Chief Minister Omar Abdullah discusses his achievements and other aspects of Jammu and Kashmir with GK Senior Editor Javaid Malik.
Q: The term of coalition would end within a year. Do you think you have achieved what you had aimed for when you took over as the Chief Minister in 2009?
Omar: We still have a year and a half. Lot of things we wanted to achieve we have achieved. There are certain things that are in the pipeline, some plans were long term goals which we had set. Result of those would be apparent in five to seven years from now. There are certain things which we are pleased with having done notable among those is the route that has been opened for Kashmiris who had gone to other side for training but didn’t want to return as militants. This I believe has been one of our singular achievements. In the previous government other regional party voted against this initiative. For us to convince Government of India and then operationalize it was a significant development. There have been some minor teething problems but I believe we will get past those. The Public Safety Guarantee Act I believe is a landmark legislation not available in many other states. The first year of the Panchayats is functioning well. There have been some road blocks in the elections for second tier. I believe we are now close to go ahead with that initiative as well. There have been number of steps taken in reforming our power sector particularly in adding generation capacity. Getting two central universities has been a great achievement. The culture of entrepreneurship that we have fostered among the youngsters in the state through SKEWPY that is something we take satisfaction from. The number of Kashmiri youngsters who are now being recruited from campuses from Himayat and Udaan again these are good developments.
Q: Do you somehow feel that you could have done more, but for various compulsions, coalition government being the one?
Omar: I believe that under the circumstances we have done rather well. The coalition has functioned smoothly. There haven’t been the fights and battles between the coalition partners as you had in the previous coalition government.
Please remember in the previous coalition government that coalition because of its political actions virtually set fire to the state. You had two ministers from the PDP who allotted land for a particular purpose and were quiet happy with that allotment. And then seeing the reaction among the people cancelled that allotment and then criticized their own action thereby setting fire to Jammu as well. This coalition has functioned far more smoothly. Despite the numerous challenges that we had to face we have definitely done a better job representing the people than the previous coalition government did.
Q: Is there any possibility of Assembly elections in JK being held ahead of time?
Omar: It is not something we are looking at the moment. We believe people have elected us for six year term and we should govern for six years.
Q: Are you contesting the assembly elections from Ganderbal?
Omar: Party has to decide from where I should contest. I am nurturing Ganderbal and am taking care of the constituency. I am not contemplating to contest from Amira Kadal. Nasir is doing a good job as MLA Amira Kadal and why should I unseat him.
Q: Do you see NC regaining power after 2014 polls?
Omar: That is for the people to decide. We will do the best we can. We will take our track record to the people and we will hope that they would vote for us. I think it will be wrong on our part to pre-empt what people are going to do.
Q: An impression has been created that you are keen on entering into a pre-poll alliance with Congress. How far is it true?
Omar: We have a functioning coalition with Congress. The possibility of fighting or not to fighting elections in alliance is for party high commands to decide. The working committee of the NC has authorized Jenab Farooq Sahib to take a final call over the issue.
Q: Why is Congress not talking about pre-poll alliance? Do you feel they are keeping their options open?
Omar: Nobody is talking about pre-poll alliance, neither are we?
Q: Are you keeping your options open?
Omar: National Conference Working Committee has authorized Dr Farooq Abdullah to take a decision on it.
Q: Is there any possibility of NC forging an alliance with PDP after 2014 polls?
Omar: Why are you assuming that PDP would be able to support any government after 2014 polls? I don’t see that possibility at the moment.
Q: Do you feel new Kashmir based parties which have come to fore recently would have any role in government formation after 2014 elections?
Omar: I actually worry about this sort of mushrooming of political parties in Kashmir. Not because of what it means for the National Conference. It doesn’t really threaten the NC, but what it does it divides our voice. My late grandfather had always warned against this. He has always said that there are those in positions of power in Delhi who want to subjugate or weaken the voice of Kashmiris by dividing it. They want to create as he would say “mohalley, mohalley mein leader.” That is precisely what is happening. Er Rasheed who is barely able to win one seat himself that to perhaps due to more because of mistakes of the NC than anything else is suddenly seeing him as pan Kashmir leader. This is I believe not a healthy thing for Kashmiris as a whole because the more divided we are less likely we are to achieve anything. You have seen it with Hurriyat. Today Hurriyat Conference cannot virtually achieve anything as it stands divided. Come the elections this will be proven that major parties would come forward with representative character.
Q: There is a notion that Omar Abdullah led NC is different from the old NC and the party is divided into two camps. Is it true?
Omar: Not true. There are no camps there is only one National Conference.
Q: This year started on a difficult note for your government with New Delhi hanging Afzal Guru. Do you feel it has damaged NC’s image?
Omar: We tried very hard to ensure that Afzal Guru is not executed and his death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. Unfortunately the decision makers in New Delhi didn’t see state’s argument as majority of the people in the state were not in favour of this execution. I have made my dissatisfaction very clear.
Q: Soon after Afzal’s secret hanging you had warned New Delhi about it having serious repercussions. Since then militant attacks have intensified and most of the militants who were killed in recent past have been locals and highly educated. Do you feel Afzal’s hanging has pushed Kashmiri youth to the wall?
Omar: We have not seen any indication to suggest that there has been increased recruitment into militancy of youngsters as a result of Afzal Guru’s execution. We have found that there has been some sort of recruitment into militancy possibly as a result of the summer agitations of 2008, 2009 and 2010. But it is too early to show or to suggest that Afzal Guru’s execution has had any immediate impact on recruitment into militancy. As far as educated militants are concerned this not a new phenomenon. I think unfortunately in one encounter you had more than one educated militant everybody has suddenly assumed that all educated chaps have turned militants. That is not true. The area from which these two militants came has traditionally contributed better educated people into militancy than in the past. Nothing suggests to us that face of militancy is changing drastically in anyway.
Q: Do you think there is at some level a trust-deficit in New Delhi vis-à-vis Kashmir which not only triggers a sense of injustice among Kashmiris but fuels alienation as well especially among the youth here?
Omar: Trust deficit exists both ways. There is a trust deficit between the state and New Delhi and vice-versa. It is important that trust deficit be reduced and eliminated. The handling of Afzal Guru execution, deaths of two youth as a result of Army action in Bandipora none of this helps the situation. The fact is that recommendations of working groups are left incomplete and interlocutors report has been dumped into cold storage, there is no meaningful political dialogue for which some of our political leaders are also to be blamed. Nothing stops these people from coming forward and talking openly. Unfortunately some of them prefer to talk in the backrooms of five star hotels.
Q: You recently said that talks on AFSPA would continue? Do you feel the Srinagar attack in which 8 soldiers were killed and killing of two youth in Sumbal area by Army have complicated the situation?
Omar: The attack in Srinagar or army action in Bandipora have made both the argument for and against AFSPA. It depends which side you want to be on. Before the Bandipora incident those voices which were calling for revocation of AFSPA were little subdued, because of what the Army went through, but seeing what happened in Bandipora and unfortunately seeing the way in which various statements emerged from the army about what had actually happened I think again has brought into focus the need for reviewing AFSPA.
I understand that Army needs a legal cover to operate. I don’t argue with that. My point is that why does legal cover has to extend to impunity. That is what is happening. While seeking to give legal cover to soldiers we are now giving them impunity wherein their actions have no consequences (punishment). There again trust is eroded. There have been number of incidents where even if action has been taken, Kashmiris don’t know if anything has happened. Chatisinghpora, the subsequent murder of innocent people who were projected as militants, is a glaring example of it.”
Recalling the 2010 agitation in Kashmir, Omar said, “Tufail Matoo’s death was not the starting point of the unrest. Those of us who are willing to look at it entirely will know this process actually started with Machil fake encounter. Geelani’s calendar of Q:it Kashmir was a result of the Machil fake encounter. Tufail Matoo’s death was result of that anger as protests had already started. Tear smoke flew because of Machil fake encounter.
There is a need for the Government of India at the highest levels to take a look at these incidents and realize that unless justice is seen to be done people will not have faith in the institutions.”
Today in the aftermath of the incident like Bandipora when you announce that you will have an enquiry and look into the matter, who trusts it? Most people turn around and say well what is the point of this enquiry? Like all other enquiries it will meet the same fate. We are put on the defensive. Very few enquiries have been taken to their logical conclusion or the findings of these enquiries have been shared with people since 1996 to 2013.
Q: Separatists have been alleging that your government has choked their political space. Why are they not being allowed to carry on with their activities, especially Syed Ali Shah Geelani?
Omar: The only time Syed Ali Shah Geelani faces any restriction on his activities is when he tries to incite trouble post Friday prayers. Otherwise where do we stop him? He is a man who happily goes to Hari Singh High Street to buy a new dressing gown and then meets people when he is out shopping. We don’t choke his activities. Whenever, I have told the police that he be allowed to carry out his normal Friday activities. He ends up going to the Masjid catching an audience and making a provocative speech. He provokes youth to throw stones and disappears from the spot. And we are left with the problem. God forbids if there is a similar incident with happened with Tufail Matoo, who will be responsible. Will Geelani Sahib stand up and say I was responsible. He will blame me for that and would call for a strike. To maintain the peace and ensure that people have a good season if that means that certain steps have to be taken which are unpopular in certain quarters. Let it be.
Q: You on many occasions have reminded New Delhi about political dimensions of Jammu and Kashmir but so far response from the other side has been cold. Do you feel K-issue has been pushed on back burner?
Omar: Government of India is dealing with number of different problems at present. The economic problem is there for all to see. But I have always made it clear to Delhi that there is need to engage the state politically. Economic packages are not going to help Delhi’s cause in Kashmir.
Q: What do you expect from new dispensation in Pakistan led by Mian Nawaz Sharief?
Omar: I expect him to live upto what they are saying. Mian Nawaz Sharief has made very conciliatory noises about the relationship with India. One of the areas where we can see whether he is going to have that flexibility is an area that benefits him. Today Pakistan is in a position where rural areas face 22 hour power cuts in 24 hour period. Urban Pakistan faces 10 hour power cut. Pakistan needs electricity and India is ready to sell power. If you can’t buy electricity how can you resolve the other issues.
Q: Everyone is saying that 2014 will be crucial for Kashmir as NATO forces would withdraw from Afghanistan. Do you see Taliban coming to Kashmir?
Omar: I don’t see Taliban coming to Kashmir. It didn’t happen in hey days of militancy why would it happen now.
Q: Do you feel the rehabilitation policy which you started for the youth who had crossed over to Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) in 1990s has paid any dividends?
Omar: The fact they are back home is a dividend for all to see. There are certain operational problems that we have to deal with particularly with their economic rehabilitation, but we cannot promise them government jobs.
Q: Your opponents blame you for giving a freehand to Police. Is it true?
Omar: My opponents come up with all sorts of things. I am surprised that they have not blamed me for what has happened in Uttarakhand. I have not given any free hand to police.
Q: Even Amnesty International on many occasions has expressed concern about Police arresting minors and booking them under PSA. What measures are you taking to make JK police more people friendly?
Omar: Largely this problem has been done away with. There is no law which states that minors cannot be arrested.
The law is that minors should not be treated as majors. They have to be treated as juveniles. Juvenile justice system has to work.
Q: Do you feel duration of Amarnath Yatra needs to be curtailed as a precautionary measure, as JK should learn a lesson from recent Uttrakhand disaster?
Omar: There is no similarity in Uttrakhand and Amarnath Yatra. Please understand that even today number of pilgrims in Amarnath track is regulated. Even our helicopter sorties are regulated. There is no regulation in Uttrakhand.
Q: Do you feel your government has not been able to bring Kashmiri Pandits back?
Omar: No government can bring them back. The only thing that government can do is create conditions conducive for Kashmiri Pandits to comeback. Conditions at present are conducive for their return as violence levels are at the lowest. None of us can remember when was a Kashmiri Pandit targeted for being a Kashmiri Pandit. I can’t force them to come back. We can only facilitate their return.