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‘I am not a supporter of death penalty’

What has been the impact of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections on Jammu and Kashmir?

It is interesting to see how little Kashmir has been an issue with the Pakistan elections. Earlier Kashmir was a strident issue in the election campaigns in Pakistan but this time, for various internal reasons, Kashmir was not as much of an issue. For them having normal relations with India was more of a key issue than Kashmir. Anything which deals with good relationship between India and Pakistan is good for us. J&K has always benefited from good relations between the two countries but at times has also suffered during bad times. Some of the statements made by the prime minister designate Nawaz Sharif after the elections might work well for J&K. The fact that he wants to resume dialogue and invite Indian prime minister to Pakistan and that he talked about reviving the incomplete peace process which was interrupted by the Kargil war are points that go well for J&K. While his stated position sounds good we have to see how they are  actually incorporated over the next couple of years. I don’t expect much because Pakistan has just come out of an election cycle and we are going into one. This is the last year for the UPA-II government. So any new developments on the J&K front would be perhaps expecting too much. But at least if we can continue to talk to each other and some smaller issues can be taken care of.

Imran Khan was very moderate while talking to western audiences and very strident while talking to his own audience. His pronouncement on Kashmir was something different when he was sitting in Delhi and totally different when he was back home campaigning. So, clearly we are far more comfortable with Sharif who, in any case, has a track record of trying to improve relations between the two countries. Will he be strong enough to do this is a million dollar question!


What are your views on the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from J&K?

I believe it is an important step from the security as well as Confidence Building Measures (CBM) point of view. You can’t deny that AFSPA can be misused, which is why there has been so much pressure and talk from human rights groups to repeal it. We understand that you cannot take it (AFSPA) away overnight. It has to be a gradual process. It has to start with those areas where the Army is no longer required to operate and that is what we have been asking for. There are areas where the Army has not been operating for a number of years now and where the security situation is entirely controlled by J&K police and central paramilitary forces. In such places, the requirement for AFSPA is not a must. But I believe there is a common meeting ground that can be found and we are talking about it.


What would your message be to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, keeping in mind J&K shares a border with the country?

We obviously expect good relations between the two countries. J&K shares a border with China and we are certainly affected by what happens in our neighbouring country. It is no secret that Ladakh tourism has been severely affected because of the reports on incursion. The incursions were nowhere near places where tourists visit but suddenly the media builds it up and that in turn affects our tourism sector. My message to Keqiang would be to please allow us to live in our parts of the region as they chose to live in their parts. Let us have a formal demarcation and do away with these incursions.


Do you feel that hanging of Afzal Guru was deliberately made clumsy and insensitive by Indian authorities?

I believe that it wasn’t deliberately made clumsy. There are aspects of the hanging which have been very badly handled, particularly the way the family was informed. In this day and age, who sends a letter by speed-post, informing the family about their son’s death! There are concerns which the people in J&K have in regard to this execution, like why did someone from number 28 move to number 1? Veerappan’s gang members were able to get a stay on their execution in spite of the president rejecting their mercy petition. It seems like some sort of lobbying is going against these executions? Death can’t be selectively implied. I am not a great supporter of death penalty, but if it is applied, then it should not be selective. Unfortunately the impression which is going out in J&K is that it is being selectively implied. Also I have a coalition government where the  Congress is an ally of mine, and also the single largest constituent in the country at the Centre. To be able to take a decision in the state, I will need a majority of my own or I will need the Congress on board. Both of which require a serious discussion or dialogue.


What do you have to say on the Liaqat Shah issue?

It is heartening to see that his bail was accepted and that he was able to go home. It indicates to us that the stand taken by J&K police and government is right. Having said that I wouldn’t want to prejudge what the final findings  of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) will be. I hope they will be in line with the interim findings. Should their final findings be on the same line then yes, we would have a lot more to say to Delhi police.


What are the major issues that you face as the chief minister of J&K? Also, do you think the central government is more comfortable in dealing with a disturbed Kashmir than a peaceful one?


One of the major issues that I am dealing with in my state is related to shortage of electricity. The only way that J&K economy can be turned around is if we not only become sufficient but also surplus with electricity which requires a lot of hydro-electric resources to be tapped. We need to bring in e-governance in the state. I think we tend to become complacent about J&K when we don’t have an immediate problem to deal with.

Also, Delhi needs to realise that if you set up a team of interlocutors to talk to the people of the state, it should be a continuous process. You can’t overshadow the trouble of 2010, only because 2011 and 2012 were peaceful.  Now, the next time you have a problem and you put together a team of interlocutors nobody is going to talk to them. Atleast I am not going to talk to them. Why would I? It will be a complete waste of time? Therefore, my earnest request to the Centre has been that nobody is expecting grand massive announcements immediately but don’t disengage. Take that interlocutors report as a starting point and talk to us and different political parties.
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