January 11, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Himachal Pradesh CM P K Dhumal

'1972 was bad diplomacy on Mrs Gandhi's part''1972 was bad diplomacy on Mrs Gandhi's part'

Prem Kumar Dhumal, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, received with a smile in his office in Shimla hundreds of visitors who wanted to wish him a happy new year on January 1. But he had plenty else on his mind. At 9 that very morning he had been informed that militants had struck at an army firing range on the Punjab-Himachal border. Since the range fell under Noorpur police station in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, the state administration was on alert.

In an exclusive interview with Onkar Singh, Dhumal asserted that he would not allow the terrorism of Jammu & Kashmir to spill over into his state. "We have beefed up security," he said, sounding confident even though he knew he could not seal every single inch of the border his state shares with the terrorist-infested Doda district of Jammu. Excerpts from the interview:

Terrorists have targeted an army firing range in Himachal Pradesh. What steps are you taking to ensure that terrorism does not spill over into Himachal Pradesh?

The incident, which took place in the early hours of January 1, is definitely not happy news. According to my information this incident has taken place on the border of Himachal Pradesh. Massive combing operations have started and a hunt is on to nab the culprits. We have stepped up security in Chamba district, which shares a border with Doda district.

But this is not the first incident in your state. Terrorists have safe havens in the upper reaches of Chamba district, don't they?

This used to happen sometime back when terrorists would take shelter in the houses of Gujjars living at higher altitudes. Now these safe havens have been demolished. Special police pickets have been set up at those heights to ensure that the terrorists do not cross over to Himachal once they find that things are getting too hot for them in Jammu & Kashmir.

What are the other steps you have taken to prevent infiltration?

We have taken a number of measures. Every single vehicle that enters the state is now registered. We are keeping a close eye on migrants from Kashmir. Any person who arouses suspicion is questioned at length.

Is it true that you have written a letter to Hamid Karzai, chief of the new administration in Afghanistan, asking him to visit Himachal Pradesh?

Yes, it is true. I have invited him to visit Himachal Pradesh at his convenience. He was a student at Himachal University and spent two years doing his master's in political science.

Shimla played a major role in 1972 when it hosted Mrs Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India, and Z A Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan, which resulted in the historic Simla Agreement. Do you think it can once again play that role and host another summit?

I would like Shimla to play host to another summit meeting between Prime Minister Vajpayee and President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf. I had made this offer to Prime Minister Vajpayee in June last year, but Agra was selected to host the meeting between the two leaders.

But I would not like to host another Shimla-type agreement because I personally feel that India did not get anything from that agreement.

What makes you say so?

Look at what Pakistan got out of it. We gave all sorts of concessions to Pakistan. We released 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war without getting the release of a couple of dozen Indian prisoners of war. Had Mrs Gandhi protected the interests of the nation then, she could have bargained for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Bhutto could not have gone back without the prisoners of war. She could have got the whole of Kashmir in India.

Shimla has played and will play such roles, but I do not want a repeat of what happened in 1972. That was bad diplomacy on the part of Mrs Gandhi. I wish a meeting is held here and India gains something out of it.

It is a general belief that the Agra summit was a total failure.

I do not subscribe to that view. If nothing came out of the Agra summit, it was because Atalji took a firm stand. He told General Musharraf to stop cross-border terrorism and speak only about Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. From my point of view Atalji presented India's true case and hence it was a successful summit from our point of view.

Officials in Jammu & Kashmir say Himachal is having a cool time while they are facing the brunt of terrorism.

I do not know how they can say this. Every day we receive two or three dead bodies of Himachalis who have been killed in action in Jammu & Kashmir. Two of our brave soldiers were awarded the Param Vir Chakra in the Kargil war. Himachal has contributed its bit to India's fight against terrorism. I think the time has come when we should have a war with Pakistan and finish this matter once for all. It is better to die once than die in bits and pieces.

The Pakistani government claims that it has arrested a number of top militants and sent them to jail.

Pakistan can claim what it feels like. Maybe because of international pressure Pakistan is bending a bit, but we cannot trust them. Pakistan should not be allowed to get away by arresting some terrorists. It should hand over those terrorists to India for trial because the crimes have been committed in India.

Has tourist traffic to Himachal Pradesh been affected by developments in Jammu & Kashmir?

Himachal Pradesh has neither been benefited nor has it been put to any disadvantage by the terrorist activities in Jammu & Kashmir. We are doing our best to lure more and more tourists and that is why we have announced that there will be no tax on cable cars, amusement parks, ropeways, etc. We have exempted cinema from entertainment tax. No toll tax on bridges [is another] measure that we have taken to boost tourism.

We used to get sizeable number of foreign tourists in Himachal, but because of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, there have been large-scale cancellations. I hope the foreign tourists will be back in India and our state soon.

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