September 18, 2002


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The Election Interview/Ghulam Mohammed Sofi
JK Election:w

'This was the seventh attempt on my life'

Seventy-year-old Ghulam Mohammed Sofi, editor of the Srinagar Times is a gutsy journalist. Having survived seven attempts on his life, the editor of the 33-year-old Urdu daily says he is undeterred about expressing the true voice of the Kashmir valley.

On September 17, a terrorist entered his home-cum-office and shot him, but the editor made a valiant attempt to grab his assailant. The terrorist escaped in the ensuing confusion following the attack. It was then Sofi realised that barring a bullet in his right hand, he was lucky not to have suffered any other injury.

He spoke to Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay at his Bicchwara home in Dal Gate soon after the attack.

Could you narrate what exactly happened?

As usual, I was working in my office when a young man entered and sat down. He said he was coming from a certain place, I forget the name. I asked him to sit down.

A few moments later another lad entered my office. But he was nervous and appeared jittery. Suddenly, he whipped out a pistol from the inner pocket of his jacket and fired in the air. I sprang from my chair and screamed at him. I don't remember what I said. As he aimed another shot at me, I tried to jump over a small table and raised my hand. It was to grab my assailant. But his shot hit me in my right hand. (The gunfire and commotion had the womenfolk in Sofi's household wailing). In the confusion, these young men escaped. I checked whether I was injured anywhere else but I was only injured in my right hand. Blood was flowing all over me and I was taken to hospital.

What was your personal security officer doing?

The security officer should be one in the real sense of the term. That is not the case here. It is not that they are not up to the mark. This security has been thrust on me, I never wanted that. Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah was here a few moments ago.

Three years ago, there was a bomb blast here and I had a miraculous escape. The chief minister then offered to provide me with a personal security officer. I rejected it outright. He told me I was always facing such ordeals.

I don't believe in security. You must have heard that only a few days ago (state law minister Mushtaq Ahmed) Lone had Z category security and yet he was shot dead. I have told my securityman not to make himself visible to every eye. If anything has happened, I am to be blamed and not my securityman. I don't want security, it has been thrust on me. What can the securityman do? People come and shoot securitymen. It has happened here. So I don't want it. If I am alive today, it is because of the grace of God. The person who tried to shoot me was also lucky because I tried to catch him. I think he was luckier.

Was this the second attempt on your life?

This was the seventh attempt on my life.

Is this happening because of your newspaper's editorial policy?

Our newspaper is very independent. Our writers are always positive, we don't take sides. I am thankful to the chief minister for visiting me but we are very critical of the government. We write again and again about militancy in the prevailing situation, government policies.

Only yesterday Radio Tehran asked me whether the hartal (strike) was because the Hurriyat gave a call for it. I said no, the government is also responsible for it and the people are very disillusioned about it. It was not due to the Hurriyat. It is the people who don't want to vote in the polls, they have always been rigging polls here, this is our opinion. And it is the correct opinion that we write about. These are positive writings. But some people don't want such writing. They don't want us to write about rigging. On so many subjects, we are very clear and we don't take sides. That is why we are facing such ordeals and difficulties.

What do you think about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir?

The situation here is very different. All forces are to be blamed, it is not any particular side. There are so many vested interests here for which the Government of India must take responsibility, just like the government of Pakistan. And our administration is responsible for that.

What is the way out for a peaceful solution, if there is one, in J&K?

It is our firm opinion that this stalemate, which has been continuing for the last 50 years, cannot be solved by the gun. There are four options -- those who want to go to Pakistan, those who want to remain with India, those who favour independence and we feel there is a fourth -- which is peace, please write it on my behalf. Unless and until there is peace, there is no solution.

How can be peace prevail in J&K?

The warring sides must step forward to talk about peace. When a house is on fire, you have to extinguish the fire rather than seeing why it occurred. That is my opinion.

What did the chief minister say when he visited you?

He came as Farooq Abdullah, not as chief minister. I cannot disclose what he told me because he did not come here to deliver a speech or deliver a message to the audience here. He made some very interesting disclosures and also some good things. He was straightforward in many things and I appreciate that. We don't like his policies but we like his straightforwardness. We have have differences on 99 per cent of the issues and what he said about this episode is very correct.

Did your newspaper editorially praise the first phase of the J&K poll?

We have not praised it, we have given the factual position. Rather, we have criticised.

What did the editorial say?

It merely narrates the facts, the situation. According to our information, we wrote that there was booth capturing and intimidation. If it is so, then these are not fair elections. We have written it.

When was your newspaper established?

It has been running for the last 33 years. It is a family newspaper. I can tell you there are 20 newspapers being run from Srinagar but Srinagar Times and Aftaab, these are the two old papers. Our newspaper has fewer hawkers and thrives on home delivery. Unless and until Srinagar Times reaches the people, they don't have their morning tea.

What message do you have for the Kashmiri people?

They should pray for peace and motivate all the concerned forces so that lasting peace can be established in Jammu and Kashmir. Unless peace prevails, no problem can be solved.

Design: Dominic Xavier

Reporting from the Kashmir valley is a hazardous job

Jammu and Kashmir Elections 2002: The complete coverage

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