Fresh from his visit to Pakistan, the executive member of Hurriyat (M), Bilal Gani Lone, tells Jehangir Ali that the visit was a success and talks are the only way out to resolve the Kashmir issue
JA: You are back from Pakistan where you had extensive talks with government officials. Is Pakistan receptive to the resolution of Kashmir dispute? Do they have Army on board?
BL: I think that every stakeholder in Pakistan has a united voice on Kashmir. Everybody wants the settlement of this issue. When it will take place? How it will take place? That is a big question. And it is not that easy that you will go there on a trip one day and come back with a solution. These things need time and patience. But if you ask me personally, I think ice had to be broken. I think it was a good beginning.
JA: What was the purpose of this visit?
BL: It is a process and we want continuation of this process. This process needs to be built up by these visits. I think it was a high time as there was a big gap and the purpose of the visit was to see where we are and where they are. Meeting of people from Kashmir and Pakistan was to see how things need to move forward. You know, there is a perception somewhere in Kashmir that you can’t sit down home and then expect resolution will come itself. One has work hard for it. This problem is ours and the basic authority should lie with us.
BL: See, if somebody thinks that it will be a parallel issue between Pakistan and Kashmir or India and Kashmir; then it is not possible. All the stakeholders need to be involved. As on date, I have no information if New Delhi is willing to talk or not. If something like that happens, it is Hurriyat that has to take a decision. Individual opinions don’t matter. It is too premature to talk about that.
JA: People see Hurriyat (M) as a fractured body which is gradually losing its credibility among people. How do you react to that assumption?
BL: First of all, we have not given mandate to anybody to decide on our behalf. Our visit to Pakistan was our collective decision. Nobody can dictate terms to us. I will not say that we represent 100 percent population of Kashmir but it is a political movement. These things should not be left to an individual will. Hurriyat (M) got invitation from the state of Pakistan. It is up to individuals whether they accept invitation or not. While anybody has a right to express their own views, but that should not dictate our decision making. As for the people who opposed our Pak visit, it was their point of view and maybe they are right in their own way!
JA: Now that you have been to Pakistan, do you think that assumption was wrong?
BL: From a Kashmiri’s point of view, we are not that big that we can influence the policy of Pakistan. I know my size. I am not that big that I can influence the electoral politics of Pakistan. People think we are going to influence the decision making of Pakistan. Elections or no elections, Kashmir issue is alive. There is altogether a different system in Pakistan where we don’t matter. As an individual, I think we should move forward with resolution of Kashmir dispute. We have to help ourselves. Everybody should know their limits and size. Trust me, I am satisfied with the visit as we met a cross section of Pakistani society whom we had never met before.
JA: I believe there was a volatile discussion at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Pakistan..
BL: Oh yes. That is what I was trying to tell you. It was pleasure talking to them, especially with people at National Defence Academy where we interacted with Pakistan’s new faces who will hold state of affairs in Pakistan in future. I mean, that is how we move on. I am not for statusquo. Statusquo is not a good for people of Kashmir. This statusquo has to be broken. My motive is to help an average Kashmiri with this process. When you interact with different people on ground, that is how an average man feels change on ground.
JA: Even if that includes participation in elections?
Bilal Lone: No, we are not for elections. Elections are for governance. We are for the resolution. For resolution, you have the bigger stakes. Right? We need to differentiate between the two. For resolution, statusquo needs to change because there are people in separatist camp and in mainstream camp who are getting benefitted by statusquo. To resolve Kashmir issue, you have to talk.
JA: During your Pak visit, was there any talk about Musharraf’s four point formula…
BL: They did not pin-point on four-point formula. Lots of options regarding Kashmir resolution were discussed. But Kashmir is not there in their policies due to 2014 Afghan issue which has taken upper hand there. Kashmir image is still hazy. It is not Pakistan’s top most priority right now. Let’s see how we move on.
( Transcripts by BILAL HANDOO )