Mufti In A Fix Over Promise To Disband SOG
28 January 2003
The Hindustan Times
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's decision to create a voluntary anti-insurgency force without disbanding the special operations group (SOG) has his political rivals smirking. Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP), which leads a coalition government with the Congress, had pledged to disband the SOG ahead of the September-October Assembly elections. 'The voluntary force is being created by initially selecting boys from the SOG who would be given commando training, put through crash courses, equipped with automatic weapons and given higher emoluments,' said a senior police officer in Srinagar. 'At present a special police officer (SPO) in the SOG gets a monthly packet of Rs 1,500, but those inducted into the voluntary force would get a better deal.' The PDP had promised to do away with the counter-insurgency SOG because it has been accused of human rights excesses and treating the locals badly. So the decision not to disband it yet has raised eyebrows among supporters and brought smiles onto the faces of opposition leaders. 'I told you the SOG would not be disbanded. They would continue to carry out operations. This voluntary force is an addition and not the alternative to the SOG,' said a smug Omar Abdullah, the president of the main opposition National Conference. Abdullah did not hide his sarcasm. 'Did you believe the SOG would be really disbanded? The state government cannot take that decision. They would have to carry along the (Union) Home Ministry.' In their scathing criticism of the previous government headed by Omar Abdullah's father Farooq, PDP leaders accused the National Conference administration of 'unleashing terror on Kashmiris through the SOG'. It was in light of that criticism that the PDP promised to immediately disband the SOG if it came to power. Some feel that while the ruling party has not fulfilled its pledge, it has improved the situation considerably. 'That promise (to disband the SOG) looks like having been forgotten, but nobody can deny the fact there is a remarkable change in the attitude of the SOG towards the local people after Sayeed took over. They are definitely better behaved now,' said Bashir Manzar, editor of a local daily. But Manzar believes the backtracking on the SOG could cost the PDP a number of followers in the future. The police and security agencies, which are against the SOG's disbanding, are happy that the government has not acted on its promise yet. 'The SOG is not only carrying out operations (against insurgents) but is also assisting us with vital information and inputs,' said a senior paramilitary officer. In its changed political strategy, the National Conference has decided to corner the PDP-led government on local issues and right now its leaders are using the SOG card. 'It is specifically as a result of our revision of policy that the party's legislature meeting asked patron Farooq Abdullah not to join the Union Cabinet. We have historically been a pro-Kashmiri political party and proximity to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the last six years proved suicidal for us,' said a senior National Conference leader. 'We have to revive the party's roots among the masses and that cannot be done without parting ways with the BJP.' Meanwhile, Sayeed is finding it hard to move on another major election promise - providing employment to thousands of jobless educated youth in the state. As the government already has an overloaded administrative apparatus with apparently no immediate economic revival in sight, the fulfilment of the employment promise seems unlikely for a long time yet. Sayeed has said the process of recruitments to government services would be made more transparent with no interference from politicians. 'This means the promises made by PDP leaders to the youth who worked as its electoral agents braving the wrath of the previous government cannot be fulfilled. They must also undergo the same recruitment process and not get out of turn direct employment as was the practice of the previous regime,' said Sajjad Ahmad, 28, who worked for the PDP during the Assembly elections. 'Kashmir has been a land of expediency. Everybody wants an out of turn favour. How would Sayeed address populist aspirations and at the same time stick to honest, clean governance?' wonders Norul Qamrain, a local journalist.