WASHINGTON DC, June 2, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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'Indian Muslims Think Kashmir and Kashmiris are an Integral Part of India'

By Arun Rajnath

NEW 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.

He 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.

When 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.

Meem 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.

Last 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.

“It 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:

South Asia Tribune: You have just returned from Pakistan, what do the Muslims of Pakistan think about the present peace process between the two countries?

Meem 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.

But 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.

SAT: What are those apprehensions?

MA: 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.

But 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.

SAT: 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?

MA: 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.

SAT: 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?

MA: 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.

SAT: 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?

MA: 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.

SAT: But there is a pressure that the Indian Government should not forget the resolution?

MA: 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.

SAT: It means that the issue of Gujarat remains everywhere even affecting bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

MA: 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.

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