‘Musharraf’s speech has made no impact on militancy’
5 February 2002
New Delhi: Farooq Abdullah has always been openly critical about Pakistan- sponsored, cross-border terrorism. Though the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister is all for smashing terrorist camps in Pakistan, he has kept every option open. The man who harbours the ambition of becoming Vice- President or President of India is in favour of giving time to Pervez Musharraf to implement all that he had promised in his historic speech of 12 January. But since nothing has changed on the ground so far, Dr Abdullah asserts that though India does not want war, Pakistan needs to be taught a lesson. In an interview with KAVITA SURI, he talks about issues ranging from terrorism to the forthcoming Assembly elections which will also see the completion of his six-year term in office. You have announced that the Assembly election will be held in September. Are you geared to contest the election? September is far away. This month, we will hold the parliamentary by-election to the Poonch-Jammu constituency. It will indicate the trend for the 20 Assembly constituencies. Poll preparations will begin only in July. The budget session (starting 26 February) will be an important session for the government. There will be a shorter session in July after which campaigns start. Will you change your legislators to give representation to younger leaders in your party and those with an untainted image? Yes. There will be many such people. But it is for the party to decide. If I talk about it now, my sitting legislators may think they will be dropped which may not be the case. Decisions will have to taken from the grass-roots level upwards. If the sitting members have done a good job, they can come back. What role would be played by the Youth National Conference headed by Omar Abdullah? We do have many young people in the Assembly. For the sake of democracy, younger elements have to be brought in by the YNC so that the older elements can guide them to take responsibility. What about the parliamentary by-election? There are rumours that the National Conference wants a friendly contest. It has deliberately fielded a weak candidate so that the BJP candidate can win? It will be a friendly contest for all of us – the BJP, the Congress, the Janata Dal and the National Conference. We are all friends, so it will be a friendly contest. Elections are an occasion when the people exercise their will. It is a democratic fight and democratic fights are always friendly. But allegations are that as Omar Abdullah is at the Centre and the National Conference is a partner of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, you have entered into an arrangement with the BJP to help its candidate win the Jammu-Poonch seat? But the BJP criticises me everyday. Have a look at the newspapers. All the ills are put at Farooq Abdullah’s doorstep and that of the National Conference. The BJP accuses the NC and the Congress of ruining the state. The Congress blames the NC and the BJP for ruining the state. The National Conference is everybody’s target. There are hints that the All-Party Hurriyat Conference may contest. It has decided to have its own election observers. Your comment? This will not make a difference to the National Conference. It has always fought the Hurriyat. The NC has been fighting these forces since 1938 when the party was formed. We will face them again. But would you welcome the Hurriyat’s participation in the election? I would like it to contest. The Hurriyat claims to be the true representative of the Kashmiri people. I would like it to fight the election and prove its claim. But I want to warn them. I will not allow the guns of Pakistan to help them. With all the forces at my disposal, I will prevent a democratic process from being hijacked by their guns. Last time I talked to you, you said the time had come for you to move out of Jammu and Kashmir so that somebody else could take charge of the state... True. I do want to move to the Centre but I will certainly take part in the Assembly election. I am not running away from it. But what about your wish of becoming the Vice-President or the President of India? That is what the newspapers say. Like I recently saw, I was going to get the Bharat Ratna. I hope I get it in my lifetime and not after I am no more. Sometimes, newspapers concoct all sorts of stories. But like I have always said, if such a responsibility is vested in me, I will be honoured to accept it after the election. What will be your poll plank? The five years that we have completed in this turbulent period. We have put things back on track after the 1990-96 period. What about the resettlement issue? That is not our issue. Autonomy? Autonomy has always been our issue. We have always told the Union government that autonomy has to be granted to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Recently, LK Advani said the pre-1953 position cannot be restored to Jammu and Kashmir but devolution of more powers to the state is possible. We would like to see what is in their bag. We have stated our position to them. The autonomy resolution of the state Assembly is before them. Let them tell us what is possible and what is not. Last time you said dialogue was on between the Centre and the state on autonomy. Any developments? Nothing has been spelt out yet. Talks are still in its preliminary phase. There is no use talking about it at this stage. Nothing has gone beyond Mr Advani’s statement. We have to see what they are ready to give us. We have placed our report before them. There is world pressure to settle the Jammu and Kashmir issue. While we settle it, let one thing be clear. We have to win the hearts and minds of the people of the state. Granting autonomy to the people can help bridge the gap. How will you push the autonomy issue? I think the Government of India knows. We are discussing it with them. Recently, while speaking at the border town of RS Pura in Jammu, where largescale migrations have taken place because of the Indo-Pak build-up at the border, you had said war was inevitable... Both the armies are staring eyeball to eyeball. What do you make of that? It just needs a pretext. We don’t want war. Let me be very clear about that. This state has seen so much of destruction, three wars, terrorism et al. It has taken us five years to rebuild the infrastructure. It will take just a minute to destroy all that. I am not for war. But if my neighbour fails to take the message of peace, then, as my people say, let us die once instead of time and again. You have already said there is no change in the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir since Gen. Musharraf’s speech. You had welcomed all that he had said, admitting that he needed time to act. Gen. Musharraf’s speech was good for his country because it was deteriorating rapidly. In the eyes of the world, Pakistan has tarnished the face of the Muslim, be it in the Arab world or elsewhere. In the Western free world, a Muslim has become a targeted figure. So, the Pakistani President had to make a volte-face. I hope he can remove the half-baked imams and convert madrasas to scientific schools. I hope he is able to rein in those extremist elements destroying Islam. Pakistan’s economy is in poor shape. But as far as we can see on our borders, tension has not abated. My people are suffering. They have been rendered homeless. There are mines everywhere. A girl’s leg got blown off only recently. How does it hurt Pakistan? Where is that goodwill gesture that Gen. Musharraf intended to show? He has to prove that he means what he says. That is what India is waiting for. India will not de-escalate the tension until the killings stop and militancy abates. That has to happen.