NATIONAL

State on the threshold of peace, says Mufti

Srinagar Oct. 22. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, today described his one-year rule as a "historic turning point" and said that the State was on the "threshold of peace and normality".

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, the Mufti said: "When I look back and form an objective opinion of my Government, there is a feeling of satisfaction. This is because after a gap of 13 years, people of the State feel that they are on the threshold of peace and normality." The coalition Government headed by him had established the supremacy of dialogue over violence as an instrument for solving grievances. "People said I was soft in dealing with militancy, but I stuck to the view that it is the people who have to be won over by right polices and they have to play a leading role in ending the violence."

Describing the militant strikes as "stray incidents", the Chief Minister said: "I know the will of the people is for complete peace. They want violence to end and nobody can deny them this right. The incidents are the handiwork of vested interests who do not want to see complete normality."

He did not want to take personal credit for the change. Several factors had brought about it. International events had a clear bearing on the minds of people. The gun had lost its relevance and Jammu and Kashmir was no exception.

Second, the Government reached out to the people in remote areas and told them that they were not alone in their hour of need. Third, the emotional integration of the State with rest of the country — several conferences had been held in the State and number of infrastructure works, including a railway project and a Rs.4000-crore super highway project had made the difference.

The Chief Minister said he had tried sincerely to get the separatists included in the dialogue process. The Centre's interlocutor, N.N. Vohra, a "seasoned man" was appointed for holding talks with every section of society. But, the separatists refused to come to the table and now they wanted an audience with the Prime Minister. "I do not think there is anything wrong with their demand as every citizen has the right to get an audience with the Prime Minister. The process is on at the Track-II level and we are hopeful of a positive result. Politics is an art of the possible. But if they [separatists] constantly refuse to talk, this would show their weakness."

On the Centre's stand that talks would not be held with Pakistan unless cross-border terrorism ended, the Mufti said his personal opinion was that talks should continue even if there was violence. "You must take into consideration [the fact] that a number of militant outfits are not under the control of Pakistan. But the official support to terrorism on our soil should end forever. Many countries have their slanted positions on Kashmir. We term it the core of Indian nationhood while Pakistan calls it the `jugular vein'. But no well-wisher of the people of the State should sponsor violence."

"I sincerely believe that the Line of Control be softened, i.e., the Jammu-Sialkot and the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road network be opened so that people living in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and other parts of Pakistan can come here to see the freedom enjoyed by the people. I will be sending a proposal in this regard to the Centre, but obviously all aspects of national security should be taken care of."

On his rapport with the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, he said he was getting cooperation from both sides. On the National Conference's allegation that his Government was following a policy of "political vendetta" by framing charges against its senior leaders, he said he was committed to restoring peace and wanted to include everyone in the process, including the National Conference. The very first day he took over, he made it clear that there would be no political vendetta. The NC had to play the role of constructive opposition but its role had not been up to the mark. On his Government priorities, the Mufti said they had charted out a road map for the socio-economic development of the State.

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