Kashmiri separatist leaders are not very optimistic about the outcome of the foreign secretary level talks between and in New Delhi on Thursday. They have made it clear that if Kashmir is not included in the agenda of these talks, then these are futile for them.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who held a nearly-two-hour-long meeting with the visiting Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir at Pakistan High Commission late Wednesday evening, made it clear that Kashmir must be on the agenda of the talks.
Talking exclusively to Hindustan Times on phone Thursday, the Mirwaiz said that "Let talks progress slowly, let process take its time but Kashmir should be on the table. That's our concern."
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. What is your impression after talking to Pakistani Foreign Secretary on Wednesday evening?
I don't think that even has major expectations out of the talks on Thursday. The Foreign Secretary told us that they have come here, but he didn't seem very optimistic about the whole scenario the way things were happening. He also wanted agenda not to be limited to any particular aspect.
Q. But what did you tell him?
A. We are all for Indo-Pak engagement. We told them that Indo-Pak dialogue process must be taken forward. If it moves step by step, we too can hope to see the results. It can move step by step. But if there is a backward movement and Kashmir that has been on the Indo-Pak agenda for the past 60 years and it is excluded, that's unacceptable.
Q. You have spoken of inclusion of Kashmiris in Indo-Pak talks, what's that?
A. We are not pushing for the inclusion of Kashmiris in the very initial rounds, but Kashmnir should be there (Indo-Pak dialogue). We understand that Kashmiris, inclusion at the dialogue table will take time.
Q. If Kashmir is not there...
A. That's precisely our concern. If Kashmir is not there, then we have nothing to do with Delhi-Islamabad talks.
Q. What was Pakistani Foreign Secretary's response?
A. He said that exclusion of Kashmir out of the agenda was out of question. He also said that is not begging for dialogue.
Q. Isn't it strange that you backtracked from talking to the top Indian leadership, and meet a bureaucrat from to list your demands. Do you think, it can serve any purpose.
A. Let me be very honest, in 2004 (January 22 and March 18), and in 2005 and 2006, we spoke of all these issues to the Indian leadership. Now we feel let down. We were the first ones to take up the issue of gradual demilitarization, human rights, release of prisoners, repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. And, what happened was that India cut down on the military strength, as per its claim by 30,000 in the past two years and promised zero tolerance to human rights violations, but no credit was given to dialogue (between the Hurriyat Conference and the Government of India) It was said that it has been done as a result of the internal security review. If that was the idea, then why were you talking to us.
Q. What do you represent, when there are elected representatives in the state legislature
A. At the end of the day, it must be clear to one and all that we represent the sentiment in Kashmir and that is what we are and that's what we represent. Unless or until the people see some change on the ground because of our dialogue, the very essence and purpose of talks get defeated. In such circumstances, we don't want to be seen as if we are eager to talk to Delhi. On the ground, our credibility should not be eroded.