The Telegraph
Saturday , August 2 , 2014
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Omar passport sop for ex-rebels, kin

Srinagar, Aug. 1: For the first time, former militants in Kashmir can get passports — though only for pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and only if they have forsaken militancy for at least 15 years.

The poll-bound Omar Abdullah government has also offered a sop to thousands of relatives of former rebels.

People whose militant relatives went over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or Pakistan at least 15 years ago too can have these Saudi-specific passports — if the intelligence agencies certify that their outstation insurgent kin are at the moment not involved in militancy.

Officials said there were 20,000 former militants in the state, most of whom quit militancy over 15 years ago.

Till 2011, successive state governments had blacklisted all former militants and their relatives (not to speak of active militants’ relatives) in the matter of passport clearance. Sometimes even distant relatives were not spared.

Three years ago, the policy was relaxed for the relatives of militants who had died 10 years ago or surrendered 12 years back, but the kin of militants who are in Pakistan or PoK got no relief.

A state government spokesperson today said the administration had, under the chief minister’s orders, decided to further liberalise the policy for verification by the various government agencies whose clearance is a must for getting passports.

He cited a set of conditions that former militants who have returned from PoK/Pakistan must satisfy if they want these passports for Haj or Umrah.

They must have “eschewed violence, embraced silence, exhibited good conduct and completed 15 years or more in the state from the date of return till the date of application”.

Although thousands have benefited from the 2011 amendments to the government’s passport policy, the state police and intelligence agencies — who issue the clearances — are repeatedly accused of abusing their power by denying hundreds of eligible relatives of militants.

Still, the latest directive opens the door for several thousand former militants to go on pilgrimage to Mecca.

“They are the likely beneficiaries of the new directive,” an official said.

The sop comes at a time the ruling allies, the National Conference and the Congress, have been routed in the parliamentary polls and are preparing to fight the Assembly elections separately later this year.

In recent weeks, the government has announced a slew of popular measures, including enhancement of the retirement age for its 4.5 lakh employees from 58 to 60.