'Fake Encounters Won't Derail War On Terror'
7 February 2007
The Times of India
Jammu: PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's offer to Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to return his personal security cover has kicked up a political storm in the state. The PDP leadership's request has sparked a debate on practical implications of excluding high-profile politicians from the high security blanket. The suggestion have also thrown light on the fissures within the ruling alliance and could snowball a full blown spat between the alliance partners and a war for political one-upmanship. On February 5, Azad had announced in the state assembly that he would take up the matter of withdrawal of troops from Jammu & Kashmir with the Centre if politicians in the state were willing to surrender their personal security. In response, the PDP patron sent a letter to the CM declaring that he and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti were willing to surrender their personal security in order to endorse the reduction of forces as well as withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The letter stated that these steps were imperative in order to improve the human rights situation in the state. 'A few thousand troops are tied up in providing security to politicians,' said Azad in his first exclusive interview since the row over custodial deaths erupted last week leading to intense protests in the Valley. 'I suggested that all political parties discuss the possibility of freeing them of this responsibility.' Politicians have demanded to take away security duties from the Army and give them to police. Azad also emphasised that just because of the furore over the fake encounters by bounty-hungry officers had evoked protests, he wasn't going to back down from the war against terrorism. 'If someone is trained in Pakistan and is attacking civilians, he is an enemy,' Azad said in the interview at his Jammu home. But at the same time, he said there would be 'zero tolerance' of human rights violations. 'The government will not tolerate crimes against innocent civilians. Any member of the security forces found guilty of custodial deaths or disappearances will be handed out the harshest punishment.' 'While previous administrations had spoken about acting against such police officers, I have proved the intent of my administration (by arresting police officers, including an SP),' he said. Excerpts from the interview: The recent expose of involvement of the police, army and paramilitary forces in fake encounters and custodial deaths has shown up critical flaws in counter-terror operations? These cases must be seen as individual aberrations. The government is determined to punish those who are found guilty of such crimes. A judicial enquiry by a sitting high court judge has been ordered. Four police personnel have been arrested in connection with these cases. During the fight against militancy over the last 17 years, innocents have been killed during counter-terror operations. This government has come upfront and taken responsibility for such violations during its tenure. Our willingness to prosecute the guilty and to look into all cases of custodial disappearances registered by families of the missing will inspire confidence in the public. What are the priorities of your government and the major challenges it faces? The fight against militancy is top priority. I consider the anti- corruption drive an equally important issue. Strong measures to curb corruption in the government sector have been implemented during our tenure. During 2006, the government has sanctioned the prosecution of 72 senior government officials for holding disproportionate assets. Creating a positive change in the state's work culture is also on the agenda. We have extended the working hours of the state assembly and enforced strict rules to ensure that office timings are adhered to in all government institutions. How deep is this fight against corruption? Six months ago, the post of Additional District Development Commissioner was created to monitor the progress of public works in rural areas. These officers were appointed to control the quality of infrastructure related work in every district. They have conducted 3,000 spot checks in the last six months on ongoing projects. Thanks to them, Vigilance Department records show that there has been a 60% reduction in complaints received from the public regarding the quality of materials used and about misappropriation of funds in public works.