The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Healing touch test for CM Mufti

New Delhi, Oct. 26: Will Mufti Mohammad Sayeed be Kashmir’s Man of Destiny' For the 67-year-old Mufti, this is a unique opportunity to make a fresh start, to give the long-suffering people of Kashmir a respite from violence.

But is Mufti up to the task' His record as home minister during the V.P. Singh regime in Delhi from 1989 to November 1990 was disappointing. It is an unhappy coincidence that militancy in Kashmir moved into top gear during his tenure. When his daughter Rubiya, a medical student, was kidnapped, the government struck a deal with militants and freed several terrorists to buy her freedom. He has been unable to live down that image of being soft on the militants.

But now, nearly a decade later, it is perhaps a “soft” line that Kashmir needs. The People’s Democratic Party had campaigned on an agenda of peace and talks with the militants. It had promised to free political prisoners and disband the hated Special Operations Group of the state police.

Can Mufti deliver the healing touch that the people desperately want' The problems he faces, in coalition with the Congress’ national agenda, are enormous.

How much Mufti is finally able to deliver only time will tell. Already the Al Omar Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based militant group, has issued a stern warning. Its commander, Mustaq Ahmed Zargar, one of the militants released in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight, has said the PDP leader will have to “face the music if his party continues attempts to muster support by using the name of the mujahideen”. He also warned Mufti not to try to form a government with the Congress.

Whatever the future, Mufti’s friends are happy he will get a chance to head the new government in Jammu and Kashmir. “This is a welcome development. The Congress and the PDP have acted wisely in coming together. Mufti is an excellent choice as chief minister of Kashmir,” former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral said. He felt that Mufti will work well with the Congress as he has always been a Congressman at heart. Deflecting criticism about Mufti’s tenure as home minister, Gujral said circumstances had conspired to make things difficult for him.

Initially, when his daughter was kidnapped, the Centre believed it was done by miscreants. “We did not suspect Pakistan’s hand,” said Gujral. He asked S.K. Singh, the then foreign secretary, to get in touch with his Pakistani counterpart to help locate the kidnappers, who could have slipped into PoK.

Mufti is often regarded with suspicion in the Valley. The PDP’s success in the elections had more to do with his daughter Mehbooba than him.

Mufti has contested Lok Sabha elections from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

The people of Jammu are certainly against Mufti, especially following his insistence that only a person from the Valley can head the government in these critical times. The PDP will not be forgiven for this, according to Congressmen from the Jammu region.

However, for now, Mufti is the winner. In the wrangling with the Congress, his refusal to blink finally paid off.

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