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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 10:21 GMT
Mehbooba Mufti
HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian - interview with Mehbooba Mufti

This interview was shown on BBC World on 26 November 2002

Please credit HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian and BBC World television if printing extracts.

Introduction:
Tim Sebastian (TS):
For all its beauty, Kashmir is the site of one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

But now there's a new coalition government and a new party leading it. Mehbooba Mufti is the party's Vice President.

Tim Sebastian asks her whether the new setup can last long enough to make a difference.

TS:
Mehbooba Mufti, a very warm welcome to the programme.

Politics is a very dangerous business in this region. Are you prepared for all the risks?

Mehbooba Mufti (MM):
I have been going through all these risks during the last six years. I have got almost used to it by now.

TS:
Is it worth risking your life for?

MM:
Because my small actions are making some difference in the lives of my people, which has been full of blood, turmoil and atrocities for the last so many years.

Whatever little I have been able to do, at times I have been risking my life, but it does make a difference, I am prepared to take that risk.

T:
You are prepared to die, if necessary, for the politics of this region.

MM:
I'm prepared to sacrifice my time, even my life but I would like to see peace restored to my people with dignity and honour.

TS:
Within a few hours of your father being sworn in as the new Chief Minister, there was a grenade attack on the building where you and your father live. How did you take that?

MM:
I think we have our programme to follow and implement and they have theirs, they have their agenda.

TS:
They being who?

MM:
Whosoever led that grenade attack on our house. We are committed to restore peace with dignity and honour to the state and we will do everything in our power to get that.

TS:
But there are very powerful forces against you out there, very powerful forces.

MM:
Yes there are, but we are ready to fight.

TS:
How do you fight the militancy? You don't use guns. To give you an example, the chief commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen says the formation of government in Kashmir is not the issue - the issue is the self-determination and to achieve that goal we will fight to the last.

He is refusing to lay down their arms. He is not going to listen to you, is he?

MM:
He has an agenda. We have an agenda to address the alienation of the people because that is the basic root cause of the violence that we see in the state.

TS:
But the violence, if it continues, will torpedo your agenda, won't it?

MM:
At least we are trying to bring down the level of atrocities, level of violence from one side.

TS:
Which side is that?

MM:
Our side. We are trying to see that there is more accountability among the various forces, state police who are fighting militancy.

We are trying to see that people get some kind of respite from the friskings going on, the checkings going on because if you look at the face of the country for the common Kashmiri youth, it's not the same as for the rest of country. It looks like crackdowns, atrocities, curfews.

TS:
You are talking about these committed by the Indian security forces?

MM:
I am not talking about the Indian forces, I am talking about our own police, the state task force.

TS:
They have an appalling record. The Indian security forces have an appalling record. Extra judicial killings, faked encounter killings, deaths of suspects in custody.

This is just an example from the US State Department Report for this year, on the human rights abuses being carried out by the Indian security forces. Do you condemn them for that?

MM:
We have always take up this issue, we have never felt shy talking about atrocities committed by any agencies be it security forces or the state task force. I mean we have been very open about this. There are black sheep every where in the world.

TS:
This not a black sheep, this is a pattern.

MM:
I would say that any kind of issues, any kind of atrocities which have come to my notice, we have taken up with the higher authorities, the security forces and they have definitely taken action.

TS:
And yet the State Department talks about refusal of security forces to obey court orders, judicial tolerance of excessive use of force.

MM:
Whatever we have to date, brought to our notice on our level. I don't know about the state government, how serious they have been about getting accountability among security forces or taking them to task or recommending for their punishment to the central government.

I don't know whether they have been really serious about that because the state government has not even taken action against their own state task force which they could have done very easily.

I don't know if they were really serious about taking the issue with the central government about that.

TS:
Will the central government now direct the security forces to behave decently as opposed to the was they behaved in the past?

MM:
I think there has to be accountability among forces who are fighting militancy because there has been a very good election.

If we want the fruits of that election to reach the people, if they really want to get something out of this election, which could be a turning point, there has to be accountability among the security forces fighting militancy here.

TS:
Supposing they don't listen to you and continue their bad old ways? You will suffer the same fate as previous governments, won't you?

MM:
I think we mean business. Its not like that we are trying to do something for the sake of saying it. I mean, if there is an atrocity committed by any forces they will have to be accountable for that. They will have to be taken to task and we mean that. TS:
So you are saying to Delhi, no cover-ups any more.

MM:
No cover ups anymore. It's in the interest of the country to see that the people guilty for committing atrocities should be taken to task. As it happens anywhere in the country. If anywhere in the country, there is a atrocity committed by a police department against a civilian he is taken to task.

TS:
He is sometimes, and sometimes, according to reports from your own Human Rights Commission in India, he gets away with it. People get away with it. There is a blind eye to a lot of abuse carried out by the security force.

MM:
We've promised the people of J&K [Jammu & Kashmir] a change. This is going to be one of the changes - that people will have to be accountable. Whether it is the security forces or the general administration, they have to be accountable for any kind of misuse of their authority or anything else.

TS:
That is going to require quite a change then.

MM:
There has to be a change, otherwise there was no point of having such a fair and free and good elections, if you are not able to give the healing touch to the situation which people expect out of this election.

TS:
Delhi is not very pleased with what you've done so far, is it? You have got the ruling BJP party clearly trying to undermine you.

MM:
I think people of the state who have voted us to power are pleased. That is what matters. I think it goes to BJP's credit that they had such a good election. Their credibility has gone up.

TS:
They didn't rig it this time?

MM:
Yes, that was the freest and fairest of elections since now in the state of J&K.

I think it is in their interest, it is in the interest of the nation that they should let the government, which has been elected in Kashmir work according to their own programmes. They should in fact give full support to this government.

TS:
But they are not. They are saying you are soft on terrorists and that your programme is disturbing and distressing.

MM:
It is very unfortunate that there are certain parties or there are certain people in the Indian government who are trying to make Kashmir a battle field to win the Gujarat elections. They are trying to play that politics. I think they should not do this because Kashmir is a national issue, it's not like any other state.

TS:
It's an international issue, actually, isn't it?

MM:
I think it is very close issue to the nation. Everybody is concerned about it.

TS:

Some people in the Indian government are trying to torpedo you, the extremists, Hizbul Mujahideen don't want to deal with you. Pakistan is against you as well. There are a lot of forces against you, aren't they?

MM:
That is why we are trying to win our own people, the people of Jammu and Kashmir state, we are trying to implement certain programs to win their hearts, to address their alienation.

That is what matters to us. Pakistan, the Indian government in New Delhi, no doubt we do need their help but we want to tell them, give Kashmiri people a chance to live with peace and dignity. I think they should do that.

TS:
So you are saying leave us alone. To Pakistan, to the central government in Delhi - leave us alone. Is that your message?

MM:
Our message is that if they can not help us in the situation, at least don't interfere unnecessarily. There is a very responsible government here in the state of J&K and it would do nothing to jeopardise the security of the people of the state. It would do nothing to risk the life of the people of the state.

Whatever they are doing, they are doing in their full senses and we are committed to that programme. That is the only way we can address the alienation of the people of this state.

TS:
Pakistan is committed to a very different programme, isn't it? It says it has made it clear that it will never give up its support for Kashmiris wanting to break away from India. How do you react to that? They will never give up their support.

MM:
I think that if you have a problem at your home the neighbour is definitely going to take advantage of that but if you are able to keep your home intact, if your are able to address your problems at your home, the neighbour doesn't have much of a role to play there.

TS:
This isn't just any neighbour! The problem in Kashmir cannot be sorted out just by you, can it ? It has to be sorted out by the key players, India, Pakistan and presumably the Kashmiri people. You are not one of the key players, are you?

MM:
We are not one of the key players but we can be the facilitators in the process. After all Vajpayee, the Prime Minister has said himself that he is committed that the representatives of this election will have a definite role to play in the resolution of the Kashmir problem.

TS:
And what about the separatists who didn't take part in this election? What about them?

MM:
I think whenever there is going to be a dialogue on Kashmir, the representatives of the people of Kashmir should also be involved in the dialogue.

TS:
You are going to bring the separatists in the process?

MM:
It is for the government of India to bring them.

TS:
They said that they won't. Since the separatists did not take part in the elections they are not the elected representatives.

MM:
If you really want to address the Kashmir problem, then the New Delhi government will have to talk to all shades of opinion that are there. They have to talk to everybody because talking to the elected representatives only is not going to resolve the problem.

Because if the representatives have not questioned the accession of Kashmir with India, they are not involved in any kind of secessionist movement. It is the other section, the Hurriyat, the Hizbul Mujahideen, whosoever you talk about, you need to involve these people, that is more important.

TS:
You can involve them but the fact is that their positions are so far apart that there is no realistic chance of marrying their different demands, is there?

MM:
I think, it will take some time but there has to be a chance because.......

TS:
But sixty thousand people have died so far in the state.

MM:
If we want to close down violence we have to have a dialogue. You have to provide an alternative way. Everybody knows that violence is not going to help - the Kashmiri people have realised that by now we have lost so many lives, so many people.......

TS:
Why do you say they realise it? You've just lost seven hundred people in the election campaign! They haven't realised it at all. The violence is worse than ever.

MM:
If you look at the voter turn out and if you look at the enthusiasm among the people after the formation of the government or during the formation of the government, that means people want a change, people are ready to give a chance, they want to give peace one more chance.

TS:
India says its Pakistan that can stop the violence. Do you accept that?

MM:
Pakistan definitely has a role to play in Kashmir. But we have a problem inside. If we don't have any combustible material inside, the other person - the neighbour cannot ignite it. But unless and until if we don't address the internal problem, the role of Pakistan will go on increasing, and vice versa if we address the internal problem, it will get cut down.

But there is a role, because even if we reach some kind of agreement with our own people you need Pakistan's constructive support at some point.

TS:
But India and Pakistan are not talking to each other. India's message is very simple that if terrorism stops, they will talk to each other. Do you have sympathy with that position?

MM:
I would say that Pakistan does definitely have a role. They have been....

TS:
Are you sympathetic with India's position?

MM:
Nobody likes violence. Nobody's for violence. We are not for violence.

TS:
So you condemn it?

MM:
I condemn any kind of violence from any side.

TS:
Haven't you in the course of election campaign, raised expectations too high? Even your father said that he was scared that expectations were now sky high from this new administration.

You can't deliver. You have made many pledges which you can't deliver......

MM:
We have not made any promises, which are out of this world. We have made very simple pledges, we want our people to live with honour and dignity.

We don't want an old men to be offloaded from buses and asked to run for miles from one post to another post, we don't want this crackdown to go on during nights, we don't want such kind of atrocities and humiliating actions.

TS:
But you have pledged to break the deadlock, there is no way for you as facilitators to break the deadlock. It's up to Delhi and Islamabad.

MM:
We can help in creating the conducive atmosphere for further dialogue, because if you are able to give a healing touch to the situation, if you able to address the problems of the people both political, emotional and economical, definitely there is an atmosphere and that creates the pressure on both the sides to do something about the situation and I think that is what we are trying to do.

T:
What if you don't succeed, what if you don't get Delhi to talk to the separatists? The signs are that they are pretty entrenched in their positions.

MM:
I am confident about our party's programme and the response that we are getting from the common people is very encouraging and Insha Allah we will succeed in our mission.

TS:
Governments always say - and yours is not an exception - that they are governing for all the people. But I come back to this point that with all the different interests that are here in this state, how can you possibly govern for all the people?

MM:
We have a very definite programme, which covers all the three regions of the state. And it is very satisfactory, be it Ladakh, be it Jammu, be it Kashmir.

The only thing is that we need is to be given a chance. We have already started on a very good note. It is a matter of time till we are able to restore the confidence of the people of all the three regions. We should be given a chance to do that. It is too early, it's been only fifteen days for this government.

Already we are seeing some kind of change in the general atmosphere. I mean if you talk to people, you will find the change.

TS:
People are not going to wait that long though, there expectations are very high. How much time do you think you have to deliver on all your pledges. How much will they give you, do you think?

MM:
We have already started. I think they are not very unreasonable, they have gone through hell for the last twelve years, especially for the last six years, I don't think .....they will give us a reasonable time period at least to prove whether we are serious about whatever promises we have made. I'm sure about that.

TS:
Why? Why do you think they are going to be so tolerant, with the expectations running so high?

MM:
Because they have seen the worst, so if there is a slight improvement in the situation, they will welcome that and they will give us a chance to improve on that because we have always started, we have released some of the political prisoners.

TS:
A gesture rejected by the separatists already even thought some of them were let go.

MM:
We have not done that just for the sake of separatists.

TS:
Yasin Malik says its doublespeak.

MM:
We are doing it for the people of Kashmir in general, we are not doing it for any individual. They have their own opinion, we have our own agenda as I said, we will follow. It doesn't bother us what the person says or does not say. Our agenda is going to matter to the people of Kashmir in general.

TS:
What do you think the West and the international community should do? India says that the West has forfeited the moral right to advise on Kashmir. Do you agree with that?

MM:
I would say the West could do one thing. They could help us because help is not coming from anywhere.
TS:
And yet you have huge sums of money coming to the state - drug money, hawala money. Property has quadrupled here in the last 10 years. Money is coming into the place - unusual for a war zone, isn't it?

MM:
Yes, it is coming but it is going to very few pockets. It's not going to the general public, the people in general are suffering, we have thousand of widows and thousands of orphans.

Every day the number is increasing but nobody has bothered, we have not heard from the international community who have done a commendable job in other parts of the world. No-one bothers to give a healing touch to the people of Kashmir, to come and help us.

TS:
But they were told to get lost by the Indian Government. Kofi Annan, who offered to mediate from the UN's point of view, was told his advice wasn't needed.

Britain and America were told in no uncertain terms that their advice wasn't needed.

MM:
Nobody is going to stop an NGO from coming and giving us help in Kashmir in rehabilitation of our people.

TS:
Listening to you talk about the problems on the ground here in Kashmir, the political problems.....you almost seem to think it's going to be easy.

It's a super human task that you have taken on, isn't it which has led to the death of sixty thousand people. It is one of the world's most intractable problems.

And yet you think that with a little largesse and telling the security services to behave a bit better, telling everybody that the situation is going to get better, that you can simply stop this conflict.

MM:
I am talking about a healing touch, which has been missing for the last twelve years.

TS:
As a women or as a politician?

MM:
I am talking both as a women, as a sister , because I have seen the pain of my people. I have seen sisters losing their only brothers, I have seen mothers losing their sons. Give it a healing touch. That's where the problem starts.

The problem of Kashmir is more the problem of alienation rather than violence. Violence is the second part. So if we are able to address the alienation, I think we will go a long way.

TS:
If you don't, how much of a breeding ground for terrorists is this going to be?

There are reports that Al-Qaeda terrorists are coming, there are reports that the Maoists Nepalese are coming. Is that in fact true? Is it one of the dangers you face?

MM:
The people of Kashmir, they are very peace loving. They have always been deadly against violence but the situation gave way to certain forces that have forced Kashmiris to take to violence.

TS:
You are excusing violence here.

MM:
I am not for violence.

TS:
You are justifying violence.

MM:
I'm not justifying violence.

TS:
That is exactly what you are doing.

MM:
The problem is nobody wants to become violent.

TS:
You are seeking to understand the violence, which is just a step away from justifying it.

MM:
I am not justifying violence but there is a reason behind the violence, which you need to address. All the time we are just fighting violence. You can contain violence by fighting violence, but if you really want to get rid of violence you have to get to the root of the violence and that root is the alienation of the people of the state.

And the more we fight that violence the more atrocities take place during the course of that and more alienation takes place. You have got to have a carrot and stick policy. Only stick is not going to help.

If you want to fight violence with violence you have to have something for the rest of the people.

TS:
Where are the choices then when the security of the state is at stake? Look at the position from India's point of view.

It says that one of its states within the union is being threatened by terrorists. That's true - and it is entitled to respond in self defence. You wouldn't argue with that, would you?

MM:
I think for the last six years the state government and the Government of India have done everything, all kinds of harsh measures they have taken, hot pursuit, pro active policy, POTA. They have left no stone unturned to control violence here.

But what is the result? The violence has spread to other parts of the state. But our government wants to go for pro people measures, giving it a human face. We are ready to take this risk. People will say that at least we tried. We are taking a risk, there is no doubt with all the pro-people measures that we are taking. Risk is there.

TS:
There is a huge risk. And when the hardliners in the BJP hear what you are saying, they are not going to love for it, are they? Do you mind?

MM:
I don't mind because a person who is already ready to risk her life to restore the peace and dignity of her people.

I don't mind anybody getting angry for something, which I believe in. It's in the interest of the people of the state. It's in the interest of the nation.

It's in their interest to give a healing touch to the Kashmiri people. It is the people who are alienated , whom you have to involve, whom you have to give a healing touch, you have to win them over.

TS:
Mehbooba Mufti, it's been a great pleasure having you on the programme. Thank you.

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