Muslims Think Kashmir and Kashmiris are an Integral Part of India'
DELHI, June 2: He is Sonia Gandhi’s Adviser on how to handle
the Indian Muslims. He accurately predicted before the May polls
last year that Muslims would vote in favor of Congress. And he
is now stating on record that Indian Muslims believe Jammu and
Kashmir is an integral part (Atoot Ang) of India.
is Mohammed Afzal, or Meem Afzal, as he is popularly known. He
is an ex-MP and Congress Party’s National Secretary of Minority
Cell. Initially he was a socialist and very close to the former
prime minister VP Singh. He has been entrusted with the responsibilities
of the Muslims and other minority classes and is directly responsible
to the Congress Party President. He advises Sonia Gandhi on Muslim
issues apart from her Political Advisor, Ahmed Patel.
Sonia Gandhi took the reins of the Congress Party from Sitaram
Kesari, Meem Afzal was made General Secretary of the Minority
Cell to raise Muslim issues. During the Gujarat genocide, he traveled
across the riot-hit state several times and exposed the RSS nexus
and helped his party to form a strategy against the communal forces.
Afzal believes Indian Muslims want to stay in India because he
says they have realized the failure of the partition and the ill
treatment with Mohajirs in Pakistan. “They do not want the
Muslim brothers of Kashmir to be treated in the same manner,”
he told the South Asia Tribune in an exclusive interview,
shortly after he had returned from a visit to Pakistan.
year, days before the elections, Meem Afzal had told the South
Asia Tribune that Muslims had decided to vote in favor of
the Congress party because they knew that only his party can establish
peace and communal harmony in the country.
is true that Muslims of the country did feel dejected when efforts
for opposition unity failed. In fact, they do not want their vote
to go waste. They wish to defeat candidates of the BJP,”
he had said.
Sitting down with Arun Rajnath for a question-answer session,
Meem Afzal expressed the optimism that a solution to the Kashmir
dispute would be reached under a secular Government in India,
meaning that a Congress-led Government.
Here are some of the questions and his answers:
Asia Tribune: You have just returned from Pakistan,
what do the Muslims of Pakistan think about the present peace
process between the two countries?
Afzal: I have been to Karachi and Lahore. The response
of the people there was tremendous. Initially the people would
ask me if all this was a drama. People asked this question because
they knew I am in the ruling Congress Party. But the overriding
desire was that relations between the two countries should be
cordial. As far as Karachi is concerned, they posed this question
to me because conditions in Karachi are bad, really bad. Karachi
is an economically lost city. Despite being the biggest business
city of Pakistan people are facing tremendous problem of unemployment.
There is no stability in the city. But people believe that on
the basis of improved relations between India and Pakistan, economy
would improve, and they would get an opportunity to enhance their
businesses. The people, specially Mohajirs, of Karachi hope they
would be able to visit their relatives in India more frequently.
as far as Lahore is concerned, the numbers of Mohajirs is very
small. Despite this, the people of Lahore also wish to improve
relations with India. But they have hostile memories of the past
and, therefore, they are apprehensive.
What are those apprehensions?
They do not know what turn the peace process would take. To what
extent India would go to normalize relations with Pakistan. To
what extent Pakistan would go. Kashmir will remain with Pakistan
or Pakistan would leave it. At this juncture, the rulers of the
two countries do not have any answer to these questions. They
only say that the Kashmir dispute would be resolved through negotiations,
but what is the solution, they themselves do not know.
I have seen that the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad
has caused a tremendous impact on the people of Pakistan. I also
met some Kashmiris and they were very happy with this development.
Mohajirs in Pakistan visit India frequently, but Kashmiris from
India seldom visit Pakistani controlled Kashmir as they have to
come via Amritsar-Wagha-Lahore route. People do not prefer this
route. So the bus service has given them an opportunity. Some
Pakistanis, like some Indians, think that if the US would want
and push, relations between India and Pakistan would normalize.
They are wrong to think that the two countries would decide their
fate according to the wishes of the US.
When the Gujarat carnage took place it marred the image of India
and the people of Pakistan started thinking that Muslims are second
grade citizen in India. How can they trust India?
I must tell you that Pakistani people have always thought that
Muslims are not secure in India and they have formed this opinion
by reading reports in their newspapers. Whenever any incident
takes place in India or about Kashmir, Pakistani newspapers resort
to exaggeration. Whenever any violence takes place in India, Pakistani
newspapers do not hold the Indian Government responsible. They
accuse the Hindus. I have been to Pakistan several times. Initially
people used to ask us, Muslim visitors, about Hindus: “How
do you live with Hindus? Do not they say anything to you?”
And Muslim visitors used to laugh at them. But now the situation
has changed due to the people-to-people contact and visits of
delegations. Now they have realized that Hindus are not against
Muslims, yet they know there is a section in India that pursues
politics on communal lines. On the other hand they hold the present
Government of India in high esteem.
But do you not think that the issue of Kashmir is somehow
linked to the issue of Muslims, especially according to the views
of some Kashmiri leaders?
You must realize that the opinion of Muslims in India is different
to the ideas of some people of Kashmir. Indian Muslims believe
Kashmir and Kashmiri people are an ‘atoot ang’
of India. They believe Kashmiri people are part of the Indian
Muslim brotherhood and there is no reason why they should go to
the other side. They also know that the Muslims who went to Pakistan
after the partition were frustrated as their aspirations are yet
not fulfilled. Mohajirs in Pakistan have the same complaint that
Indian Muslims generally have in India. For instance, Mohajirs
in Pakistan are not equally treated. In Pakistan regionalism dominates.
Mohajirs do feel that they have not been granted rights to which
they are entitled. Indian Muslims also feel in a similar way.
These Muslims frequently visit one another, and they question
what was the benefit of creating Pakistan. Likewise they ask what
will be the benefit of separating Kashmir. And you know that Indian
Muslims had to face persecution during Partition. Thus, the Kashmir
dispute is very complex. Some in Pakistan have made it an Islamic
issue, but the majority of Pakistanis do not agree with this.
It is merely an unrest that is going on in Kashmir like unrest
in other parts of India.
Though the two governments are discussing the resolution of
the Kashmir dispute, what will happen to the Indian Parliament's
resolution to redeem the Pakistan controlled territory?
You should not forget the resolution of the UN. There are resolutions
of the Parliament of Pakistan also. They have been writing our
Kashmir as ‘Indian Occupied Kashmir’ and we have been
writing their Kashmir as ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’.
But the solution of the dispute could be the present status of
the LOC. You should give full liberty to the Kashmiris to go to
the both parts of the State. Maintain the LOC, but soften the
borders. If you stop contacts between the people, you have to
face the problems.
But there is a pressure that the Indian Government should
not forget the resolution?
Then they (Pakistanis) can also say that we cannot
forget the UN resolutions. This will be decided when the two parties
will sit for the negotiations. President Musharraf has to some
extent retreated and we should also be prepared for some ‘give
and take’ at this juncture. You must realize when President
Musharraf visited India for the Agra Summit, what was his stance,
how he was behaving. But now he is totally a different man. Last
time when he came to India during the NDA regime, at that time
it was in the sub-conscious of Pakistanis that they were talking
to a government which was responsible for the Gujarat tragedy.
But now they have trust in the present Government.
It means that the issue of Gujarat remains everywhere
even affecting bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.
Yes. Of course. Gujarat is a stark reality. Why do you feel uneasy
with the issue? Any body can raise this issue. Why not Pakistan?
When in India people can raise the issue of Mohajirs and maltreatment
with them, they are also free to raise the issue of Gujarat. I
dare say that the sectarian violence between the two Muslim sects
in Pakistan is very shameful. In India such skirmishes between
the sects cannot be imagined. People are being killed in mosques
in Pakistan, and killers are Muslims. How can we dissuade any
body from raising such issues like Gujarat? This is our weakness,
and we should admit it. I say very frankly that governments do
keep such things in mind when talking to another country. If anything
happens to Hindu temples in Pakistan, the Indian Government becomes
concerned. Now such matters are no longer ‘internal matters’
of a country because they cause tremendous impact all over the
world. And if people in Pakistan or the Government of Pakistan
keeps this in mind and chalks out the policies accordingly, how
can we stop them from doing so. But now the rulers of Pakistan
have realized that the NDA government has become a matter of the
past and they can talk to the present government with more confidence.