Do not believe in crushing terrorism by killing terrorists because terrorism is in the mind: Satya Pal Malik
Satya Pal Malik is the first career politician in five decades to be Jammu & Kashmir governor, that too at a time when the state has been under Governor’s Rule after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support from the Mehbooba Mufti government in June. As Malik tries to reach out to the alienated people of the Valley, he spoke to Harinder Baweja about the situation on the ground, the Hurriyat Conference, Pak-sponsored terror, J&K’s special status, and the way forward for the strife-torn state. Edited excerpts:
Apart from a visit to J&K soon after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death in 2016, you came to the state in 1988 when there was normalcy. As governor of the conflict-ridden state, how do you read the ground situation now?
A lot of water has flown since then. In fact, a lot of blood has been shed and many have been killed. Kashmir has suffered. India has suffered because of terror sponsored by Pakistan.
I am clear in my mind: nothing will be gained through the gun. I am telling the terrorists, currently only 300 in number, that the solution will not flow from the barrel of a gun. I do not believe in crushing terrorism by killing the terrorists because terrorism is in the mind. I understand that there is deep alienation and the youth are staring at complete darkness. They have no faith in the state’s political parties such as the National Conference (NC) and the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) and they are annoyed with us (Indian government) too. It is my job to regain their trust.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi favours a dialogue and I appeal to them to give up the gun and come talk to me. Even a powerful force like the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka) could not succeed through violence. Mistakes were made in the past by Delhi and Srinagar. I concede that elections were rigged. People were let down by their own leaders. My message to them is: you have Articles 370 and 35-A; come to the table, and we are ready to give you anything under the Indian Constitution. Based on my discussions with the youth, I can tell you that they are disappointed with Pakistan too.
You have been the governor for over two months. Have you met any leader from the Hurriyat Conference? Do you consider them stakeholders?
The Hurriyat leaders must abandon Pakistan. They do have some influence but they don’t even go to the toilet without Pakistan’s permission. My appeal to the Hurriyat is to take an independent stand. I don’t consider Pakistan a stakeholder, rather, I’d say they are trouble makers. Let me clarify that it is not my mandate to meet the Hurriyat leaders but I will work towards creating the environment for an outreach. Let me tell you, (former Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf had told Hurriyat leaders that India is a superpower and he cannot break India. He told them that he would not be able to change the Line (of Control). He had told them that neither India nor Pakistan can afford a war and that they should negotiate concessions for Kashmir.
This is a significant claim. Are you sure of the facts?
I am 100% sure. Important people have told me this. Musharraf told the Hurriyat to talk and negotiate agreements that would include free movement for both sides across the Line of Control. I believe the Hurriyat can play a role but they must abandon Pakistan first.
But do you consider the Hurriyat Conference a ‘stakeholder’ or, to use your words, a ‘trouble maker’?
We can talk to the Hurriyat also but the problem is that they are caught in a web. They are scared of Pakistan and they are also scared of the terrorists. They talk unreasonably.
One problem today is that more young locals are joining militancy. What is your plan to stop this? The low turnout in the local body polls only points to deep alienation.
My blueprint has already worked. I am trying to change the narrative and striving to make the youth feel that we are not at war with them. I am not asking the security forces to hunt them down, but if the terrorists engage security forces, they are not going to get bouquets in return for bullets. Not one youth has joined militancy in the two months since I took over. Earlier, at least five to six boys were joining their ranks. Stone pelting, too, has reduced. Of course, we had an unfortunate incident last week when an army jawan died after being hit by stones.
What about the killing of civilians. Would you condemn the death of the seven Kashmiris in Kulgam last week? Why was the encounter site not sanitised?
The killing of even one civilian is wrong. It is very difficult to sanitise rural locations. People should understand that they should not be rushing to encounter sites. Who do I blame for the 60 deaths on a railway track in Amritsar? The public should not be careless. We have now decided to place advertisements in newspapers asking people not to go near encounter sites for at least 48 hours. Kashmir’s political parties should also tell the boys to avoid encounter sites and stone pelting. Omar (Abdullah) and Madam (Mehbooba Mufti) have agreed with me on this privately but are not willing to say it openly. After the Kulgam deaths, they condemned us. They say something else in Delhi and something else in Srinagar.
Do you think it is time for some confidence-building measures aimed at the local population, like dilution of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in areas that don’t have militancy, or another ceasefire call?
You fire your weapons at us and throw stones at us. Only last week, an army jawan was killed. The army is doing a very difficult job. They are the same people who rescued locals during floods. They treat locals in medical camps and yet they are targeted. We can’t even have a discussion on AFSPA, leave alone diluting it.
In an interview to HT, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “The Centre should pass a direction that Article 35-A should be off limits.” Do you agree? Her party and the NC stayed out of the local elections because of this.
If it is an honest statement, I can agree or disagree, but it is not. Twenty days prior, they participated in the Kargil elections and the same article was not an issue then. I am not an elected representative so I don’t want to give my opinion.
But as the top official of the state, what is your view — should it be touched; what stops you or the Centre from giving the Supreme Court an affidavit to this effect?
In my opinion, the people of the state should not worry. I don’t think any changes will be made. Some private persons have taken it to court. They neither represent the BJP, nor do they represent (PM Narendra) Modi.
The perception is that the petitioners have the RSS’s (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) backing…
Nobody is batting for its removal. The Prime Minister is not responsible for these cases.
You had to battle a crisis when militants kidnapped families of policemen after the father of a militant was taken into custody. Do you approve of such measures?
That was an aberration. I have told the police chief not to detain anyone even for two hours. My orders are clear. I told him, your force will either take money to release, or beat them up before letting them go; and in both instances, the youth will only veer towards militancy.
My effort has been convert the governor’s house into the people’s home. Anybody who wants to meet me can even come without an appointment. Recently, some students had cleared exams for enrolment in the J&K Bank but were not selected because politicians had given their own list of recommendations. I have now ensured that the 582 candidates, who cleared the exams but were not selected, will be getting appointment letters.
Did the former director general of police SP Vaid pay a price because militant commander Riyaz Naikoo’s father was detained?
No. He was an excellent officer and I had a good working relationship with him. I think it had been decided that he was to be replaced.
Since you strongly favour a dialogue, is greater autonomy or self-rule the way forward?
The state has its own constitution and its own flag. Each time I sit in my car, there is a second flag along with the national flag. The state has a special status. They already have so much. I have asked for the autonomy resolution that was passed in the state assembly. I will study it.
Last question. What would you describe as your most difficult or anxious moment?
The most difficult moment for me was when sedition cases were filed against two Kashmiri students studying at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The students were trying to hold a prayer meet after the death of Hizbul Mujahidin militant commander Manan Wani. Police came into the picture after slogans of azadi were raised. Nearly 1,200 Kashmiris studying at AMU threatened to return and that was a tense moment for me. What message would these 1,200 students bring to the Valley?
I managed to speak to Prakash Javadekar (Union education minister) and the proctor to contain the damage. I have decided now that colleges and universities across India, with more than 12 Kashmiri students on their campuses, should have liaison officers. The students shouldn’t feel that they are on their own.