Srinagar: India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid Friday said he was “ashamed” of the 1991 mass rape of Kashmiri women by Indian soldiers in the Kunan-Poshpora villages but Kashmiris must “try and forget” the incident and learn to “move on.”
“Well what can I say? I can only say I am ashamed that it happened in my country,” Khurshid, who arrived Friday in the Valley on a two-day visit, said in reply to a reporter’s question during a Congress-sponsored interaction with civil society members here.
At least 30 women, including teenagers and elderly, were raped by soldiers belonging to Army’s 4 Rajputana Rifles during the night intervening February 23/24, 1999 in the twin villages of Kunan-Poshpora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Police had closed the case as ‘untraced’, but after 22 years, a Kupwara court this month directed the police to reinvestigate the case.
“This should not have happened in my country. I am even shocked that I am not able to do anything about it. Making people accountable for what has happened is necessary,” Khurshid said.
Terming the Kunan-Poshpora incident as “moral and emotional dilemma”, Khurshid said when it happened “there was a war in Kashmir, and in war people who don’t deserve or want to suffer do suffer.” He, however, said that people should try to forget about it and try to move on by starting negotiations and conversations.
“It's like war. So many people, who don't deserve to suffer, suffered in a war. And at the end of the war, you still shake hands, you sign a peace document and you begin to talk to the very people who have been killing and marauding you. It’s a moral dilemma, it’s an emotional dilemma,” he said.
“At the end of the day, there is a choice between choosing what we forget, if we can, correct as we must and make people accountable as is necessary and then learn to move on.”
Khurshid also urged the people of Kashmir to take lessons by studying the life of former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela “to learn the true meaning of struggle and forgiveness.”
“By studying him you will know what struggle and forgiveness is and you will know what building hope out of despair is,” he said. He said that it was not easy to forget and move forward, given the human nature, but there are some things which are necessary to move forward.
‘Soldiers need protection’
When asked why government of India is reluctant to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives impunity to soldiers, from J&K, Khurshid said they can’t take the unilateral decision by ignoring Army.
“We should not look at one side only; there are losses and tragedies on other side as well. Human lives are same everywhere. They (armed forces) are humans also and need to be protected. Taking AFSPA off is not reasonable, no matter you have grievances against it,” he said.
He said that they don’t have interest in continuing with the AFSPA but it is the situation which compels them to do so, “otherwise there are more voices in Delhi than in Kashmir advocating its revocation.”
“We have to prepare to change and one day Kashmiris will change, so will Army,” Khurshid said.
When asked about the resolution of Kashmir issue, he said they have to identify the issues and right representation first. “We don’t know what the issue is and we don’t know who true representatives of Kashmir are. When we talk to one group of people other group starts approaching us saying that it is them who are true representatives; first we need to identify the issue and representatives,” he said.
“All the negotiations, observations and surveys done on Kashmir in the past may not have given you satisfaction as it is difficult to find true representatives of people. So need is to have broader negotiations and consultations with all the leadership of Kashmir,” Khurshid said.
“We have suffered for last 40 years and let’s talk for another 40 years and gain trust by working on small things,” he added.
When asked if he considers the Kashmir as dispute he said that he has to stay within his limits. “But I consider that Kashmir has two aspects: one is dispute, which I think will be solved by somebody in future: second main aspects is human element, which needs to be addressed, and we don’t think we have achieved what we want in this aspect,” he said.