Saturday, April 26, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Is the ‘healing touch’ working in Kashmir?
Ehsan Fazili

Is the ‘healing touch’ working in Kashmir?

IT is now nearly six months after the coalition government headed by the People’s Democratic Party chief and former Union Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, took over on November 2 last. The common minimum programme set by the four parties in the 87-member House — the PDP, Congress, CPM, Panther Party and Independents — has been aimed at restoring peace with dignity, providing a healing touch to those affected by 12 years of militancy and other soft measures towards the relief of the people in general. Though different political parties, including the National Conference of the former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, resented the soft approach towards the militants, the criticism has gradually died down. But, the killing of 24 non-migrant Kashmir Pandits at Nadimarg raised many an eyebrow. The incident came after there was a spectacular decline in the number of militancy-related incidents after the elections, which had witnessed a number of attacks on candidates and on people participating in election rallies.


The short-lived respite from militancy came to an end with the attack on a security forces camp housed in Pamposh Hotel in Srinagar on November 22, only 20 days after the new government took over. This was followed by two more gory incidents. First, an IED explosion near Qazigund killed over two dozen people, including Armymen, women and children. There was again an attack on Raghunath temple in Jammu. Incidents like these and the continuing smaller militancy-related incidents like the firing of two grenades on the Nowgam residence of the Chief Minister Sayeed on the day he took over, were "part of the ongoing militancy" in Kashmir. But the incident that once again raised many an eyebrow over the "soft approach" towards militants was the Nadimarg massacre. The separatist Hurriyat Conference and several militant organisations condemned the incident as yet another "attempt by the government agencies to defame the separatists". While the police claimed to have arrested a militant of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Zia Mustafa on April 24, responsible for the killings at Nadimarg, the outfit reiterated the earlier stand and alleged that the militant held was apprehended about a week before the incident.

Hurriyat’s claims apart, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is also on a week-long hunger strike (April 17-24) against the unabated incidents of ‘disappearances’ in the state, and the immunity granted to the law enforcing agencies. According to Parvez Imroz, head of the APDP, 26 cases of ‘disappearances’ took place since the coalition government took over. Over 6000 such ‘disappearances’ of non-combatants have taken place since the eruption of militancy in the state in 1989. The relatives of such ‘disappeared’ persons claim that there is no difference between the previous gubernatorial and the NC regimes and the present government. The authorities, however, claim that many such persons had, in fact, crossed over to the other side of the border.

Even as complete peace has not been restored, the situation, according to the senior government functionaries, has changed a lot. Despite the non-implementation of POTA by the present government and the merger with the police of the Special Operations Group (SOG) that exclusively dealt with militants, senior government functionaries claim that there is a discernible change in the situation as compared to last year.

Police and security forces officers, however, are keeping their fingers crossed over the possible infiltration of armed militants from across the borders after the snow melts. The Defence Minister is reported to have indicated that a large number of militants were waiting on the other side of the Line of Control to cross over during the summer months.

The PDP-led coalition’s other achievement was the visit of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on April 18 and 19. The visit came within the first six months of the elections. The coalition feels that the visit has endorsed the "healing touch policy" of the government, and all the political parties have endorsed its policies on dealing with militants and providing relief to the common man. Vajpayee’s visit and his public meeting in Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir stadium, first of a Prime Minister in the past 15 years, is claimed as yet another achievement. This shows the seriousness of the Central Government to resolve various issues in this trouble-torn state. "The mindset of the people has changed", comments Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. "Even in peace time, when people in large numbers would come to Srinagar from different parts of the valley, things were not so easy", says a senior PDP leader, adding that even incidents of stone pelting on the people coming from the villages on such an occasion was normal. Over 20,000 people came to listen to the Prime Minister despite a general strike called by the separatists.

While certain sections were disappointed at the PM’s public address, he set the things right before concluding his two-day tour. "I did not mention about the massacre of Pandits at Nadimarg deliberately at the public meeting," he said, adding that he "wanted a new beginning" and did not want to fan passions. He pointed out that the situation in Kashmir, as well as at the international level, has changed. "Mein sapno ka saudagar nahi, Kashmir ek mor par khada hai," he said. He added that the coalition government was a new beginning and the most needed one as 44 per cent of the people participated in the last Assembly elections. He also announced an economic package. The appointment of N.N. Vohra, former Union Home Secretary, as the chief negotiator in Kashmir talks is also considered to be another milestone on the road ahead to "peace and prosperity" in the state.

Photos: Amin War

"Gun is no solution, we have to start a dialogue"

Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad SayeedJammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who has been in politics for over four decades, took over the reigns of the state government on November 2. The PDP with its partner parties — the Congress, Panthers Party, CPM and Independents — designed a common minimum programme which offered the ‘healing touch’ to people who have suffered militancy for over 12 years now. The Chief Minister spoke to Ehsan Fazili a day after Prime Minister Vajpayee’s two-day visit to Kashmir about the policies of his government and how far he has been successful in tackling militancy in the state. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you view the performance of your government during the past six months?

It is for the people to judge our performance. I think by and large we have been able to initiate a new process of reconciliation and giving some succour to people. We have provided electricity during peak hours, social security benefits to widows, disabled and senior citizens, and utilised planned resources in a proper way. While dealing with militancy, security forces have been made accountable and they have been directed to avoid human rights violations. Our emphasis has been on the point that gun is no solution and we have to start a dialogue. I think we have some goodwill among people and they have a lot of expectations from us. The people voted in spite of the threat of the gun. So, they voted for peace. We are on our toes. My ministers go around, and take on-the-spot decisions, doing their utmost. But nothing is ideal, and we do not have an ideal situation.

Your main opposition party in J&K is the National Conference, which is an ally of the NDA government at the Centre, while the Congress, your coalition partner, is in the Opposition at the Centre. How does this influence the state government’s relation with the Centre?

There was some noise about our soft approach to militants when we released some militants, innocent people, in the beginning but the Centre has seen the changing scenario after the elections. It is seen as an opportunity for the whole nation, an opening. The Prime Minister said here that it could be a turning point, so the Centre has been quite sympathetic. Everybody has to rise to the occasion.

Your main agenda during elections has been ‘peace with dignity’. How far has this objective been achieved?

I think it is for the party’s success that whatever I have said as a coalition partner has been totally endorsed by the Prime Minister. It is a peace initiative. It is here that the Prime Minister extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan.He indicated that we have to settle our own problems here.

What is your government’s policy on fighting militancy?

We did not implement POTA and the SOG got merged into the police. Except for the incident at Nadimarg, the situation has changed entirely, as compared to last year.

How do you look at N N Vohra’s Kashmir mission?

It is necessary that Vohra should talk to not only to the Hurriyat Conference but also the elected representatives. The elected representatives and mainstream parties also have their viewpoints.


"Youth are distancing themselves from militancy"

Ashok Kumar Suri, DGP, KashmirWhat is the state of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir at present?

Militancy has its roots in the infiltration from across the border. There has been some decline in militants’ attacks but the bottomline is that militancy is there and we are fighting it with determination.

Has there been any shift in the strategy or in the stance of the militants with the change of the government?

Militants are out to create destabilisation. There is no change in the pattern of militancy. However, it has been observed that the local youth are distancing themselves from militancy, while foreign militants are sustaining militancy.

What is the number of active militants in J&K and what is the ratio of local militants to foreign mercenaries?

It differs from time to time. During summer, the number goes up. Our estimate is that there are about 3,000 of them operating in different parts of the state. The approximate ratio of foreign mercenaries to the local militants is about 70:30.

How do you look at the coming summer season after the snow melts?

There has been no let up in infiltration. A few militants were killed on the LoC in the Mendhar sector last weekend and now again we have reports that infiltrators are waiting to cross over. But, I am sure that the way the anti-infiltration measures have been taken, things should rather improve.

Some custodial deaths have been reported. What are the measures being taken to prevent such cases?

These are speculations. Media reports are exaggerated in this regard. We are a people-friendly force. The directions of the Chief Minister are clear and we are working for the welfare and protection of the people.

What about the massacre at Nadimarg where policemen failed to offer resistance?

All of them have been dismissed from service for having displayed cowardice and inaction.