19th November 1997
The Times of India
Kashmir has survived eight years of violent turmoil and with the civil government completing one year in power, there has been talk of peace returning to the Valley. Omkar Razdon spoke to Gulam Mohmmad Sofi, the renowed editor of Srinagar Times, the leading Urdu language paper, on the Kashmir situation and the prospects of peace.
Q. What do you think led to the sudden uprising in Kashmir in 1989 after 42 years of peace ?
A: It was a volcano smouldering since the formation of Bangaldesh in December 1971. The rulers of Pakistan held Indian responsible for its dismemberment and nursed a sense of vengeance. Having failed in their efforts to annex Kashmir in two wars with India, they conceived the idea of arming and brainwashing young kashmiris in which they met a grand success. Thousands of Kashmiri youths crossed the line of control and crossed the line of control and returned with heavy arms, euipment and ammunition.
How could so many return with heavy arms and ammunition?
I believe that either Indiana security forces on the line of control were complacent or they turned a Nelsons eye to the goings-on. The wapons were hidden in mosques, temples, river banks, basements and even in deserted houses of pandits. It is generally known that 40,000 pieces of weapons and a large quantity of ammunition has been recovered. An estimated three times this quantity still remains hidden in the valley.
What was the role of the democratic state government then?
Both the National Conference and the Congress were equally complacent. Pakistan took full advantage of the situation and succeeded in converting the centuries old amity between pandits and Muslims of Kashmir into hatred overnight. The aim of Pakistan to "Islamize " the Kashmir problem was thus in sight.
According to a survey by the weekly Kashmir Images, 68 per cent Muslims believe that pandits betrayed them in their hours of distress. Do you agree ?
No. I do not . Kashmiri pandits were in no position to help in any way. They were compelled to leave their homes, their jobs and their lands first victims of the scheme which forced them to leave the state.
The political chief of Jamat-I-Islami says that not a single cadre of his responsible for pandit killings. What is your view?
(Smile). Technically he may be right. Even to day they claim that there is no connection between the present killings and Jamat-i-Islami. But the ground realities should also support their views.
Most people in the valley blame Jagmohan, the erstwhile governor, for encouraging the pandits fight. Do you agree?
It is a total lie. It is a part of systemtic propaganda. The pandits fight from the Valley was the sequel to a plan hatched well in advance from outside the state. It had nothing to do with Jagmohan.
The situation was too bad when Mr. Jagmohan assumed office. Rajiv Gandhi (he was not prime minister then) came for an overnight visit. I was present in Cetaur Hotel in Dal Lake when Rajiv Gabdhi said, "Kashmir is slipping away from us."
What was the problem in housing pandits in barracks, schools, daramshalas, institutional army buildings close to military statins?
One has to understand the January 1990 situation in the valley. Jagmohan arrived in Srinagar Rahbhavan and called some of his friends and me too. There were just three people in the room when I arrived. Practically no semblace of security. He offered a cup of tea to me. But there was nobody to bring one. I saw him go towards the kitchen three times. Preseumaly be made the tea himself. There was no administaration anywhere in the Valley. The police stations all over the valley were centres of opertion for the militants Jagmohan could not have done anything. Nearly 32,000 Kashmiri pandits house have been burnt since 1991. IS jagmohans hand in this too? Even in 1997 people need courage to come to the valley, It is still no safe here.
You are a journalist known for your impartiality and courage. What in your opinion is the solution to this vaxed problem?
There is no dispute on earh which cannot be solved. Even the Palestine problem is on the way to getting resolved. Kashmir is a comples dispute. Leaders like Gandhi and Jinnah who could have taken bold decisions in the interests of peace and prosperity in the subcontinent are not there now. The present leaders do not command authority among their people. In fact both sides want this pot to keep boiling. Presumably, some vested interests have developed.
What is the basis for such views?
In 1992 there was a "cordon and search" operation carried out in Chest Diseases Hospital, Srinagar. In our presence seven rifles and a lot of ammunition was recovered during the raid. The next day we were shocked to note that the authorities announced recovery of just one rifle and some ammunition. You can draw your conclusions for the rest.Some of the present day politicians are the products of militancy. The present state government has been fully supported by the Congress and other parties in the national interes. Some people in the gobernment are aware that with the waning of militancy, their own power too will wane, This is ture of Pakistan too. Some people in that country see their survival and propperity in th continuation of Kashmir conflict.
What role can the present gobernment play in the return of pandits?
Not much. It is the ground situation that will attract the pandits back to their Valley. In the month of June and July 1997. I spotted 50to 60 of my pandit acquaintances in Srinagar for
the first time in eight years. That is encouraging.
Some militant leaders claim that they are no more responsible for killings of any innocent non-muslims. Who do you think is behind such killings?
Earlier the militants took pride in announcing their killing spree and identity of their victims. Today they do not own up such deeds because people by and large do not support such actions.
What do you think is the attitude of militants now?
I feel they too want to solve the problem peacefully now Presumably because the violence hs not brought any tangible results. The sources and quantum of weapons has also dried up.