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January 18, 2001
The Rediff Interview/Union Minister of State for Home I D
Minister of State for Home I D Swamy, has been coordinating the peace process in Jammu and Kashmir on behalf of the Prime Minister's Office. The minister says the Government of India will keep the national interest in mind while issuing passports to Hurriyat Conference leaders.
In an exclusive interview to Special Correspondent
In an exclusive interview to Special CorrespondentOnkar Singh, Swamy admitted that the recent attacks by militants on Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and on the Srinagar airport were indeed serious, but the GoI could not allow such attacks to derail the peace process. The minister also refused to give any time frame for issuing passports to the Hurriyat leaders.
Following attacks on Dr Farooq Abdullah and the Srinagar airport, do you think we have already reached a point where the Government of India should seriously review its offer of a unilateral cease-fire?
Let me tell you that the offer of a unilateral cease-fire is constantly under review from day one. It is not because of one odd incident here or there. Reassessment of a particular move is being made continuously.
Just because of these heinous incidents, our resolve and determination should not be weakened. The step taken by Prime Minister Vajpayee has created an environment that will help in starting a peace process. This has been appreciated not only by the international community but even by Pakistan.
The people of Jammu & Kashmir were so happy with this development that Hurriyat leaders were forced to welcome this step -- something they rarely do. Even if Pakistan's response was half hearted and not very sincere, it was forced to respond nevertheless. General Musharraf could not say no. If we respond to such incidents, the very purpose of our bold step will get defeated.
But Dr Abdullah has said after the recent attacks we cannot sit back and watch. Do you agree with him?
He is right. Even we get upset with such developments. There is no doubt that the GoI does get worried about such acts of violence. But we cannot say that we were sitting back and watching. We are on full alert. We are fully prepared.
The proof of the pudding lies in eating it. This is shown by the end result of the two attacks that took place in the Valley recently. Both the attacks were foiled because of better intelligence gathering.
In the Red Fort incident both the culprits were nabbed. While one was shot dead the other was caught. At Srinagar airport all those who took part in the attack were gunned down. This goes to show that we were not slack in our response. We have not withdrawn the army and paramilitary forces. They are very much there where they were before the announcement of the cease-fire. Even if we were to assume that the peace process was not on, weren't such attacks taking place earlier?
The militants are now getting bolder. The attack on the airport was more daring. What are we doing to prevent such incidents?
Yes, it was a daring attack. We must give credit to our brave soldiers who reacted promptly and killed all those involved in the attack on the Srinagar airport. We were alert. We had prior intelligence of a possible attack by the militants. If we had been lax they would have managed to walk in. They were in uniform. But our alert CRPF men foiled their bid and killed them in an exchange of fire. I can assure you that such attacks will be foiled in the future as well.
Chief of the Army Staff General S Padmanabhan made a statement last week advocating an extension of the cease-fire.
The army chief has expressed a particular opinion. He has not given anything in writing. When the army chief says the cease-fire should be extended further, it clearly indicates that he must be having more information about the overall situation. He would have better information about the terrain and the movement of enemy soldiers.
But Advaniji has been advocating a hardline approach. He has said the government would keep the recent incidents in mind while deciding on the extension of the cease-fire?
What Advaniji has said is that the Government of India would review the situation keeping in mind the recent incidents. But he has not expressed his view either in favour or against the extension of the cease-fire. Even I have been saying that such things are kept under constant review.
When is the government going to issue passports to the Hurriyat leaders?
No time limit can be fixed. We would like to facilitate and help everybody who can pitch in and help in the peace process. If they have to go, then the travel documents would have to be given to them -- but on merit.
While issuing travel documents we have to keep the national interest in mind. If they are very sincere and keen about bringing peace why don't they act in J&K itself and ask those wielding guns to stop the violence? They should prove that they are the representatives of the people of the state before they go and talk to Pakistan. Let them talk to the commanders of the militant outfits in India first. Let them first create an atmosphere so that they can easily go to Pakistan and talk to them.
Have the Hurriyat leaders told you why they did not contest the Panchayat election in J&K?
Nobody has told me why they are not contesting. If they were the true representatives of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, of course they would have contested the panchayat election. Over 70 per cent of the voters cast their votes in the first phase of the election.
In 1991 we could not hold a census in Jammu & Kashmir but this time we were able to complete it. Panchayat elections have not taken place in the state for the last 25 years. When there is a 70 per cent voter turnout in an election, it means that the people of the state have voted for peace. The local terrorist outfits are now having second thoughts.
As and when the Government of India holds talks with the Hurriyat or any other party would you invite all other political parties and people of Jammu and Ladakh to join the talks?
Of course, we would do that. The Government of India's stand on this aspect is very clear. Whosoever wants to abjure violence and is prepared to sit and talk, s/he is welcome to the negotiating table.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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