Interview with Nirmal Singh, former Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir

Nirmal Singh, former Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, blamed Pakistan for the ongoing assault on Kashmiri Pandits and other non-locals living in the Valley, terming its actions as a desperate attempt to keep the proxy war with India going. Speaking to Frontline, the BJP leader said that the youths of Kashmir were inclined towards being a part of the Union Territory’s “new era of peace and economic buzz”, even as he downplayed the government’s punitive measures on journalists and dissenting members of civil society. Excerpts:

The recent civilian killings in Kashmir, mostly of Pandits and non-locals, are in stark contrast to the government’s claims of normalcy. In your understanding, who is behind these killings? How does anyone gain gain from these dastardly attacks?

The revocation of Article 370 was instrumental in restoring peace and normalcy in the Kashmir Valley and in creating conditions for the free flow of investment and businesses. The youths of Kashmir are shunning separatist elements and looking forward to a brighter future in a Kashmir that is fully integrated with India and free from separatists’ clutches. The tourist footfall is at its peak.

Pakistan is rattled by this progress and wants to reverse the upbeat perception that one now has of Kashmir. Some vested interests are stoking fear that there is a design to realign the demographics of Jammu and Kashmir, when in fact a non-native has to live in the Union Territory for 15 years to be eligible for a domicile certificate. Pakistan is orchestrating targeted killings with the aim of generating a fear psychosis.

What is the basis of the claim that the youths of Kashmir are reconciled to the Modi government’s unilateral actions of August 5, 2019, when in fact the state has frequently resorted to the use of anti-terror laws to silence journalists, youths and others with a dissenting viewpoint?

The fact that we do not have stone-throwing incidents today underlines that the constituency for separatism and other anti-national activities is drastically reduced. When JKLF leader Yasin Malik was convicted recently, there were no reports of protests anywhere in the Valley, save some sporadic stone-throwing in his neighbourhood, Maisuma [in Srinagar]. Clearly, the youths want to be a part of the development process and secure their future.

Do you think the contours of home-grown militancy in Kashmir are shifting as insurgents target civilians rather than security installations?

Earlier we had terrorists who were on the crime records and armed with AK-47s. They were battle-hardened.

Now we mostly have youths who are either into narcotics or are indoctrinated, who get hold of a pistol, attack an assigned target and run away. They come under the CID scanner after they have perpetrated an act of terror.

How does the government plan to tackle this since targeted killings have led to Kashmiri Pandits demanding relocation to Jammu?

We have to mitigate this. If some Kashmiri Pandits want to visit their families in Jammu for a week or two, we are fine with that. But we are not in favour of their permanent relocation outside the Kashmir Valley as that would stall the process of their rehabilitation. That would be walking into the Pakistani trap. We are of the opinion that the Pandits and non-local officials working in the Valley should be posted at headquarters rather than in far-flung areas. All blind spots between their homes and workplaces need to be brought under security cover urgently.

At the same time we need to identify the moles who are providing intelligence to terrorists.

We suspect internal sabotage, as the teacher Rajni Bala, who was shot dead in her school premises [in Kulgam in May] was to be transferred and had gone to collect the relieving letter.

It is also improbable that terrorists would get to know about the bank manager Vijay Kumar’s posting within two days of his reporting to work unless somebody from within leaked information. (Terrorists killed Vijay Kumar in Kulgam on June 2.)

The Amarnath yatra is slated to begin from June 30 even as the shadow of a terrorist threat looms large in the Valley. What steps has the government taken for the safety of yatris and tourists?

We are beefing up security before the yatra commences. Whether or not they will target the yatra is difficult to say as terrorists are unpredictable.

They won’t target tourists as Pakistan knows it will be seen by Kashmiris as derailing their source of income and will be judged harshly. They can target the yatra as they want to somehow keep the proxy war going.

Shouldn’t the spate of killings and the threat on the Amarnath yatra be attributed to the Modi government’s decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and refuse to engage with any stakeholders of the conflict?

First of all, it is not correct to say that the Modi government was not inclined for engagement and deliberations. It is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who invited his then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony in 2014. It was Modi who made a surprise visit to Lahore in December 2015 as a goodwill gesture. It was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP who took a bus ride to Lahore in 1999. But what we got in return were Kargil [war] and Pathankot [attack]. Pakistan has always derailed the peace process between the two countries and that is what it is doing now by targeting Hindus in Kashmir. Linking it to our decision to scrap Article 370 is illogical.

Significantly, the decision was ratified by Parliament. It was a parliamentary process related to an internal affair; we did not violate any agreement with Pakistan. The international community understands this. Therefore Pakistan is left without any support but for a few Muslim countries.

As the Modi government marks eight years in power, are talks with Pakistan on the table?

As I said, the Modi government made sincere efforts to build peace with Pakistan and was rebuffed, so that context assumes significance. Terror and talks cannot go together, we need an enabling environment. The two countries announced a ceasefire in 2021, but the deep state in Pakistan continues to send terrorists and step up arms supply, an example of which was the drone captured in Katra recently. Also, who do we talk with: the civilian government in Pakistan, or its Army or the ISI or the opposition? Who controls Pakistan?