Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah breaks his silence on the interlocutors report in an interview with Harinder Baweja, and reminds the BJP of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s vision on Kashmir.
Q. The state is witnessing a peaceful summer after the turmoil of 2010. An ideal window of opportunity for a political initiative?
A. Will we ever know when the stock markets hit their highs and lows? We keep waiting for the ideal time and realise it has slipped us by. We had an ideal opportunity when we were dealing with Pervez Musharraf at the height of his power and we kept wondering if we could trust him and we let that go by. We had several opportunities in the Valley from time to time that we didn’t take advantage of. You cannot wait for the last gun to fall silent, to engage with J and K politically. It is important to tell the state that you don’t just engage with it when there is a problem on the street. You only engage them when there is trouble and when the trouble goes away, you feel there’s no need for a solution. You have had several Government of India ministers accept that J and K has a unique distinction in the Indian constitution and needs to be dealt with in that framework, so why shy away? Delhi needs to incentivise peace and we don’t do that.
Q. The interlocutors report provides one such opportunity but it has been rejected by the BJP and the Hurriyat
A. The appointment of the interlocutors were born out of trouble, out of the perceived need to engage the state peacefully. The Centre should take it to the next logical step and seek the views of all political parties. The Hurriyat has been downright critical and I don’t know what they expected. I’m far more willing to take the BJP's criticism because they participated in the process. I don’t care what the Hurriyat thinks because they did not even participate. They lose the right to criticise the end result. The BJP's criticism is expected. The nature of our politics is such that we reject everything when we are in the Opposition. Vajpayee did everything to help the process of normalisation than one would expect from a BJP prime minister but others in the party seem to have forgotten that. They need to keep an open mind. They should not look at it through the narrow prism of their vote banks in Jammu for that won’t help you solve the Kashmir problem. They must look at it like Vajpayee did from the ramparts of the Red Fort when he said the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated and from here, when he extended a hand of friendship.
Q. Are you disappointed with the interlocutors report? It falls short of the autonomy report passed by Farooq Abdullah’s government, which seeks to restore the pre-53 status in totality
A. I could take apart each recommendation and give you its merits and demerits but as a chief minister, it would not be in the fitness of things to criticize and praise individual aspects. As and when this report is taken forward, the NC will bring its support and its criticism forward. The NC stands by its commitment to restoration of autonomy in keeping with the resolution and that doesn’t change, but I am part of a coalition. My coalition partners feel it starts with the Indira-Sheikh accord of the mid 70s. Could the report have gone further, yes it could have but at least it was not born out of a room in the guest house. This report includes views the interlocutors heard in jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Now it’s for us to extract more out of the dialogue process. For us to extract more than the report contains. The report was born out of an all party meeting and its logical that the all party should look at it. It is difficult to imagine a consensus emerging on this report but a discussion won’t harm anybody. We must start a dialogue because we’ve always said the solution wont flow from the barrel of a gun.
Q. You have already put your stamp on greater autonomy but this report asks for a constitutional committee to be set up to review the various acts that have eroded the special status...
A. The indira sheikh accord was also work in progress – to look at the various acts and see which can be rolled back. If the end result is restoration of autonomy, thats fine with me. We are not diluting our stand on autonomy and we will go into any dialogue, starting with the report that was passed with a two thirds majority. That is more official than the interlocutors report. It has the peoples stamp and that is a historical, undeniable fact.
Q. Are you disappointed that the interlocutors have asked for a review of AFSPA and not its revocation?
A. They have packaged what they have heard. A review that doesn’t lead to a revocation is a pointless review. We have been reviewing it from time to time. When the unified command talks about it, its a review.
Q. You haven’t been able to convince the ministry of defence and the service chiefs?
A. Its really one service chief. I haven’t been able to convince a service chief who is no longer the service chief. The army’s reservations are more security related, like, what if our vehicles come under attack and we fire in self-defence. Well, my answer is, then you've fired in self defence. Nowhere else in the country do you need AFSPA, to fire in self defence. I’m hopeful we will get somewhere.
Q Are you disappointed that the interlocutors have not recommended a change in nomenclature whereby the CM is referred to as the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir?
A. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. The nomenclature is of less importance than the opportunity to deliver.
Q. It took the Centre over six months to make the interlocutors report public. You think it might still go into deep freeze given the BJP's opposition?
A. God forbid, we find ourselves in a position where we get disengaged and find ourselves in a position, where we are forced, through violence, to engage with the people of J and K. We can't be scrambling again, to call an all-party meeting, for the people may not be willing to engage. The Centre should write to political parties and seek their views on the report. Im not suggesting that we all have to troop into 7 Race Course Road but dialogue has to be a continuous process. You have to realise that nothing you suggest will satisfy hundred percent of the population. Let’s start talking -- we assumed nothing was possible between India and Pakistan but a dialogue threw up the Musharraf formula so who knows.
Q. Let's talk about troop reduction. Your views on how and when this should happen?
A. Of course it needs to happen. We are going about it the wrong way. When we talk of troop reduction, we talk about reducing the CRPF presence rather than the Army. I think it should be the other way. De-induction should start with the Army and then the CRPF and then a handover to the J and K police. The CRPF is involved with both law and order and counterinsurgency, unlike the Army, so the CRPF is more useful to me than having the Army. Im working with New Delhi on how to reduce the security footprint. You won't see visuals of the Army leave, like the Russian Army did in Afghanistan, but im in talks with the government of India. And remember, the Army has always said they don’t want to be here. I’d much rather the Army vacates the hinterland and move to the line of control. If they can plug the LoC which they haven’t been able to, we won’t have much of a problem.