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Army has no role in Kashmir: Mufti

Srinagar, April 09, 2007 (Kashmir Newz Desk) :

Former Chief Minister and Patron of ruling coaltion partner in Indian administered Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has said the people of Kashmir have developed confidence in political process and there was not much role for the army in the region.

"The last held bye-elections in the state, which saw a record 77 per cent polling were a proof to it," Mufti said in an interview to Rediff.com.

"The elections were conducted with the help of police and CRPF. Even the army chief has admitted in his communication to the home ministry that infiltration has come down and the incidence of violence is very low. So the time has come for the withdrawal of the army as was done in Punjab. This is also good for the image of our country," Mufti said.

He said it was not correct to say that he had scored a victory over Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad by making New Delhi agree to reviewing of the deployment of army in the state.

"Maybe he felt this was not the right time for withdrawal of troops from the state. But sooner or later it had to happen as political normalisation in the state has gained momentum like never before," Mufti said referring to Azad.

The coalition government partners state Congress and Peoples Democratic Party are at loggerheads over the issue of troop withdrawal, revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Disturbed Area Act from the state, which accord extra special powers to the troopers.

Mufti said that Srinagar, which was the fountainhead of militancy, and all other major towns were already being policed by the state police and the paramilitary troops.

"The violence graph in all these towns has declined drastically. So what auspicious moment are we waiting for to start troop withdrawal?" he said sarcastically.

He clarified that he never talked of demilitarisation but only phased troop withdrawal from the state.

"When we talked of troop withdrawal, frankly, somewhere, the tone and tenor of discourse seem to have hurt the troops. There is a feeling that army is sitting in orchards and government buildings to fight militants and they should not be spoken of as if they are an occupation army. Unfortunately, a series of fake encounters and cold-blooded killings by the army in Kashmir has made people feel as if they were an army of occupation. Lately, seven such encounters have been reported. This has affected the credibility and image of the army," he said.

Mufti also expressed helplessness over not being able to persecute the erring troopers.

"The army enjoys vast powers under the AFSPA and we cannot prosecute them. Why should they continue to occupy, say, a 40-room guest house in the University of Kashmir, two premier clubs of Srinagar and hundreds of acres of orchards? If troops are sitting in one orchard, economic activity in the neighbouring 5 to 10 orchards is affected. The farmers must be compensated for this," he said.

Mufti also sought to clarify that he was not for militants. "The militants have everything to lose by the normalisation of life in Kashmir. They would prefer an atmosphere full of tension. Normalcy, which I am trying to bring about through these measures, does not suit these people," he said.

Sounding optimistic, Mufti said that he foresees the PM convening a third round table conference on Kashmir in which separatists could also participate.

"New Delhi will also have to talk to Islamabad to implement some of the recommendations of the five working groups set up by New Delhi to look into problem areas of Kashmir . There is a huge scope for joint Indo-Pak projects in Kashmir's power sector. Disaster management is another area where we could work together," he added.



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