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We are doing everything possible for a peaceful summer: Omar Abdullah(Part-I)

April 27, 2011 - Jammu

In an expansive television interview to ANI (part 1), the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, said that his administration was leaving no stone unturned to ensure a peaceful summer ahead.

"There isn't another person alive who wants as much as I do, not to see a repeat of the summer of 2010. We are doing everything possible to ensure a peaceful summer, but Jammu and Kashmir is, perhaps, one of the most unpredictable places. Given our experience of last year, we are reacting to situations more proactively and much better. We have adopted better crowd control techniques, we have better trained personnel. But the proactive measures are more important, the administrative handling, the political handling. Handwara (where a youth was killed inadvertently in a security ambush) was a sort of a trigger point that could have created trouble. We reacted a lot better to that situation than on a lot of previous occasions."

When asked whether he is a more 'hands on', chief minister today, as compared to last year, when the stone pelting incidents in the Valley resulted in the death of 104 people, Abdullah replied, "I was hands on then as well, but all of us were caught unawares of how quickly the mood could change. We'd seen it in 2008, perhaps we didn't expect to see it in 2010 and that's taught us that you can take Jammu and Kashmir for granted at your own peril. I have learnt that the smallest of things can become the biggest of things, in the blink of an eye. There is no chance to sleep on the job."

His single biggest challenge remains security, says Abdullah.

"I thought I would have much more breathing space to deal with the economy, governance and things like that. But my primary focus, is still dealing with security. This must be the only police force in the world where, necessarily, I have to equip them with two different sets of work gear. A lathi (baton) to deal with crowds and a gun to deal with militancy; and training to use both, almost at the same time. And both need almost completely different responses. Can't deal with a crowd with a gun and a militant with a lathi. In Srinagar, I lost two policemen yesterday to militants. Had they got bulletproof jackets and guns, they might have dealt with the situation, they were there to control crowds. That is the kind of tricky situation, how I equip the forces and how I deploy them. It is upsetting. Nobody likes losing people. Whether protestors who died last year or the police personnel who died yesterday. Nobody likes getting a phone call saying two people are dead. It is something I have to live with."

About involving the disgruntled youth into the political process, Abdullah said: "The political problem in Jammu and Kashmir is not just of the youth on the streets, it includes all the people of the state and we are trying our best to include everybody in our dialogue process. The interlocutors have had a fairly successful leg of visits and meetings. The way to give somebody a voice is to empower them and to do that is to take democracy to the grass roots. The conduct of the Panchayat election is an exercise of empowering the young population of Jammu and Kashmir. The people have responded beyond expectations. We will follow it up with urban local body elections. That will give the youth a platform. Elections, I understand are not a solution but by empowering them, we take a step in that direction. The ultimate goal is a political solution to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir. That wont be solved by assembly elections or Panchayat elections. That can only be solved by two-tracked dialogue: between the center and the state and between India and Pakistan.

On Pakistan's repeated statements on Kashmir and its insistence on Kashmir being the core issue, Abdullah said, "Pakistan sees Kashmir as the unfinished agenda of 1947. They feel they have a justified intent in what happens on our side of the LOC. The fact that we react to their comments and that it irritates us gives them that much more pleasure and they do it with that much more enthusiasm. If we weren't as quick in flying off the handle and react, they would get bored. But we don't and we give them the pleasure from time to time. Yes, Jammu and Kashmir is the single most important issue between Indian and Pakistan. The two countries have fought three wars on Kashmir, but to say, let us first solve Kashmir and everything else later - No. It is part of the dialogue process that builds confidence. If we are able to solve other problems like Sir Creek, Siachen and ticklish trade issues like Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, which we have given Pakistan and they haven't given us, then we can have the confidence to take on bigger issues like Jammu and Kashmir."

The sharp witted and articulate chief minister spoke about how he enjoyed tweeting despite his earlier reservation about twitterers and their penchant for communicating in 140 characters. Unlike most politicians, Omar doesn't have hangers on. He dresses nattily and, despite the tough job of being the chief minister of a terror-infested state, he retains an enviable sense of humour.

The 41-year Abdullah is easing into his job quite comfortably. He is quite aware that he might have got a toehold into politics thanks to his lineage, but his people will judge him on his track record. 2010 is a blot on his resume, but he is working doubly hard to ensure that 2011 bucks the trend. (Part two of interview tomorrow) By Smita Prakash


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