‘Anything below azadi’ negotiable for Kashmir: Home Secretary

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS,

New Delhi : The Indian government is holding back-channel talks with separatist Hurriyat leaders on the Kashmir issue and is open to negotiating anything less than independence, says Home Secretary G.K. Pillai.

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“Talks are going on and the talks will continue. These are back channel talks,” Pillai told IANS in an exclusive interview at his North Block office.

Asked if the government still believed late prime minister P.V. Narsimha Rao’s “sky is the limit” promise made in 1995 for Kashmir, the home secretary said: “You have to understand the realities of today.

“We are telling everybody please tell us what you feel is achievable. We have no fixed, closed mind. The government of India is open. Total azadi (independence) – no government would be ready to say yes. Anything below azadi – we are open to negotiate on that.”

Does that mean autonomy for the terror-ridden state where over 70,000 people have been killed in an unending separatist war since 1989?

“It can be anything. The state has some sort of autonomy. If they want more, let them come up with that idea. We are ready to talk about anything.”

Pillai said silence over the talks between “some separatist leaders and the government” was called for after militants attacked senior Hurriyat leader Fazal Qureshi in Srinagar in December last year.

“You know what happened to Qureshi. People want to keep them (talks) as quiet as possible till the situation improves in Jammu and Kashmir,” the official said.

Qureshi was attacked by militants in Srinagar after Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed willingness to engage in Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s “quiet talks, quiet diplomacy”.

Pillai said Hurriyat leaders led by the Mirwaiz were talking to Pakistan and so there was no reason why they should not be talking to the Indian government.

The home secretary said Pakistan was “putting pressure” on Hurriyat leaders to stop talking to the Indian government.

“But Hurriyat has been telling them ‘why are you targeting our people’. That goes against the principle of talks. The message from Hurriyat ‘why are you not allowing us to talk to India’ has gone down to Pakistan,” he said.

However, he said the talks process needed to move beyond its “vagueness”.

“Now we need to get into specifics. Nobody from the Hurriyat has really spelt out what they want to do. The Indian government wants specifics. We have been talking a lot. Vague issues cannot get us anywhere, unless you spell out,” he said.

Pillai said the common Kashmiri has realised that “Pakistan is a failed state”. “They don’t want to stay with Pakistan. That sentiment has come down. There are, of course, lots of people who want Kashmir to be independent. But we are now in the process of reducing the presence of security forces to give more freedom for the people to be like rest of India.”

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])