The Situation in Kashmir is “Like a Mini-War”: an Interview with the PDP’s Muzaffar Baig

Shahid Tantray
25 September, 2016

A founding member of Jammu and Kashmir’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Muzaffar Hussain Baig is a former deputy chief minister of the state, and is currently a member of parliament. In the wake of the recent unrest in Kashmir, Baig reportedly said that the state government in Jammu and Kashmir should resign if it was unable to fulfil the promises it had made to the people in the region.On 9 September 2016, the Indian Express reported that Baig had stated that the government has so far, “failed to deliver” on its “agenda of alliance.” In other interviews,he suggested that the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti should resign if the situation in Kashmir remains unchanged six months.

On 13 September, Moazum Mohammad, a journalist based in Srinagar, spoke to Baig over the phone. He asked Baig about the latter's stance on the performance of Mehbooba Mufti’s government, his views on the PDP’s alliance with the BJP,  how the Kashmiri population perceives the administration, and the way forward for the PDP.

Moazum Mohammad: Why do you feel the state government has faltered, and in which areas?

Muzaffar Baig: Before Mufti Mohammad Sayeed assumed power, it took us three-months to cobble together the PDP-BJP coalition. During those months, the impression to people was that we are not rushing to assume power, and we want to get the best possibilities for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. When the agenda of alliance was formed, there was mention of economic development, employment, social sector, and physical infrastructure. More than that, what attracted people was that there will be progress on resolving the 70-year-old Kashmir issue, which is a festering wound, not only for people of the state but also for India and Pakistan. On the internal front, progress could be explored by making attempts through reaching out to separatists and holding dialogue with them on practical, pragmatic and achievable goals.

I don’t think any government in India would grant independence to Jammu and Kashmir or could go back to accession time—when India and Pakistan came into existence in 1947. No country can do that.

I had hope that through a prolonged and reasoned conversation, there may be a strong section of separatists who might be agreeable to an honourable settlement with India on political and constitutional grounds.

But till Mufti Mohammad Sayeed expired in January this year, there was no progress on political agenda or the economic agenda. The reason was governance. We had problems with governance. After the death of Mufti Sahib, Mehbooba Mufti was in mourning for two months. When she took over, she had to familiarise herself with the process of governance, as she was new to it. Just two months after she took over, the Burhan Wani incident occurred. The cumulative result of these triggered an alarm among people that we had taken them for ride and that we were interested only in a power-sharing arrangement [with the BJP]. Therefore, the alliance became a failure in the eyes of people. They did not get what we had promised to deliver. I think the idea of an alliance with the BJP was not bad. But we could not sell the idea to people.

MM: You have alleged that the PDP is being hurt and discredited by the alliance agreement not being implemented. Where do you think the BJP has faltered?

MB: It is a failure of both the parties. There is no conspiracy within the BJP that the PDP should be discredited. In fact, the prosperity of the coalition is in the interest of the BJP as they can sell it in rest of the country that the party is not communal.

MM: Do you think Prime Minister Narendra Modi lacked in his commitment towards fulfilling the political agenda of the alliance?

MB: As far as I know, Mr Modi is really interested in the development of Jammu and Kashmir and in the implementation of agenda of alliance. He has certain problems. On the political agenda, you need to engage the [separatist coalition, the All Party] Hurriyat Conference and Pakistan. He made attempts with Pakistan by inviting [Pakistan’s] prime minister to [his] swearing-in ceremony, and went uninvited to the marriage ceremony of Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter. He touched the feet of Pakistan’s prime minister’s mother. But unfortunately, [in January 2016] the Pathankot attack occurred. It weakened the position of Narendra Modi as far as the Indian nation is concerned.

MM: Do you believe that, politically, the PDP will lose more than the BJP will because of the alliance’s failure to address the issues that plague Jammu and Kashmir today?

MB: Neither you nor I have a crystal ball. But let us be practical. If this agenda fails, it will hurt both the PDP and BJP. It may hurt the BJP nationally in one election or the other. On the whole, the image that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to build “one nation, one agenda” will be damaged.

MM: How do you see the prevailing situation in Kashmir?

MB: It is the darkest period in the long history of Kashmir. Kashmiris have suffered right from onslaught of Mughals.

It is the Kashmir problem but this time it is more radical—in the sense that most of the young boys and girls profess they want to die for Islam. I am not blaming those boys because this is what they believe in. They believe in it because of the way Kashmir situation has been handled and the way some enemies of Indian state are interested.

MM: The ongoing uprising is completely different from 2008 and 2010. Do you concede pro-India parties have lost ground in Kashmir today?

MB: Unfortunately, it is true.

MM: Some reports have suggested that you are in support of the government resigning as you believe that there was no point in just “the Chief Minister resigning and a new Chief Minister coming in.” But NDTV reported that you stated it would be honourable for Mehbooba Mufti to resign if there was no progress in six months. Could you clarify your position?

MB: We can do business with central government as it is strong enough to deal with the Kashmir issue without being apologetic. The Congress could not deal with Kashmir issue because they did not have a majority.

If the BJP will turn around and say we are not interested in dialogue process either with stakeholders in Kashmir or with Pakistan under Shimla agreement, then what will Mehbooba do? Either she has to comprise and just be a chief minister or she will have to resign. If the agenda of alliance is not being implemented, then she can resign. The other scenario is if the BJP tries to talk to stakeholders and Pakistan, and if they do not respond. Then Mehbooba should not resign because it is the fault of other side.

MM: So you don’t mean she should resign right now?

MB: Why should she resign right away? She has still four years and may be, something good may happen in those years. Her quitting will be seen as act of escaping, but if, after the situation stabilises, the agenda of the alliance is not implemented, then she will have to take a moral stand. Then, both the parties should goodbye each other. But if the BJP is interested and only Hurriyat and Pakistan are not interested, then it is not the BJP’s fault. If it is not the BJP’s fault, how can Mehbooba walk out and betray them?

MM: You don’t think the fact that over 80 people have died during the recent unrest should move Mehbooba Mufti to resign? Thousands have been injured in the valley.

MB: Why should the government resign because of Burhan Wani’s killing or because of the uprising? You don’t resign because of uprisings, because no government would last for couple of months in any sensitive state of India. Governments should resign if their purpose is not achieved.

One innocent percent killed is one too many. So it is cynical to say, that 80 people have been killed today and 120 people were killed during Omar Abdullah’s government—the ideal situation should be that nobody should be killed. But if some innocent boys or young girls are injured or killed, an inquiry of truth and reconciliation should be set up once the situation settles down to find out who were the officers who used excessive force. The Supreme Court said only two months ago that if a person is killed due to excessive use of force even in an area where the AFSPA is enforced, it will be considered as an extra-judicial killing.

The moral integrity of the state is no less important that its territorial integrity. If a country loses moral integrity, keeping the country together only through the use of force will result in what happened to the USSR. The army, being a nationalist and patriotic force, should be sensitised [to believe] that they will be serving nation by exercising restraint and patience. When an army jawan dies, he is also a child or a husband or a brother of a family. It is as painful as the death of a Kashmiri on a roadside.

MM: You have said that the current situation has worked to the advantage of “political rivals” within the country and “enemies from outside.” Whom are you referring to and how do you think they have benefitted?

MB: I was not talking about the [rivals of the] country—I was talking in the context of Kashmir. But that will also equally apply to Pakistan [as it is considered a rival of India]. I sought a commission of inquiry in the killing of the young boy Burhan, because I had reason to believe that he could have been arrested.

Many powerful militants such as Kuka Parray [the head of the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, a counter-insurgent group made of renegade militants, intended to fight the state’s insurgents], Yasin Malik [the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which led an armed militancy in Kashmir until the 1990s], who is highly respected in Kashmir these days while there are murder cases against him—he was not killed. Similarly, Burhan could have been arrested. Because of his death, the enemies of India in Pakistan got an opportunity to “internationalise” the Kashmir issue. Today the issue is before the United Nation Human Rights Council and is likely to come before the general [assembly] as well. So who has benefitted more by the killing of Burhan?

MM: The state’s intelligence chief had corroborated that the chief minister, who is also the home minister of the state, was aware of the operation.

MB: Mehbooba told me she was not aware about Burhan’s presence. I will believe Mehbooba any day over any bureaucrat or a police officer.

MM: Do you sense any mischief?

MB: I have said that some officers of Jammu and Kashmir police have betrayed the chief minister.

MM: You have said that the all-party delegation that visited Kashmir recently did not get a political advantage, only a moral one. What do you mean by that?

MB: The moral advantage was about the non-BJP members who tried to contact the Hurriyat Conference. The opposition members did send out a message that the Indian people who are represented by them want to resolve this issue through a process of empathy and dialogue, and not use of force.

MM: But for the past 70 years, talks have not yielded anything except for discrediting the leaders who held them.

MB: Yes. Talks [with the central government] started after National-Conference founder Sheikh Abdullah’s release from jail in 1975. Those talks led to his reinstatement as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. People expected it will lead to greater autonomy [for the state] but that did not happen.

So, for the common people, the 1975 accord was a fraud. This was followed by the rigging of the 1987 elections. Talks were held during the NDA [National Democratic Alliance]-government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s term, but they could not fructify. Five working groups were set up, but nobody looked at their reports. After the 2010 uprising, interlocutors were appointed whose report was not looked into. Recently, I told the all-party meeting that people do not trust us.

Whatever the BJP wants to do, be it talking to Pakistan or Hurriyat Conference, it should be taken to the logical conclusion.

MM: Do you think India has moral right to rule in Kashmir?

MB: India has a constitutional and political right to rule in Kashmir. Just as Pakistan has been given right to administer Pakistan-administered Kashmir by virtue of a resolution passed by the UNICP [United Nations Informal Consultative Process]. India has right to rule according to [the instrument of] accession [which was passed in 1947].

MM: During the past two months, didn’t you see excessive force used against people in the valley?

MB: I can’t say off hand because I am not a witness to all those incidents. But certainly 11,000 injured in two months and above 200 people became victims of pellet guns—it is almost like a mini-war.

MM: The separatists are ready for a dialogue but they want India to acknowledge Kashmir as a dispute. The BJP has not responded to their offer so far.

MB: Dialogue is not held with condition.

MM: Where do you think Mehbooba has faltered in her role as the chief minister and why do you think she has not lived up to the expectations of the people?

MB: She has not been given any time to show what she is worth.

MM: Do you think the situation would have been handled differently had the uprising broken out during Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s term?

MB: I cannot speculate on that. Maybe the officers would not have betrayed him like they betrayed Mehbooba.

MM: If Mehbooba were to resign, would you be willing to take on the role of the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir?

MB: You are asking a question which is emotionally disturbing for me. I want my younger sister Mehbooba to succeed not only for her sake but also for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I am not an ambitious man.

MM: The PDP was considered as an alternative to the National Conference. But the last two months have eroded that difference. What is the road ahead?

MB: Absolutely, the credibility of the PDP has gotten damaged because we are in power. It is too premature to say whether it is permanently damaged. Whether Mehbooba can regain credibility for the party during the next four years is a question. However, I must confess that PDP has not done anything for its cadre. We have not empowered them and have sometimes been unjust to them.

MM: Have you contemplated resigning as a mark of protest?

MB: Not a mark of protest. Protest against whom, my own government? I can’t pass judgment. I don’t know if I were in administration what I would have done. But many a time, not because of this uprising, I do contemplate resigning from politics.

MM: What should the government of India do now?

MB: A good policy always combines hard and soft options. Those who are terrorists—I don’t mean stone-throwers—we can deal with them through hard policy. But so far as common people are concerned, we should apply soft policy.

MM: Could you elaborate on what you mean by “hard” and “soft” policy?

MB: Wherever civil society is being terrorised, that is where you should have a hard policy to save people from terrorists. But [if] civil society is in danger, they should be protected. You should use measured force to protect them. Don’t suspect all Kashmiris are militants or all Muslims are militants. With them, you should have a soft policy—which constitutes empathy, dialogue and balance.

Terrorism does not come from people with weapons. It is a climate created by people. Wherever civil society is being terrorised, you should have a hard policy—which means not shooting people, but arresting them and bringing them to court of law.

MM: Does Mehbooba seek your advice in the current times?

MB: I don’t go around with a basket of advice. They say one should offer an advice when somebody seeks it. No, I am not advising her right now. There has been no thorough, grounded discussion with her.

This interview has been edited and condensed.