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June 22, 1998


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The Rediff Interview/ Girish Chandra Saxena

'At the end of the day the issues have to be decided politically, not militarily'

G C Saxena Dwarfed by his large desk and spacious office, the ex-spymaster looks sinfully harmless -- dapper, diminutive, a grand old man who just cannot be as powerful as he is made out to be.

But Jammu and Kashmir Governor Girish Chandra 'Garry' Saxena is -- or, at least, he is reputed to be.

Believed to be Union Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani's man in Kashmir, Saxena, the former Research and Analysis Wing director and security advisor to the prime minister, is, arguably, the most powerful man in the state. Now on his second tenure in Srinagar (he was governor during the initial days of militancy, from May 26, 1990 to March 12, 1993), he is, by his own admission, a 'keen observer' of the Kashmir situation, having spent over a quarter of century studying it. In a 40-minute interview with Chindu Sreedharan in Srinagar, he speaks about a plethora of militancy-related issues, including the recent massacre of 25 Hindus in Jammu.

How is the situation in Doda district after Friday's massacre? What measures has the government adopted to prevent a repeat?

Though still tense, the situation has improved. There is a lot of shock and insecurity among the residents of the district. We have reassured them, and are backing our words with action. Measures have been taken to avoid communal clashes.

The government will beef up security in the Jammu region. We will also launch massive combing operations. Though it is not possible to provide security to every village and individual, the administration will extend cover to all vulnerable spots. This will be done by strengthening the local police and increasing the presence of paramilitary forces. Their weapons and equipment will be upgraded.

Hasn't the incident set back the chances of the Kashmiri Pandits ever returning home?

Look, this is a proxy war situation. There will be attempts like this off and on. But in the long-term these will not succeed. What the administration can do is minimise the chances of such incidents. And that, we are doing.

Do you think the government is in a position to guarantee the safety of the minority community?

The security of the minorities is our number one concern. The state administration, backed by the Union government, will do everything possible to ensure this. But, like I said, it is a proxy war situation, and there might be attempts again. All we can do is minimise the risks.

Do you think the Kashmir situation has improved since your last tenure?

Yes. There is a sea-change, mostly in the attitude of the people. After the resumption of the political process, they have turned their back on militancy. The signs of normalcy are so self-evident here now. The main handicap which I faced earlier was that there was a political vacuum. The administration had to function in that vacuum. But now that a popularly elected government is in place, things are much easier. The interface with people has increased. And there is a back-up of political action to supplement our security efforts.

This year, particularly, the infiltration is down, the local component of militancy has declined sharply. There are now only around 3,000 active militants in the state. We are basically facing three outfits -- Harkat-ul-Ansar with 60 per cent foreign element, Nashkar-e Tauba with 90 per cent foreign element, and the Hizbul Mujahideen with 20, 25 per cent foreign element.

The control of militancy is in the hands of foreigners, most of whom are mercenaries. Some of them are ex-soldiers of the Pakistan army. Many of them are Afghan and a handful are from Middle-Eastern countries like Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain etc. The character of militancy has also changed. It is more of a proxy war situation than an armed insurgency now.

When exactly did this change start? Was it after the National Conference government assumed office?

The change started after one year of militancy. People realised that it was a futile and perhaps unnecessary exercise -- the door of political accommodation was kept open. But, above all, they realised they were being used as pawns to implement an alien agenda. The situation started improving because of the decline of support to militancy from the people, more flow of information from them to the security forces.

Also, the aggression had its impact -- the first time I was here, we killed over 3,000 Pak-trained militants. We also captured four-five thousand others and recovered over 10,000 Kalashnikovs and 500 machine guns.

How much did Dr Farooq Abdullah's government contribute in putting Kashmir on the road to peace?

The popular government filled a political vacuum. People feel it is a government elected by them. They feel they can vote it out through the normal democratic process.

Does this mean the Kashmiris are feeling less alienated from the national mainstream than before?

The level of alienation has declined very much. It has been coming down over the years. It started happening in the latter half of 1990 itself. The process has continued.

The general impression about Dr Abdullah's government is that it has not been able to keep its promise.

Well, the anti-incumbency factor was in evidence all over India. The expectations of the people are high. They demand good governance, keeping of promises, and results on the ground. Whenever these fall short, the people blame the political leadership. This perception must be there in sections of people. Otherwise, the NC would have won all the seats in the parliamentary poll.

How much credit do you attribute to the security forces for the change in situation? Could you elaborate on the situation the forces faced during the initial days?

The forces took the first brunt (of militancy.) Initially, we just had the state police. Then we had the Central Reserve Police Force. Then we got the Border Security Force. The army came in when thousands of people from across the border started coming with vast quantities of arms. But our response was very well measured.

We were facing machine guns and Kalashnikovs and rockets, but we kept our response confined to small arms. We did not use tanks or even helicopter gunships so that civilian casualties don't increase and collateral damage is low. And that paid us political dividends. The people saw that here is a country fighting a proxy war under civil law in a civilised way. Occasionally, there were a few cases of overreaction or excess by individual members of some security force or the other. But these were aberrations.

Coming to the counter-insurgency tactics which the forces used in Kashmir, how different were they from those used in Punjab?

The insurgency in Kashmir has more external ramifications. Our neighbouring country pulled out all the stops and brazenly exported terrorism. The explanation for their acquiring nuclear capability is to deter India from reacting the way India might have to this large-scale export of terrorism and proxy war.

The political objective in Punjab was different from that here. There they wanted to keep the pot boiling and exploit the situation. But they have always been wanting to grab Kashmir by whatever means. Having failed in three wars, they have switched on to trying to internationalise the issue and keep insurgency alive, hoping that the Muslim or Western world will come to their aid. They are projecting the bogey of a major conflict between India and Pakistan which might acquire nuclear overtones just to attract Western intervention.

In Kashmir, we had to contain militancy on the ground and turn it back. We have already defeated it in the valley. It can go only one way: downhill. The focus of the militants has now shifted to Jammu division -- Rajouri, Poonch, Doda and Udhampur districts. But we are quite confident that we will be able to tackle it there also.

What measures have you adopted to prevent militancy from spreading to Jammu?

Their main aim is to create a communal divide so as to gain political advantage. We have to see that this advantage is denied to them by maintaining communal harmony on our side. Another essential element in their game plan is to revive ethnic cleansing. And that's why you had the massacre of the Pandits in Wandhama and the Prankote incident.

(To contain this) We have to modify our tactics. We are in a new ball game now. The terrain is different, the tactics (of the militants) are different. The adversaries are a hardened lot, trained in mountain warfare. They are no match for the Indian army, of course, but they have to be taken more seriously. We are in the process of finalising a suitable action plan -- in fact, some elements have already been put in motion.

In some observers perception, militancy in Kashmir cannot be wiped out completely because of the support from across the border. Do you see a Kashmir completely devoid of insurgency?

Yes, that is our objective. But, as I said, there is also a political element involved. We want to seek political accommodation with our own people. We are also willing to have bilateral dialogues with Pakistan under the Simla Agreement. At the end of the day the issues have to be decided politically, not militarily. The final solution can only be political and diplomatic.

How far away is this solution you envisage?

We have largely succeeded in defeating militancy in the valley. We hope to do the same in Jammu division not in the too distant future.

About the political part of it, it doesn't depend only on one side. It depends on bilateral dialogues and how much is the desire and political will on the other side for a successful dialogue. They always say that they want 'meaningful' dialogue. What do they mean by that? Are they serious about the dialogue yielding results? Or is it only to show the world that the dialogue has failed? And therefore there should be international mediation? If the intention is only to use it as a stopgap arrangement while they internationalise the issue, well, dialogues can hardly be expected to yield results.

Do you think this time they are serious?

Well, their constant pressing for intervention by a superpower betrays their hand. Maybe good sense will prevail... They will know the futility of whatever they have tried in the past. The hope is that the more responsible leadership in Pakistan and the mature leadership we have on our side will be able to make some headway this time.

'There is no question of one inch of our territory going out of India'

The Rediff Interviews

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