“But today [Hizbul Mujahideen chief] Sayed Salaudhin from Pakistan has to make a request to the terrorists not to show up at public rallies. Nobody in Kashmir is even following the protest calendar of Hurriyat.”
Aasha Khosa | August 19, 2016 | Kashmir
What is your assessment of the situation in Kashmir?
The situation is very bad. What we see today is a complete breakdown of governance and law and order. We have an artificial sense of control over the areas where we have deployed security forces. The moment the forces are out, young people come from nowhere and set up their own nakas and security barriers, they start checking all passers-by. At places civilians are not even allowed to take the sick and the injured to hospitals, with ambulances being attacked.
Did it erupt all of a sudden or were there undercurrents of unrest?
Obviously, the making of this situation has always been there. Over several months we had been seeing people’s increased participation in militants’ funerals; encounters between militants and security forces had suddenly increased, and the recruitment of youth in militancy, particularly in south Kashmir, had increased. The situation had been simmering for a long time and Burhan’s killing just acted as a trigger.
What are the factors behind this situation?
I don’t want to define the reasons behind the heightened participation in militants’ funerals and increased recruitment [of militants] during the past one and a half year. It’s for all to see. It was the same case when the NC and Congress had joined hands in 1986. At that time the Rajiv-Farooq accord was blamed for the shrinking political space in Kashmir and for giving rise to unrest and discontentment. Now the PDP and BJP have come together in a realignment of political forces. And therefore it is not without a reason that south Kashmir, which is the bastion of PDP, is the seat of unrest and turmoil. The constituency with the highest number of killings in the current disturbances belongs to Mehbooba Mufti. In fact, we had warned against this unnatural political alliance and now our worst apprehensions have come true: the discontentment has manifested itself in the worst possible way.
Mehbooba has blamed those who have sent their children away to safer places for studies for stoking the fires in Kashmir. Do you agree?
Why did Mehbooba not blame these elements when there was trouble in 2008 and 2010 [violent agitations over the Amarnath land transfer and the killing of two women respectively]? Her reading of the situation was quite different then. But the fact is that there has to be a good reason for over 50 people to daringly throw stones at security forces and get killed in return. It cannot happen on mere instigation. Also Mehbooba must share the names of all those who have sent away their children and are creating trouble here.
Why didn’t you attend the all-party meeting that she had convened to discuss the way out of turmoil?
Yes, I didn’t go for that meeting. Her own actions do not inspire confidence. One day she says she didn’t know of the encounter [in which Burhan Wani was killed], and the other day she would claim otherwise. Her own former finance minister [Muzzaffar Hussain Beg, now an MP] has questioned the killing of Burhan Wani. Sections of police have contradicted Mehbooba’s claim that she was unaware of Burhan’s killing. Over all, her utterances on Burhan Wani’s killing have lacked credibility. She was only doing it for cameras.
Is this the right time to speak to the Hurriyat leaders?
I have always believed that there is never a bad time to speak to the Hurriyat. They too represent a section of the population. Otherwise, what explains the complete hartal in the Chenaab Valley and Pir Panjal range [parts of Jammu region] today [August 5]? The problem is that you wake up to the reality of Hurriyat only when there is a fire. In fact, I had told prime minister Manmohan Singh during the inauguration of the Anantnag railway station that Kashmir needs political handling. I told him that Kashmir appeared calm that day, and it was the right time for Delhi to offer people something in return.
Have you conveyed this to Delhi again?
I conveyed my party’s suggestions for improving the situation in Kashmir to home minister Rajnath Singh when he came here. Mind you, these are no advices but reasonable suggestions which are actionable.
Today Kashmir’s political leaders are not even able to move around in their constituencies. How can this lead to normalcy?
Why me, even you – the journalists – are not able to move around. Why don’t the TV show anchors who are always raising questions on behalf of the nation come here and see if they can move around? The situation is far worse in south Kashmir. The fire has spread to Banihal, Surankot and Doda [in Jammu region] too. The situation is as tense as it was in the past on many occasions. The only difference this time is that today Kashmir is not a front-page news and not on the super prime-time slot on TV.
How do you compare the turmoil your government had faced and what is happening now?
In the early 1990s my father and his close aide, Mr Suhrawardhy, had told Manmohan Singh that ‘today we have reached a situation where people in Kashmir will be happy with [political] autonomy, but tomorrow the situation may turn so bad that even if you offer autonomy there may be no takers for it’. The situation has reached such a pass. We have locked ourselves in a spiral of protests. In 2008 and 2010, at least a section of Hurriyat was relevant. In 2010, we could get in touch with the moderate leaders of Hurriyat and seek their intervention in ending the stone-pelting. But today [Hizbul Mujahideen chief] Syed Salahuddin from Pakistan has to make a request to the terrorists not to show up at public rallies. Nobody in Kashmir is even following the protest calendar of Hurriyat or listening to their leaders. In four south Kashmir districts life is completely paralysed.
Pellet guns are becoming a bone of contention. Who had introduced it?
The pellet gun was introduced after the 2010 violence. Its introduction should not be an issue but its wanton and unchecked misuse should be looked into. Then it did not cause the kind of injuries which are today resulting in blindness and even death. Now this regime is blaming us for introducing it. It’s like blaming the buyer of the car for an accident which is caused by an indisciplined driver. This government has a tendency to blame all its wrongdoings on others, be it the use of the pellet gun, the killing of Burhan Wani, militancy or the unrest. Mehbooba blames bureaucrats for all problems and she herself would go around supervising flood-dredging work while unrest is spreading fast.
Why is it so? Does this reflect Mehbooba’s inexperience?
This government comprises inexperienced people. Only one minister, Choudhary Lal Singh, is a former cabinet minister. The rest have only been ministers of state and are first-time cabinet ministers. This may be behind the inept handling of the situation and inept statements by the CM on crucial issues. The problem with Mehbooba is that she does not own up her wrongdoings and therefore she would never learn anything.
But why are you not cooperating with her in responding to this crisis?
We have done nothing to exacerbate the situation. Compare our conduct with what Mehbooba had done in 2010. PDP had gone door to door in Delhi to convey that the Omar Abdullah government should be dismissed. She had even put a lock on the gate of the civil secretariat in Srinagar. She sat on the bonnet of the car and campaigned against the killings during my tenure. YouTube has all these videos and interestingly people are sharing these nowadays. Ours has been a very balanced response in comparison.
How do you feel about the PM’s silence on Kashmir for three weeks?
I feel hugely disappointed. After all, he is the PM of 1 crore plus people including young people in Kashmir who are on the wrong path and are clearly misguided. When we say Kashmir is an inalienable part of India, isn’t it about the land and the people and not only about the land? The PM spoke in Gujarati on national television during the Patel agitation. I don’t expect him to speak Kashmiri but why can’t he have the same yardstick for Kashmiri people? Mann ki baat... can’t he mention Kashmir even once? Kuchh to kahiye!
(The interview appears in the August 16-31, 2016 issue of Governance Now)
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