In June this year, Saifuddin Soz, a veteran Congress leader and former union minister, published his book Kashmir: Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle. A four-time member of parliament from the Baramulla district in Kashmir, Soz won his first election in 1983, as a candidate of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. He rose to national prominence in 1999, when he cast the deciding vote against the party’s whip in a no-confidence motion that resulted in the fall of the government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister at the time. In 2003, Soz joined the Congress party and served as the Minister of Water Resources. In 2008 and 2013, he also served as the president of the Jammu and Kashmir State Congress Committee.
In his book, Soz endorses the views of the former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf about Kashmir—specifically, that Kashmiris would choose independence from India if they could exercise their free will. This statement has generated controversy—the Congress party distanced itself from his remarks, and senior Congress leaders skipped the launch of his book in New Delhi. Over two interviews conducted this month, Hanan Zaffar, an independent journalist, spoke to Soz about his new book, the current political situation in Kashmir, the continued use of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and where the Congress has erred in the past.“The mainstream political parties are fighting elections, but elections are not the solution to the Kashmir dispute,” Soz said. “Mainstream politics right now finds little relevance.”
Hanan Zaffar: How did you transition from being an academic to a union minister?
Saifuddin Soz: I started as a teacher in Sopore college [in Kashmir’s Baramulla district]. I didn't want to leave teaching, but I was greatly influenced by [the National Conference leader] Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. He is the reason for me joining politics. If I reached Parliament, it is because of him. Nobody can convince me that Kashmir has produced a leader who is close to his stature.
HZ: In your book, you say that it is “futile to look to the United Nations for any workable resolution” of the Kashmir conflict. But wasn’t it Congress that initially sought to resolve the dispute through UN intervention?