' We must proceed with caution'

Published : May 19, 2006 00:00 IST

Ghulam Nabi Azad, at his residence. - SHANKAR CHAKRAVARTY

Ghulam Nabi Azad, at his residence. - SHANKAR CHAKRAVARTY

Interview with Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

To what factors do you attribute your record victory from Bhaderwah?

It was a triumph for the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, and its policies.

Given the brutal violence witnessed in the run-up to the byelections, and the massacres that have taken place since, how optimistic are you about the prospect of dialogue with terrorist groups like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen?

It is well-established policy that groups who wish to engage in dialogue must first abjure violence. I cannot, after all, have a meaningful dialogue with someone who is waving a gun at me. During Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's time in office, this has been a well-established principle. As Minister of State for Home, I dealt with three major conflicts - those in Punjab, Assam and Mizoram. In each case, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet agreed that progress was only possible when groups renounced violence.

Do you believe this is a realistic possibility? How satisfied are you with Pakistan's performance on its promises to end infiltration and cross-border terrorism?

I'm happy that both violence and infiltration have come down compared to the worst periods that Jammu and Kashmir witnessed. However, neither has come anywhere close to an end. We hope that the attitude that led to the reduction in violence deepens in Pakistan. However, there is still some uncertainty about just what President Pervez Musharraf's intentions are and how much power groups outside of his authority wield. Therefore, we need to proceed with caution.

Speaking of intentions, Mehbooba Mufti, who is the leader of your coalition partner, the People's Democratic Party, waved a green handkerchief in a gesture that was interpreted as lending support to secession. She also described terrorists killed in Jammu and Kashmir as martyrs. What are we to make of this?

I would not like to comment on this issue.

Are you worried that the competitive pro-terrorist polemic of the National Conference and the PDP might create a situation where the coalition government faces a crisis?

We have a coalition that is based on certain principles, and it is functioning well. I see no threat to it.

Finally, the Congress did not contest even one of the three seats in the Kashmir Valley where elections were held. Does this mean you are content to be a party of Jammu province alone, with only a peripheral presence in Kashmir?

Not at all. I had wanted the Congress to contest two seats in Kashmir, on the grounds that our party had come in second to the National Conference in these constituencies during the last elections. However, the PDP pointed out that the circumstances were unusual, in that the winning National Conference candidate had since joined them. We therefore agreed to waive the usual principle, in the spirit of cooperation.

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