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Centre, BJP speak in dual voice on Kashmir

New Delhi, Oct. 29: The pulls and pressures of government and party have again surfaced in the BJP, this time over Kashmir.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and his deputy L.K. Advani have welcomed the formation of the Kashmir coalition and assured chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the Centre’s full backing, but the BJP has shown no qualms about making political capital of the situation.

A day after the People’s Democratic Party and the Congress hammered out a common minimum programme, BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi slammed it as an agenda “soft” on terror. “After studying the CMP, we have come to the conclusion that it is slanted towards terrorists rather than for the development of all sections of people living in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said yesterday. He also claimed that the programme made no commitments about the development of Jammu and the Ladakh region.

Naqvi then trained guns on the Congress, saying it was fudging on national security.

With the Gujarat poll dates being announced, Naqvi appears to be firing the first salvo at its rival. The BJP looks set to target the Congress as a party soft on terrorism and back up its claim by holding up the CMP.

The fear that hawks in the BJP and the Sangh will brand Mufti’s claim that Kashmir needs a “healing touch” as a concession to terrorists is not unexpected. Whether the Centre can restrain them and give Mufti a chance is not yet clear.

The CMP draws largely from Mufti’s poll pledge, though some crucial elements have been watered down in keeping with the Congress’ national agenda. It talks of healing the physical, psychological and emotional wounds of Kashmiris caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces. It wants to hold unconditional dialogue with all sections, free political prisoners held without trial, rehabilitate those who want to give up arms, send the Special Operations Group back to its parent police organisation and keep the anti-terror law in abeyance.

Whatever the intentions of the BJP, the Centre appears determined to ensure that the goodwill generated by the elections is not frittered away. Delhi was dismayed at the prospect of prolonged Governor’s rule in the state and breathed a sigh of relief when the PDP and the Congress cobbled together a coalition.

“Kashmir is not an issue which the Vajpayee government wants to reduce to a political game, the stakes are too high and New Delhi hopes the new government will be able to assuage the feelings of the people,” said a home ministry official.

The Centre is also aware that the global community will be watching Kashmir.

The Centre is, however, sceptical of Mufti’s ability to deliver. It is willing to give him a long rope as long as national interest is not compromised. Mufti shares an excellent equation with Advani and North Block knows that despite his populist election manifesto, he understands the Centre’s security concerns.

Delhi realised long ago that military might is not the answer to Kashmir’s problems. A dose of good governance is likely to cure much of the disaffection in the state. The Centre hopes that Mufti, with his understanding of the people, will deliver.

So far, the Centre has no objections with the broad framework of the Kashmir government’s agenda. But there are concerns on certain issues, specially the decision to neutralise the SOG.

The SOG, picked from the state police, is an elite force put together by the National Conference to combat terrorism and has been very successful. Unlike the army or the paramilitary forces, the group comprises locals who are familiar with the terrain. They have specific information on terrorists and pick them up from particular houses. They do not need to go through search and comb operations or cordon off entire villages like security forces.

Delhi is worried that disbanding the SOG could lead to increased strikes by terrorists. “Pakistan can well use this opportunity to step up terrorist strikes across the state,” said a senior official.

Another worrying aspect is Mufti’s agenda to rehabilitate the families of terrorists. “This could raise uneasy questions among the families of security forces,” said an official.

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