8 April 2003
The Times of India
New Delhi: The recent massacre of 24 Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg has pushed the five-month-old coalition government in Srinagar on the back foot, with critics accusing it of going soft on militancy. But chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed tells Humra Qureishi that his government will not be deterred from reaching out to the people: Who do you think is behind the massacre of 24 innocent Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg? It's obvious who is behind the tragedy. There are people both here and across the border who have a vested interest in not letting normalcy return to the state. They want to derail and destabilise whatever the government has been doing in the last few months. So will the massacre change your government's policy? No, I'm committed to fulfilling the promises we made, the foremost of which was to restore peace and dignity to people's lives. As the prime minister himself said in his August 15 speech, 'mistakes have been committed in Kashmir' and there is a need to rectify them. You've put a lot of emphasis on the dialogue process, but has any headway been made? I believe there is simply no alternative to dialogue since the culture of guns has not taken us anywhere. But I don't understand why there's so much of criticism of it... Whether one looks at the talks taking place in the north-east today or the earlier accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir, there's simply no substitute for dialogue. Would you agree that the average Kashmiri today is wary of the motives of politicians from Pakistan, the US and India? Pakistan's role is well known. It has been interfering in Kashmir since 1947 but has not been very successful because the people did not support its moves. Only since 1987 has Pakistan been able to get some response because the people felt totally cheated and let down by the rigged 1987 elections. As far as Indian politicians are concerned, they do want normalcy to return and also realise that this is the best opportunity to put the peace process back on track. I think prime minister Vajpayee is particularly keen that problems get sorted out and he has been making efforts in that direction. As for the US, we cannot really approach it with a begging bowl. America kya karega? But isn't there opposition to your 'soft' policies from within the Central government? What do you mean by 'soft' policies? I'm just implementing the promises we made and ensuring that there are no human rights violations, including custodial deaths. Then there are questions of good government and socio-economic development... Why should the Centre interfere in any of this, for it too wants peace in that part of the country? In recent months, there've been allegations of innocent Kashmiri students being arrested and charged in states like UP, Uttaranchal and even Maharashtra. Many believe that you've done little to help them. We are looking into those cases; in fact, Mehbooba herself has been following these cases and has even met the (Union) home minister in this connection. I'm aware of the kind of harassment and humiliation some Kashmiris are facing outside the state. We have launched a special helpline in Delhi, where a senior police officer has been given the task of looking into any complaints. I have openly talked at meetings about the dangers of looking at all Indian Muslims with suspicion. I have cited instance after instance of the loyalty of Indian Muslims and yet I fear that some polarisation is indeed taking place. In your election manifesto, you'd promised a disbanding of the dreaded Special Task Force. But rather than doing that, haven't you simply renamed it? Not at all. The state police is today looking after most of the security and the STF, which was largely made up of surrendered militants, has been totally disbanded. The Centre has appointed yet another interlocutor - N N Vohra - after the two previous ones - K C Pant and Arun Jaitley - failed completely in their missions. Is Mr Vohra going to be any more successful? I don't think the appointment of Mr Vohra is inconsequential. I'd like to believe that the Centre is serious about a dialogue and the situation is just ripe for it. Critics say that your government has failed to bring about transparency in its functioning, particularly when it comes to detentions... I disagree that there is no transparency. In fact, I have issued orders to the state police and security forces that within 24 hours of detaining a person his family must be informed about it, with all the details. There's been a lot of change, but some people have refused to give credit for it. Recently, there have been some much-publicised Bollywood shootings in the Valley. But overall, there has been little progress in the setting up of new industries. Sab ho raha hai. There are lots of things in the pipeline. Give us some more time and you'll see the results.