Rehabilitation That Was Supposed To Happen In J&K Hasn't Happened, Says Omar

Rehabilitation That Was Supposed To Happen In J&K Hasn't Happened, Says Omar

4 April 2013
India Today
Asit Jolly

Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has successively raised his pitch even accusing New Delhi of an inherent bias in the wake of the arrest of Syed Liaqat Shah, a former Hizbul Mujahideen militant who wanted to surrender, by the Delhi Police on March 20. In an interview with Assistant Editor Asit Jolly in Jammu, Omar speaks about teething troubles with the militant rehabilitation policy that he mooted in November 2011 alongside the unpredictable future of his partnership with the Congress in the countdown to fresh elections in the Valley at the end of 2014. You were unusually upset by Liaqat Shah's arrest by the Delhi Police? Answer: It is the first time that somebody who we believe has come back as a result of our rehabilitation policy has been picked up. Obviously this arrest has implications for the entire policy. We were rightly concerned and decided to take it up at the highest level possible, which was the Union Home Minister because the last thing we want is for this message to go across that if you come back in response to this rehabilitation policy, another police force may arrest you for reasons best known to them. You believe Liaqat Shah is innocent of the charges brought against him? A. Yes absolutely. The necessary paperwork had been processed and the case for his return had been cleared and he was coming back as a result. You tell me where is the logic of coming back with a wife and child if you are coming as a militant? This must be the first known instance of an infiltration taking place with a family in tow. But besides any injustice that may have been done to Liaqat, the case has also exposed serious chinks in your rehabilitation-surrender policy? A. The biggest chink in the policy is that Nepal is still not exactly a sanctioned route. It is the route we are using because the ones that the policy originally envisaged required some sort of complicity on the part of the Pakistan authorities, which is clearly not going to happen. So, the Nepal route was encouraged even though it does not form part of the policy. That is why we are now talking to the Union home ministry to modify the policy to allow for a return to Kashmir via Nepal. Did you not keep MHA and MEA in the loop while framing the surrender policy in November 2010? A. Absolutely. This policy would not have been possible without the support that I got from the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram. He was a firm believer in it, and even though there were a number of naysayers in the home ministry, he was able to convince everyone of the importance of the venture and they all fell in line. There was less of a role for MEA because it is not as if visas and passports are required. It is largely a home ministry issue. But nearly two-and-a-half years since it was rolled out, there are problems with implementing the policy on the ground - problems that essentially concern your administration - the citizenship of the wives, the status of the children, problems with continuing their education? A. There are issues. The biggest problem is dealing with the question of the nationality of the spouses (mostly POK-Pakistan nationals) because clearly they are not Indian. Those that belong to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and can actually show residency they are Indian citizens. Our map shows that entire area as Indian territory, so you cannot claim that those women are not Indian if you are showing that part of Jammu and Kashmir as part of your country and Parliament has resolved that it is a part of India as well. This must be kept in mind. The children the returnees are coming back with also fall into two categories. The younger kids - primary school, middle school - are slightly easier to deal with. We have told government schools not to insist on a transfer certificate. In the initial stages, the schools were telling them to go back to Rawalpindi or Muzaffarabad and get a transfer certificate, which is clearly not possible. A different problem arises when some of them come back with older children - kids who have done two years in college or two years in a medical college. Now, clearly, I don't have a provision to make admissions available to them. It is just not possible to find a seat for them in a medical or a technical college. School education is easier and we are resolving problems there. But the number of school children coming in is less. College admissions will be a problem and the parents need to think of that before returning. The men coming back too face huge problems in finding employment? A. We have never promised and clearly can never promise them government jobs. What we have told them is that we are willing to help them with skill upgradation under the ongoing programmes. But they need to come forward and sign up. We have also told banks to look at their prospects for soft financing on the basis of existing government-run self-financing schemes. But there is very little visible. Nothing seems to have percolated to the ground. A. That is because a lot of them still think they will get government jobs. That rehabilitation means they will walk into a government office, which is not going to happen. But the returnees are finding it impossible to procure something as simple as a driver's license or a small bank loan to start a trade. A. These should not be a problem. We are planning and will soon establish a coordination cell in the home department to resolve such issues such issues quickly. The rehabilitation policy is nearly three years old, would you admit that things haven't really worked out at your end? A. Well, the returns only started last year. So, it has only been a year of these men coming back and we are gradually resolving issues. The first priority was to get the children's education sorted out and the legal issues around their actual standing because - let's understand that the rehabilitation policy envisaged them as coming across the Line of Control (LoC) - that had certain in-built provisions in terms of their reporting to police stations, a certain amount of de-indoctrination and things like that. All that has not to be built into the Nepal route as well. After that, we can get into the issues of whether they need to be given licenses. A process is already underway. The separatists have been uncharacteristically reticent on the returnees. Not one of them has articulated any significant response even on Liaqat Shah's troubles. Yasin Malik says they are an outdated lot and fit to be ignored. A. That is very convenient for Yasin because he is sitting at home relaxing. He is the one that encouraged these people to go (to POK). He was their role model. If he were sitting in the sort of conditions they are in, he wouldn't be talking this way. It is all very well for him because he has come back and adopted this very Gandhian persona and wants everybody to forget what his antecedents are. I believe we are as much responsible for this lot as we are for the younger generation of Kashmiris. There are others besides the returnees that need rehabilitation? A. We have two lots of people - one lot is of those who are coming back from POK. The other lot is of those who surrendered or were released after jail terms here. The latter for me are the bigger problem because we have found that in law-and-order situations - whether in 2010 or the recent disturbances following Afzal Guru's execution - by and large if there is a ring leader behind these, he turns out to be a surrendered militant or a released militant. And often this is because the rehabilitation that was supposed to happen hasn't happened. Such people constitute a larger number and one that grows every day. We are in touch with the MHA and are hoping to encourage some NGOs to come forward and help us with skill upgradation and self-employment opportunities because clearly even for these people, government jobs are not an option. From your demand for the revocation of AFSPA in 2011 to your publicly articulated indignation over the Liaqat Shah affair – you seem to be assuming increasingly strident positions against New Delhi. A. No, I take positions that I think are the right positions to take. And it is not as if they are anti-Delhi. I mean, how is Delhi involved in the Liaqat case? It is the Delhi Police that did it. It wasn't the home ministry. All I did was to ask the home minister to hand it over to the NIA and he immediately agreed. But you made a rather angry speech in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly accusing Delhi of a bias in March. A. On AFSPA, I have a reason to be angry. On Afzal Guru, too, on account of the way in which the family was treated. The point I made, and correct me if I am wrong, is: We seem to be willing to experiment with Jammu and Kashmir when it doesn't really have any major implications for the rest of the country or if there are implications they are seemingly positive ones. Both the revocation of AFSPA and the Afzal Guru execution had possible ramifications for the security and law and order situation within the state. Though we seem to be quite happy to execute Afzal Guru ignoring the sort of feedback on the sort of trouble this could potentially create, we are not willing to do the same as far as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is concerned. And I think this sort of duplicity needs correction. That's about it, otherwise it's not as if I am stridently anti-Delhi. But there's been a pattern evident in your statements. A. There is a pattern only when there are events that require it. The public anger over Afzal Guru's hanging appears to have significantly subsided. Is the Valley up for its third consecutive summer of peace? A. I think on the Afzal Guru front we are out of the woods and by and large on the law-and-order front too things are alright. There is the occasional attempt made by the separatists to have this weekly calendar with a day of protests - post-Friday stone pelting. But as long as we can handle these chut-put law and order disturbances without any major problems, we'll be all right. Hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have been relatively reticent on Afzal Guru. It is being said that Geelani doesn't want another separatist icon that could become bigger than him A. It's very possible (laughs), it is very possible. Do you see your positions distancing the National Conference from the Congress ahead of the 2014 general elections and later in the year the Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls? A. They are positions that are based on ground realities and if ground reality is seen to be anti-coalition then that will be extremely unfortunate because neither the Congress nor the NC comes into a coalition agreeing to bury their political identity and ideology. And I haven't expected that from my Congress colleagues either who have taken contrary stands from time to time. Five months ago (November) you told me it was too early to predict what the 2014 assembly polls would bring. Do you now have a clearer sense on the future of the NC-Congress alliance? A. If you had asked me this question prior to February 9, I would have had perhaps a more realistic answer for you. I don't know. I think it would be foolish on our part to suggest that mainstream political parties haven't been hit by the Afzal Guru execution. We all have. If the PDP wants to live in a fool's paradise imagining that they haven't taken a political hit they are welcome to the fantasy. All mainstream parties have been affected; to what extent and how long this will last, I cannot say. And the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir so easily switches its alliance partners. A. Well, that's the convenience that they have. This perhaps is the only state where they have a choice and it is almost as if they are perpetually the party in power and they just have to choose who their partners will be. That's an advantage that they enjoy that others don't. An unfair advantage? A. Well, that's the way it is. That's the way the chips fall here. Once again, do you see the political dispensations vis-a-vis the coalition changing in 2014? A. I don't know. The National Conference, in its last working committee meeting, has authorised the party president to take a view on this and if, in his assessment, it is the right thing to fight elections in alliance with the Congress, then we will enter into negotiations with them. But post February 9 (Afzal Guru's execution), I don't know how the chips will fall. But who's to say that the Congress too is not reassessing its options. There will be early indications for Jammu and Kashmir when the Congress begins shopping for regional allies ahead of the General Elections? A. Let us see.