Saturday, April 23, 2011

In no man's land: Many 'peace talks' have come and gone, but the valley still sits on an edge.

The Kashmiris have, literally, left no stone unturned to make their freedom aspirations heard, yet Javed Mir, a former militant commander and co-founder of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), insists on holding out for a peaceful resolution.

How will JKLF’s belief in a separate state help the people of Kashmir?
The last 100 days saw our boys being killed by the Indian forces. We hope ‘independence’ will help us live happily without being scapegoats of a political tussle. When the Hajy group (Sheikh Abdul Hamid, Ashfaq Majid Wani, Yasin Malik and I) started the struggle for an independent Kashmir in 1987, we wanted the world’s attention and we got it. The last 60 years have seen India and Pakistan fight three wars; but every time the Kashmiris have been ignored.

Will an independent Kashmir have place for other communities?
Kashmir Valley is a Muslim majority state along with the communities like Sikhs, Pundits, Buddhists and Christians. We want the Government of India to declare Kashmir a disputed territory where all Kashmiris can live together peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir is one.

Wouldn’t Kashmiris live a better life if economic demands are met by the government?
It is not a religious or economic, but a political issue. With people being killed, what good would economic progress do to us? While we want our people to live without any threat, the last few years have seen about 45,000 houses being damaged. There was a time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the initiative to solve this problem. It wasn’t good for Kashmir that BJP lost the election. Now, India and Pakistan have to solve this issue together.

When the leaders of JKLF separated after Yasin Malik’s release from jail, did the ideology change?
We operate separately now, but our cause is the same, i.e., a peaceful resolution. When Yasin’s nephew was killed, we controlled a crowd of at least 50,000 people. I hold a record for 600 peaceful demonstrations in the Guinness Book of World records. I was arrested 450 times but never resorted to violence, and that is what we teach the youth as well. The present situation has forced Kashmiris to resort to a little bit of violence, though we don’t want it.

Do you still think that JKLF’s peaceful means would help attain your goals?
When we did peaceful protests in schools and colleges, the forces invaded our houses and beat our people. When I went underground in 1988, my father was arrested. He was taken to an interrogation centre (Mufti Mohammed Sayeed lives here today), where he was tortured by drowning and was given electric shock. He was paralysed and soon died. We didn’t want any more fathers to suffer or children killed. However, there are some miscreants who want to malign our reputation. We are not terrorists and appeal to the youth not to pelt stones, but protest peacefully.

What is your message to the Indian government?
Kashmir doesn’t have oil or gold, but only the beautiful valley. My appeal to the government (and countries like the US and UK) is to think beyond their interests and help us. I have crossed the ceasefire line nine times and seen our people die on the border with no one to offer them water or a kafan.

Kashmiris are happy when sweets are exchanged at the border or when Pakistan visits India for dialogues of settlement; this reflects people’s keenness to be together. For politicians, it’s a fight for power. Kashmiris will continue to get killed until India and Pakistan stop fighting.

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