Kashmir situation still retrievable: Saifuddin Soz (Interview)

July 29th, 2010 - 2:37 pm ICT by IANS  

By George Joseph
New Delhi, July 29 (IANS) Congress leader Saifuddin Soz says the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which has seen angry protests by stone-pelting mobs and 17 civilian deaths in the past month, is “still retrievable”, but “the quality of governance has to improve”.

“There is no point in blaming just Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The buck does not stop at Omar’s door only,” Soz, 73, the state Congress chief, told IANS in an interview at his residence here.

“The quality of governance has to improve in the state,” said Soz, who is a Rajya Sabha member and a former union minister. Abdullah’s National Conference rules Kashmir in alliance with the Congress.

“I think the performance of ministers - both of my party and the coalition partner National Conference - and the bureaucrats should improve,” Soz said. “The ministers and leaders have to realise that politics is not for enjoyment. They have to reconnect to people,” he said.

He said the situation “is still retrievable if steps are taken to understand the grievances of people”.

“Despite the volatile situation I toured south Kashmir last week. At Anantnag, I had addressed a meeting which was attended by 2,000 people. They did not throw stones. But they talked to us about their problems in daily life,” he said.

“I am going to Kashmir Friday. Come and see the ground situation. Do not report Kashmir sitting in Delhi alone. Kashmir is not about stone-pelting only,” he said.

Soz was a union minister in the United Progressive Alliance government as a Congress nominee and a minister in earlier United Front governments led by H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral as a National Conference nominee.

Soz said Kashmiris should be provided immediate relief. “Kashmiris are very sensitive,” he said.

“Seventy thousand people have lost their lives in the past 20 years. Even the families of the 55 people who were killed in firing during the Amarnath land row agitation in 2008 are to be rehabilitated,” he said.

Soz said the state police and paramilitary forces should work together to avoid killings and serious injuries while dealing with stone-pelters. “Rubber bullets and non-fatal methods should be used to deal with ordinary protests,” he said.

At least 17 civilians, mostly teenagers and youths, have been killed in firing in Kashmir in the past four weeks as stone-pelters clashed with security forces in Srinagar and other towns of the valley. Curfew was clamped on several towns and the army called in to stand by for several days.

Soz said “truckloads of stones were being supplied to protestors”. “There had been organised efforts in the protests”.

He also said Pakistan was losing influence in Kashmir. “The influence of Pakistan is waning in the valley. Nobody raises the slogan ‘Pakistan zindabad’ nowadays,” he said.

“The slogan ‘Hum chahte hain azaadi’ (We want freedom) is raised often at political, social and religious gatherings. Do not misinterpret it all as calls for a seperate country, which is impractical,” he said.

Soz said “azaadi” means different things for different people on different occasions. “For some Kashmiris, it may be a way of voicing their civic grievances; for others it may be a way of protesting the excesses of the security forces.”

Soz said 250,000 people had enrolled as Congress members in the valley. “This is a record, a new political history in Kashmir,” he claimed. He said nearly 1,000 Kashmiri youngsters applied to become Youth Congress office-bearers.

“That proves that all Kashmiris are not stone-pelters. And Kashmir is not about stone- pelting alone. That is a limited view by a section of the media from Delhi,” he said.

He said the central and state governments were working together to restore the situation. “You will hear of measures soon. The National Conference and the Congress are united in tackling the problem,” he said.

He ruled out the chance of governor’s rule in the state.

Soz said an economic package was urgently needed for the state, which has been ravaged by militancy. Unemployment is acute, with opportunities lacking in the private sector.

So as a Congress leader does he have any problems working with National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar?

“Not at all. We are united in the alliance. I had left the National Conference over a matter of principle,” he said.

(George Joseph can be contacted at george.j@ians.in)

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