors, Hydel Power Generation and Tourism Sector wherein we can invest to achieve the desired results. So my government’s priority is to concentrate and focus on these two sectors/fields. By developing tourism in the region, economic activity is automatically generated and a common man is benefited directly.
Secondly we have huge water resources; we can utilize these resources and generate surplus electricity by initiating mini projects in the state. After becoming self-sufficient we can sell the rest of our Hydro electricity to Pakistan. The same revenue/returns could be spent on various projects, like health sector, social welfare, education, and judiciary and to improve law and order situation in the state.
To ensure good governance, you need strong institutions and rule of law. However I believe that a government, which is financially sound, can ensure good governance and rule of law.
So you mean rule of law is a key to ensure good governance?
Of course, for any society, the rule of law is paramount for peace, prosperity and economic development. No society or no country can progress unless and until there is supremacy of law. You know there are several European countries where there are not enough natural resources but even then they progressed incredibly because of having a proper system of governance and rule of law. So this is the basic thing that is desperately needed for progress and secondly we want to strengthen the institutions in the region that would certainly help to maintain rule of law.
Do you have any plan to launch mini-projects in AJK?
Yes we are already working on it. Two Hydel projects in Neelum Valley are nearing to their final phase. Moreover, the Asian Development and other international institutions have shown their keenness to help us in this regard. And we are intended to do a lot more so as to give boost to the economy.
Would you give us some insight of the projects, funded by international monetary institutions?
There are various projects underway for which the international donor agencies and monetary institutions have contributed immensely. For instance in rural areas, ADB (Asian Development Bank) is playing an effective role to build back the infrastructure that was terribly ruined due to the deadly earth quake of 2005. Neelum Valley Road andHatian Boys College is being built by ADB under the aegis of Energy Efficiency investment program (EEIP). Likewise we have some educational and health projects and Hospitals for which the friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, UK and other countries have contributed hugely. HUBCO is also setting up a multibillion Hydel power project at New Bong Escape Mirpure.
Similarly the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, UNICEF and other international monetary institutions have greatly been involved in the socio-economic upliftment in the region.
What about accountability?
Well, accountability at all levels is a must as I believe that no system can work effectively unless there is proper accountability. For that purpose we have various accountability institutions like Anti-corruption department, Auditing and Accountability Bureau and even the judiciary is also monitoring the whole system. However, I am not satisfied with their performance and functioning but I think we need to have an effective system to eradicate the corruption. However, my first and foremost priority would be to keep my-self and my cabinet away from this menace.
What steps you have taken to do away with this menace?
As I told you earlier that the government is committed to eradicate corruption both at individual as well as institutional level no matter whosoever is involved in it. In my opinion every one is accountable and answerable to the nation for its actions, whether it is politician or anybody else----for example I would tell you that there is huge corruption in Mirpur development authority and I have decided to make it corruption free and Inshallah you will very soon hear good news in this regard and you will feel the difference----. However we don’t want to harass people but there has to be check and balance so that the people can at least feel that some one is monitoring and supervising their activities.
What were the basic reasons that led to the split of MC and the ouster of two premiers in a short span of time?
Basically MC is a party that follows a certain political ideology and there has been a constant policy, the party is following persistently since a long time. So whenever there was a notion that the party has deviated from its political philosophy, the difference erupted within the ranks and files of the party.
This is all but natural. But one has to bear in mind that whenever there are differences in the party like MC, there is a dire need to look into the reasons that cause discord and disagreement. Previously the main reason of the dissension within the MC was that there was a notion that the party was working against its own policies. Anyways the issue was later resolved amicably as a result the party got united again in October 2009. I believe that democracy and dialogue is must to maintain harmony within party. However, for the larger interests of the region, huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of the party’s top men to keep it intact.
There were speculations that Muslim League (N) would establish its wing in AJK, what is your take on this?
Some people were of the view that if PP extends its setup in AJK then Muslim League (N) should also establish its wing in the region. But when the issue was discussed with PML-N chief and its other leaders they suggested that it is in the interests of the people of the region that the MC being an indigenous party must be strengthened at all levels rather introducing a new organization.
You are strong proponent of amendments in the regions interim constitution. Would you like to share with us what the amendments are relating to?
Basically in 1970 we had presidential form of governance in AJK which was later transformed into parliamentary system through an act popularly known as 1974 Act. It is worth to mention here that in 1973 there has been political disorder when Qadiyanis, (the followers of G A Qadiyani) were officially declared as non-Muslim minority in AJK. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was then the prime minister of Pakistan was not in favour of this decision. Bhutto tried to influence/persuade Sardar Qayyum who was the president as well as the chief executive at that time but the decision could not be reverted. No-confidence motion was set in against the AJK president and even they were planning for the president’s impeachment but that did not happen. Finally Bhutto Sahib felt the need to cut Qayyum down to size besides confining the role of Muslim Conference in the region. As I said, Bhutto Sahib was a person who never tolerated opposition as it was indeed a great challenge for him and therefore under a well thought out policy he constituted Kashmir Council, whose Chairman was supposed to be the prime minister of Pakistan.
Apparently it was a good initiative and every body thought that instead of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs, the administrative issues would be effectively sorted out in the Council. To the contrary Bhutto Sahib smartly managed to inject some important articles in the legislative list of the council. And latter in 1975, elections in AJK were badly rigged, except one independent candidate the entire house was full of PP loyalists. And this PP dominated legislative assembly proved instrumental in seeking some amendments in the constitution. Through these unilaterally adopted amendments the newly introduced council was granted executive authority. For example the council was authorized to appoint superior judiciary and likewise the council’s jurisdiction was extended to other state institutions like Election Commission. You know a sort of impracticable and incredible thing was done as a result the constitution of the region got badly distorted.
Muslim Conference had always been infavour of reviving the constitution in its original shape and that is why the party joined the movement that was launched against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by Pakistan National Alliance headed by Mufti Mehmood. Since then it has been our earnest demand that the unilateral amendments made in the region’s constitution must be withdrawn so as to bring it back to its original shape. Moreover our demand was that other objectionable clauses in the constitution shall be removed. But the issue got delayed when martial Law was imposed in Pakistan. Now that the people inPakistan talk of reviving the 1973 constitution, I have also raised the issue during my recent meeting with Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan. Fortunately a three-member committee has been constituted that will submit a report accordingly.
Moreover, I want the council’s jurisdiction be curtailed so that the AJK government could play its role effectively in managing the political as well as administrative affairs of the region.
Secondly our dealings are directly with the government of Pakistan, for that matter I think there is no need of the council as such it is a sort of extra-constitutional thing but not a part of the Pakistani constitution.
What has been the MC’s role during the ongoing struggle? Is it stuck to its historical slogan?
Historically speaking, the Muslim Conference is one of the political entities of the state that has been playing its pivotal role vis-à-vis the issue of Kashmir and its settlement. Though some people describe it as pro-establishment party but history is witness to the fact that it has always been engaged in defending its ideology. To protect and safeguard the party’s ideology the MC has even occasionally revolted against various governments of Pakistan. However, if any one feels that it should adopt the ideology of JKLF that is impossible.
You know Muslim Conference is the only political entity that in 1947 adopted a historic resolution known as “Accession to Pakistan resolution”. Secondly amongst the two oldest political entities (MC and NC), Muslim Conference is the only mainstream party that being a strong proponent of Kashmiris’ right to self-determination expresses its view point without any ambiguity in an open and independent manner. So for as the Kashmiris’ inborn right is concerned, let me clear that MC on this side of line of control did not allow any kind of polarization we are stick to our principled stance.
So regarding the Kashmiris’ right of self determination Muslim Conference has immensely contributed to highlight the issue both at national as well as the international level. But MC has a very clear and principled stance that is accession to Pakistan.
What about various proposals that have been put forth as a possible solution to the lingering Kashmir dispute?
Without falling into the intricacies of various options and proposals, let me clear that the MC wants an equitable, honourable and amicable solution of the dispute. As a matter of the fact, these options and formulas have further complicated the issue and created widespread chaos and ambiguity within the Kashmiri society. Even Kashmiris by themselves are confused to a great extent.
Virtually, Kashmiris are divided in various segments, politically and regionally there is difference of opinion. So what is needed at the moment, a genuine political leadership has to be explored through a credible democratic process.
In my opinion elections should be conducted across the ceasefire line (LOC) in order to choose a credible leadership that would have the mandate to decide the state’s political future. In 1946, the Muslim Conference through a historic resolution (Azad Kashmir Resolution) proposed a plan whereby the resolution of the dispute could have been sought amicably. The resolution demanded the right to elect their representatives who would decide the political future of Kashmir.
Now over the last 62 years many political groups came into existence in the region. They have their own vested interests and political agendas, but so for as the final settlement of Kashmir dispute is concerned, there is dire need to have a legitimate and genuine leadership that can represent Kashmiris in any decision making forum and the decision they take would certainly be relevant, applicable and acceptable for all.
So in that context, I think Hurriyat Conference should be given a chance to contest elections, but the elections must be held under the auspices of any credible international organization in a free and coercion free atmosphere. You will see those who have been looting and plundering the Kashmiri nation for several years would be swept away from the political scene.
But let me tell you one thing that Indian intransigence has always been the major hurdle in the entire process. They are not sincere; they have been violating the international law. Pakistan has always supported the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination even Pakistani constitution acknowledges and endorses their inalienable right.
There is a notion that in league with some world powers India is trying to convert the ceasefire line into international border. What is your take on this?
This has been India’s cherished desire and even after 9/11 it had to a certain extent managed to gain sympathies of the international community in this regard. By taking undue advantage of the situation India tried a lot to defame Kashmiris. But I think it was a temporary phase, the world community is now gradually realizing the fact that Kashmiris’ struggle is indigenous and legitimate one. So I think India can no more hood wink the international community. Indian duplicity is not going to work any more, sooner or latter it would have to quit Kashmir and there is no question of making LOC as an international border. The history bears witness to the fact that no one could break the will and Kashmiris’ passion for freedom. You know Russia had to vacate from Ukraine after 350 years long occupation. The Mughal emperor Akbar was the first person who invadedKashmir and today it is unfortunately under the India’s illegal dominance.
What about status quo as some political pundits propose it as an interim solution? Do you think it is acceptable to Kashmiris?
No, not at all, this is not going to work at all, Kashmiris living on both sides of the ceasefire line will never allow it to happen. This is totally unacceptable, even the people of Pakistan will not accept it.
What about cross LoC trade as some people believe that it is a step towards making LoC as international border?
Although I am not a strong proponent of cross-LoC trade but there are certain positive aspects of intra-Kashmir trade, it has at least broken India’s myth as well as status quo in the region and the people are traveling across the LOC without any passport. Kashmir is an indivisible entity and no one can even think of making ceasefire line as international border.
What about quit diplomacy?
I think this is Indians’ ploy to divide Kashmiris. You know there are three parties to the dispute and while talking of a negotiated settlement you can not just ignore any one of the established parties. How come is it possible to seek solution of the dispute without Pakistan’s consent and involvement in the process?
It is not only the issue of “occupied territory” that India can settle it simply by talking to Kashmiri leaders on the other side of ceasefire line ignoring Pakistan, the people of AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan. This is the issue 13million inhabitants of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmirstretching over an area of 84471 square Kilo meters. So when you talk of a peaceful and permanent solution of the issue it is imperative that all the stake holders should be taken on board, you can not even afford to keep any one of the stakeholders out of talks process. So in my opinion Indians motive behind this secret dialogue is nothing but to divide Kashmiris.
Should Hurriyat accept talk offer?
Kashmiri leadership seems divided on the issue and in my opinion any party that strives for a peaceful and durable solution of Kashmir tangle should not get involved in bilateral talks.
What is your opinion with regard to composite dialogue process and do you think that Kashmir issue can be resolved through bilateral negotiations?
Bilateral negotiations is actually a failed exercise as you know composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan had been going on for last five years but India, after the Mumbai incident, stalled the process unilaterally. While studying the Indian psychology you will see that Indians always kept finding excuses just to back out of the talks and in future it will try to repeat the same story. So far as the solution of the long-running dispute through bilateral talks is concerned, it is no more a regional conflict now, in the emerging world scenario Kashmir issue came to the fore as a multifaceted and multi-dimensional international issue and its resolution is now considered as prerequisite for peace and sustained socio-economic growth of the region.
What about China’s Kashmir policy?
This is the new dimension of China’s foreign policy. It would certainly have positive impacts on the over all geo-political situation of the region. This is a positive development and we welcome it.
Do you have any plan to regularize the cross-Loc trade so as to convert it into a full-fledged trade?
Previous government had raised the issue of cross-loc trade and it was thoroughly debated in the AJK Assembly wherein it was agreed that the Travel and Trade Authority would be made an autonomous and self-reliant body. Although a committee was established in this regard but the trade across the LoC is still going on without having any proper system. I shall take up the issue with the government of Pakistan soon to channelize it properly.
There are certain issues, as there is no modus-operandi but gradually we will be able to manage the things and run the business in an orderly manner.
What about the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment package?
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have suffered terribly, and as a citizen of AJK I hold myself responsible for not doing enough for the people of that region. So in that perspective we appreciate the empowerment package and even we are in favour of granting more rights to the people so as to bring the area up to the AJK level.
Secondly Gilgit-Baltistan is a part and parcel of Jammu and Kashmir. And I thank to Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani for his comments on Gilgit/ Baltistan. During his recent statements he made it abundantly clear that Gilgit-Baltistan is integral part of erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. Even it has been mentioned in its interim-constitution that the devolution package will not affect Kashmiri’s international stature. However, we have objections regarding its administrative setup and the model of governance suggested under this new arrangement. And we suggested the government ofPakistan to modify it in a way so that no could exploit it.
None of the mainstream political parties of AJK took part in the GB general elections why?
If we had participated in general elections in Gilgit Baltistan we would have no moral justification to raise objections. As I said earlier, we have some objections vis-à-vis the system of governance in Gilgit Baltistan. Basically our view point is that AJK-type model of governance should be introduced in the area so as to avoid any vagueness.
Any message you want to convey to the people of Kashmir?
My message for the people of Jammu and Kashmir is that we are one nation, we have been together for years, and we share common history, culture and heritage. The people across the state including Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Gilgit Baltistan and AJK share common values and traditions.
When we talk of right to self-determination, it does not mean for people of any particular regions or religion it is for the people of all the regions, without any discrimination. So my message for the people of all the regions is that without any sense of alienation let us join our hands together and make all out efforts just to achieve the cherished goal as it is the matter of our national identity.
Secondly, I salute the people of Kashmir for their unflinching faith, determination and commitment towards the noble cause. They have rendered unprecedented sacrifices so far and have gone through terrible times. I can feel the plight, pain and agony they have gone through. And I believe the day is not far when their sacrifices will bear the fruits. This is indeed a difficult but a temporary phase; while carrying forward the struggle Kashmiris must keep their nerve, as defeat is the ultimate fate of usurper. Truth will ultimately prevail where there are pains taken to bring it to light.
Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Dec 2009 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Dec 2009 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Dec 2009 00:00:00 IST
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