Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said he told Kashmiri separatist groups who he met during his visit to the Valley last week that he does not share their views and that they must work through peaceful methods to resolve the Kashmir issue.
In a conversation with The Indian Express over phone from Norway, Bondevik, who heads the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, said his visit to Kashmir and his meetings with various sections of Kashmiris, including the separatists, were “useful” and helped him to “get an overview” of the problem.
Bondevik made a surprise visit to the Valley during which he met Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, two of the three leaders of the Joint Resistance Leadership. He also met members of the chamber of commerce and the Bar Association.
Asked why he had visited Kashmir and what role he saw for himself in the state, Bondevik said he was invited by Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to visit the Valley.
“If I am asked to play a role by both (governments of India and Pakistan), I am willing to do so,” he said but he also underlined that there was no such invitation at the moment from the Indian side.
“I am not naive, I am aware that India is approaching an election,” Bondevik said adding that this was not the time to talk about an India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir. “I respect India’s position that it does not want an outsider (engaging) in Kashmir, and that its issues with Pakistan are bilateral.”
But, he said, at the same time, “we can’t ignore the fact that the international community is interested in the issue, there have been UN resolutions on Kashmir, and recently, there was a report of the UN Human Right Commission. So there is an international interest”.
If India and Pakistan could solve the matter without help, “it is good, then they must come to the table because the situation in Kashmir is escalating”. He said, “I am convinced there is no military solution to the Kashmir problem”.
He said it was imperative that the Kashmiris on both sides should also be involved in the working out of any solution, “because they are the people most affected”.
Bondevik acknowledged that his visit to the Valley must have been cleared by Delhi as it was the first time a foreign dignitary has visited the Valley and met with Hurriyat leaders but he underlined that he had no contact with anyone in the Indian government. He said as the J&K Assembly had been dissolved, he did not meet any of its former members, nor any government officials.
“I know that it was something new and it was a surprise to many that I was allowed to visit Kashmir. That I was allowed is a fact, but who took that decision in the Indian government, I do not know,” he said.
According to him, Art of Living, which he described as a “good partner in peace efforts” and had several humanitarian projects running on the ground in Kashmir, organised his meeting with Srinagar Deputy Mayor Sheikh Imran, who then helped him meet others in the Valley.
Sheikh Imran, a businessman, had earlier this year invited the Art of Living founder to Srinagar in March this year to an event called Paigham e Mohabbat for “peace and building trust” that was held on the Dal lakeside. At the time, Sri Sri had to cut short his speech and leave the venue after it was interrupted by members of the audience shouting pro-Azadi slogans.
After his return from Srinagar, Bondevik said he stopped over in Delhi, and met MP Maheish Girri who he understood to be “close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
After his visit to Srinagar, Bondevik visited Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where he met President Sardar Masood Khan.
“I was also able to visit the Line of Control. It was very useful to see this with my own eyes, what it is like there for the people who are living there, to understand the problems they face,” said the ex-Norwegian Prime Minister.
He said Pakistan “welcomed my engagement and they received me with full protocol”. In Islamabad, he met the President of Pakistan Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
He said he was “aware of the argument” from the Indian side that the situation in Kashmir had worsened because Pakistan was sending in terrorists, “but Pakistan sees the issue in very different terms”. Bondevik said he did not want to take sides and wished to “remain neutral”.
But he said, “I explained to the separatist leadership in Srinagar that they should work by peaceful means. That I have gone to meet them does not mean that I share their views”.