Renowned journalist, writer and human rights activist
Q: What makes your view on Kashmir so compelling?
BP: I am a peace activist, who is not just familiar with Jammu and Kashmir, but is also welcome on both sides of the battle line I have had the experience of knowing and facing both Muslim militants and Hindu militants. Though I will not claim to be a leader of the majority of the people, I have access to people of Laddakh, Kargil and Kashmir, besides the Gujjars and Dogras.
Q: What insights can you offer on the Kashmiri people, in the light of the trouble in Valley?
BP: Kashmiris are one of the most remarkable and consistent communities in the country - in their temperament, in their mood and in their aspirations. I do not find any serious contradiction between what they did in 1931, 1939, 1947 and today. The underlying urge for their identity was clearly threatened by Pakistan in 1947. Today they feel it is threatened by India. Then, India launched the rescue act, now they feel Pakistan is doing it. So, not much has changed, as far as the Kashmiri mindset is concerned.
Q: What do you think has alienated the Kashmiris?
BP: I think much of this is due to the lack of development in the state. There are no post offices, no national newspapers... Today, if the airlines strike work, even basic things such as newspapers do not reach the Valley.
There is also another side to the picture One of the first things that wound up after the insurgency started in Kashmir is the Red Cross. In any area where violence is as pervasive as in the Valley, societies such as the Red Cross are the first to get their act together. Sometimes these organizations are the only ones that answer the immediate needs of victims in these violent zones.
Though I do not cite this as a factor that lead to the alienation, I do feel that these organizations ensure that lines of communication remain open as when peace is ready to be given a chance.
Q: Why is there so much rancour against human rights groups working in the valley?
BP: Human rights groups are often flayed for criticizing excesses by the state forces.
The truth, however, is that human rights activists like us have been as critical of the militants as of the Army oppressors.
On the other hand, look at the achievements of the human rights groups. They were the first to establish contacts with the Indian groups and the Kashmiri groups fighting each other. In fact, I was the first person from outside the Valley to visit Kashmir.
Q: How far will the demography and regional diversity of Jammu and Kashmir stand in the way of starting a successful dialogue, assuming that dialogue is the way forward?
BP: Dialogue is the only way out, no question of that As to your suggestion on regional diversity and demography, it is just one part of the dialogue process that may lead to a resolution. In fact, what is needed is multi-pronged dialogue.
In my book, Jammu, a clue to Kashmir Tangle, which I wrote about 38 years ago, I indicated that the relation of Jammu and Kashmir is one of the causes for the complication of the problem. So, there is definitely a need for dialogue between Jammu and Kashmir. Besides that, a dialogue also has to be initiated between Delhi and Srinagar and between India and Pakistan. Laddakh’s aspirations also cannot be ignored. It has not necessarily to be a dialogue at a government-to-government level but it can be done at any other level. In fact, government-to-government level dialogue may even be counterproductive.
Demographically, it has to be understood that 35% of Muslims are in Jammu, Sikhs are also in Jammu and so are other communities. So, it is not a Hindu majority area as it is supposed to be. Nor is Laddakh a purely Buddhist problem. Half the population of Laddakh is Muslim. Similarly, at no point can the aspiration of the Hindus, who have fled the Valley, be ignored.
Q: But how can one think of starting a political process unless the threat of the gun is silenced?
BP: You are talking about the threat of gun. If you want to remove the threat of gun, the first prerequisite is to control the excesses of security forces. Of course, some steps are being taken to serve punishments on army personnel who commit excesses, but that is not good enough. Active measures have also to be taken to prevent them. Despite that, if there is still an untoward incident, a public inquiry must be ordered into it. Currently, in the name of an inquiry, what they hold is a departmental inquiry, which they anyway refuse to publicise quoting rules.
Q: Where does Jammu stand vis-à-vis resolution of the crisis?
BP: Jammu is important it should not be ignored while trying to create conditions for dialogue. If Jammu is satisfied, you can sell any settlement of Kashmir to the rest of the country.
We are always very concerned about what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would do, what other parties would do, but if Jammu is solidly behind any settlement, then everything begins to fall in place.
The contradictions that have been talked about between Jammu and Kashmir aspirations are, to a large extent, exaggerated. I find there is much sympathy for Jammu people in Kashmir and vice verse.
Fortunately, Jammu is still safe. In Jammu, where 35% of the people are Muslims and the rest are Sikhs and Hindus, there was not a single casualty as a reaction to Babri Masjid demolition. Before that too, Jammu knew no communal trouble, despite Kashmir's reaction, despite militancy, despite the BJP hullabaloo.
Even the vulnerable border districts of Rajouri and Poonch are safe, despite the fact that there is so much travel on both sides. Even today marriages take place across the border. Even today there are relatives on either side of the border participate in each other’s ceremonies. Even then this entire region is completely peaceful and non-communal.
Strategically also, Jammu is very important. Jammu border is much closer to Pakistan than the Va1ley. Va1ley after all can be sealed from all sides but Jammu border cannot be sealed.
Q: How do you envisage the beginning of an effective dialogue in the Valley?
BP: At the national level, I would prefer a dialogue not between the Government of India and the Kashmiri militants, or between Government of India and any set of leaders, but preferably between non-Government leaders. The negotiators must be non-party men. Persons such as Kuldip Nayar, Pran Chopra and Tarkunde have far great credibility. Syed Ali Geelani and other Hurriyat leaders also command the loyalties of the state’s people.
Of course, one has infer from the death of Maulvi Farooq and Ghani Lone that Pakistan will not allow any leadership to remain alive which tries to persuade the militants to have a dialogue.
Still, there is no alternative to a dialogue.