February 8, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/J&K Governor Girish Chandra Saxena

Governor Girish Chandra Saxena, New Delhi's top representative in Jammu and Kashmir, believes that the killing of six Sikhs has not derailed the peace process.

He hopes to persuade the minority community to stay back and not migrate en masse.

In a rare interview to Assistant Editor Chindu Sreedharan, 'Gary' Saxena takes an overview of the scenario in J&K.

In the wake of the Mehjoor Nagar incident, how would you assess the situation in the Valley and Jammu?

The situation is difficult, but under control. The responsibility to protect soft targets scattered all over the Valley and Jammu region is quite formidable. We do our best. But it cannot be ensured that there is security cover everywhere for everyone. So I will not underestimate the challenge we face.

But on the whole, the situation is well contained and we are keeping things under manageable proportions.

What effect has this had on the peace process? Where do you see it going now?

It [the killings] is part of the attempt by jihadi outfits and their mentors across the border to scuttle the peace process. They are trying to create problems in implementing the suspension of combat operations, which is generally called cease-fire. There is no cease-fire as such, but this is what they are up to.

As long as there is no positive response from the other side this problem will be there. The situation has to be kept under review. Whatever corrective measures are needed will be applied. But these are political decisions and will be taken by the political leadership in consultation with the security forces and the chief minister.

Has the incident set back the peace process?

It is a negative development which does not help the peace process. This is something that we had to be prepared for. Everything does not change the situation in qualitative terms.

Yes, it is worrisome. And we take note of it and review the situation regularly. We share our views with the Centre and then a decision is taken.

There have been instances of violence against Muslims from Sikhs. Do you see a communal backlash?

I don't see that. There is resentment and anger, but it has not taken any communal turn. As a matter of fact, one positive aspect in the last 11 years of militancy is that all these attempts to provoke communal backlashes by indulging in ethnic killings have not succeeded.

Of course, there is the understandable reaction of resentment and anger, but communal peace and harmony have always been maintained by the leaders of all communities. This is a heartening feature and I hope it will continue.

After Chattisinghpora, the state had promised that Sikhs would be protected. It has failed in that.

Whenever such an incident takes place it is a kind of failure. But a proxy war and cross-border terrorism is going on on a massive scale. It is not possible to prevent incidents from happening altogether.

After Chattisinghpora, a hundred or so places were identified to give security cover. It is in place. It has been 10 or more months after that incident, which has been comparatively incident-free except for the truckers being killed in Banihal a few days after the prime minister announced this suspension of combat operations.

We try to prevent [such incidents], but we know that once in a while the security cover will not prove adequate.

Since there is no such thing as foolproof security for soft targets in Kashmir, is it justifiable to ask the Sikhs to stay back?

During the 10 years of militancy, 11,600 civilians have been killed. Of this, 8,800 have been killed by terrorists. So you can work out the average.

There is a war going on. We are talking of not hundreds, but thousands of terrorists. They keep infiltrating. It is a challenging situation. This means that the security arrangements should be fail-safe all the time. And that is something we can only aspire to have. It doesn't happen. It doesn't happen anywhere in the world.

Dr Farooq Abdullah feels that under the prevailing circumstances, with attacks from militants continuing, the cease-fire should be withdrawn. Do you agree with this view?

No, he hasn't said that -- at least not to me. He has as a matter of fact endorsed and gone along with the initiative that has been taken by the Centre. He has been co-operating in full measure. His view is that if it continues to be unilateral and there's no positive response from the other side, then he is wondering how it can continue indefinitely.

So personally you would endorse extending the cease-fire?

There will surely come a time for stocktaking. In the meantime, we want to give the peace process the best chance to succeed. Certain things had been expected and taken into account.

The feedback that Kashmiris in Srinagar and also rural areas of Baramulla district give us is that the cease-fire has absolutely no meaning for them. Please comment.

The person at the receiving end will have that feeling. We understand it. But many people have heaved a sigh of relief, especially along the international border and the Line of Control. In the whole of January there was no trans-border shelling. So tens of thousands of people have had a respite.

But in the interiors militants are targeting soft targets in a selective way. They are targeting people who are opposed to their movements, special police officers, surrendered militants and political activists. They have an element of surprise in choosing their targets. We have to ensure the security of everyone. But they have to succeed only once, with one person. That's the problem.

We have a fight on our hands. I don't want to underestimate that. And we have to see it through.

If the Sikhs insist on migration, how would the administration handle it? What kind of facilities would they be provided in Jammu?

I don't want to jump the gun and go that far ahead. We will be doing our best to reason out things with them and persuade them to stay back. Migration doesn't help them and doesn't help the country's interest. So there is no clash between their interest and what is at stake for the state and country as a whole.

Naturally, right now the Sikhs are angry and in a different frame of mind, but slowly they will see the advantages [of staying back]. We will talk things over with them.

Design: Lynette Menezes

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