Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister and president of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), spoke with Yusuf Jameel on the Pulwama terror attack, its imminent political fallout for J&K and the country and on how to restore normalcy in the restive state.
What impact will the recent terror attack in Pulwama have on the overall political situation in Jammu and Kashmir?
The situation has deteriorated. The movement of the politicians will be curtailed. It is a new dimension to the violence that was already there. The political process and even talk about the urgency of dialogue and reconciliation have taken a setback because the mood in the country today is totally different. It is for revenge, it is for war and other things. All the political parties in J&K will have to face the music for sometime.
Elections to the state Assembly as well as Lok Sabha are to be held soon. Will reaching out the people become more difficult for the mainstream parties after the attack? Do you have any security concerns?
Yes, that’s what I said. It is going to be one of the major concerns after this fidayeen attack. Things have changed at the security level. It is a major concern for everybody. Secondly, the participation of political parties and people in the elections is very important. Unfortunately, there’s lot of alienation as far as the mainstream parties are concerned. It is going to be more difficult and challenging. But everybody will try, work hard and struggle to outwit this challenge.
You said in one of your recent tweets that Pakistan alone should not be blamed for the Pulwama attack. Who else do you think is responsible?
Pakistan, of course, is there in the picture. Whenever you have trouble your neighbour is definitely going to take advantage of it because it suits them. You have to set your own house in order first. There’s alienation among the people in the state. Pakistan is able to channelise it in a way which is detrimental to the people of the state and the country. So it is not only about Pakistan, it is also about us. We have failed somewhere to win over the hearts and minds of the people. The boy (the suicide bomber) was a local. He was so young. Apparently, he was indoctrinated by whosoever. But he was able to do it (carry out the suicide attack). That means there is something lacking that we are not able to put our fingers on and change this idea that has crept in the hearts and minds of our youth. We are not able to replace it with a better idea.
There has been a backlash across the country following the terror attack with Kashmiri traders, labourers and students being attacked and harassed at places. What impact will it have on the psyche of the ordinary Kashmiri?
It is very unfortunate. In the 1990s, a vast majority of Kashmiri Pandits and many Muslims had to leave the Valley to escape violence. The whole country gave them enough space to live and breathe freely. But, unfortunately, things have changed with this incident. The way the Kashmiris have been harassed in colleges… their shops have been attacked, and they have been attacked. Once they come back, they will come back with bruised psyche. It will alienate the people further. This is not a good sign because these are all young kids, students who have fragile minds. If things remain as bad as they are now, many or some of them can be indoctrinated on the same lines. That’s not a good sign.
Some critics say that Delhi’s regressive policies are promoting violence in Kashmir. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has threatened of more Pulwama-like attacks on the premise that the youth of the Valley are being pushed to the wall. What do you have to say on this?
I think a muscular policy never works. It never worked. We have had security forces deployed here in lakhs who have been fighting this. They have been able to contain the situation to a certain extent. But if you wholly and solely depend on the security apparatus to deal with the situation it is going to backfire. It is already backfiring, you know. Even Army generals like D.S. Hooda, A.K. Bhatt and many others have been saying all the time that there is no military solution to the Kashmir problem and that we need to have a political solution. I think that is what is needed. If we don’t do that and depend wholly and solely on a military solution and on our military strength then it is going to boomerang.
Over the past one week or so Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah has come under severe criticism, mainly on social media, for supporting the state’s accession to India. How do you react to that?
Something had happened many years back. I would also like to add one thing, that for the PDP, one of the reasons to ally with the BJP was to maintain communal harmony in Jammu and within the country because if you recall, we had the Uri attack, we had an attack on the (Amarnath) yatra but nothing of the sort happened then because they (the BJP) were in power and they were in a way tied up. So I think whatever Sheikh Sahib did at that point in time and whatever the people are saying now is something like beating a dead horse. You can’t discuss now something which happened 70 years ago. Whatever had to happen has happened.
Will the incidents that took place in Jammu in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack widen the gulf between the state’s two major regions? What repercussions do you foresee for the unity and integrity of the state?
There are some lumpen elements but, generally, Hindus and Sikhs of Jammu behaved well. The majority of the population has behaved well. Otherwise it would have been very difficult to control the situation. The Sikhs in particular have been looking after the Kashmiris hounded out of various places in the country. Even the local Hindus gave them shelter in their homes. Jammu has become a cosmopolitan kind of place and you see there what we saw at a time in Kashmir. You know, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and others — everybody — used to be there but now, unfortunately, that has changed. But in Jammu you find people of different religions and different regions and ethnicities. So I think, except for those ugly incidents, Jammu has behaved well.
How can things calm down in the Kashmir Valley?
I think there is no other option but to go in for reconciliation with the people. Reconciliation has to happen at the earliest at the state as well as at the external level. When I say internally, at the state level, I mean initiating a dialogue process with the separatists. And then you have to talk to Pakistan as well. Let’s talk to them on the Pulwama attack, but just talk to them. Start from somewhere. If some kind of dialogue takes place between India and Pakistan, it is going to have a positive impact on the internal situation in J&K. Otherwise, more confrontation will mean things will only go from bad to worse.
Do you think the Pulwama incident will help Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the coming elections?
(Laughs) Unfortunately, there is a cry for war and badla (revenge) in the country today. Warmongering is going on. Passions are so high. There is so much cry for revenge and for blood-for-blood. Today, nationalism is to talk about war and stand for revenge. If they do take some kind of revenge, the person who does it will naturally benefit from it.