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India should talk to Pakistan: Karan Singh

India signed the Tashkent, the Simla and the Lahore declaration with Pakistan. We should talk to them further, says Karan Singh.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2002 11:11 IST

A Rajya Sabha member, Dr Karan Singh, the heir-apparent to the throne of Jammu and Kashmir has seen and known all - how a fabled princely state became the battle-ground of contending ideologies and two modern armed forces. A Yuvaraj of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, he was catapulted into political strife in 1949 when his father, the Late Maharaja Hari Singh, on the intervention of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, appointed him Regent. Thereafter he was head of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir for the next 18 years as Regent, elected Sadar-i-Riyasat and lastly as Governor.

In 1967, Dr. Karan Singh joined the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was elected soon thereafter to the Lok Sabha from the Udhampur parliamentary constituency in J&K on a Congress ticket. He was re-elected from there in 1979, 1977 and 1980.

Dr. Karan Singh first held the portfolio of Tourism and Civil Aviation for six years. In 1973 he moved to the Ministry of Health and Family Planning. In 1979, he assumed the portfolio of Education and Culture. A member of Rajya Sabha now, he spoketo Vijay Soniabout the various facets of Jammu and Kashmir problem. What exactly do you perceive is the problem in the state of Jammu and Kashmir?

Dr. Karan Singh: Jammu and Kashmir was one of the 550-odd princely states under the British rule. About one-third of the then territory was under the princely states and two-third, under the British rule before partition.

Area wise the state of Jammu and Kashmir was the largest, about 85,000 square miles. The problem then was, when the partition took place which of the two dominions it should join. For many states there were no choice as they were in one or the other dominions, so their joining any other dominion did not arise. But Jammu and Kashmir, because of its geographical situation was co-terminus with both India and Pakistan. I think that was the reason why my father was considering the option and buying time to watch and see - the offer of Stand-Still Agreement.

But at that time unfortunately, Pakistan washed off its hand by organizing the first of its invasions, one of several invasions that were to come from Pakistan. At that time, invasion in the form of unruly tribesmen swept the North Eastern Frontier Province and other parts. They were at the doorsteps of Srinagar. The situation became desperate and my father asked for aids from Government of India. The government of India obviously said, it can't give any aid unless the state of Jammu and Kashmir becomes a party to its dominion. My father then signed the Instrument of Accession on Oct 27, 1947.

The problem at that time was that of a war. The war lasted till January 1, 1949. The whole of 1948 was a war and when the ceasefire took place on January 1, 1949 brokered by the UN, a certain portion of the state, almost 50 per cent of the state was no longer in our control. It was lost to Pakistan and China before a ceasefire agreement was reached.

After that there was another war in 1965, this time they (Pakistan) sent infiltrators that ultimately led to war and the Tashkent Agreement. Then again there was a war in 1971 when the line of ceasefire became the Line of Control. Then again there was a war in 1999 in the form of Kargil incursion.

In fact, during the whole of the last century, one after another attempt has been made by Pakistan to pry from India the Kashmir valley. But they have not succeeded and have not learned the lessons.

The other point people must remember that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a composite state. A lot of people make the mistake of calling it a Kashmir. In fact, Kashmir is only a smaller unit geographically, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There is the Northern Area that includes Baltistan, Gilgit, now in Pakistan. There is PoK under Pakistan.

In our part there are three regions Ladakh, Jammu and the Kashmir valley. Kashmir valley is overwhelmingly Muslim dominated, Jammu has a largely Hindu population and Ladakh is evenly balanced with Buddhist and Shia population. This is another part of the problem that each region has its regional aspirations. The problem is that the state stands de facto partitioned and not de jure. Secondly, Pakistan continues, trying to break away more parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Are there any similarity between the problems of Jammu and Kashmir and the problems faced by other Indian states which have been pronounced disturbed as in the North East.

KS: Not really, there is some broad parallel between the situations in the North East but it really is not comparable. In Jammu and Kashmir there is an element of Pakistan sitting over, a hostile neighbour whereas this is not the case in the North East. I don't think there is any meaning of a parallel between the problems of the two regions. Do you believe that India alone could solve the problem of Jammu and Kashmir? Or India and Pakistan?

KS: Well, I think we must talk to Pakistan, I'm very clear about this in my mind. I know this is not the fashion to talk these days. But the matter of fact is, the ceasefire agreement was signed with Pakistan. Tashkent agreement was signed with Pakistan. The Simla agreement was signed by Pakistan. The Lahore declaration was made in Pakistan.

The Simla agreement talked about the final solution of Jammu and Kashmir. So we can't suddenly turn around and say no, no… Pakistan has nothing to do with India. Sorry, that's not the logic. And even from the very practical point of view, I think it's possible to get some final settlement with Pakistan. I'm not at this point, trying to talk about what sort of solution is possible. I would definitely not like to talk about it, what I want to say is that the dialogue should be resumed.

In Agra, we had almost reached an agreement. But the things were derailed at the last moment. Had there been a solution in Agra today we would have had a different situation. Par unse baat to karni padegi, kaha baat ho kaise ho, aur kaun kare - this is the problem.

I have some idea of the solution of the problem, but I'm not talking. There is no point talking about the solution prematurely. The peace process itself is not being done. If the peace process begins and there is some progress and if there is some possibility, then there is a chance. Should India seek an international mediation to solve the Jammu and Kashmir problem?

KS: I don't think we need an international mediation. But behind the scenes there are many powers trying to bring about some better relations between the two countries. Mediation is a technical term where a third party sits and talks, that's not realistic at this point of time. See America - they are talking to Pakistan on the issue but are not mediating. In fact, the Prime Minister used a better term for this - a facilitator. What are the reasons India does not want to hold plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir?

KS: Well, lets not talk about it. Technically, let me tell you, the condition of plebiscite was that Pakistan would withdraw from the occupied Jammu and Kashmir, totally. That was the first condition in the UN Resolution and India was to withdraw bulk of its forces. But that was never fulfilled. Pakistan has not withdrawn even an inch.

So, the question does not arise. If Pakistan tomorrow is prepared to give entire state to us then we will consider. What has caused the alienation of people of Jammu and Kashmir? Is it militancy or excess use of State force to suppress indigenous dissenting voices?

KS: Jammu and Kashmir is a massive human tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, all young people. Be it in the border areas of Kashmir, Ladakh, that's Kargil or Jammu, people have suffered immensely. When there is an earthquake, everyone rushes to help people but no one has ever thought about the sufferings of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They have been suffering for the last 13 years. Where is the help, where is the aid?

The alienation has a long story. In Kashmir there is a feeling that their autonomy has been eroded during the last 13-14 years. In Jammu the situation is different. In Ladakh, there is a desire to be in direct contact with mainland. Each of them has their regional aspirations and so the alienations. How far has political and economic corruption further aggravated the problem of alienation in Jammu and Kashmir?

KS: Corruption always aggravates the political problem. This is true for whole of the country, Jammu and Kashmir is no exception. Militancy has shattered the economy of the state. Tourism was the main source of earning for the people that now has come to a total halt.

Kashmir was a tourist paradise for centuries but militancy has destroyed everything. It was called a Jannat-e-Benazir (paradise) and has now become a Jahenoom, a hell. There have also been losses from anti-insurgency operations. Sometimes anti-insurgency could also be as harsh as militancy, lots of innocent people are caught in the crossfire. So, the whole thing is in a terrible, terrible mess. What is so special about J&K to give it a special status in the Constitution? Is it anything to do with the fact that, it is the only state to have majority Muslim problem? Has the grant of special status destroyed the secular fabric of the State?

KS: The special status of Jammu and Kashmir has its foundation in the historical facts. Whereas other princely states acceded and merged with India, Jammu and Kashmir acceded but never merged. Saying that a special status has been given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir is wrong, it was never given, but rather it always had the special status. Both as the Yuvaraj and heir apparent of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as well as regent and head of the state for 18 years, you must be having a point of view, how the problem could be solved. How would you have solved the problem?

KS: No I'm not going to say anything on it. Do you feel that the family circumstances and differences within the ruling family were responsible for delay on taking the decision of accession to India in 1947?

There was no difference in the ruling family. There was no one involved, expect my father, no brother. I too was not involved. I was on a wheel chair. There is also no controversy over the Instrument of Accession. There could be opinion whether it should have been signed or not, but it was. It is a historical fact. What is your personal assessment of your father Late Maharaja Hari Singh?

KS: I don't want to say anything on it. I have already put it on my autobiography and I think it is a sensitive issue. Do you think that the Prime Ministers of Maharaja at that time namely Ram Chandra Kak and Mr. Mehar Chand Mahajan were good enough to have shouldered the responsibilities entrusted to them?

KS: There was one more Prime Minister between Ram Chandra Kak and Mehar Chand Mahajan, I'm not able to recall his name. In fact, the whole thing was that we were overtaken by historical events taking place at that time.

I don't think there was anybody at that time having a grasp or view of the things, as it was developing. I don't think people at that time were in a position to handle the situation differently. Mehar Chand Mahajan was a talented man but by that time the die had already been cast. The situation was different before partition, had there been someone to act, the situation would have been different but it didn't happen. It is said that Maharaja Hari Singh was socially very close to Muslim members of his court, why then he was unable to reach an agreement with Mr. Jinnah?

KS: It is true that there were many Muslims in my father's court and many of them were his friends, but it has nothing to do with Mr. Jinnah. There were many eminent persons including Sardar Abdul Rehman from Afghanistan and the one from Hyderabad. But they were all aristocratic friends and Jinnah's separatist politics were entirely different. There are reasons to believe that Jinnah had sent feelers to my father to accede to Pakistan. But it has not been documented and recorded.

The whole thing was further complicated by the fact that the party, the Muslim-dominated National Conference was anti-Dogra but pro-India and the Muslim constituents were pro-Dogra but anti-India. It was a very chaotic situation. Everything collapsed and didn't work out. The things also got complex because Jawahar Lal Nehru was insisting to hand over powers to National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Abdullah was close to Nehru and deadly against my father. The whole thing turned out to be a parallelogram of disaster.

First Published: Sep 20, 2002 22:42 IST